We probably wish our recreation to be not only apart from our work, but in contrast to it, and those who labour with their brain indoors seek for exercise and open air, use for the body as well as freedom for the mind. Youth asks for something more, and finds it in excitement. These are the three great requisites for the recreation of healthy vigorous boyhood—exercise, open air and excitement. They are to be found in fine quality in games and in sport, and in both it is probably excitement which at first we care for most consciously. As we grow older a change takes place. Let us analyse, for instance, the pleasure in games. At first we desire only to win—we think only of that; we play the game as boys read an exciting story, with a feverish anxiety to know the end. The next stage, as we grow older, is more intelligent, and we begin to understand the qualities of good play. We improve year by year, and take pride in the increase of our own physical prowess, of which the limit is not yet seen. Then from understanding we pass to an artistic admiration of good play for its own sake; we become judges of how the thing should be done, and we are critics of style. Competition is then desired, not solely for the excitement it provides, but as a stimulus to good play; we no longer seriously expect to improve in our own play, but we take pleasure in doing our best. The last stage may be a long one; it begins with the admission that we are past our best. Strength is not diminished, and indeed we may even have more sheer strength than ever, but the effort of using it has become greater. The first sign of deterioration is when our powers seem as great, but it becomes more exhausting to use them, and when in a hard game we do not last so well. The next symptom follows very soon ; we cannot do so quickly what can no longer be done so easily; our performance suggests retrospect; the personal element wanes, and we find satisfaction more and more in contemplation and less and less in excitement and competition; at last we sit amongst the onlookers, and are advised by our friends to practise golf. There is much that is analogous to all this in the pleasure which is found in sport.
It would be tedious and perhaps invidious to enter here upon a comparison of angling with other sports. Each man sees special advantages in his own favourite pursuit, and possibly pays for this by overlooking some advantages which are to be found elsewhere. One thing I must claim, at any rate for fly fishing, that it involves less pain than is inflicted in any other sport. All experience and observation go to prove that what the fish surfers from most is fright, and this is an objection which may be brought equally against netting, and indeed against any possible method of killing fish except by poison or dynamite, of which the former is repulsive and horrible, whilst the latter causes wholesale and ruthless waste of life. Wordsworth calls angling "the blameless sport," and with his opinion on such a point any one may be content. Having said so much, I will for the rest make an appreciation of the pleasures of angling as little comparative with other sports as may be.
In angling, as in games, the earliest obvious characteristic is the desire for success and the consequent excitement. To those who are born-anglers, this excitement presents a peculiarly attractive and irresistible aspect. There is first the expectation of a bite or a rise, the sudden thrill when it comes, and directly a fish is hooked the overwhelming rush of anxiety as to whether it will be landed. There is more than this; there is the spirit which seems to enter into the rod and line in playing a fish. They who do not feel these things will never care much for fishing. Probably it is some subtle quality of temperament which makes the difference between men in this respect, but those who are anglers will probably admit that in early boyhood, or at the first opportunity, they felt the excitement of these things, and were captivated by it. For myself I know nothing which equals the excitement of having hooked an unexpectedly large fish on a small rod and fine tackle. One instance, which occurred not so long ago, comes often to mind. I hap-pened one September to be fishing for sea trout, with a single-handed rod, in a long stretch of deep still water, peat coloured, but fairly clear. The day was bright, one of those fine summer days with a light east breeze, enough to make some but only a little ripple. It was necessary, therefore, to use as fine gut as I dared, and small flies, and even then my success was not great. One good sea trout of nearly four pounds was hooked and landed, and several fish were seen, but only occasionally would one rise, and then always very shyly. Late in the afternoon, when the breeze had nearly died away, and hope was getting less, there was a great and sudden boil in the water, one of my flies was seized most unexpectedly, and I knew that either a salmon or grilse was hooked. The river at this point was not very wide. There were two alder bushes growing on the bank, one above and the other below me, over which no rod could be passed, but the space in between them must have been quite 200 yards of still water, and the fish being about in the middle of this stretch, there was no immediate cause for dreading a catastrophe. But there were formidable difficulties: one was, that there was no shallow water to which the fish could be taken; another, that the bank was steep and fringed with rushes; and a third was, that I had only a landing net, not large or strong, and with a weak handle. There came on me a grim consciousness that the whole affair must be very long, and that the most difficult part of all would be at the end, not in playing the fish, but in landing it. By slow degrees the fish came under control of the rod, but the nearer he could be brought the more were matters complicated by the rushes at the edge. Time after time he passed under my eyes, swimming upright though slowly, so that I could see shape and size and the marks on the body, but the end seemed as far off as ever. Not till he was at the top of the water, and it was possible to keep him quiet there, must anything be risked. The fish could not be brought within reach of my hand owing to the rushes. The bottom of the river was too soft, and the water too deep at every part for wading. The small net was the only chance, and the risk of using it was so great that I hardly dared to try. It seemed as if any attempt to land the fish with this net would precipitate a catastrophe, which I could not face. More than once I failed, and each failure was horrible. The fish was got partly into the net, but moved and splashed out of it, and the nearer each attempt came to success, the greater was the danger. At last, not only the head but enough of the bulk of the body sank into the net. I lifted it; there was a feeling of weakness, a sound of something giving way; the handle bent and the net drooped. I dropped the rod, and somehow with both hands carried or dragged everything up the bank. The salmon weighed eight pounds ten ounces, and it had taken perhaps half-an-hour to land it. There was no physical reason for being exhausted, and yet for a little time I could do nothing. All power had gone from me; my limbs were trembling, and there was a looseness of the knees which made it difficult to walk. Such are the great times of sheer excitement which happen in fishing.