Weeds are the great and universal difficulty with chalk stream trout, and there are times when large fish break the gut by carrying the line right through patches of them, and so arranging matters that they and not the angler settle how much strain the gut has to bear, but on the whole, considering how many and how thick the weeds are, less fish are lost than might be supposed. Trout differ very much in the use they attempt to make of weeds, and every now and then a good fish will appear to neglect the weeds altogether, as if it were too chivalrous to take so great an advantage of the angler. When a fish is bent on doing some quite fatal thing, such as going down a hatch, the angler must decide, according to his idea of the strength of his tackle and of the size of the fish, whether he had not better at all costs have the fight out then and there and risk being broken at once. He should make up his mind quite clearly about this, and if he thinks he cannot possibly hold the fish by force, he had better slacken the line. The sudden freedom from the strain sometimes changes the intention or tactics of the trout.
1 It would surely be hard to over-estimate the importance to the angler, and the interest to the naturalist, of this theory of Sir Edward Grey's. The resistance often offered by trout of a moderate size when they have reached a small patch of weeds in a chalk stream is quite mysterious.—Eds.
I suppose that nowhere else, and never before, have so many large fish been caught on such fine tackle and small hooks, as have been caught on the best dry fly rivers in recent years, and the anglers who fish these rivers know very well that directly a trout is hooked no possible advantage must be neglected. The chief point is to keep below the fish and fight always with the stream on your side. After the first few moments, you should be able with skill and care, first to guide and then control any trout up to three pounds' weight, if you work steadily down stream with it. There is no need for hurry, for time is then on the angler's side, but there comes a point at which the landing net should be got ready for possible chances. A moment of apparent exhaustion generally seizes a trout before it is really exhausted, and if this happens when the fish is within reach it is well to take the opportunity of landing it. On the other hand, at the actual moment of getting the net off the strap, the angler may be taken at a disadvantage, and he should not expose himself to this risk till he is pretty sure that the trout is no longer capable of anything very sudden or violent. With a very large fish — the thought of losing which is really dreadful—I always have a secret fear of getting the net ready too soon, lest the act should be noticed by some unseen influence, and treated as a sign of that pride which deserves a fall. No attempt should be made to net a good fish till it has turned on its side, and ceased to struggle or splash, and till the net is right under it. The best way is to draw the fish over the net, not to push the net under the fish. In practice there is often a combination of both these movements, but the net should be kept as still and unobtrusive as possible, until the final act of lifting, or rather receiving and drawing the body of the fish to land, and this should be steady, even, and certain. I prefer to keep the rod in the right hand, because the management of the fish with the rod is more difficult and delicate, even at the last moment, than the act of netting.
The dry fly angler on chalk streams has less reason to pay attention to the weather than any other. To those who fish for trout on north country rivers, still more to those who fish for sea trout or salmon, there comes a certain day or days after rain when the rivers are in such perfect order, and when the chance of a very good day's fishing is so excellent, that it is really imperative to take advantage of it; but on the chalk streams of Hampshire this is not so. The rivers are always clear and in order as far as the water is concerned. It is true that the springs which feed them have been seriously diminished by successive droughts and deficiencies of rain-fall since the beginning of the summer of 1887, but the system of hatches and mills maintains the level of water at any rate in some meadows, even when the flow of water is lessened, and no amount of rain has a sudden effect upon the condition of these rivers. The main difficulty of the dry fly angler is with the wind, and he devotes all his efforts to making himself independent of it. A stiff rod, a fairly heavy line, a short length of gut, and the underhand cast will do wonders in the teeth even of a strong wind; but the dry fly angler cannot compromise with the wind, and if it is down stream he must face it and do his best. It happens from the nature of things that the cold spring winds blow down stream in the valleys of the Itchen and Test. These winds in the early part of the season seem to delay the hatch of fly without in the least impairing it: on the contrary, the best hatches of fly and rises of trout often take place in a cold east wind and on a dull, cheerless day. Sometimes the hatch of flies is delayed till well into the afternoon, but never in May, however cold the wind, need the angler despair of having a really good basket. On the other hand, I have sometimes in warm weather in May seen the hatch of flies weak and the rise of trout soon over. It is not always so, and I do not mean to say that a cold day and a down stream wind are to be wished for, but only that the angler, who starts on such days with a feeling of disappointment, will often get far more consolation than he expects. One piece of advice may be given to all anglers, who begin dry fly fishing when they are young, and that is to make themselves ambidextrous, to be able to cast with the left hand as well as with the right. To my great regret I can only use a single-handed rod with the right hand, but I have seen one man at least, who could use either hand equally well, and the advantage of being able to use the left hand when fishing up the left bank of a river against the wind is enormous.