1902 Encyclopedia > Angling > Surface or Fly Fishing

(Part 4)


Surface or Fly Fishing

This method of fishing is conducted with the natural or the artificial fly. The first of these ways is called daping, dibbing, or shade fishing and consists of using a long light rod with almost 2 yards of fine strong gut, to the end of which is tied a No. 7 or 8 hook, not too coarse in the wire. A fly, beetle, or insect of some kind is then put on the hook by transfixing the thorax of the insect. Then the angler, having watched the fish rising under some bank or projecting tree or bush, creeps very softly to the place, and, keeping himself out of sight, pokes the point of his rod through some open spot in the bushes, and allows the insect to drop on the surface, just over or a little above the spot where the fish he wants to catch has been rising. Probably he will not be able to see or to feel the fish rise, and he will have to trust to a third sense-his hearing. He will hear a slight "plop," like a bubble coming out of a submerged glass. A gentle strike then is required, and a tight hand on the fish, as such places are usually near old roots or boughs, in which the fish will try to shelter himself and entangle the tackle. The best fish are frequently taken in this way. Another method of using the natural fly or insect is by casting it. In this case a single-hand fly-rod is used, and it requires great care to avoid whipping the insect off the hook.

More Hooks and Lures (image)

Figs. 12 - 20 -- More Hooks and Lures

Having cast the bait to the extent required, the line and bait rest on the surface, and the bait floats down quite naturally unchecked, and the fish rise are it in the ordinary manner. What is called the blow-line is another favourite method of using the live fly. A length of light floss silk is fastened on to the running line with about 2 feet of fine gut and a light hook at the end. Baiting the hook with a fly, the angler turns his back to the wind, holds the rod (a long light cane one) upright, allows the wind to blow the light floss line as far out as it will go, when he gradually lowers the rod and guides the fly till it touches the water a yard above a fish, when he floats over it. A little wind is required for this kind of fishing. Some insects, beetles, creepers, or larvae of the stone-fly, &c., are used in mid-water, as already noted. A word or two as to the method: a couple of shots being fixed on the line, the bait is cast with an underhand swing, as in minnow fishing, up stream, and allowed to travel down towards where the angler stands. At every stop or check of the line it is necessary to strike, for the bait being tender, whether it be a twig, mud, or fish that arrests it, it will be spoilt; therefore the angler must always strike on every suspicion of a bite. For full particulars of this kind of fishing, as well as for all relating to trouting in the North British streams, the angler cannot do better than get The Practical Angler, by the late Mr Stewart, one of the best works ever published on such subjects.

The best flies used for live fly fishing are the large ones, as the green and grey drake, the stone-fly, known often in Scotland as the May-fly, the big alder, the blue-bottle, and, indeed, any that are large enough. in casting them the angler must be careful to let his line make rather a sweep or circuit behind him, or he will easily flick off or destroy his bait. In using the artificial fly the angler employs either a single or a double handed rod, - generally he commences his apprenticeship with a single one. This is usually made either of hickory, green-heart, or split bamboo tied and glued up in lengths, runs from 10 to 12 feet long, and is tolerably pliant, -- more or less so, according to the taste of the angler. The line used is generally twisted or plaited hair and silk, or fine dressed silk. The first is the lightest. A piece of gut, knotted together until it is about 3 yards long, is termed the casting-line, point, lash, or collar. This is fastened to the end of the reel or running-line, and to the other end of it is looped on an artificial fly. Sometimes two or more flies are used; in this case they are called droppers or bob flies, and are looped or tied on to the casting-line about 18 inches or 2 feet apart. The end fly is called the tail or stretcher. The best way of fastening on the drop flies is to whip the gut round with silk a few times, just above one of the knots, to prevent chafing; then take a fly with only about 5 inches of gut to it, tie a knot at the extreme end of the gut, and then knot on it once or twice, if required, over the whipped silk, and if the gut be moistened and drawn tight to the knot, even when only once knotted, it rarely slips, and the more it is pulled of course the tighter it gets. When it is desired to take the dropper off, a sharp knife slips off the extreme end knot, and the tie comes off easily. The loss of gut is infinitesimal, and the fly wears out before the gut is materially shortened.

The angler having his rod and line ready, and his cast of flies selected, begins by letting out a little more line than the length of his rod, waves the rod back over his right shoulder, so as to extend the line behind him, and then, making a slight curve, impels it forward towards the point he desires to reach, letting it fall on the water as lightly as possible; then he allows his flies to float down the stream as far as they will go, when he draws out and repeats the cast, lengthening out line as he does so until he has as much out as he requires, or can cast comfortably. If in casting he does not make a curve with the rod-point behind him, but returns the line too directly, he will crack his fly off, or so crack the gut at the head of the fly that the first good fish will carry it away. When the angler sees a fish rise at his fly, if he is fishing for small fish, he cannot strike too quickly, -- if for large ones, he may be a little more leisurely. In fishing over a fish that is rising, the best way is to cast a little above, and to allow the flies, with as little of the line as possible, to come over or past him.

Some anglers fish up stream and some down. In fishing down stream the angler exposes himself more to the fish, and is more apt to miss his fish when they do rise; and if his tackle in fine and the fish heavy, having the weight of the stream against him is also more apt to break it than when fishing up; perhaps the best method is to fish diagonally up and across the stream. The angler pursues one of two systems. He either waits till he sees fish rise and fishes over them, wasting no time on intermediate water he sees no rises, or he fishes the water out thoroughly, searching every hollow, bank, weed, and stone, that may hide a trout. In burn fishing for small trout the later method is generally the one adopted. In larger rivers, where the fish are heavy and few, the former is more often preferred. When a good fish is hooked it will often resist strongly, and rush violently about, seeking to hide itself under weeds and roots, which are dangerous to the tackle. The angler must guide the fish as well as he can until it is tired, letting out line from the reel when resistance becomes too severe a strain on the tackle, and winding it in again when opportunity serves, but always keeping a tight line on the fish, as a slack line frequently loses it.

When tired the fish should be towed gently to a favourable bank, and the landing-net quietly slipped under him. There must be no dashing or hasty movement with the net, lest the fish be frightened and make another effort to escape, as fish frequently do, and successfully, as it is a dangerous moment in the struggle. In fishing with a double-handed rod the rod is longer and the line a little heavier; in other respects there is no difference. The rod will vary from 13 to 15 feet for trouting. The left hand grasps it below the reel, and the right hand above; though, if the angler desires a change, or the necessities of the stream or wind require it, the hands can be reserved. The double-handed rod had several advantages over the single, having more power with big fish, and keeping the line and flies higher above obstructions.

The question of why fish take bunches of feathers tied on hooks, and what they mistake them for, has often been asked; and it is now pretty generally allowed that they take them for flies in the majority of instances, though in others they may mistake them for water-beetles, larvae, or spiders, of which latter insect there are several that inhabit the water. Now, there are two classes of disputants on this matter: one which holds altogether to the fly theory, and therefore strives to imitate each fly that comes out closely; the other, which inclines more to the general insect theory, and merely gives a few flies of different colours, not caring to imitate anything in particular. Probably the best fishermen recognize both theories, but bind themselves exclusively to neither. But before entering upon the selection of flies it may be well to point out the difference in the practice of the north and south. We may, perhaps, take the late Mr Stewart as the exponent of the north; and, perhaps, Mr Francis may be held as the latest exponent of the south. Mr Stewart gives a short list of a bare half-dozen of insects, three of which he calls spiders-black, red, and dun-and which are what are known in the south as "hackle" flies; that is, flies dressed with only a body and hackle. The hackle is wound on round the hook, over the body, and is supposed to represent the legs of the fly, there being no wings. Mr Stewart also has three flies of three general colours, yellow, brown, and dark bodies; but as these may be varied with all sorts of wings and legs, the last may embrace in reality any number of flies which the taste of the angler may suggest. Mr Stewart's standard, however, are dressed thus: (1.) A woodcock wing, with a single turn of a red hackle or landrail feather, dressed with yellow silk freely exposed on the body. For fishing in dark-coloured waters the fly may be dressed with scarlet thread. (2.) A hare-lug body, with corn-bunting or chaffinch wing. A wood-cock wing may also be put on the same body, but should be made of the small light feathers taken from the inside of the wing. (3.) The same wing as the last, with a single turn of a soft black hen-hackle, or a small feather taken from the shoulder of a starling, dressed with dark-coloured silk. These, as Mr Stewart says, can be varied to any extent; but he pins his faith on those mentioned and the spiders: the black spider being a small dark starling feather wound over a brown silk body; the red one, the small feather outside the wing of the landrail, wound on over a yellow silk body; and the dun spider, the small soft ash-coloured feather from outside the dottrel's wing, with hardly any body but the tying of the hook. This is Mr Stewart's repertoire -- it is not over burdensome; but in the south Mr Francis says that fish are much less numerous, and are larger and more critical, their feeding-time being much longer and food being more plentiful than in the north, and their taste, therefore, has to be more carefully considered: he therefore gives a list of flies for each month. Space does not permit us to name the whole of them, but we can enumerate a few of the best of them. The duns run through the whole year, and are therefore with the angler the piece de resistance. These comprise varieties of the blue and yellow dun, and should be varied from the darkest slate-blue to the lightest shade yellow, from almost golden yellow up to the lightest fawn, almost a white, and these, slightly combined, go also to an olive. The earlier duns are the blue dun, which comes in March, and is one of the best springs flies. It is in the water more or less throughout the season. Then there is the small dark iron-blue dun, which appears in April or May, with wings almost as dark as the body; and the bright yellow dun, with greenish-yellow body and pale slate-coloured wings. If these three be taken as the darkest of their class, and varieties, each of a shade or two lighter in colour, be made, they will take in the whole of this important class of flies. These duns are all imperfect insects, and have another change to go through before they are complete and able to propagate, and when they have completed this they usually die. The fly casts its skin and becomes a perfect insect, brighter in colour and more brisk in its motions. In this form they are called by the angler "spinners." Thus the blue dun becomes the red spinner, the yellow dun the brown spinner, the iron-blue dun the jenny spinner, and so on. All these flies belong, with several others, to the class or order Neuroptera, or nerve-winged flies-flies with clear gaudy wings, intersected with a network of veined markings. They form the most important order for the angler; but there is another order, the Trichoptera, or hairy-winged flies, which is scarcely less important, and which includes a very large number of flies on which fish habitually feed. These flies have soft feathery folding wings, which lie close on the back. They differ from the former order in having one less change to go through, for when they emerge from the pupa state and become flies, they are complete, and have no further change to go through. There are, besides these, which are flies born from water, other orders of land flies, imitations of which are used by anglers, as the cow-dung, hawthorn, and oak flies, the house-fly, &c., but they are comparatively insignificant, and with the exception of the cow-dung, which is a very useful fly, may be dispensed with. It is impossible here to give the dressing of the various flies; but if the angler goes to any respectable tackle-maker and mentions the names of the flies he requires he will get them. To commence then with the month of --

March, which is early enough for fly-fishing. The earliest fly found on the water is the February red. With the blue dun and the March brown, will do well during March, if anything will. The same flues kill well enough also in --

April, and to them may be added the red spinner, the cow-dung, the red and black hackles, the needle brown, and towards the end of the month, or entering on May, the yellow dun and the iron-blue dun.

May. -- In addition tomany of these, the angler may use the stone-fly, the sedge0-fly, and the orl or alder fly -- a very celebrated and general fly -- with the little black gnat and the pale evening dun, -- a fly which only comes on in the evening towards dusk, when the fish feed ravenously on it.

June. -- In this month the standing dish with the trout in most rivers is the green drake, better known as the May fly, though it rarely appears until May is over. This and its transformations, the grey drake, with the well-known Welsh fly, the coch-y-bondu, otherwise the bracken clock, shorn-fly, &c., these, with various light-coloured duns and spinners, may be used through the month with effect, as this is the prime month for fly-fishers.

July, as a rule, is rather an indifferent month. The weather is hot the water low and clear, and fish do not feed well till the evening, when the white and brown moths may be used. In the day time the red and black and flies often kill well, and these, with various light-coloured duns and diminutive green, blue, and grey midges, must make up the bill of fare.

August. -- The August dun and the cinnamon now are added to the list, many of the previous flies being still on.

September brings the whirling dun and the willow-fly, and this closes the anglers' fly-fishing for trout.

In the latter months many of the earlier flies reappear, and with the list here given the angler should have no difficulty in killing fish anywhere. Most of the smaller trout-flies are dressed on hooks that range from the sizes No. 10 to 17 in the scale of hooks given in fig. 12 in the cut- the larger flies, as the May-flies, stone-fly, the moths, &c., running up to sizes 6,7 and 8. There are, besides these flies, which are definite imitations of insects, a few of such general make and colour that though they do not strictly imitate one fly, may have a general likeness to several, and which are called general flies, and are often used when the angler is in a difficulty in knowing what to put on his cast. Among the best of these are the Hoffland, the Francis, the governor, the coachman, the soldier palmer, the wren-tail, the grouse and partridge hackles, &c. as a rule, the smaller flies are used in the day-time, the size being increased as the evening and night come on. In some waters, owing to the excessive fishing, the trout get so wary that after the May-fly there is very little chance, unless the day be particularly favourable, of hooking a trout before the evening, and fishing is often carried on till ten or eleven o'clock at night. Of course at such times the angler has to trust more to his senses of feeling and hearing than sight. In the majority of instances it is the custom to let the tackle soak, and when fishing to allow the fly to sink a little under the surface -- to fish with a "we fly," as it is called; in others, where the fish are more wary, in order to imitate nature more closely yet, it is the custom to fish with a dry one -- that is, to make the fly and line rest on the surface, without becoming submerged. To this end, when the fly and line become wet, they are waved to and fro from the rod-point in the air to make them become dry again. The fly should always be allowed to float down stream, as natural flies do, and should not be jerked or "played," as it is termed, unless the angler is fishing down stream an drawing his fly against it, when he will allow it to sink under water, and in that position it may be supposed to represent some quick darting larva. So far, stream fishing only has been dealt with.

Lake Fishing differs in its practice materially form stream fishing, and though some flies which are used on streams will also kill on lakes, yet, for the most part, there is a fancy repertoire in this respect which differs wholly from that employed in streams. Lake-trout flies, particularly in Scotland, are made with wool bodies, the prevailing colours being red, claret, orange, yellow, green, and black, with a light spiral up the body of gold or silver tinsel. The hackles are chiefly wither black or red, or red with a black centre; the wings are either of teal, mallard, or woodcock. Here and there the white tip feather in the drake's wing is a favourite wing for flies. They are usually dressed on 7, 8 or 9 hooks; the same flies a size or two larger do equally well for sea-trout flies.

Lake-trout fishing is conducted either form a boat or from the shore. The best depth of water in which to fish for trout varies from 6 or 8 to 12 or 14 feet, and between these depths the best sport is obtained; and the angler should therefore fish over them for choice, though occasionally fish may be caught in both deeper and shallower water. In late fishing it is always desirable to have a good ruffling breeze, as the fish do not rise or take well in a calm. The best places are in sheltered bays, by rocky points or islands, or where burns flow in; drifting along by these, and casting ahead and shorewards, the angler watches every break in the water. While drifting along in his boat, it may happen that, the wind being high, he drifts too fast to fish thoroughly and properly over the ground. To obviate this a stone or an anchor is cast over and allowed to drag along the bottom, so as to check the way of the boat, and to give time to the angler to fish. A good boatman and netsman is here a great desideratum, and much of the chance of sport depends upon him. The great fault of most boatmen is that they go too quickly over the casts; and it requires a man with a knowledge of the lake, as well as experience in managing the boat, so to conduct matters that the angler has the best chance of sport. When rowing to his ground, or from point to point, the angler should always put out the spinning minnow, and thus he may take one or two of the best fish. As fish do not always lie in the same places, wind and weather have to be sedulously consulted. In fishing from the shore the angler seldom gets the best sport, and often has to wade to reach fishable water, while the best casts are often beyond his reach; and therefore, whenever a boat can be employed, it is to be preferred for lakes.

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