It is the plain indiscriminating desire for success which leads us to the second stage in angling, that of taking the pains and trouble necessary to acquire skill. In early years we are content to catch fish anyhow, even with a worm in flooded water. But rivers are for the most part not in flood; on most days in the season, if trout are to be caught at all, it must be in clear water, and we find, too, except in a certain part of the season, that the greatest number can be hooked by using artificial flies. It becomes our object to learn this art and to improve in it by practice. At first the young angler, wholly bent upon success, may value his skill chiefly for its results : he dwells upon these, compares each good day with his own previous records, is probably competitive and anxious that on any given day his basket should be as heavy as those of others who have been fishing the same water. Whenever his basket is heavier than his rival's, he is delighted, and is probably not a little disappointed if, when he thinks he has done well, he finds at the end of the day that some one else has done much better. There is an age at which nearly every one who is keen must be competitive, but as long as this lasts an angler has not yet attained to the greatest enjoyment of his sport. He is missing more pleasure than he gains; and he is preventing himself from having that detachment of mind, and freedom and independence of spirit, which are among the charms of angling. An angler who is keen will work hard, but he should do it without the sense of strain which comes from trying to beat his own records, or those of others. By all means let us find satisfaction to the end in having a heavy or the heaviest basket, but do not let us make this the prime object of the day. Rather let each day's enjoyment stand upon its own merits without being made comparative.
As our skill increases we reach the third stage, that of caring for skill more for its own sake and less entirely for the results. There comes to be some satisfaction in doing things well, even when the results are not great, in continuing to throw a long line straight and lightly even when fish are rising badly, or in putting a dry fly perfectly to a trout in a difficult place though he refuses to take it. Some measure of success, of course, is always desired, and a man must surely be a pedant, or a prig, to be content to fish all day without it; but for all that, there is a certain delight in fishing water well, which for a time at any rate is independent of results. This is especially the case at the beginning of the day, when, for the first hour or so, to know or to think that we are deserving success contents us.
What are the qualities which a man most needs to become a good angler ? Let us assume that he starts with keenness, that the prospect of hooking a fish produces in him that feeling of excitement which is the motive for a desire to succeed, is the beginning of delight in angling, and, like a first element, cannot be analysed. What are the other qualities which he must possess or cultivate in order to become really skilful? He must, in the first place, have enough strength and aptitude of body to enable him to do a fairly hard day's work and manage both a rod and a fish cleverly, though he will not require the same exceeding quickness of limb, accuracy of eye and strength, which are necessary to the greatest success in the finest games. Quickness and delicacy of touch, and a certain power of managing a rod and line, akin to that individual cleverness or genius which men show in the use of tools or instruments with which they are experts, are necessary to success in angling. The art of throwing a fly well cannot be taught by description ; it may be seen and watched, but it can only be acquired by practice and a capacity for taking persistent and well-ordered pains. An angler must never be flurried by the perverseness of the wind, by the untoward tricks which the fly or line will sometimes play, or by the peculiarities of the stream; he cannot overcome these by sheer strength, and he must learn to dodge them and defeat them unobtrusively. Quiet, steady, intelligent effort is needed to become a master of the rod and line, to be able to do with them the best that can be done.
To throw a fly well is one step, and it is essential, but not by itself enough. A habit of attention and observation is at least equally important, and this observation must have a wide range. It must take notice of the ways of fish at all times, especially when feeding and when hooked; of different conditions of weather and water, and of the effect of these, till by degrees the angler will have at his disposal a little individual store, peculiarly his own, of suggestions, hints and probabilities. Things that he watches, or sees happen season by season, come to have meanings, and are signs which suggest expedients as the result of former experience. The attention of an angler must not be a barren but a fertile attention. His observation should add to his knowledge in a manner which has a direct bearing on his sport. He should make guesses founded upon something which he has noticed, and be ever on the watch for some further indications to turn the guess into a conclusion.
We have now arrived at two main qualities— the first being a certain physical cleverness, and the second an attentive and suggestive mind. But there is a third which seems to me important. It is self-control; for if an angler is really keen, he will have many struggles with himself in early days. The greater the keenness the more bitter the disappointment, and the more highly nerves have been strung by excitement the more likely are we to collapse under disaster. And yet it is a pity, and a waste of good things, that the loss of even the biggest fish should make the other pleasures and successes of the day of no account. In angling,- as in all other recreations into which excitement enters, we have to be upon our guard, so that we can at any moment throw a weight of self-control into the scale against misfortune, and happily we can study to some purpose, both to increase our pleasure in success and to lessen the distress caused by what goes ill. It is not only in cases of great disasters, however, that the angler needs self-control. He is perpetually called upon to use it to withstand small exasperations. There are times when all small things seem adverse, when the hook is perpetually catching in inanimate objects, when unexpected delays and difficulties of various kinds occur at undesirable moments, when fish will rise short, or when they feed greedily on natural flies, and will not look at artificial ones. These sorts of things tend to hurry and exasperation, which lead certainly to bad fishing, which in turn ends in a small basket and disgust.