Now, just below the waterfall lay three great trout. They were well known. Approaching carefully, any one could see them from the grassy path above. They had been there, the second-largest just behind the first, and the third-largest just behind the second, for years; they were famous in the hamlet, and had been heard of far beyond ; rumours of them, indeed, had reached Godalming and Hindhead, and even Winchester.
Well, the first day he took me to that stream, T. J. B. showed these fine fish to me, and dared me to catch them if I could. "It would be rather a pity, of course," he said: " I regard them as privileged retainers, you know: but," he went on, pleasantly, " you may try your hand at them. Every one else who has been here has tried. I even brought old Farley, the gamekeeper at the shooting in Kent, who's very good with the fly-rod, to cast for them ; and he couldn't manage it. Farley said he might get one of the trout if he could throw into the waterfall from the opposite side of the pond, which would be fifty yards, and so was out of the question, but that there was no other way of getting at them. The bushes, you see, come out from the bank at both sides of the waterfall. Do you think that from this side of the pond, on either side of the fall, you could flick a fly in round the corner of the bushes, and so drop it over 'em—some modification of the Spey-cast trick ? If so, go and do it!"
I went to try; but soon perceived, as I had expected, that to make the fly break in round the bushes was much more difficult than slicing or pulling at golf, or at cricket making the ball break in to the middle stump. In fact, I inwardly agreed with Farley that it could not be done, and that the three great trout were likely to remain there as long as the mill dams stood.
The mind, however, has obscure ways at times. Occasionally, it would seem, it is at work on its own account, and reveals the fact that it has not been idle by suddenly presenting a solution of some problem that had apparently been abandoned.
About two hours afterwards, at luncheon a good bit away from the ponds, I realised that I had exclaimed, "I've got it!" "Got what?" asked B., who was distributing among his guests flagons of claret and nut-brown ale. "That great trout, and perhaps the others too!" B. laughed; asked what the idea was; and offered three to one, in new hats, against it, whatever it might be. I took the bet, adding that the hats would have to be of different kinds. "All right!" said B. "Are you to catch them with a fly, or what ?" " Yes : a fly ; but it is you who are to catch them—I am to tell you how".
After a brief rest amid the fragrance of pipes and wild-flowers, B. and I went back to the ponds. I examined his cast, and took off the upper fly and the middle fly, and saw that the remaining one, a Red Palmer, was sound. Bidding my friend keep well out of sight, down I lay prone on the grassy path by the side of the waterfall, and peered over. All the three great trout were there. " Now, B., give off two or three feet of line, no more; put the fly into the middle of the trickle between the bushes, just before you, and let it fall with the spray. When I whistle, strike—but gently !"
Down dropped the fly, daintily touching the water of the pool a foot in front of the first trout, and a foot to the right of him, and then sinking. The fish turned and looked at it, but let it pass; and the trout behind him took no notice. That was discouraging. "Again, B.," I whispered: "just as before." This time, the moment the fly fell into the pool the trout came up a few inches, turned, without touching the water, and sank quickly back. I whistled low; and before I could scramble to my feet B. was tearing along the grassy path at the wrathful tail of Number One.
Round and round the pond he had to scamper, and round again, before the trout could be cajoled or coerced into the landing-net. The fish weighed six pounds and a half.
The others were caught in the same manner before it was time for a cup of tea at the inn close by. Number Two weighed five pounds; Number Three, three pounds and three-quarters.
When the carriage came to take us back to H- for the night, I peered over the waterfall, and saw three other trout exactly like those the capture of which had left our host in a state of high exultation. I think that the place they occupied is a favourite in summer simply because it is there that aerated water plashes into the pond.
I have stated a belief that when a trout has chosen a position in the stream he stays there; but that, of course, is only during the three months or so when the season is at its height. Before that period, in early spring, the fish undoubtedly move; but they move in a regular way. During the winter they have been up the tributaries, or in the shallows of the higher reaches of the main stream, spawning. After that they drop down and rest awhile in the slowly-moving deeps. Late in March they begin to appear in the rapids. By the end of April they are in the places that were probably their haunts the season before. There, if not caught, they remain until the first early-autumn flood, on the coming of which they begin to move up-stream. If the flood is considerable they congregate at the mouths of tributaries. They are extremely voracious at that time. Many of them, when caught, are found to be filled to the lips with worms and grubs and flies. Their hunger, I think, is due to the demands made upon them by the rapidly-ripening eggs and milt. Soon after that, as is proper, they pass into the care of the gamekeepers, and the angler has for a few months sheathed his rod.
One cannot so closely observe the habits of trout in the great waters that are still. This lends a pleasant mystery to the lake. The pleasure would be abated if the mystery were solved or lessened; yet, such is the perversity of man, I have been constantly trying to solve it.