Sport on Stream Less Inconstant—Noted Trout Arrived for the Season—Mysteries of the Lake —Big Fish Lie Low—Trolling Minnows—Needless Strategy—Boats Do Not Alarm—Death to the Unfit—The Deceptive Alexandra—Worm-fishing— Chalk Streams—Other Streams—Sir Walter Scott—Worm Tackle—Mr. Cholmondeley Pennell—One Less, One Better—Weather-wise Villagers—Coming of the Rain—Thrush and Blackbird—The Stream in Flood—Out at the Dawn—Aspects of the Stream—Eels and 'Trout —Fascination of the Nibble—Habits of Stream Trout—T- J- B- and the Three Great Trout—Back to the Lake—A Mountain Marvel — Critical Musings — The Hospitable Horn.
Which is preferable, lake or stream ? That is a question which one sometimes hears discussed; but I have never heard it considered in relation to the real contrasts which the two kinds of water present. Some men prefer the stream, because there they are obliged to walk, and walking, on a holiday, is pleasant; others prefer the lake, because there they sit in a boat, and that is soothing after the bustle of business. These, however, are casual thoughts. The fascination of angling lies largely in the problems of natural philosophy with which the sport is fraught, and these can be but imperfectly understood through an acquaintance with one kind of water only. The trout in a river, it is true, are pretty much the same as those in a lake; but that in itself is a surprise. It might be expected that the one tribe of fish, which have to be constantly in exercise against a current, would be stronger than the other, which are habitually at rest; yet that is not the case. The lake trout are just as game as the river trout. I think, too, that the various atmospherical conditions have the same influences on the trout of the stream as they have on those of the lake. Only, at least two of these conditions are modified on the stream. I allude to the temperature and the wind. Flowing water, naturally, is of the same temperature all through; and, tumbling over a fall here and there, it is frequently aerated, which in some measure neutralises the excess of noxious vapours with which the atmosphere is now and then charged. For those reasons, sport is less markedly inconstant on rivers than it is on lakes. If on a murky day dire results were certain to flow from failure in the attempt to bring home a brace or two, I should certainly prefer a stream.
On the other hand, the lake has an attractiveness of its own. At many places on most rivers you can actually see the trout you may possibly raise. This is true even of the Thames, concerning which, now and then, we read in The Times that a very fine trout has taken up his quarters at Sunbury, or at Datchet, or elsewhere, just as if he were some great lady entered into residence at her Town house for the season. The trout in lakes live in much greater privacy. It is only on rare occasions, as when looking from a boat into a sand-bottomed bay on which a rock reflects the sunlight, that you can see any of them at all; and these do not tell you much. They may be big ; but they are no evidence as to the size of the trout in other places. There may be a good many of them ; but that gives no cause for believing that fish are in equal numbers all over the water. Thus, in fishing on a lake, you never know what your luck is to be. Any day may bring you a trout so big that the basket would not hold it.
To most of those who habitually fish with flies such good fortune comes but rarely. On certain Irish loughs very large trout do sometimes rise at flies ; but that is in exceptional cases. They rise when the Green Drake, an insect of the Mayfly family, is abroad; but on most lakes flies of that kind are never to be seen. On most lakes, therefore, the great trout lie low. Early in the year, now and then, one of them, hardly ever of the biggest, does take a fly; but as the season advances it is noticeable that the size of the captured trout gradually declines. I have often wondered what can be the meaning of this. It would seem either that a lake trout needs less sustenance the larger he grows, or that the larger he grows the less does he care for flies.
Perhaps a gradual loss of appetite for flies is the more natural explanation. This is suggested by the fact that, whilst they ignore the daintier lures, the large trout will almost any day of the season fall ready victims to a well-spun minnow. Sport by that means is not to be despised. Many of the trout which a minnow takes, though large, are not old. Most of them are small of head and big of tail, shapely, firm, and brilliant in variegated colour. They fight with great vigour, and are manifestly in the prime of life.
Some say that fishing with a minnow calls for no thought; but that is a mis taken view. Who has not noticed how cunningly the experienced boatman, when you are trolling, goes about the business ? Do you mark his course ? It is not in a straight line that he moves: that would disturb all the trout over which, following the boat, the minnow would pass. Therefore, instead of going straight, the boatman pursues a line which is in large curves, curves such as some giant must make when he cuts the outside edge and the inside edge alternately by the same leg while skating on the ice of Lilliput. By this means, the gillie contrives that the minnow, which is about a hundred yards off, shall cross the path of the boat only now and then, and, for the rest, be moving through water that has not been disturbed. Though simple, it is a cunning plan, showing that fishing with a minnow calls for thought; but is the thought in this case sound ?
Doubt arose from noticing that frequently, when one was rowing or being rowed by short cut to the beginning of some new drift on a lake, a trout rushed at a fly trailed behind the boat. If the passage of a boat scares the fish, how does that happen ? The answer, I think, is twofold. In the first place, there is some cause for believing that the trout in lakes where boats are frequent become used to seeing the craft and are not much disturbed by their passage. Once on Lochleven a trout just in front rose at a fly and missed. Almost immediately thereafter, the boat drifting rapidly, I cast, in the teeth of the wind, behind, raised the trout, and caught him. Of course, it is only an assumption that it was the same trout; but the reasonableness of the assumption is very great. Incidents of that kind are plentiful enough to afford ground for believing that the fish are not scared by the passage of a boat. In the second place, I am not sure that it is only the trout by the very eyes of which the minnow passes that are attracted by the lure. It is necessary to remember that, as mentioned near the beginning of this book, the trout, like the salmon or the pike, seizes your minnow because it seems to be a minnow wounded or in trouble. Like the salmon and the pike, the trout, taking not the slightest notice of whole shoals of minnows sound in wind and fin, will greedily, or cruelly, or obeying some law of nature, probably the one directed against the survival of the unfit, rush at a minnow which appears to be suffering in some way. Well, then, is it not extremely probable that the fish which takes your trolled lure has rushed at it laterally, from a good distance off? I imagine so, and the incidents I have mentioned support the surmise ; and if I am not wrong our serpentine boatman is strategic in sinuous error. One would fare just as well if he pursued the straight course.