Soon, however, all comes right. The stream, which on first being affected by the rain was of a rather noisome mixture of various grays, gradually becomes clay-coloured, with a tinge of ruddiness; by and by, as the flood begins to fall, it will be a delicate yellow. It changes so, not wholly in response to the changing lights, though the buoyant clouds, which, as is usual after a summer storm of rain, are scurrying from the north-west, have varying hues ; but mainly from material conditions in the stream itself.
When it assumes the yellow tint, the trout begin to bite; and if the weather keeps up they bite with a will all day. What a peculiarly agreeable day it is! Often I have wondered what it is that causes such a time to be remembered, or looked for, with such pleasure. It is a rare day, no doubt, floods in late spring and in summer being infrequent; and perhaps the joy with which one contemplates the sport is in some measure due to its novelty. Still, that cannot be the whole explanation. Angling in a flood has an attractiveness inherently its own.
After much pondering, I have, I think, hit upon the secret.
A rise at a fly, delightful as it is and always will be, is the joyous sensation of a moment only; but a nibble at a worm is more. It is a protracted sensation. If you watch any of these villagers who are out upon the stream when it is flowing from bank to brae, you will notice that he does not strike the very moment his line is stopped. O no : this art of worm-fishing calls for much discrimination. It may be an eel that is taking his bait. If he could be sure, he would instantly pull the line away, not wishing to catch an eel; but he cannot be instantly sure. The eel's nibble causes a slow and lazy-looking movement of the line, and the trout's is usually a smart rug-tug-tug-dart ; but often eel and trout begin in the same way, which is merely by arresting the line. The angler must risk catching an eel to make sure of not losing a trout. On the other hand, he must not wait very long. When a trout finds that he has made a mistake, he has an unknown means of putting things right which is nothing less than marvellous. Sometimes he ejects a hook as neatly as the mechanism of a modern rifle ejects the shell of a cartridge ; often, if he fails in the attempt to do that, you will find, on taking him out of the landing net, that in doing his best he has at least detached the worm from all the three hooks on your Stewart Tackle and blown it a foot up the gut! The trout must have a strength as magical as that of the mole, which, for its size, is said to be the mightiest of animals. All this time, nigh half a minute, our fisherman has been watching the line. In the question of when to strike a very complex tangle of considerations is involved. What he is to strike is the most serious of all. It may be an eel; it may be a trout not larger than a herring ; as fish of all sizes are susceptible to the attractions of a worm, it may be the monarch of the stream.
Does not this explain the delight of the time when the summer floods are out ? Frequently during the day all the pleasurable excitements possible in the sport are wrapt in a few tense seconds that feel much more. Indeed, recollected in long retrospect, the joys of a good day in a June flood seem almost to cover a season.
It is natural to expect that when the stream has cleared fly-fishing will be much better than it was before the rain ; but this hope is not always justified by the event. In lakes a rise of water almost invariably brings an improvement in the sport of fly-fishing; but it does not seem to make much difference on rivers. Often, on the fall of the flood, as the sparkling water was running half a foot or so above the normal level, I have thought, Now, this is splendid ; but nearly as often I have found it not splendid at all. The water is clear enough to let the flies be seen, and it is flowing with such liveliness that one would think the trout must be lively too; but often that is not the case. As a rule, the fish hold aloof until the stream has become normal.
Then a river affords opportunities to study the habits of the trout which are not to be found on a lake. Many of the fish can be seen and watched. Does each of them have a place of his own ? I think he has. Sometimes you may see a trout, usually a large one, roaming about within a radius of a few yards ; but when you see this you see also that there is no other trout near him. All the little domain in which he moves is his; and if we watched long enough we should probably find that when he rests, or feeds on flies, he is stationary at some particular part of it. Here and there, most notably where a tributary joins the stream, three or four trout are often to be seen together. These hardly ever move from the spots on which they are lying, or above which, as they will be if on the outlook for flies, they are poised. Each seems to think that if he went away for a while he would have a battle for his hover on coming back. These three or four trout, too, are in a distinct order of precedence. The biggest is closest to the point of contact between the tributary and the stream. Being there, he has first choice of the tid-bits which the brook or the ditch is bringing down. Next to him is the second-biggest; next again, the third-; and so on. When one is taken by an angler, his immediate junior has a step in promotion. If all of them are taken, next day three or four more, of equal sizes or nearly so, will be found in their places. Whence they have come, no man can exactly tell; but there they are, mysteriously, and it is reasonable to believe that they had been looking for the vacancies which they have filled.
Once I saw this little drama complete in a single day. That was on T-J-B-'s water rising on the borders of Surrey and Sussex and Hampshire. The two ponds near the old mill are separated by a grass-covered path, across which the stream, having filled the upper pond, falls into the other. The second pond is about nine feet under the surface of the first; and the stream tumbles into it perpendicularly.