Let us suppose that he has been for some days on a good sea trout river towards the end of July, that there has been no rain for some weeks, and that he has wandered about for a few days catching hardly anything, but knowing that fish are showing freely at the mouth of the river and waiting to come up. At last there comes rain. First the dust is laid; then the water begins to show upon the road; and presently little white streams appear on the sides of the hills. Still the rain becomes heavier and continues, and the angler goes out in it late in the evening to watch the river beginning to rise. He listens to the sound of rain upon the roof at night, and with the increasing certainty of a really good spate a sort of corresponding current of excitement rises in him. If the morning is fine, small rivers will be high but will soon be falling, and he goes to a favourite part almost with the certainty of good sport. Wonderful indeed is the delight of standing by a pool which for weeks has been too low, the stream at its head a weak trickle, its deep part smooth and almost stagnant, the end of it shallow, clear, and hopeless, and of seeing it now full of agitation, life, and rich colour. The stream which was so desultory before, now sweeps right down and through it, rough and noisy at the top, smooth and quiet in the deep parts, but always a good current; and the whole pool seems full of character. Anything may come in such a pool as this, it may be a small sea trout or one of two, three, or four pounds, or a grilse, or a small salmon. That is the first charm of this sort of fishing, after fishing for trout in a chalk stream ; there is such great variety of size. The average weight of sea trout caught, including the small half-pounders, may be little over one pound, but there is the chance, sometimes the probability, of hooking something of five or ten pounds or more, for grilse and small salmon are always met with in sea trout rivers; and even the sea trout itself gets to heavy weights, though fish of five pounds and upwards are not common. While the river is high and the stream strong the best places are in the smooth currents at the tail of deep pools and heavy water, and in gentler rippling streams at the head of long shallow flats, but the only certain guide to the best places on each river is experience, and if the angler has no one to instruct him he must learn by fishing all places which look as if they might hold fish. If he works hard he will soon find out good places for himself. It is especially delightful to have knowledge of the water of a river and the ways of the fish which come up it, when this knowledge has been gained by fishing alone. The angler always believes that he has discovered some special places, which are better known to himself than to any one else. This belief is very likely true, but it is also true of other anglers, for experiences differ, and each season even on a known river adds something to one's knowledge of it, partly because the bed of the river and its banks are altered from time to time by floods.
There is another uncertainty about sea trout besides the glorious one of size, and that is the uncertainty of where the fish are. They seem to run very much in shoals, and one mile of a river may be full of them when there are comparatively few above or below. Whenever there has been a spate which has made the fish move, the angler has to find out where they are, and if he does not get them at once in what he knows to be favourite places, he had better try other parts of the river at some distance. He should always remember, however, that the fish may be in the pools he has already tried and may come to the fly later, and that it is easy to waste a whole day in running about without giving any part of the river a thorough trial. There is a tendency in sea trout fishing to spend time in trying to make sure where the biggest fish are. It is well to be on one's guard against this, and to remain where one meets with the first success, or where fish are seen. When a river is high and coloured the fish do not, as a rule, show themselves much by splashing or jumping, but whenever and wherever sea trout do show themselves in this way, it is an invaluable help to the angler, whose first object is to fish where the fish are, and whose great difficulty often is to be sure that he is doing this. What a contrast this is after a Hampshire chalk stream, where one comes to have an idea of the number and size of the trout in each meadow, and how much it adds to the wildness and hard work of fishing!
In sea trout fishing there is no waiting about for the fish to come on the rise, but constant fishing and walking and experiment, and on good days the day does not seem long enough to find out for certain where the best of the fish are.
The sea trout is a wild mysterious animal without a home, and its habits differ as much from those of brown trout as the habits of wild fowl or woodcocks do from those of partridges. Being such a vagrant it never has the chance of the persistent continuous education in the matter of angling and tackle, which some brown trout-receive, and its standard in the matter of flies and gut and casting is not so high or refined. On the other hand, its appetite in fresh water is more capricious, it is hardly ever on the lookout for any special flies which can be selected, and the angler has to trust more to the mood of the sea trout and his own knowledge of the river after a spate than to any superior excellence of skill beyond the average, or extra fineness of tackle. When sea trout are in the mood they take as freely as brown trout ever do, but in fresh water they are liable to longer spells of indifference or obstinacy. I think that, as is the case with salmon, sea trout do not enter rivers till they have stored up enough fat to last them, if need be, till they have spawned, but either because they still retain the power of digestion, or because they are more active and alert, more easily interested in what comes before them, they certainly rise to the fly much better than salmon do. One which I caught with a fly in a river after a spate disgorged several of the common black slugs, and it is clear therefore that they sometimes bring an appetite with them into fresh water. But for all that, sea trout cannot either expect or need to find a stock of food in clean rocky or stony fresh water, and the angler must be prepared for their often behaving like creatures that are quite independent of feeding.