On one other occasion my reel line broke. I had hooked a salmon, which ran up into some water full of notorious sunken rocks, amongst which the line got fast. I put on a strain in every possible direction, and tried pulling by hand, but could move nothing and feel nothing. As a last resource I let out all my line and went down to the full length of it in order to get a pull as directly down stream as possible. The line broke unexpectedly, close to the reel, and in a moment was swept out of the rings by the stream, and into the river, and I saw it no more that day. But the next morning my friend wading on the opposite side in slack water felt something round his feet, and at luncheon presented me with the whole of the lost line and part of the cast still attached to it.
The lines usually sold for dry fly fishing are, I think, made rather too heavy. It is well to have a heavy line ready for a day with a strong down stream wind, but the lines which are generally recommended for dry fly fishing seem to me not only heavier than is necessary, but heavier also than is pleasant or desirable for fishing in ordinary weather.
A very heavy reel line makes one's fishing less delicate, and on days when very fine gut has to be used, it makes what may be called the gradient of the taper too steep, so that the fly is continually catching the reel line in the air, and interrupting one's casting. By all means keep a reel with a heavy line in readiness, and in rough weather go out to contend against an adverse gale equipped with your stiffest rod and a heavy line and a short gut cast, but for ordinary days use a lighter line, and more gut even though you continue to use (as I do) a stiff rod.
For many years there has been a constant improvement proceeding in the make and pattern of reels; it is easy enough to get a good one, and every angler should get one of the best construction. It is better to have one good reel than two inferior ones, for an unreliable reel entails the certain loss of a big fish sooner or later. The line is sure to refuse to run at some critical moment, either because it has been overrun and tangled on the reel, or because the reel sticks suddenly. There should be no temporising or working on with a reel which has once begun to play tricks; till it has been overhauled and made good, trust it no more than you would a watch which has taken to stopping at odd times.
For a first-rate rod it is generally agreed that there is a choice of two materials—greenheart and split cane. Nothing throws a better line, or is more pleasant to use than greenheart, but it has one disadvantage, that of being more brittle than split cane, and after breaking many greenheart tops I have taken to having split cane tops made for a greenheart salmon rod, and have found them last better. The cost of each top is only about thirty shillings, and a rod so composed is, I believe, about as strong as one entirely of split cane.
For double-handed trout rods I know nothing better than one entirely of split cane, and I prefer it with a steel centre.
For dry fly fishing and single-handed work it seems to me that a split cane rod is cheaper in the long run than any other. It should be in two pieces only, and in delicate work with a dry fly, I think that one can fish more accurately without a steel centre.
Every angler who has fished much on chalk streams must know how impossible it is even with the greatest care to prevent the hook touching or catching in weed now and then, when a line of any length is being lifted off the water quickly. Time after time have greenheart rods been snapped most untowardly in this way. Mine generally broke close to the joint, and years ago I took to diminishing the danger by using two-piece spliced greenheart rods. These were a little more troublesome to put together than the ordinary rods, but if they broke at all it had to be somewhere else than at the splice. Even these did not remove all danger of disaster, if, when one was working hard and keenly, the hook caught suddenly either in a weed in front or in a bush or grass behind, and at last after many accidents, partly caused by being, I fear, a somewhat hasty and too vigorous angler, I bought my first split cane rod, a powerful two-piece ten foot six rod, of Messrs. Hardy in 1884. The butt and joint of that rod are still as sound as ever, after landing many fish of all weights up to ten pounds, and though I have worn out one or two tops, not one has ever broken suddenly in the act of fishing, and they have stood faithfully against the most fearful shocks caused by weeds or bushes in the act of casting. It is this toughness of split cane which, in my opinion, settles the question decisively in its favour, and though after several seasons' hard work in all sorts of weather and in contending against down stream winds a split cane top may weaken, mine have always given me ample warning: never in trout fishing, since I have used split cane, have I lost a minute's fishing by the breaking of any part of my rod. Split cane is the most staunch of all materials; like an old and faithful servant, it is incapable of treachery or sudden change, and when it fails it does so gradually. My own original split cane rod has become a trusted companion, used to all winds and weathers, to burns, chalk streams and rivers of many kinds; to trout, sea trout and grilse; doing all that is asked of it, having more than once risen to the occasion of playing a salmon, and remained straight erect and fit after landing it.
After every season of hard work and exposure a split cane rod should be sent to its maker to be re-varnished, and the one or two split cane tops, which in the course of years I have thought it safer to lay aside, have failed owing to my having too often in the press of other things neglected this precaution. As there seems to be some controversy about the respective merits of greenheart and split cane, it may be worth while to add, that besides the ten foot six rod mentioned above, I have had two others of the same size built for my own use. The first of these did its work thoroughly, kept its straightness in spite of hard work, and lasted till I lent it to a friend, who rode with it on a bicycle along an open moorland road. Unfortunately, on the way he and the bicycle, with the rod tied across the handles, fell headlong down a grass slope, and the rod's life came to an end. I am sure that a two-piece greenheart rod would not have survived the fall either. The second was built to take the place of this broken split cane rod. It has done two seasons' fair work without a sign of weakness anywhere, and remains perfectly straight.