Copyright
Robert Barnwell Roosevelt.

Superior fishing; or, The striped bass, trout, and black bass of the northern states. Embracing full directions for dressing artificial flies with the feathers of American birds; an account of a sporting visit to Lake Superior, etc., etc., etc online

. (page 15 of 18)
Online LibraryRobert Barnwell RooseveltSuperior fishing; or, The striped bass, trout, and black bass of the northern states. Embracing full directions for dressing artificial flies with the feathers of American birds; an account of a sporting visit to Lake Superior, etc., etc., etc → online text (page 15 of 18)
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latter, amid the ripples of the murmuring brook, or
upon the placid surface of the quiet pond, a light,
single-handed rod is preferable.

The salmon-rod should be as long and strong as
the muscles of the angler will enable him to wield
trenchantly all day through, and should have that
quick, powerful pliancy that will send the fly with or
across the wind a prodigious distance. It is ordi-
narily made ot ash or hickory for the joints, and
bamboo, on account of its lightness, for the tip.



FLY-FISHING. 247

Greenlieart has lately become the favorite wood,
being now almost imiversally employed in England,
and offers, certainly, some desirable advantages ; but
I have not had sufficient experience with it to speak
decisively of its merits. A salmon-rod should be
twenty feet long ; after giving the matter . due
deliberation, and trying to reduce every ounce of
weight, I have resolved that I cannot take off an
inch from twenty feet. To meet the objection that
a weak, small man must, under these circumstances,
either give up the fishing or the rod, I would suggest
that he inure himself to the labor by practising,
for his first few days upon the river, with a sixteen-
foot rod till his muscles are strengthened, and then
substituting one of full length and weight.

A sixteen-foot rod may be handled beautifully,
will cast the fly lightly, will kill a fish delicately, but
it will not enable the possessor to force his line
against or across a gust of wind eddying down the
bank of the stream, nor to command all the casts
of a broad river with facility, neither can he strike
with certainty, nor kill his fish with rapidity. Sal-
mon rivers are usually wide, sometimes wild, broken,
and impassable even for that wonderful compound
of life and lightness, the birch canoe, and cannot be
reached in every part except with a long line under
perfect control ; frequently, the very spot where the
fish habit, the swirl of the current or the pitch of
the cascade is beyond the limits of him of the fif-
teen-foot rod • and if by the utmost effort the line
is cast far enough, the first eddy will slack it up



248 FLY-FISHING.

and deprive the weak, pliant rod of all control
over it.

Again, v/here the favorite pool lies close by the
overhanging rock, upon some accommodating ledge
of which the angler crawls prone to the earth,
hiding from the sharp eye of the watchful fish, he
can with a long rod jerk out the line, and twitching
it over the surface, beguile the prey ; while with a
shorter one he might be deprived of concealment,
and stand confessed a laughing-stock to the fish,
dangling a useless line close to the rocky bank. If
the water, the wind, or the fish are strong, the rod
should be the same ; although advocating gentle
treatment, there are times when, I assure the reader,
that vigor must be exerted, and then twenty feet are
better than fifteen.

No practical working rod can be made by the re-
moval of one or more joints and the substitution of
others, to increase or diminish in length. There
must be a uniform taper consonant with the length,
which, in case of alteration, will be destroyed, and the
rod rendered harsh or feeble. The strain will not
come equally upon all its parts ; it will bend irregu-
larly, and under a sudden strain is almost sure to
give way. I had a rod in which a single joint could
be substituted for the butt and next joint, which
broke on an average of once a day so long as it was
used in that way, and until the two joints Avere re-
stored.

The elasticity of a good salmon-rod is like that
of steel, and by the aid of such an implement alone



FLY-FISHING. 249

can the fly be propelled to a proper distance. The
force must be transmitted to the tip end of the
leader, and the angler must feel in casting that his
rod is up to its share of the work. It must neither
drag, for in that case the line follows the impulse
feebly ; nor be too stiif, for then no life can be im-
parted to the line. If the rod is weak, it cannot
cast with power ; if it is harsh, it cannot cast at all.
It must bend, but must leap back to its place, driving
the fly far ahead of it by the strong and steady
impulse.

A deficiency in vigor is felt at once by the angler,
as a want of proper resistance to his exertion, and
will be particularly noticeable of a bad day, or m
an unfavorable locality, when the rod will seem to
double back and fail utterly in a weak disgusting
way ; while too great stifi*ness will go to convince
the angler that he is using a bean-pole.

The single-handed trout-rod is a very different
affair, much more difficult both to make and handle ;
coarser tools and tackle will answer for the coarser
fish, but nothing less than the best material and
workmanship will enable the trout-fisher to perform
creditably and successfully. It must be light for fine
fishing, not over ten ounces in weight ; it must be
the perfection of elasticity ; it must have a certain
strength ; it must balance perfectly in the hand ; in
other words, it mast be perfection, to attain which,
requires the utmost care and the greatest skill. It
is a strange fact that decidedly better fly-rods, and
perhaps better salmon-rods, can be obtained in Ame-
11*



250 FLY-FISHING.

rica than in England, in spite of the greater foreign
experience ; a result that is due mainly to our per-
sistent effort after delicacy, and perhaps partly to the
habits and size of our fish ; but an English fly-rod is
now regarded as a clumsy monstrosity.

Trout-rods are usually made of ash with a bamboo
or Calcutta cane-tip ; the latter is infinitely prefer-
able to lance-wood, on account of its greater strength
and lightness. The bamboo is split into narrow
pieces the length of one joint of the cane, and being
glued together, is trimmed to the proper shape.
Three pieces should be used, each planed, by an in-
strument made for the purpose, into an obtuse angle,
and fitting neatly together ; if two pieces only are
united, the tip will bend to different degrees in dif-
ferent directions.

Bamboo may also be used for the second joint,
and makes a light and vigorous rod, with ash for
the butt ; horn-beam or iron-wood, and greenheart,
have also been introduced for trout-rods, but have
not come into general accej^tance ; lance-wood is
strong but too heavy, while my decided flxvorite is
red cedar. Rods, after they have been exposed to
w^et, and have endured the strain of a strong fish, or
even the effort of repeated casting, will warp ; they
will, if they are extremely ligbt, prove deficient in
power ; they are apt to be either heavy or feeble ;
they will, when the current or wind is strong, give
to it and lose their quickness in striking ; in fact,
they have many defects common to one or the other
of the above woods, unless they are made of cedar ;



FLY-FISHING. r 251

in this case they have but one fault, they are brittle.
A cedar rod never warps ; it S23rings to the hand as
quick as thought to the brain ; it is never slow or
heavy ; it cannot b^e kept down by the wind or the
current ; it is neyer aught but quick, lively, and
vigorous ; it will cast three feet farther than any other
rod of the same weight, and strike a fish with twice
the certainty. The wood is extremely light, but the
grain is short ; it never loses its life, but will snap
under a sudden strain.

I once struck a salmon with an eight-ounce cedar
trout-rod ; it was at the basin below the Falls of the
Nipisiquit, where the current of the river, rushing
against the calm water of the deep pool, creates a
gentle ripple. The hour was near midday, and I
was catching sea-trout in that profusion with which
they abound in the northern waters, when out of
the ripple, a few yards beyond my reach, rose a
mighty monarch of the flood, and turning over as
he sank, caused a heavy surge in the tide.

My Canadian guide, an enthusiastic Frenchman,
was with me, and our nerves tingled and our cheeks
flushed at the sight ; approaching the canoe, a long
cast brought him out again, but only to miss the
tiny trout-fly. Convinced that he would rise, I
hastily substituted a small salmon-fly for the stretcher,
leaving on the leader the two small droppers I had
been using, and again carefully cast over him. Out
he came, the water breaking round him and rolling
away in miniature circling waves, and the foam fly-
ing from the powerful blow of his tail as he turned



252 FLY-FISHING.

dowu. I struck, but it was as though I had struck
a rock ; he darted to the bottom, making the rod fly
in splinters ; at every surge fresh splinters broke off
and fell about in showers ; a piece of the lower joint
only was left, when feeling for the first time really
roused, he made one fierce rush and mad leap, and
the line not unreeling fast enough to suit him, he
disappeared with three flies, all my leader, and most
of my hne. I do not advise any one to fish for sal-
mon with an eight-ounce cedar trout-rod.

In ordinary trout-fishing, however, salmon do not
abound nor come unceremoniously devouring our
baits intended for their smaller brethren; nor are
even trout so extremely numerous but that, for a
long summer day's work, a light able rod will be in-
finitely preferable to a heavy one. A rod that
weighs fourteen ounces is heavy, and I have seen
persons with tlieir hands or wrists dreadfully swol-
len after a single day's fishiniif, and have had such
persons assure me that their rods were as light as
they could be possibly made. Deliciicy to me is the
first essential in trout-fisliing, whether delicacy of
rod and tackle, or delicacy of handhng and casting.
Catching a trout with a stick and a string is not
half the fun of catching a flounder, the latter being
much more diflicult to lug out of water ; and deli-
cacy in trout-fishing will bring the best reward.

With a cedar rod you need use the wrist alone,
and that without mucli exertion ; you can cover
great distances and still control the line, and you can
switch the fly under bushes and in diflScult places,



FLY-FISHING. 253

better than with any other rod I ever used. It is
quick, reliable, vigorous, and light, the slightest
motion gives the tip the requisite spring, and it
answers every effort of the hand instantly. It kills
a fish powerfully and rapidly, and exposure to wet
neither deadens nor weakens it. The ordinary hick-
oiy and ash-joint are much stronger, but are logy
in their action arid far heavier; joints of split cane
or malacca are light, beautiful, and expensive, but
are almost unattainable, and are, occasionally at least,
deficient in power ; and whalebone, for any part of
the rod, is dull, heavy, inappropriate, and when*
water-soaked, utterly worthless. For these reasons
and many others — these are enough, however — I pre-
fer a cedar rod.

Many persons give the preference to a limber rod,
one that bends in the middle, and they can, after
infinite practice, cast well with it; in pleasant
weather they can throw a light line, but when the
storm lowers and the wind blows, or the current
rages, or the cast is very long, or the bushes over-
hang, then good-bye to the gentleman with that
most wretched of implements, a weak-backed lim-
ber rod. Give me no such inefiicient deception to
break my wrist, my heart, and my patience ; as w^ell
tell me that whalebone has the vigor of a steel
spring.

The joints of a rod are united in various ways ;
with the salmon-rod it is almost essential, and with
all rods desirable, to use splices, but the custom is to
indulge the laziness of ferrules. American ferrules



264: FLY-FISHING.

fit accurately, and of course after the wood is swollen
by exposure to rain, they will not come apart even
if the joint-ends are all brass, a difficulty that can
be obviated by rubbing them with mutton tallow^,
and loosening them every night, and we advise the
same precaution in wet weather with the reel bands.
In this connection it may be well to tell the reader
how he can, with a little trouble, separate the fer-
rules, no matter how solid they may seem to be ; in
the first place heat them moderately, and pour a lit-
tle oil round the joint; then take two stout pieces
of string, or better, braid, about a foot long, and
tying the ends of each together, wrap one close
above and the other below the joint in the contrary
directions ; then insert a stick in each loop, and turn
one one way, and the other the opposite. If the
bands slip, rub them with wax.

The English ferrules, not fitting so closely, are not
liable to this objection ; but, on the other hand, would
come apart- in use, to the intense disgust of the
angler, were they not held together by a piece of
silk, that, when they are set up, has to be wound
round a loop of brass fastened upon each for the pur-
pose. This silk must be cut every time the rod is
taken apart, and occasions much trouble. The Irish
use a screw-joint, which is firm and not liable to
bind ; but it is difficult to fit, easy to break, and, in
the woods, impossible to replace. Among these plans
the simple socket has obtained the preference, and
probably is entitled to the distinction.

It is doubtless useless for me at this day to tell any



FLY-FISHING. 255

iDtelligent sportsman that the butt of a fly-rod must
never be hollow ; its solidity is necessary to a proper
balance ; but where the fishing is merely to be done
along the streams, a spear-head that can be screwed
into the end will add little to the weight, and prove
useful driven into the ground to hold the rod, while
the fisherman changes his flies or frees them from a
weed or bush. Ou a trout-rod there should be no
reel-bands, but a gutta-percha ring, or a leather
strap and buckle, will retain the reel firmly, and ena-
ble the angler to change its position at his pleasure,
and by altering the balance, rest his wrist. These
seem trivial matters, but mole-hills are mountains if
they rest upon a sore spot. On a salmon-rod the
reel-bands should be strong, and about a foot from
the end.

There should be rings or guides enough on a fly-
rod to bring the strain evenly throughout, and if one
is destroyed, it should be replaced at once, or a lia-
bility tobreak will result. If rings are used, they and
the brass top should be large and fastened on Avith
a whipping of silk, that adds much strength to the
wood. Where a spliced rod is used, it is well to
have a small ring of brass, somewhat similar to the
reel-band on each joint, under which the end of the
splice can be slij)ped before fastening it.

For salmon and trout-fishing, the reel had better
be a simple, large barrelled click-reel, as the music of
the line, unwinding to the rush of these splendid fish,
while it indicates the rate of its diminution, is to the
angler what the clarion is to the warrior, or the



256 FLY-FISHING.

hound's bay to the deer hunter ; but a multiplier, made
as tbey are only made in this country^ working with
the beauty and accuracy of clock-work, is by no
means inadmissible. A drag must be used with the
multiplier, but a stop never; the latter is utterly
useless, and by slipping unexpectedly, may destroy
your tackle. The reel must be manufactured with
the greatest care and of the best workmanship ; no
implement is so worthless if poor, and none will bet-
ter repay the sportsman if perfect. In salmon-fish-
ing, it is only in desperate straits that any effort is
made to check the fish ; he is ordinarily too violent
to submit to such treatment ; otherwise, as the single-
barrelled reel revolves toward you, it could not be
used, as it cannot in bass-fishing.

A multiplier should have steel pins, which require
care and frequent oiling ; the same reel may be
used for bass, and, if armed with a drag as above
stated, in case of necessity in salmon-fishing. For
both salmon and bass it should be of the largest
size, and may be painted black to preserve it from
rust, and to avoid alarming the fish. The line will
occasionally catch round the handle, to prevent
which, the latter is sometimes constructed of a but-
ton fitting in a plate.

All reels must be oiled occasionally. On one occa-
sion I proved this to my satisfaction in a very unsa-
tisfactory way.

The weather had been hot and dry ; the water had
fallen and become transparent as crystal ; the fish
were shy and cautious. After exhausting my in-



FLY-FISHING. 257

genuity in selecting new flies to suit their capricious
tastes, I had settled upon one of bright yellow, which,
if the gentlemen did not wish to eat, they did seem
to enjoy inspecting ; they rose to it freely, and after
I had tried in vain to strike them, curiosity in-
duced me to keep count of their number.

Fourteen times had they risen and disappeared
uninjured ; fourteen times had my nerves tingled,
and my blood started; fourteen times had sudden
hope turned to bitter disappointment, till anticipa-
tion settled down into dull despair. Only those who
have themselves had such painful experiences can
appreciate my feelings ; the continual tantalizing
approximation to success, to be followed by agoniz-
ing failure ; the renewed hope that the next rise
would result in the capture of a fish ever to remain
unfulfilled ; the desperate effort to strike quicker or
to cast more attractively ; all these and many other
feelings swarmed through my heart, as fish after fish
approached his fate, and invariably escaped.

They seemed to be feeding, as it is called, and when
the fly passed they rose, and turning over like a
porpoise chasing mossbunkers, seemed to take it in
their mouths. They did not spring out of water in
the gaiety of reckless play, but acted as they would
have done if swallowing the natural insect. • Not
that it is certain that salmon feed on flies ; but while
they can rarely be taken while playing, they often
can be when acting in a manner resembling feeding.

My patience not exhausted, for it never is while
fish will rise, I directed the canoe to be droj^ped



258 FLY-FISHING.

towards the lower end of the fishing-ground, and
stepped from it to a rock in the stream, and then
casting the farthest and lightest possible, was re-
warded. A magnificent fish rose ; was secured by
a quick turn of the butt, and stung by the unexpected
pain, fled down the current. Away he went, on
without a pause, the reel hissing, the line unwinding,
and darting into the water, till having exhausted
seventy-five yards of line, and being partially turned
by its weight and the resistance of the click, he
stopped with a heavy surge, and heading back, ap-
proached as fast as he had fled. Instantly and in-
stinctively my hand fell upon the handle of the reel ;
it would not turn, no effort could budge it ; conceive
my feelings now, if mortal man can conceive them.
The fish coming towards us, the line lying in a long
heavy bag behind him, threatening to sink and catch
round some rock, or by its slacking up release the
hook ; I jerked in the line, thinking a grain of sand
might have penetrated between the plates, and tried
the handle first one way, then the other, in vain.

This all passed with the speed of thought, but
the fish was approaching as quickly ; there was no-
thing left but calling one of my men to tell him to
take in the line, hand over hand, and holding it in
a loose coil, be prepared to pay it out on the next
rush. Then thinking that the plates must be bent,
I took from my pocket a screw-driver that I always
cari'ied, and unloosened every screw. There I stood,
grasping in one hand the rod, Avhile the tip bent to
the motions of the fish, with the other working away



FLY-FISHING. 259

at the reel ; beside me my best man, slowly clrawino-
in or paying out the line as need must; both of us
eager, anxious, and startled at this new mode of
killing salmon; the fish, vigorous as ever, making
continual and sustained rushes, but fortunately none
as extended as his first.

I had freed every screw in the reel, but without
any result ; it was as immovable as ever ; there was
no resource but to do the best we could, in our origi-
nal mode of proceeding, under the circumstances.
Never before had a fish proved himself stronger or
braver ; for a good half hour he kept us on the
stretch, and then sulked. Stationing himself in the
edge of the current, he held his own doggedly ; fif-
teen minutes of such behavior exhausted our pa-
tience. If I tried to lead him toAvards the shore, he
took advantage of the eddy to resist ; if to turn him
the other way, he braced himself against the current ;
a severe strain, however, brought him to the surface,
and revealed the fact that he was not sulking at the
bottom, but resolutely swimming, head up stream, in
the current.

Not a little surprised, we tossed in a pebble, then
a stone, at last a rock, when, indignant, he fled down
stream; fifteen minutes more of exciting contest,
several rushes when he was on the point of being
captured, resulted at last in bringing him flouncing
on the gaff* out of water. He only weighed fifteen
potmds, but had been hooked foul, the point having
penetrated at the hard bone near the eye.

I then sat down deUberately to discover what had



260 FLY-FISHING.

happened to my reel ; it seemed to be in perfect
order, but would not move ; I tried to drive the
shaft out of its bearing with the mallet — a heavy club
of wood used to kill the fish after they are gaifed,
but only after a good hour's work did I succeed in
separating it, and found that for want of oil the two
surfaces had become almost solid. They were as
bright as burnished gold, and had evidently been
heated by the first desperate rush of the fish; after
being touched with a drop of oil and replaced, they
worked beautifully.

It is curious to note how, in salmon-fishing, acci-
dents A\dll happen when the fish is on the hook ; if
the line is weakened, or the leader fretted, or the rod
strained, the weight and power of the fish expose
the weakness ; if anything is aught but perfect, it
gives way at that critical moment. In trout-fishing
yon are apt to discover the defects in time, and in
bass-fishing the tackle is coarse and strong ; but in
salmon-fishing you first learn their presence by their
parting. Never use a doubtful strand of gut, or a
second-quality hook; never tie a knot without
thoroughly testing it, and never use a leader that is in
the least worn.

The best line by far, for both salmon and trout-
fishing, is the braided silk covered with a water-
proof preparation, and tapered to the fineness of the
gut-leader. If this can be obtained no other should
be thought of, but if it cannot, the others are about
on a disgraceful par of mediocrity ; the one that is
usually praised, that of silk and horse-hair mixed,



FLY-FISHING. 261

being, if possible, the worst, for while it has the
weakness of the horse-hair, and water-soaking capa-
city of the silk, it has a difficulty especially its own,
arising from the protrusion of short ends of hair
that have broken or rotted off, and which are con-
tinually catching the rings, or guides. The common
silk line may be coated with raw linseed oil by
stretching it in a garret or some place shaded from
the sun, and rubbing it with a cloth soaked in the
oil ; several coats must be applied, allowing each to
dry before a renewal, and care must be taken to
avoid exposure to the sun's rays, which will rot the
line. If thoroughly coated it will answer nearly as
well as if prepared in a more scientific manner.

The elegance, ease, and delicacy of casting
depend much upon the proportions of the leader or
casting-line, its length, taper, and adaptation to the
line and rod ; if these are not accurately ascertained
and complied with — and they can only be determined
by actual experience with each rod and line — the
execution will be faulty. Consequently no absolute
rule can be given, but the length and taper must de-
pend upon circumstances. The strands of gut are
selected, the clearest, roundest, and hardest being
the best, and having been assorted according to size,
are tied together with the double-water knot for sal-
mon-fishing, and with either the same or the single-,
water knot for trout. If it is desired to fasten the
droppers between the knots, the latter must be used,
and the gut must be well soaked in warm water
before it is tied. Leaders thus prepared and suited



262 FLY-FISHING.

accurately to the line and rod, will be found cheaper
anTi more satisfactory than those usually sold in the
shops, and may be tapered to any degree of fine-
ness.

The fly-book in which the sportsman collects his
treasures — the fairy imitations of the tiny nymphs of


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Online LibraryRobert Barnwell RooseveltSuperior fishing; or, The striped bass, trout, and black bass of the northern states. Embracing full directions for dressing artificial flies with the feathers of American birds; an account of a sporting visit to Lake Superior, etc., etc., etc → online text (page 15 of 18)