Much has been written about the proper method of fishing with wet flies, whether it is best to fish up stream or down stream. It is easier to argue in favour of the up stream method, and if two men of equal ability held briefs one on each side, and argued the case against each other before a jury who were without experience of either method, and therefore presumably impartial, the verdict would probably be given for fishing up stream. But controversy is not always the best method of deciding what is the truth, and in most matters connected with angling, partizanship leads to error, just as certainly as in other affairs. There is no fixed rule to be given in this question of whether to fish up or down. Every angler had better acquire both methods, and be guided by his own experience in the use he makes of them. If, like Mr. Stewart, the great advocate of fishing up stream, he discards the other method altogether, and will not yield even to a rough wind down stream, but prefers to contend with it and maintain his theory in its teeth for hours, by all means let him do so; but it will be better that his persistence and confidence should be the result of experience rather than the result of argument or reading. He will at any rate have the satisfaction of having chosen the more difficult part, for it is generally more difficult to manage wet flies well, when they are cast up stream. It is probably as easy to rise trout in this way, but in rough streams, or even in smooth swift water, it is not so easy to be sure of seeing or feeling the rise at once. The flies sink deeper, the line is not kept so straight, for the stream instead of extending it makes it slack. By great care, and very frequent casting in order to rise most of the trout just after the flies have alighted on the water, it is possible to avoid or to overcome these difficulties to a very great extent, but the result of my own experience leads me to prefer to fish across and down stream, except when the water is very small and clear in the summer. I remember one day in August in the lowlands, when the river was full but had cleared after a flood, and I was fishing a quiet smooth stream which ran deep under one bank and became shallower towards the other. It happened that I was on the deeper side, and by throwing a light long line across and down stream, and letting the flies come round with a gentle motion, many trout were caught, but nearly all of them took the fly quite under water when the line was straight down stream. The most successful plan that day was to let the flies hang in the water for a few moments straight down stream at the end of the cast, moving the point of the rod very gently. Other methods too were tried by me that day, but this was by far the most successful.
When trout are feeding freely on natural flies, the moment when the artificial flies just touch the water is perhaps the most likely in each cast, but trout have curiously different moods when feeding, and there are many days when fish rise in the middle or end of the cast (when the flies are sweeping round under water or hanging in the stream), and appear not to be attracted by frequent and light casting. Sometimes feeding trout are very difficult and peculiar, and seem to be attracted by some special attitude or movement of the flies : it is therefore worth the angler's while to experiment attentively and to store in his memory for future use any suggestive experience.
Variety and independence are great charms of wet fly fishing for trout. There is no need of a ghillie or attendant to show the pools as in salmon fishing, and to explain the habits of the fish in each different river. Even on a strange river the angler's own knowledge of the habits of trout in general will enable him to use his flies with effect. Intimate knowledge and long experience of any particular river do give the angler who has them, a considerable advantage, and, other things being equal, should make his basket heavier than that of a stranger, and may well give him also a sense of legitimate and innocent pride. But there is also a pride, both pleasant and just, in drawing upon a store of general knowledge, and applying it unaided to the trout in water which is new to the angler. If he is a skilful fisherman, and keeps all thought of beating records away from him, he will not be disappointed with the result. After many years I still cannot say which is better— to fish a new river for the first time, or to fish on a good day water which has been long known, on which one has the best of reasons for expectation and confidence. Sometimes it is novelty and the spirit of enterprise, at others it is loyalty to old associations and the attraction of comparative certainty, that decide the balance of pleasure.
Of variety of fish and rivers and pools there is no end in this sort of trout fishing. There are so many sorts of water, from the swift to the still, from the rough to the smooth, and all degrees between them. The banks and beds of the rivers may be of rock or stones or shingle or sand or even mud. The height and the colour of the water vary from time to time. Even the difference of size in the trout is an attraction; there are rivers, where two-pounders are at least possible, where one or two trout of a pound or more may be expected on any day in the best of the fly fishing season, and yet where trout of a quarter of a pound are no disappointment. The country in which we fish may be the wildest or the most homely—bare and barren, or woody and fertile. If any special choice had to be made, I would choose a river with steep, woody banks as the most attractive of all for trout fishing; and strong streams in a wild, open country for rougher sport, such as salmon fishing. But all have their charms, and memories of wet fly fishing call up a whole world of varied aspects of beauty. In one element of variety alone have dry fly rivers an undisputed superiority, and that is in weeds. In other things I claim for wet fly fishing a greater variety and diversity of interest, both in country and water. Let any one think of the different water which he has fished in Scotch rivers; sometimes it has been water as colourless and nearly as clear as the Test or Itchen; sometimes water which is brown, but clearing after a flood, with small patches of thin white foam borne down the current. For rich colour a river coming from peat is best, and best of all when it is clearing after a flood, and the shallower parts have a crimson colour in the sun. Good too is " the amber torrent" and " the granite basin," as Clough saw them. We must still long to cast our flies in such places, however much we may have been blessed with opportunities of landing large trout in water meadow rivers on a dry fly. The conclusion of the whole matter is, that no amount of dry fly fishing will altogether compensate for the loss of the other, while no north country rivers can satisfy the longing for Hampshire water meadows in the months of May and June.