For this sort of fishing in a small river, I like to use a single-handed rod, but one that is very strong. One not only has more sport with the fish hooked on a rod like this, but one fishes more delicately, and can use finer gut than is safe with a double-handed rod; and finer gut makes a considerable difference in the number of fish hooked, except when the water is very much coloured. With a small rod an angler, who has nerve and patience, will land even salmon successfully on a casting line tapered to end with the finest undrawn gut, provided always that the water is free from obstructions, such as tree roots and weeds, and that the angler can follow the fish either along the bank or by wading.
Every now and then comes the great event of hooking a grilse or salmon on a sea trout rod and fine tackle, and then there is a long and most interesting contest, to which the angler addresses himself with every nerve strung by excitement. At first his business is to be very modest in asserting himself, and to save his tackle by following the fish as much as he can, rather than by letting out line, which may get drowned in the current. But from the first he selects some favourable piece of water below him, and endeavours to conduct the fish towards it. Often enough, in spite of all he can do, the contest drifts away from the desired place; for the fish may get there too soon and carry the angler past it, in which case he must then select with his eye some other place and make that the object of his movements. The best place of all for the last stage of the fight, when the angler feels that the time has come to contend not only for the safety of his tackle but for victory, is a quiet back water with a shelving bank of gravel, which is even, and free from very large stones. Any smooth shallow place will do well enough, but a back-water sometimes brings sudden confusion and helplessness upon a tired fish. When a fresh grilse or salmon has been landed on sea trout tackle and a single-handed rod, the angler must have made good use of his resources of quickness, judgment, decision, patience and self-control, and should feel that come what may afterwards the good fortune of that day's angling has been made safe.
Hitherto angling for sea trout in rivers only has been discussed in this chapter, but probably more of these fish are caught by anglers in lochs than in rivers. It is a pity that this should have to be so, but, if a loch is accessible, sea trout will not rest till they get to it, and there they are content to remain, till they go up the small streams to spawn. Loch fishing is for obvious reasons not so interesting as river fishing. There is not the variety and individuality of stream and pool and condition of water; whilst in most cases it is necessary to fish from a boat, drifting sideways with the wind, so that the angler is always moving involuntarily towards his own flies, which he is at the same time working towards himself. Most people very much prefer to fish from firm ground, where they can cast when they please, move as they please, and stop where they please to linger over a favourite place.
On some lochs, however, the sea trout lie near the sides, and can be reached either from the bank or by wading. There the angler can be independent, and may have very good sport, though the advantage of covering a large extent of water turns the scale in favour of a double-handed rod. Except on very rough days, fine tackle is important in loch fishing, and as in angling from the bank one cannot make sure of being able to follow the fish, it is necessary, not to have a heavier line, but to have more of it. I once hooked a grilse of nearly five pounds on trout tackle, and a single-handed rod, when I had only thirty yards of line on the reel, and when I was fishing from the bank of a loch on which there was no boat. Twice the grilse ran dangerously near to the limit of the line; twice as a last resource I slacked the line as much as I could, in the hope of making the fish think it was free and cease its efforts, and each time it seemed puzzled, and let me very quietly and cautiously recover some line. Whether a catastrophe was really saved by these tactics I cannot be sure, but they are worth trying in an emergency. That grilse, at any rate, was landed.
In lochs the fish are even more capricious in their moods than they are in rivers. One generally attributes these moods to the weather ; there always seems to me to be something in the weather, on any given day, when the fish will not rise, which is the cause of my having no sport; and being of an excessively sanguine temperament—of which I hope never to be cured—I discover that evening some change, actual or impending, in the wind or the sky or the temperature, which I am satisfied will make the next day entirely different. I look forward full of happy expectation. Yet with all this study of weather, I have not been able to arrive at any theory which is satisfactory.
The best day I ever had with sea trout in a river was when the water was not very high, and there was a gloomy gale from the east in August. The best day I ever had on a loch was bright and hot, and with only a very slight breeze—not nearly enough in appearance for fishing. Till mid-day I had not had one rise, and had only seen two fish. Then the breeze improved just enough to make a small ripple, and quantities of daddy-long-legs came upon the water; the little black loch trout all under four ounces were very pleased with these straggling insects, and pursued and took them. I did not actually see a sea trout take one, but the large fish began to show by making boils on the surface, and my belief is that the daddy-long-legs were the cause; and wherever the sea trout showed, and I could reach them from the bank, they took my fly.
There is very interesting sea trout fishing to be had in Shetland, of which I once had some experience. It was on a property of some 12,000 acres, remote from all hotels, and so indented by small and large voes that the actual coast line was about thirty miles, all wild and rocky. There were innumerable lochs, but the overflow of most of them fell into the sea over some precipice, which no fish could ascend, and the sea trout lochs were practically only two in number. Two burns flowed from these lochs to the sea, and joined each other about a mile from their common mouth. Very little was known about the fish, as far as angling was concerned, and I found myself—for I was alone in the first days—with the delightful prospect of exploring the possibilities of salt and fresh water, remarkable both for extent and variety. When first I saw the burn it was very low, and the deeper part of it looked like a sulky black ditch. This burn had so little water that it seemed impossible any fish could have got up the rocky places at the mouth, but even then there were fresh run sea trout up to two pounds' weight in the black peaty holes, and they took a fly well. When a spate came in the last week of August, and in other spates during September, quantities of sea trout and grilse came up this burn, and we always found a number of fresh run fish in its pools willing to rise at all heights of water.