These reflections recall an exception to the rule that flies should not be dragged.
One fine June morning Captain Land I were fishing in the Great Stour as it flows round "the garden that I love" so charmingly made famous by Mr. Alfred Austin. When it was time to go in to luncheon, at Swinford Old Manor, I had only one trout. My friend had seven splendid fish, nearly a pound each, to lay out before the Poet Laureate's delighted gaze. As Captain L- had all the morning been casting down-stream and making the fly run up against the current by long pulls, this was remarkable; but the explanation, exceedingly instructive, was at hand. " What fly?" asked our host enthusiastically. " I don't know its name; but here it is," answered the fisherman, taking his rod from a corner in the hall. " Ah!" said Mr. Austin, whose knowledge of the creatures in the woodlands and the streams is unusually minute, " the Water Cricket!" Of all the insects of which imitations are to be found in The Book of Flies, the Water Cricket is, I believe, the only one that runs about on the surface of the stream. All the others, as a rule, move only as the current of the water, or that of the air, ordains.
Every angler, it would seem, has a weakness for some particular fly. Whithersoever he goes, he will give it a chance, and he will continue to believe in it despite any temporary failure. A well - known instance is that of Mr. Senior, the admirable Editor of The Field, who trusts so firmly in a certain insect that he has, for the purposes of literature, taken its name as his own, and is familiar to all the world as " Red-spinner." He understands that the brilliant creature is at home on every running water at all times of the season, and that it is likely on any day to be attractive to the trout. I myself have similar thoughts about Greenwell's Glory, a fly with a name so aggressive that I make haste with an explanation. The insect is not green, and is not arrayed in gauds. His wings are of a dark dun, and the girdle of gold encircling his black waistcoat is like an unobtrusive watch-chain such as a gentleman of taste might wear. When first I knew Greenwell, his wings were cocked upwards over his head in a sprightly manner, like those of a hawk about to strike. That was in Scotland. Since then he has, as it were, changed his tailor, or rather extended his custom ; and when he comes forth from London his wings droop, as if he were a hawk at peace. Still, Greenwell has lost none of his attractiveness by having adopted a new style of dress. His conquests among the trout I attribute to the probability that he belongs to a family spread all over the British Islands. He seems to have relations wheresoever there is a lake or a trout-stream, and they seem to be abroad on the waters, rain or shine, from March till the end of September.
Mr. Senior, I doubt not, could give a reasonable explanation of his preference, and I have suggested a justification of my own; but these preferences are not bigoted. Serviceable as the Redspinner and Greenwell's Glory are on many occasions, there are times when other flies are better ; but this is a concession which most anglers who have fancies are loath to make. Take, for example, my friend J-S-. He is remarkably nimble with his little greenheart rod and cast of fine gut. Once in a drift of a mile along the north shore of Loch Doine I saw him catch fifteen big trout; he did not miss a single rise, and did not lose a fish. There could be no more workmanlike sport than that; yet J-S-is not free from a superstition which must cer-tainly be at times a handicap. He has an ineradicable belief in the Alder and the Bloody Butcher, one or the other of which, if both of them are not, is always on his cast. Each of these flies once chanced to be the fly of the hour when he used it; and he thinks, mistakenly, that it is always opportune.
Similarly, having once done well on the Wey with a Mellursh's Fancy, Mr. A-G-, whithersoever his wandering footsteps §tray, is inseparable from that odd lure. It has never occurred to him that the habitation of the insect which it represents is local.
His, however, is an error of omission only. Lord A- is a sportsman of another kind. He does nothing without reflection. In sport, as in Parliament, he has always a reasoned argument for his conduct. Never when I have been out with him on his fine waters, in North Wales, has he brought home so many trout as were to be expected. Although sometimes one or another of his guests has fared much better, he does not seem concerned. Once, resting by the river at mid-day, I looked at the gear he was using. Although the month was July, the only fly on his cast was a March Brown. Now, like the Redspinner and Greenwell's Glory, the March Brown is a lure which it is always well to have handy; but on that particular day the fly most noticeably on the water was a blue dun. I mentioned this to my host, and handed him my tackle-book. " Take it away," he said ; " take it away ! I see you have them all the colours of the rainbow; but that's nonsense. I never fish with anything but a March Brown." Expression of my perplexity called forth an arbitrary doctrine. " Why should I ? Don't you see the earth — 'the brown old earth'—and the river itself, and the flies dancing about, and the atmosphere when the sun is clouded ? They're all brown ! The very trout are brown— just like partridges, grouse, pheasants, hares, and all the other game you can think of. If you pry into things in a strong light, you'll detect some different shades, no doubt; but Nature doesn't pry. Only the electric light does; and that's an invention of man, not a thing according to Nature,—although I will say for it that it brings out Nature's colour, as when it makes the flame of a candle brown beyond a doubt. Let's to work again. The world is brown, I tell you !"
Although he was in a whimsical mood, there was a real idea amid the banter. Few men have studied trout and their ways so scientifically as Sir Herbert Maxwell has, and the theory which Lord A-stated half in jest is not more surprising than one which Sir Herbert has advanced in seriousness. It is that, if not absolutely colour-blind, salmon and trout do not pay much attention to the difference between one hue and another. As those who have read his interesting writings will remember, he derived this theory from observations on the Tweed. Never having seen a living insect resembling any of the salmon-flies in use, Sir Herbert Maxwell could not quite believe that it mattered whether it was by a Jock Scott, or a Thunder and Lightning, or a fly of any other pattern, that the salmon were tempted. His scepticism was justified by experiments. He caught salmon with flies which in regard to colour repudiated all local traditions. That, however, does not warrant any definite conclusion. As there is no insect in the least resembling a salmon-fly, it seems absurd to suppose that in taking it the fish is thinking of insects at all. There are at least two possibilities. In the first place, it is conceivable that, without knowing what the lure is like, the fish may snap at it in curiosity or in anger. This conjecture, originally broached by The Spectator in a discussion with Mr. Andrew Lang, is not obviously untenable. Many observers, among whom is Sir Herbert Maxwell himself, think that salmon take no food after they quit the sea for the fresh water. If that be so, in snapping at the fly the fish cannot be seeking something to eat, and must be acting upon a purely emotional impulse. In the second place, it is conceivable that, while there is no insect resembling a salmon-fly, the lure may be not a bad image of some other living thing. Whatever be the hues of the feathers of which it is composed, regarded by the human eye while held against rushing water, or dragged through calm, it is not at all unlike a minnow or some other fish of the same size. As these small fish are various in their hues, perhaps the explanation lies in this general similitude. That conjecture is not incompatible with the belief that salmon feed only when in the sea. There is reason for suspecting that when a fish of the salmon kind, or a pike, takes a real minnow impaled on a flight of hooks, or a manufactured thing resembling a minnow, the fish is moved less by a desire to eat than by a desire to kill. That is only my own opinion; but it has what seems to be remarkable evidence in its favour. Many an angler must have noticed that a salmon or a trout, like a pike, will leave a whole shoal of minnows undisturbed and rush at an impaled minnow or at a phantom. Why is this ? My theory is that the lure, whether it be an impaled minnow or an artificial bait, looks like a creature which is dying or in distress : in the first case it really is so. Many wild animals have an instinct to kill the weaker brethren. That is why, for example, the ailing sheep leaves the flock and hides itself: it would be killed if it did not go away. May not the same instinct govern the actions of fish ? My belief that it does seems borne out by the fact, familiar to anglers, that a small trout which is hooked is not unlikely to be seized by a large one. The large one passes all the small fish which are fit and free in order to kill the one whose unwonted motions show it to be in distress.