MANY things are taught at public schools, but Winchester is probably the only school at which the most scientific and highly developed form of angling can be learnt. The art was not taught at Winchester in my time, but there were opportunities for learning it, which a few of us did not neglect. Some energy was required to seize these opportunities, for though fishing was not discouraged, no special facilities were given for it; the hours both for work and for games were arranged without any consideration for the time of the rise, and this fact alone made our Winchester fishing different from any other. For the perfect enjoyment of sport the hours of daylight should be all our own. " You cannot compel fish," as an old Scotch keeper used to say when salmon fishing, and an angler needs to have such freedom that, if need be, he can wait for hours upon the will of the fish, and be ready to take advantage of their mood at any moment. This freedom to fit one's own time to suit the changes of sport is essential to the very fullest enjoyment of a day's angling. Every angler should take some pride in being able to satisfy the often prolonged demands made upon his patience, but to appreciate this exercise of patience he ought to feel that there is no reason for hurry, and if he has only one hour to spend by the river, this is just what he does not feel. At school the hours are rigid: it cannot be otherwise, and so far from having any complaint to make, I hope to show that we were at Winchester more fortunate in our opportunities for fishing than might, all things considered, have been expected. I will not say that we always thought so at the time. The mature judgment of retrospect is perhaps not the same as the opinions which were expressed under the impulse of youth and ardour and the pressure of the moment.
There must have been about a fortnight of the trout fishing season left when I first went to Winchester in September 1876, but I was not then in a position to take advantage of it. Most boys probably look forward to the first days at a public school with alarm and awe. It certainly was so with me, and I remember very well discussing this feeling with a contemporary at a preparatory school. He and I had both reached that position of comparative ease and security which can be attained by older boys even at private schools, and we agreed that we looked forward with dread to exchanging it for the plunge into the unknown which entrance into a public school appeared to us to be. Nothing stands out more clearly in the memories of boyhood than the first days at a first school, and after them the first days at a public school. One is bewildered by novelty and apprehension, and it is not only the outward incidents, but one's own inner self and its sensitiveness that are clearly remembered. In looking back to Oxford and other first experiences of later days, it is but a dim and blurred outline of feelings that I can recall, but very clear and distinct are the outlines of a very real self, moving amongst unfamiliar surroundings, in the first two or three weeks at Winchester. In these weeks I did not even think of fishing; everything about me was so strange; but there were not really any hardships, and as the sense of strangeness wore away, as knowledge came of what might and what might not be done without offending against customs and unwritten laws of opinion, I soon began to rejoice in the comparative freedom of a larger world, in the greater scope of work and games, in the anticipation of all that was before me. I made many plans during the winter for the opening of the next fishing season. The trout could be watched in the Itchen much more easily than in northern streams; they were there before our eyes. On mild autumn days we could watch them feeding, and numbers of them were larger than any I had ever hooked. Warnings were given abundantly that these trout were not to be caught easily, that with few exceptions no one at school ever had caught any: the traditions were of general failure to which there had been one or two remarkable exceptions, but even in naming these, hints were not wanting that it was very unlikely that any one would succeed again. Nevertheless the trout were there plain to be seen, taking flies, and nothing but experience could have destroyed my hopes or confidence. So on the opening day of the season, at the beginning of March, I hurried as soon as possible into the water meadows. Surely no one ever fished the Itchen with greater anticipation" and with less chance of success. I must have been a strange uncomfortable figure, in a large white straw hat, a black coat, trousers and thin ungreased boots, splashing in the meadow (which was under water at the time), and stumbling in haste into the unfamiliar maze of runnels and water cuts. None of these drawbacks were fatal to success. The real obstacle was that I knew nothing, and had heard nothing of the dry fly, and was setting to work with a whippy double-handed rod of some thirteen feet in length, and three flies, probably a March-brown, a coch-y-bondhu and a Greenwell's glory, which I generally used in those days. I remember making straight for a particular spot, which I had often marked in winter as a likely-looking place; it was one where the current flowed from me under the further bank and made a ripple. There was no thought of looking for a rise, but the water was fished steadily. No trout showed a sign of paying any attention to my flies, and at the end of the allotted hour I left the river, wet and unsuccessful, but keen and reluctant to leave off. The same thing happened day after day, nothing occurred to break the monotony of failure, and my friends ceased even to ask whether I had caught anything: but it was at any rate a drawn battle, for I had no more thought of leaving off fishing than the trout had of taking my March-browns and other wet flies. At last one day at the very bottom of the water a trout did take my fly at the end of a long line down stream, but it was a tiny thing, hopelessly under the limit of size for the Itchen, one which might have been counted amongst northern dozens, but could not be brought home alone.