This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
When I was young, an old friend and experienced fly-fisher once told me that the talk about the importance of having the flies fall like thistledown upon the water was all moonshine. Said he: "If you get the fly on the water at all, and the Trout wants it, he'll take it."
I cannot tell among what sort of Trout my friend had gained this experience; but in my own I find that the more lightly my flies descend upon the surface of the stream, the more likelihood is there of a rise.
There is no such mighty mystery in fly-fishing, more than in rifle-shooting; and while superior skill in either is confined to the few, the main principles of each may be learned [not mastered] in a few minutes.
In my judgment, the most important point in Trout-fishing is gained by him who has acquired the correct method of giving what is termed the "strike." It should be prompt, yet delicate-prompt because the fraction of a second of lost time may mean the loss of your fish, and one has to see but once the suddenness with which any distasteful morsel is ejected some inches from the mouth of the Trout, to realize the importance of promptitude in responding with the turn of the wrist to the first gleam that denotes a rise.
It is well to have the knack of making long casts, but they are seldom requisite to success, particularly in stream-fishing. With a short line you are more fully master of the situation, and the most of the Trout are taken within thirty feet. A long cast however, sometimes enables one to reach points otherwise unattainable, but in practice nobody casts a fly eighty or one hundred feet. That is casting, not fishing.
When fishing for Trout, keep your eye on the stream. If you see a rise, mark the spot, but be not in haste to reach it. A master of the angle is seldom in haste. When near enough, cast your fly a little short of the point you have noted.
Then, if necessary, cast a little further, and if your cast is well chosen and well made, the fish will probably show itself.
If you are wading, you cannot be too deliberate or cautious in your movements, and by observing such a course, you may sometimes even pass through a school of Trout without sensibly alarming them.
Study the insects along the stream, and make up your cast accordingly, if practicable. Mr. H. Cholmondeley Pennell advocates the use of three typical flies for Trout, to the exclusion of all those now in use. Never having tried them, I cannot say as to their efficiency, though I had hoped to test them during the present season, but a malady of the eyes has prevented my giving them a trial. They are green, brown and yellow, and have certainly a most attractive look, as tied by Mr. Charles F. Orvis from whom I obtained some specimens.
A good assortment of flies is desirable, especially while on a journey; but the fly-book of an expert is more notable for the selection of the flies which it contains than for their numbers, and seldom will he wet more than a half-dozen in a day's fishing.
It is well to take a few lessons from an accomplished fly-tyer, and to carry materials for extemporizing a cast which, though not scientifically tied, may yet prove attractive to the denizens of the brook.
In casting across a stream, which, where practicable, is the better way, do not hurry, but draw the flies slowly toward you, lest the Trout be alarmed. And when the fish is hooked, especially if he be large, do not seek to land him hastily, unless compelled by the surroundings to do so, lest haply he break away. The most that escape are lost through undue haste.
When Trout have become "educated," and sometimes where they have not, the smallest flies on number 12 to 18 hooks, with gossamer gut, will prove more attractive than most others, and such are extensively used upon the much fished streams of England, as also upon those of New York and others of our states which have for years been resorts for anglers. The gossamer gut, however, deteriorates in quality in a short time, and is not ordinarily requisite in the capture of our American Brook Trout. The drawn gut is best preserved by being kept wrapped in oiled paper.
The rods now in favor are very much lighter, though more effective, than those formerly in use. A click reel-not a multiplier-and thirty yards of water-proof line (the tapered lines are best) will be found most effective. And it is well that the line should fit the rod. As truly said by Mr. Orvis: ;<A heavy line on a very light rod would be bad; a very light line on a heavy rod would be worse. I find many are inclined to use too light a line, supposing the lighter it is, the less trouble there will be in casting it. This, I think, is an error. It is impossible to cast well against or across the wind with a very light line; and very light lines do not 'lay out' as accurately as do the heavier ones."
I think that the lighter rods are growing in favor. Good work has been done with three to five ounce switches in waters adapted to their use, but for swift streams they seem to me to be unsuitable, at least for the larger fish. For "brushy" streams, a stiff rod is best.
Many Trout which would otherwise be lost may be saved by the use of a landing-net. If the fish is lifted from the water by the hook, and the tackle be fine, it is liable to be broken.
Neither a low barometer nor an electric storm are conducive to success in fishing. In choosing the day, as in selecting and proving the tackle, experience is the road to success. A change of weather is often the prelude to good luck in fishing. A thorough angler will seldom use a leader that has not been tested, and it is stated by an eminent authority, Mr. Henry P. Wells, that "a leader which will endure five pounds steady strain with a spring balance, will, when backed by the elasticity of a fair rod, resist the utmost effort of the largest Trout that swims the Rangeley Lakes."
Test, therefore, the gut you use, and never bend it when dry, or allow it to be stepped upon at any time.