Anglers who desire to learn the art of dry fly fishing should read and study such a book as "Dry Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice," by Mr. F. M. Halford. I do not for a moment pretend to be able to give instruction of value and completeness equal to that contained in Mr. Halford's book, and still less to improve upon it; but there is so much variety in angling and in individuals that each record of personal experience has something new, which may be interesting and perhaps even suggestive or useful to others. The difficulties of dry fly fishing are common to us all, but we do not all deal with them in the same way. We make various experiments of our own, and each of us after some years of experience has a little store of conclusions which he believes in and endeavours to apply. Some of these conclusions may seem to other anglers to be mere foolishness, but wherever they have been applied for years with moderate success, they are worthy of record. I have, however, at various times started in my own mind so many theories which have been suggested by experience and afterwards upset by it, that I do not desire to press any one to accept an opinion, unless there is anything in his own experience which goes to support it. There is only one theory about angling in which I have perfect confidence, and this is that the two words, least appropriate to any statement about it, are the words "always" and "never." Theories, rules, creeds and hypotheses are constantly forming in the angler's mind. Trout seem to make it their object to suggest these only to upset and destroy them.
There are three successive objects before the angler: the first is to rise a trout, the second to hook it, and the third to land it. All are essential, but the first is the most important, and in dry fly fishing the most interesting. To achieve the first of these objects the angler tries to make sure, (1) that the trout shall see his fly bearing the greatest possible resemblance to a natural fly in appearance, position and motion; and (2), that the trout shall see nothing of the angler's person and nothing else of his tackle save the fly. The effort, in short, is to make the trout notice the fly without noticing anything else. It is in this that the fine art of dry fly fishing consists. The fly is a tiny insignificant thing, the angler with his apparatus is more or less bulky and obvious; but he has to display the insignificant and conceal the obvious. This, however, does not explain more than half the difficulty, for the fly which is so small must not only conceal a hook, but also support the weight of the hook floating on the surface of the water, and must do this without any appearance of effort; a fly lying on its side as if tired by the weight of the hook is not nearly so attractive as one sitting upright. In fact, the fly must float as if it were buoyant, cheerful and in the best of spirits—natural flies having the appearance of being very frivolous and light-hearted. Even now there is more to be said, for the fly must float as if it were unattached to a comparatively heavy line, some yards of which are lying upon the water; and to this it must be added that the fly must float with perfect accuracy to the exact spot, where one particular trout has been seen to rise some moments before. In good dry fly water trout are extremely quick to mark anything that is amiss, so that all these matters must be attended to.
The various positions in which a trout may be rising, fall roughly under two heads. The first includes every position under or near the angler's own bank; the second includes any position near the middle or on the opposite sides of the stream, though in a very narrow stream all positions may be regarded as coming under the first head. A trout under or near the angler's own bank must as a rule be given the chance of seeing the gut before it sees the fly. If the trout's body is clearly visible in the water, it may be possible in theory to make the fly alight at just such a spot over its head that it can see the fly and nothing else, but I doubt its being possible in practice, for it must be a matter almost of hundredths of an inch, and the angler had better make up his mind that the gut must float over the trout first, and make his plans accordingly. If the trout is rising close under the bank and directly in a line above me, I have found the better plan to be to make the fly alight only a few inches above it: in this position some of the gut must not only float, but fall directly over the trout, and it is better that only the finest of the gut should do so. Sometimes a trout is attracted by seeing the fly actually alight upon the surface, but personally I do not think it is advisable to pitch the fly as a rule very close to the fish, and however lightly the cast may be made, I would rather that the fish did not notice the fly at all, till it arrives before him floating without motion of its own upon the surface.
If the trout is not close under the bank, but only near to it with a space of open water between, it is better to throw the fly a yard or more up stream, sometimes two yards above is not too much, for the further the fly is cast with a slanting line above the trout, the less near to its head does any portion of the gut fall. There are days, however, when with all these precautions trout will not stand the sight of gut, and if so, as a last resort the angler must try to float his fly down stream over fish in these positions.1 A whole chapter might be written on the drawbacks to this particular method. It is necessary first to make an ugly slack cast, but so that the fly falls free at the end, and floats in a direct line above the fish; then the angler, by lowering the point of his rod and crawling along the bank, does his utmost to ease the line down stream and to prevent it from dragging the fly back. If everything goes well there is a really good chance of a rise, but also a good chance of the hook being pulled straight out of the fish's mouth when the strike is made. Sometimes very shy trout are caught by this method, but sometimes they do not rise to the first cast, or the fly floats rather to one side of them, and then all is over. When once the fly is past the trout, there is nothing left for the angler to do, but to scare the trout by dragging the fly and gut up stream over its head in the most unnatural manner. This, however, applies only to trout that are rising in a direct line below the angler; with others there are modifications of the down stream method which are possible and more satisfactory, and which I think are too much neglected. It is obvious that with all its drawbacks the down stream method has this advantage, that the fish sees the fly before the gut, and when the angler is casting to a fish under the opposite bank, or on the further side of a fairly broad stream, he should use as much of the down stream method as he can. By kneeling down as far back from the edge of the bank as possible, the angler can get opposite or nearly opposite to such fish without frightening them, and if having done this, he can make a cast so that the last foot or more of gut with the fly at the end of it is curved down stream, while the body of the line is either straight or convex across the stream, he will have combined the advantages of the down stream method, and at the same time have got rid of its drawbacks.