Alfred Edward Thomas Watson.

The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes online

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old fishing stories are a bit difficult, and we should like to have more
proof that a pike has been known to catch a horse by the nose
when drinking near its holt. But let even the unbelieving modern
take a header into an out-of-the-way pond in which he has seen the
big pike, and perhaps he will not feel quite so much at his ease as if
he had not seen that same fish. Fishermen are patient people, and
listen to stories and theories about fish and fishing which do not
always appear to the layman as probable or possible. As ever)'
fisherman is ready with stories and theories, the following may be of
some value to the stock of information which yearly accumulates on
the subject.

At Clifton Mill, near Rugby, on a hot summer day, I was
looking into a pool with some schoolfellows, when a small jack of

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half a pound or so dashed down stream, and one of my friends shot

a stone with his tweaker and killed the fish. This pool was in an

overflow of the mill dam, and consequently well below where we

were standing ; the fish was darting through the shallow at the end

when the stone struck the water, and at that instant it turned belly

1 up and was carried on by its impetus, though dead, for a few yards.

; There was no mark whatever on the jack, so the concussion of the

^ Stone on the water was transmitted directly to the fish and killed it.

This seems an improbable story, but if anyone does not believe it

l' let him get a friend to slap the water above his head with an oar,

when he is coming up after a dive, and is about two feet from the

t surface, and he will practically experience what a friend of mine did

L from the thoughtless action of another man, and be nearly stunned

by the blow, or perhaps be less lucky and be quite stunned.

On two occasions I have seen a fish swim at full speed high and
dry on to the land. The first was when fishing in a curious little
out-of-the-way loch near Forres. I had caught a few trout, and
was surprised at the action of one near where my fly touched the
water. This fish was swimming quickly round and round on the
surface, and then made straight for where I was standing and ran
itself up on to the sand at my feet. I saw a peculiar trembUng of
its side, and was immediately reminded of a trout I had caught in
Yorkshire some years before, which I had sent to London for
examination. So I killed this fish at once and cut it open ; and
there sure enough were the enlarged pyloric appendages, as Frank
Buckland called them ; but to my eye, as in the Yorkshire fish, they
seemed to be maggots feeding on the alimentary canal of the fish,
and thriving greatly on their diet.

But I must hark back to this Yorkshire trout. My brother
and I went out to fish the Codbeck, near Thirsk, but found the
stream in full flood, and water well out on the fields. Fishing being
impossible, we set out to walk home, and when passing a narrow
road-ditch I noticed the wave of something going through the water.
Plunging my net in, a trout of about three-quarters of a pound was
caught, and as I was about to return the fish to the water I noticed
a peculiar tremor passing along its sides. Both of us were so struck
by the phenomenon that I cut the trout open and decided to send
the creature at once to the best authority on fish, from whom I
received the explanation given above. Among all the trout I have
caught these two instances of a peculiar tremor in the sides are
the only ones I have ever noticed, but doubtless others have been

When the Dovey, below Machynlleth, a silvery white-
trout rushed ashore to mv feet. The action of this fish was entirely

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different from that of the Forres brown trout, but I thought that
this was surely another case of Frank Buckland's theory. I found,
however, that this fresh-run sea-trout was covered with lice, and
that instead of throwing itself out of the water with that whirring
noise which is so often heard, and splashing in again, it had been
goaded to the madness of suicide ashore.

Scotch worm fishermen fish for trout in a way that would
horrify those who are accustomed persistently to look upon this
fish as very shy of men. I saw a party of three miners fishing
a small burn, splashing about, and apparently taking no precautions
whatever either to hide themselves or avoid frightening the fish.
Each man would fish quickly down stream till he caught up his
friend, then walk past him and splash into the river a few yards
below. Yet they all caught trout. The passage of these anglers
certainly had the effect of frightening the fish for a time, but I had
some sport myself soon after they were gone, the river being in good
order for the fly. Now the question comes. How long do trout take
to recover from such a rough visit ? This is by no means easy to
answer, but it does seem probable that rough fishing does not
necessarily spoil the chance of finer fishing being successful ; even
on the clear southern rivers trout become accustomed to the move-
ments of fishermen, and quickly recover their appetites, perhaps
after one of their number has been making a great fuss to get free
from the hook fast fixed in its jaw.

Trout do not swim about in shoals, and consequently show an
individuality which is not seen among those fish which do move about
in shoals. Every trout seems to be directly affected by its surround-
ings, so a dark-coloured one will become light if lying on a bright
gravelly bottom, and again become dark if it takes up its station in
a dark place. The trout, too, will feed in a different way in each
place it finds itself in, simply because its food is brought to it in a
variety of ways. This being so, fishermen must fish for this most
excellent creature in a variety of ways. It is most amusing to hear
the recipes anglers have for catching trout, but the most wonderful
development of fly-fishing is the prohibition of the sunken fly on
some waters. Of course a club is at liberty to make any rules it
pleases, but when all its members are compelled to fish in exactly
the same way fishing must lose a great deal of its interest, and
tend to become a game of skill regulated by rules. Let us hope
that the man with the whistle will not appear on the scene, and
further interfere with that freedom from supervision which to the
angler is an important part of his recreation.

Trout lie in some positions where a dry fly is quite useless, and
in others where the same must be said of the sunken fly, and again

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the fish will prefer the dry to the sunken on one day, and the oppo-
site on another. All this has been noticed time after time by fly-
fishers, and we seem to be approaching a period when an effort will
be made to treat our highly civilised rivers in such a way that
fishing on them will require a greater amount of observation than is
now demanded, but is only necessary in those waters where nature
has been left very much to itself.

Weed-cutting has been reduced to a science, for clearing an
overgrown river is as necessary as clearing a field of its crops.
There is, however, one notable difference in the two cases, for the
field's first duty is to produce crops, and the river's to produce fish.
If we treated fields so that they would harbour game our present
system of farming would have to be entirely altered ; but rivers
should be so dealt with that fish could find not only safe harbour-
age, but food produced in abundance naturally. We might even
hope that the stock of fish would be kept up without depending so
much on artificial means for the supply.

Such treatment would upset many pet schemes which are now
in operation, for instead of rivers being continually worried by
manual labour, pools and shallows might be formed by the action of
the water itself directed by movable obstructions.

Let us suppose that a deep pool has a shallow below it which
has so silted up that there is no lie for fish. It is evident that a
dam placed across the shallow with an opening in the middle would
quickly scour out a channel for fish to lie in, and the expense of
such treatment would be very small compared with the laborious
and often ineffectual methods now in vogue.

Weed-cutting in the actual channel of a river should be avoided
as much as possible, and intelligent direction of the water itself will
prevent that overgrowth which so often covers the entire bed of the
stream. Sluggish streams cannot be dealt with in this way, because
it is impossible to get the necessary rush of water to scour the bed,
and clearing away weeds must be done by manual labour.

The action of trout in a river which is not too much improved
always appears to be different from that of fish which are too much
looked after and too much protected. Fish seem to deteriorate if
not hunted, and when the otter, heron, and pike are never seen on a
stream care should be taken that the angler's difficulties be not
so minimised that the trout become tame, and every kind of fish
refuge should be saved.

Some of the wildest trout I have ever caught have been in a
river perpetually fished in every sort of way by crowds of anglers.
These fish had become so accustomed to the sight of men that they
seemed to have a sort of friendly disregard for their presence, and

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would rise in a most aggravating way all round one's fly and never
touch it. When a spate came on the workmen in the town appeared
in force, and caught enough trout to make one think the river must
have suffered as a sporting ground. But not a bit of it ; there were
lots offish always rising when the water went down, and the only
way I can account for this is that small trout were washed down
from the upper reaches, and quickly became large fish in the more
roomy waters in which they found themselves, so when a trout was
caught another was ready to take its place.

Close to the town were many good trout, and most anglers had
a try for them before they started seriously to fish, because trying
for these hardly seemed a serious matter, as they would so seldom
take one's fly. One blazing hot day as I passed along, intending to
fish a mile or so from the town, 1 saw some of these fine fellows feed-
ing steadily. I could not pass them as I meant to do, but set to
work on them at first in my usual unserious mood. One fish at last
appeared catchable. My first cast fell a little too near him, and the
dry fly only attracted his attention for a moment. The next cast,
however, was rightly judged, for the fly settled on the water at the
proper distance above him and slowly drifted down. There was the
quiet rise without splash, and the fly disappeared between the white
jaws as the fish sank to its station. It was interesting to observe
that this highly-educated fish did not realise that the fly had a hook
in it, but shook its head to rid itself of something it did not want.
Well, this was a pounder, and five others of about the same size, or
over, made up a very good morning's basket. This part of the river
was a long dam, except in floods it was very slow-running, and
there was a pleasant feeling of triumph in catching fish all along this
reach, because they were a very clever company. Even a dry fly had
no charms for them sometimes, and one day every fish seemed to be
rising, but the most beautifully placed fly was disregarded. When
this happens, as it too often does for the fisherman, the question is,
What is to be done to catch fish ?

The best authorities have given their views on what a trout
thinks about ; but the colour theorist, and the other man, are both
proved to be wrong on some days, and notably on a day when
nothing will tempt fish to take one's fly. Two of us toiled all day
among rising trout, and not merely rising, but feeding ; we tried
every imaginable fly in every possible way, but caught none until
the very end of the day. Now, this trout was feeding steadily, as so
many others were, and the flies were taken down like clockwork.
Three flies went past it, one artificial, but they all looked the same on
the water, and yet the natural flies on each side of the sham one were
taken. Another and another try with the same fly; again the sham

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and the natural floated down ; the natural disappeared, and at last

the artificial, and the trout was caught. But what induced this same

fish time after time to refuse the sham, and at last take it, under

precisely the same conditions, who shall say ? It may have been

that the slightest tremble was imparted to the successful cast, which

at last deceived the fish ; but never was there a more disappointing

day for an angler, because the river seemed to be alive with trout

gone mad for food.

The wild man's instinct sometimes directs the fisherman to use
the only possible fly in his book, and I had that fly one day, but have
no sort of explanation except this as to why I put it on. It was a
hideous big thing, made by a little boy out of a buff* hen's hackle;
the very sight of it ought to have frightened away all the trout in the
clear low summer water; and yet it was the right thing to catch fish
with, for the perfectly tied flies of all kinds had done nothing. An-
other hideous fly I remember using as a boy in Ireland, tied by a
man who perhaps had never tied a fly before. I saw the white duck's
feather laid on to the green-silk-covered hook, and because its set
did not please the tier the feather was made fast to the hook, near
the bend ; but to my great joy it got me a good trout.

A wise fisherman once told me that he had carefully noted the
powers of wet and dry fly, and on his river he had come to the con-
clusion that the wet and dry man would catch about the same number
of fish in the season. We know that trout will refuse to be caught
when feeding on some particular fly, even though the imitation is to
our eyes perfect ; but fish even at such a time will take almost any
fly if thrown on to the opposite bank, and dropped from there into
the stream, for the instant it touches the water it is seized. One
such case among many I remember at Bakewell, and when shaking
backwards and forwards in a small pool at the side the fish I
had thus caught, quantities of apple-green flies were washed out
of its gills, but the fly which caught it was in no way like

Many anglers talk of fish being put down for the day, or for half
an hour, and so on, but this seems to be only a fancy which has been
passed on from one man to another, and believed to be a fact. Now
let no fisherman think a trout is put down for any length of time, for
patience will soon show that the fish very quickly recovers from
fright, and is ready to be tried for again. Of course the creature
may be so terrified that it will dash away, and possibly take up a new
station for a time, but generally speaking it will be seen quietly re-
turning to its favourite haunt, and if properly fished for be caught at
last. There are always some celebrated trout in every river which
can only be caught either by accident or by some very clever fishing.

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To most, however, it is a waste of time to set to work to catch
one particular fish, but from a naturalist's point of view the time is
well spent, for the way a trout really feeds can only be found out by
patient watching.

In a perfectly still mill-dam the trout cruises about, never going
very far from some favourite hiding place, and if you stand perfectly
still you are soon treated as some object from which no danger is to
be apprehended. Mark the course the fish takes, and you wuU get
your chance to lay your dry fly in its way when its head is turned
from you, or when it is rising at a natural floating fly. In such
water the greatest delicacy of casting is required, and fish may be
made shy very easily by any sort of roughness, and take longer to
recover their spirits than in any other sort of place. If you do hook
one drag him away at once from his feeding ground, for there is sure
to be another not far off", and get him into your basket as soon as

A trout feeding in a stream between two branches may be fished
for for any length of time, and if the one cast that can kill him be
made he is pretty sure not to refuse. I got two trout so protected
one day after laying siege to their strongholds for a very long time.
Bungled casts did not frighten either of them, but in each case the
one right cast got the fish.

There was one pool in a certain trout stream out of which I
could not take a trout either by up or down stream fishing, and
many was the day that I tried to do so. The bank behind one was
high and had trees on it, and the bank in front was also well wooded.
The only way to cast seemed to be almost up or down stream, but
neither way was any good. One day I sat down directly op|x>site
the rising fish, and no doubt the bank behind me prevented the trout
from being alarmed at my presence. The pool was perhaps eight
feet deep where the rapid into it ended, and was not more than
fifteen yards across. I found it possible to wade out two or three
yards, and to continue my observations. The trout were still rising,
sometimes less than the length of my rod away. I now let them get
accustomed to the rod over the stream, but the branches of the trees
made the rod appear not very unnatural, 1 suppose, to the fish. With
great care I tossed a single dry fly on to the water, and at once got
one of these fish. I always fished this pool afterwards standing in it
quite near the rising fish, which at first sight seemed to be the most
impossible place for sport of any kind.

It would be possible to describe many other places and the
various ways in which trout feed in them, but long study of these
fish has allowed me to form a few conclusions about artificial flies,
their colour and their shape.

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I am sure it is much more difficult to choose the right fly to
use if it is sunk, than if it is floated. You will go to a river and
show your dry fly to a local man, and he will tell you it is no use
in that water. Don't mind him, for if you offer a floating fly well,
of almost any shape, colour, or size, to a feeding trout it will at
least dash at it. If on the other hand you are a wet fly man, and
a down stream fisherman, listen to the local authority, for he is
pretty sure to know a thing or two about his river. I am con-
strained to think that a trout cares very much about the size and
colour of a fly under water, but cannot trouble itself to study the
floating one in the same way. You may go to a dry fly river in the
south of England and have the best of sport by floating pure
Scotch, Irish, or Welsh flies, but it is quite probable that if you
sink these same flies you will not have sport, whereas if you safik,
say, a Derbyshire pink and white bumble you would catch fish.

But after all can we do better than the Japanese man, who
will stand on a stone over a pool, and make his fly flit about in
the air, touching the water here, and then there, until the fish is
induced to believe that a good rise of fly is going on ? Try this
way and every way, and still there are other ways to fish by float-
ing or sinking your fly, and plenty still to find out, not only in
fly-tying but in rod-making, not only in up and down stream
casting, but in cross stream casting also.

And lastly we have to find out how to make rivers keep them-
selves clean, how to help fish to increase naturally, and how to
encourage a natural supply of food for our spotted friends. Surely
fishing offers more than most sports in the way of the best health-
giving recreation, and every possible effort should be made to
protect our rivers, and see that their management is in competent
hands. As for fishermen and how to manage them, being myself
one, I can only say ** Aweel,'' which may mean a great deal or very
little, so no opinion need be given.

NO. cxxviil. VOL. xxn.— March 1906

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It is not a difficult matter to trace the history of Lacrosse as a
recreation of the pale-faces, but the Indian genius who first evolved
the pastime from which has grown the most graceful of modern ball
games remains unhonoured by English players. Perhaps he figures
in the folk-tales of the Sioux, the Chippeways, or some other tribe
who played the game, but to us he is merely an object of such in-
definite worship as is the equally bold originator of rowing, to whom
Mr. R. H. Forster, a water-poet, pays tribute : —

But worthy of honour was he, because
He was father of rowing, whoever he was.

In lacrosse, as in rowing, the prehistoric effort was particularly
notable, for a new line was struck out. The first man to navigate a
stream by means of a bundle of reeds was boldly original. So was
the man who soared above the primeval instinct to obtain recreation
by kicking an enemy's head about (presumed in some quarters to be
the origin of football) or of hitting something inanimate with a club
— whence we have cricket, hockey, and golf. He caught something
and carried it until dispossessed ; and, considering that the process
of dispossession is sometimes painful even in these enlightened days,

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the early efifort must have left its marks on the devotees of the game
in the " High and Far Off times." So much so that a process of
punning deduction may lead us to believe that the father of lacrosse
came from the Chippeway tribe.

Whatever the actual origin, certain it is that lacrosse started
with the Indians, that the tribal contests were suggestive of warfare
rather than of sport, that teams were unlimited in numbers, that the
field of play was anything up to a mile in length, and that the
squaws had an inconvenient habit of switching the players as an
inducement not to bold' the ball too long, but to pass hard slnd

But we have improved all these things, and little remains of the


original Indian game, save the weird war-cries some teams consider
necessary when calling for a pass. There is no warfare now, despite
the corfctention of scoffers from other games who witness a hard-
checkinig match when no referee is present, and pretend that the
main object of lacrosse is to hit the man who has the ball some-
where, preferably on the head. We have limited the field of play,
although wanderings on the wing and behind goal are not unknown
when the comfort of players of games on adjoining pitches is not
interfered with. The squaws, too, merely sit in pavilions and
applaud, and the switching is done by the Press, the members of

Y 2

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which, however, are lenient to our faults, for the claims of a fasci-
nating amateur pastime pale to insignificance in this country before
those of a professional sport which attracts big gates.

In Canada the game was first played by the whites in the '50's,
and not being above receiving lessons from all blacks, the Canadians
took lacrosse to their hearts until it became the national pastime,
and developed professionalism with the glorious attributes apper-
taining thereto.

The celebration of the twenty-first anniversary of the West
London Club this year reminds us that lacrosse has had plenty of


time to take root in this country, where it was first introduced in
the *7o's.

The plant is full of life, although its growth has not been rapid.
The sturdiest branch is in the Manchester district ; Lancashire and
Cheshire are the county flowers, and there is a budding blossom in
Yorkshire. The second notable branch is in the London district,
smaller, but with more county blooms, in Kent, Essex, Middlesex,
and Surrey, and fine flowers at Oxford and Cambridge. A third
branch, an offshoot from the London one, is in the Bristol district,
very sturdy, and throwing a sprig or two into Wales ; while a fourth
branch which is being carefully tended is in the Midlands, where
much good might result if Birmingham acted up to its preferential

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faith regarding the colonies, and helped to nurture the Canadian

The North of England Lacrosse Association handbook contains
this year the names of thirty-eight clubs, in addition to eleven

Online LibraryAlfred Edward Thomas WatsonThe Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes → online text (page 24 of 52)