There, I think, we have the whole truth about that puzzling subject, "throwing a fly." Many writers have striven to explain it, and have not succeeded. Others, wiser perhaps, have touched upon it only to say that it is inexplicable. This further attempt to solve the problem may, therefore, seem daring. I admit that it is; yet I venture. It will be noticed, I trust, that this chapter is not ambitious in the customary manner. It does not contain an exposition of the " overhead cast," or the "loop cast," or any other. Elaborate instructions as to each of these are to be found in earlier works. There you shall see photographed experts expository in the acts. Now they are in the "first position," with rod held parallel to the surface of the water; then in the second, with rod erect and line streaming in the wind behind; anon in the third, with the fly hurtling forward in the way it should undoubtedly go. You shall also find how to place your feet, in what pose to stand, and how to hold the rod when the fly is " fishing." All this is admirable; but in the midst of the elaboration the essential principle is obscured. The principle is, as has been said, that the rod and the arm are as one. The rod is the arm continued. That principle must be grasped decisively. You could not throw a stone if your arm were dislocated at the elbow. Similarly, you cannot throw a fly unless hand and rod are taut. A loose grip is dislocation. It leads to bungling and vexing of spirit. Think. You have a catapult, and are aiming. The shaft is in the right hand, forward; in the other is the leather bag enclosing a bullet; the elastic is well stretched out. If you drop the shaft the moment you let go the bag, the bullet will not travel far. It will hardly travel at all. Well, there is in a fishing-rod a principle akin to that of the catapult. The rod is elastic The elasticity is meant to be used. It is not used when the rod is handled timorously. It is brought into play only when the handling is firm.
All this, when set down, seems fairly obvious; yet to many a person seeking to catch a fish it does not come by the light of nature, and sometimes never comes at all. Any one who frequents trout streams or salmon rivers cannot fail of being struck by the rarity of correct casting. Usually the angler, with wide and graceless waves of the arms and of the body, is engaged in a ludicrous labour. Instead of using the rod to fling the fly, he seems to be flinging the rod itself. Sometimes a favourable slant of wind sends out the line as wished; but more often the gut falls in a coil, probably in a splash, and nearer to himself than the fisherman designed. The source of the mischief is his wide and graceless waving. His body should be erect and almost rigid ; his left hand, rest for the end of the salmon rod, should hardly move at all; and the right, gripping tightly and aiming with confidence, should move as little as is compatible with the energy required to liberate the forces of the weapon. The gingerly and clumsy manner in which a rod is often used may sometimes come from an apprehension that it would not stand the strain of the usage theoretically correct. If the rod is a good one the fear is needless. The pressure it will stand, if the pressure be steady, is enormous. If it is a bad one, the sooner it is destroyed the better. By luck rather than by good guiding, it may land a fish now and then; but on the whole it will be a cause of sorrow and an encouragement to bad style.
If this analysis of the dynamics of the rod be sound, there is no need to adorn these pages with figures of an expert caught by the camera in various stages of his action by the waterside. When once the essential principles are understood and adopted, overhead cast, loop cast, and so on, will really come by nature. There is no mystery about them. They are not like figures in a dance, which are artful actions, to be acquired only through teaching; they come as naturally as throwing stones. Even the " Spey cast" is not excluded from this general assertion. Wandering along by the edge of a river, looking for rises, you suddenly come upon an opportunity. A salmon has shown himself. The bank behind you, however, is very high; or there is a tree too near. What are you to do ? If you cast in the ordinary way, you will be caught up by the bank or the tree. How is the fly to be dropped over the fish ? Your line is out and trailing downstream. Why, all you have to do is to raise the rod, let it lie back a little over your head or shoulder, and switch it forward. The impulse given to the part of the line which is out of the water will recover the cast and toss it across-stream. This is a readily obvious adaptation of means to end. It is not much more complex than child's-play. Over and over again the " Spey cast" is discussed as if it involved some secret lore not less august than that of the highest Masonry; but it is a natural and simple action which would have come to pass, independently, at the instance of almost any intelligent fisherman, although it had never been heard of in rumour or in literature. Is any good purpose accomplished by making a mystery of the craft ?
The craft, to be sure, has what may be called secrets; but these, as far as this chapter is concerned, are trade affairs. The reel and the line have to be, as regards weight, in certain proportions to the rod. Much mechanical ingenuity has been applied to the perfecting of the reel, which is now, in certain modes, nearly as elaborate as a watch. My belief is that almost any modern reel is well-nigh as good as can be.
What the reel holds, however, or should hold, is a subject less easily understood. This is one of a class of questions which arise when, after a few days by the river, you begin to be critically concerned in the details of fishing gear. It is not so simple as it seems on a visit to the tackle-shop. An equipment that looks perfect there may disclose troublesome peculiarities by the waterside. What's in a line ? A novice, or even an old hand who has not thrown a fly for a long time, may think that one is as good as another; but that is not the case. The first principles of the subject are only now beginning to be understood. For many generations fishermen took it for granted that a line should be as light as was compatible with reasonable strength. Until comparatively recent times, therefore, what may be called the accepted line was one of plaited horsehair. Slightly elastic, it was stout enough to hold any reasonable fish; and it was lighter than any ordinary cord. It sufficiently commended itself by its lightness. Suddenly, however, after it had been in use, to the contentment of all, for many decades, the line struck some original thinker as imperfect. Prickly ends of hair stuck out all over it, and these were the frequent cause of vexatious tangle. What was to be done? The obtruding ends, no doubt, could be put down and kept down by coils of thread; but the thread would have to be resined, and the resin would have to be varnished, and that would mean a serious loss of lightness. Clearly, then, the ideal line must be of some other material. Hemp ? Yes; that might be tried. Soon it was found wanting. The hemp line went through the atmosphere and fell on the water just as prettily as the line of plaited hair; but it did not last long. The old line had been good for several seasons; the new one became rotten in a few months. This gradually led to the line as we have it now, hair and silk or hemp blent and waterproofed, or simply plaited silk well oiled and varnished.