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The Moor and the Loch
River Angling


My first advice to the beginner in river-fishing is to give himself little trouble about the old-fashioned descriptions and arrangement of flies, such as good old Isaac (unequalled in every other department) has so elaborately, and, I must say, so unnecessarily discussed. The theory of fly-fishing has been much simplified since his day, and a few directions as to its practice are all I think necessary to give. For the sake of illustration, I will take the Almond and Water of Leith near Colt Bridge, two streams well known to all Edinburgh anglers, and which also bear a strong resemblance to many of the English rivers. The trout in both these waters, especially the latter, are shy, well fed, and lazy; and here, if anywhere, one would imagine the whole absurd catalogue of artificial flies would be needed to tempt their dainty appetites. So far, however, from this being the case, I have never used more than three or four different kinds during the whole spring and summer, and was generally at least as successful as any of my numerous competitors. These flies were the same as those I have mentioned under loch-fishing, only of course suiting the size of the hook to the nature and quality of the stream, whether it is much whipped over, &c. If the angler pleases, he may vary the mouse-body to the water-rat, which will make it a little darker for a bright day ; and a bunting's is the best blae-wing he can use. When the water is very small, the mallard and teal-wings, for the sake of lightness, I have occasionally omitted, and fished with the flies as palmers. At Colt Bridge, especially, the trout, from being constantly harassed with anglers, require very fine fishing. I have taken most of the fat, heavy ones either with the mouse-body and snipe, or buntingwing, or a small black palmer, hook an 0 or No. 1 at the largest. If the water should be rather swelled and discoloured, always use the mallard-wing and red hackle for the trail, and it is a good plan to clip off a piece of the shank of the hook before tying the fly. You may thus fish with a No. 2 as lightly as a 1, which is a great point in all still waters where the trout are shy.

To fish these deeps with success, the angler must not only be able to throw a long line most delicately, but also attain the art of making his fly alight within an inch of any given point, in order to take advantage of the rises of the trout. When the fly is dropped in the centre of the ring, the instant after the trout has belled up, it is ten times more likely to rise again than if the fly touched the water at ever so short a distance, even if thrown as lightly as possible and clearly seen by the trout. There is more art in this than most anglers are aware of. In dragging the cast, the gut should not cause the slightest ripple. To prevent which the flies must be sunk a little, and the motion slow. It is also very desirable to attain the knack of throwing well when trees are close behind you; as trout, especially in summer, are apt to harbour under them for the sake of the insects that are blown off into the water beneath.

There is often in summer a small black fly that keeps playing on the top of the water, and every now and then alighting for a moment, as if tempting its aquatic foe. When the angler sees this fly thus sporting with the jaws of death, let him always have a small black hackle on his cast. There is also another summer-fly which comes down upon the river in great numbers, they keep all together, and hover about two or three inches above the water. The trout follow them in shoals, and in the Almond I have seen half a dozen heads at a time darting up at the busy throng above. As these flies do not alight on the water even for an instant, the trout are all intent on seizing them in the air; and there being generally a dead calm where these insects congregate, your cast, though thrown ever so lightly, has more the effect of alarming than enticing the fish. It is most tantalizing, but all that can be done is to take a few light casts now and then, stopping whenever the trout cease to rise. By this cautious proceeding, you may take one or two of the most greedy. When I have caught trout at such times, I have observed that they as often as not took the fly on the cast least resembling the insect.

It would be treason to doubt the omnipotence of the May-fly, whose reign, however, seldom begins in Scotland till June. The more ignorant the angler the more determined will he be to have the imitation on his cast when the natural fly is on the water. Well, let him, it will kill, but whether better, either in May or June, than those I have named, let the man who can deftly throw them judge for himself. I was at one time as great a stickler for the May-fly as any one, but for the last few years have had none upon my cast, and never missed his company. I don't profess to be a theorist in my fishing, but have come to the conclusion that a few judicious shades from light to dark are quite sufficient when fishing with small flies for yellow trout, whether or not they take them for a known insect; and the least observant man, by having four of the flies I have mentioned on his cast, will soon find out whether light, dark, or medium is the order of the day.

When river-fishing, I never trouble myself with more tackle than three or four casts round my hat, each having a different trail. Thus being able to fish with the fly as trail, which seems for the time the favourite. If unacquainted with the stream, it may be as well to have a few additional casts, with the hooks of different sizes.

In some very muddy waters, such as the Ale in Selkirkshire, (exactly the colour of its name,) a single thread of silver is recommended when fishing with a dark fly; I tried this, but found a red palmer quite as effective. No doubt, however, the tinsel is good in such a case, though I have seldom seen a river discoloured enough to require it.

Another hint to the young angler is to mind what he is about when he approaches the still deeps of the river. Many are apt to pass them by altogether, and scarcely try a cast until they come to the pools and streams again. Perhaps the best test of a finished performer is the manner in which he fishes these dead deep places, especially if there is little wind, for they generally harbour the largest and best fed fish, which are, of course, the most suspicious and difficult to rise. We will suppose a first-rate angler approaching one of these unrippled deeps : his tackle is of the very lightest description- he is watching with a hawk's eye for the rising of a trout; should he see one, he instantly moves off till within rather a distant cast of the place, taking advantage of any bush or tuft of reeds which may the better conceal him, or, if necessary, going down on his knee, ready to drop his cast, light as gossamer, right across the next circle, which the crafty fish may make by sucking down another incautious fly. If the trout should rise, he is not unlikely to be one well worth hooking, and to give good sport in such quiet water. When there is breeze enough to make much ripple, it may prevent any but a quick and practised eye from seeing the rises most worth notice; in which case the water should be fished with as long a line and as light casts as possible. You need not despair should trees or any other obstacle prevent your sweep from being so free as otherwise it ought, for if you are suitably dressed, and make no rapid motions, you will be so masked by the trees or bushes as to allow of a much nearer approach and shorter cast. In the Water of Leith there are two pools a little way above the bridge, overshadowed by old trees and much frequented by large heavy trout. There I have been often more successful than when my sweep was perfectly unencumbered, and I must be allowed to mention a curious circumstance which happened to me last summer in one of these said pools. Having tied a cast rather hurriedly in the morning, I hooked a good fish upon my bob, a mouse-body and snipe-wing, when the single knot slipped. Two days after, when fishing the same place, I again hooked and killed a fine trout, upwards of a pound weight, and, to my astonishment, my own handiwork with two inches of gut was sticking in his lip. One of the fraternity, sedulously employed on the opposite bank, remarked, that " it must have been an honest trout, for it was not for want of temptation that he kept the hook for the right owner!" He also related a fact of the same kind which had happened a week or two before :-A friend of his was fishing with minnow, when the tackle caught in a tree behind, and, not being able to reach it, he had broken the gut. Soon after, when some one was shaking the tree, to secure the tackle, it dropped off into the water, and, being slightly loaded with lead, immediately sunk. Next day an eel was taken at a set line with a piece of gut hanging out of its mouth, and the very person who had lost the tackle being on the spot, it occurred to him that it might be his, which proved to be the case.

The insensibility to pain, which an angler can scarcely fail to notice in these cold-blooded creatures, is a point which happily redeems from cruelty the necessary inflictions of his craft. I recollect catching three fine trout one evening when trolling on Loch Lomond with a friend, and we discovered hanging out of the mouth of one of them a strong hair line. On opening the fish we found a large bait-hook fixed firmly in its stomach, the wicker and part of the hook being nearly digested. The creature had evidently been caught and broke away from a set-line, and, though hooked in so vital a part, not only took our bait greedily, made a most capital fight for a quarter of an hour, but was in the very finest condition, having fattened on his hard fare instead of wasting from torture.

The last hint I have to give on the still parts of the river is, that when the large trout refuse to rise, being sated with summer-flies, a small minnow about dusk is most likely to succeed.

With regard to the streams, and more rapid parts of the river, it certainly requires practice to find out the feeding-places of trout. There is always a good cast just where the water begins to steady itself, after falling and foaming over a ledge of rock,-also in the eddies caused by roots, stones, branches of trees, &c. An angler who loves his craft will very soon become knowing in this department, and will then find much less difficulty here than in the still deeps. Of course, the more rapid the water the less likely is the trout to observe either a fisher on the banks or his line, though perchance clumsily thrown. But show me the man who can fish the still parts of the river with tact and science, and I will be answerable for the rest of his performance. As to wind, which most anglers make such a fuss about, although a moderate breeze is a sine qua non in loch-fishing, and also an advantage to the clumsy craftsman on the river, yet if the water is in its best state, and the sun not very bright, a first-rate angler would rather have too little than too much.

The above observations apply equally to all the rivers and streams I have fished, and my practice has been in many parts of England, as well as north, south, east, and west of Scotland.


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