TROUT FEVER IS CATCHING
WILLIAM C. COOKE
WHILE spring is still only a halfhearted promise Canadians by the 10,000 fall victims to a madness that has been gathering in them all winter long. They begin to see spots before their eyes —black speckles or crimson, as the case may be, peppered lavishly on streamlined sides—and they keep right on seeing them until the only effective antidote is forthcoming.
This antidote, to be administered without delay and in generous doses, consists of removal to the waters whqre the wearers of those spots abide. They may be Eastern brookies or Western cutthroat, German browns or dynamic rainbow. It matters little which, just so they’re trout!
A man with the trouting fever upon him is no earthly use to family, boss or friends. If you wish to learn why, borrow his spare rod, provided you can pry him loose from it, and go along with him on Opening Day. The experience may leave you convinced that trout fishermen are the chumps of the universe, or it may infect you with their amiable insanity.
If the latter is the case, depend upon it: you’ll never be quite the same man, or woman, again.
Opening Day, the trouters’ New Year, comes anywhere from March 1 to May 1, depending on where you live between the coasts. In anticipation it’s always a day of warm sunshine, ultramarine skies and silky breezes lazing out of the south. The stream is never too full, and the fish are taking as if they’d been waiting all winter for a whack at an artificial fly.
So much for anticipation and the dreams in which anglers indulge as they paw over their equipment by a winter fireside. There is no place in those dreams for grey water rushing heavy and sullen between banks on which the snow still lingers—for waders that leak— for near-gales that hike line and leader into the treetops—and for apathetic trout that not even a worm will tempt to indiscretion.
Just the same, unless your favorite stream is buried so deep in wilderness that only the hardiest can reach it, Opening Day will find more fishermen along it, risking pneumonia, courting death by drowning, than you can shake a five-ounce split bamboo rod at.
Sure, they could buy fish in any market; larger fish, and maybe even tastier. Also, they’d be a great deal cheaper. Once I figured the cost of the trout I took in a week’s trip. It came to something like $13 a pound,
and certainly no fish that swims has an intrinsic value of half the amount.
So my wife said at the time, anyway. Later she became an angler herself, and retracted the statement.
Magic of Running Water
THERE is more to fishing than the mere catching of fish, although it would be absurd to claim that your trouter doesn’t like to feel his creel strap dragging comfortably on his shoulder at the end of the streamside day. But he will tell you—and mean it—that the landing of trout is not the most important part of the game. There’s a sense of freedom, a release from the affairs of everyday more complete than any other sport offers, with the possible exception of mountaineering. Ever-present is the magic of running water, of trees in the dress of the season, of wild things going about their business undisturbed. Nature doesn’t interrupt her day’s schedule for the angler; rather she draws him into it.
A number of misconceptions have grown up about trout fishing, fostered by sentimentalists and by those who haven’t wet a line since they dunked for sunfish in the creek that wound through the old homestead. Of these the most persistent is the one about the barefoot boy with string line and bent pin who consistently wipes the eye of the city slicker. This canard turns up yearly on the calendars in some form or other, and it’s always good for an indulgent chuckle.
Well, don’t you believe it! Provided he knows his water and possesses a reasonable amount of skill, the man with the big time oufit will almost invariably outscore nature’s child. The trout of today, in waters reached by motor roads at least, is a far more sophisticated creature than Old Speckles as our greatgrandfathers knew him when they salted his kind down in barrels as part of their winter provender. He takes a lot of catching; in fact he’s less likely to fall for an artificial lure than is the angler who seeks him.
Deep in his heart every trout fisherman knows that he could reduce his gear by half and still go forth capably arrayed for the sport. He knows, but he doesn’t care; and he remains a cheerful sucker for the tackle makers’ enticements. He will forfeit luxuries and even necessities, happily, in order to possess himself of the rod whose action is sheer poetry in his hand, or the aluminum fly box with the felt pad in the lid, or the fishing jacket with 16 pockets and a match striker on the sleeve.
Getting an outfit together is no simple matter these days, and may require careful shopping. The British,
American and Canadian manufacturers whose wares once made scintillant displays in the tackle shop showwindows are still occupied practically 100% with war production. Low-cost items in particular have been depleted, and right now the $10 rod, tool of the beginner or the boy, is as hard to locate as a 10-pound trout.
War worked its first inconvenience on fishermen when, with considerable help from the sidelines, the Spaniards agreed to disagree. Spain was the world’s chief source of silkworm gut, and when the bombs began to burst, the industry took a beating.
With the gut supply sharply decreased, nylon leaders gained in popularity, and while many anglers look on nylon as a substitute still short of perfection, it has helped the fraternity avoid the last desperate expedient—a return to the hairs from a horse’s tail, which were, in universal use as terminal tackle a few generations back.
When the British Empire and later the United States went to war, the tackle famine became progressively more acute. It will be a glad day for anglers when shipments of British fishing equipment begin to cross the Atlantic again. The Old Country, cradle of fly fishing, has a reputation for fine gear that has not yet been successfully challenged.
DETERMINEDLY by-passing all the paraphernalia you’ll some day acquire if the virus really gets into your blood, the essentials are a split cane rod with the reel seat below the cork handle, reel, line, leaders and flies. You can make shift without a wicker creel or haversack, but if you’ve lost boyhood’s immunity to cold water, better add hip boots or chesthigh fabric waders to
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A rhapsody on how to catch and cook those speckled beauties
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the list. The latter are preferable on all but the smallest watercourses, and the clodhopper brogans you wear over them should be soled with felt or hobnailed leather. Secure footing is vital to enjoyment of stream fishing. Any who doubt this will be convinced by a header into six feet of water with winter’s chill still upon it!
For lake fishing, a landing net is required. Otherwise, unless yourstreams are brushy and high of bank, forget it.
In normal times you can obtain a passable and reasonably complete rigout for $25. But for really topflight gear—and you’ll come to it eventually as surely as day follows night—write your own ticket.
The $4.95 rod looks very much like the hand-fashioned stick retailing at six to 15 times the price, and its silk wrappings are much flashier, but there’s a whale of a difference in performance. Balance, endurance, the right shade of resiliency—all the fine points which anglers lump together as “feel”—aren’t to be obtained cheaply. When you plunk for a first-class rod you can count on receiving from it a lifetime of fishing service, barring accidents. Protect it, cherish it, and never, never lend it!
As a sidenote, it isn’t the tussles with heavy fish that put a rod to the ultimate test. It’s the casting of anything up to 70 feet of line, several hundred times in the fishing day.
The most satisfactory trout lines for general service are of braided, waterproofed silk, thicker at the middle than at the ends, so that from rod butt to fly runs a progressive taper. A line of equal thickness throughout will perform adequately, but only with a tapered line can you indulge in the “fine and faraway” fishing sometimes required.
Your reel is simply a spool for holding line, equipped with a fixed “click” or brake, and the more foolproof its construction the better. It should be large enough to hold the extra line, or backing, you’ll need when, some day, the boss of the pool takes hold and starts for distant parts.
Leaders are also tapered; they’re made from silkworm gut or nylon, and after you’ve snagged and lost three in a day, you’ll agree the price is scandalous. Cheapness notwithstanding, don’t try to save by using Japanese gut, still available in limited quantity. Salmon fishermen of the Pacific coast find a use for it in the very heavy sizes, but strands of a proper lightness for trout fishing are lifeless, sleazy, and as treacherous as the attack on Pearl Harbor.
On the end of your leader, tied with a special knot that any tackle dealer will demonstrate for you, goes the fly. Ten chances to one, in Canadian waters it’s a“wet” fly, a lure designed to imitate a drowned insect or a live minnow, and fished so that it exercises its come-hither anywhere from an inch to a foot or more below the surface.
The “dry” fly, the aristocrat of the
breed, is a wisp of fur and feather usually concocted in the likeness of a living insect. Cast upstream it bobs perkily along the surface, and the rise when a trout swirls up to engulf it is one of the most heart-jittering experiences which fishing has to offer.
Bucktails, streamers and nymphs, variations of the two main classes, will find their way into your fly boxes as your career progresses. Exhaustive treatises on each are to be found in the angling journals with which every addict clutters his basement.
Wet Versus Dry
The argument of wet fly versus dry has been going on for more years than any living angler can remember, and will undoubtedly continue unsettled till the last trout is creeled. This controversy is as nothing, though, to the verbal battle that rages when a fly-fishing purist and a convinced wormer get together.
I’ll dunk a worm any time the occasion warrants, and will agree readily that worm fishing can be almost as much an art as the casting of a feathered conceit; but fly fishing has been my personal preference since I first sank a Peter Ross in the jaw corner of a fighting sea-run cutthroat.
Fly casting is a sport in itself. The kick you derive when the line sails out to drop your lure daintily under the far bank is comparable to the satisfaction the golfer gets from a long clean drive down the fairway. A wormbaited hook isn’t cast in the same
sense—it’s lobbed or tossed, and the same expensive, finely balanced tackle isn’t required. (Right here, for my own protection, let me remind you that I’m dealing in basics. We’re not considering hollow-section tournament fly rods with triple-taper lines, or such specialized bait tackle as the fixedspool reel. Just the tackle with which the average trouting Canadian enjoys his sport.J
There are other reasons why T prefer fly fishing. The trout that gorges a worm is usually hooked deep down, which means the sprats can’t be turned loose to increase their weight and wisdom against their next encounter with man. Also, you can fly-fish a pool without putting the trout off for the angler who comes poking along the shingle bars half an hour later. Generally a pool which has been fished with worms is no good for half a day—longer if a nickel-plated spinner flashes through the depths ahead of the bait. Finally—and here’s where my neck goes a long way out—one worm is very much like another. You can’t change worms to suit altered stream conditions. In consequence I’ve found that on the average stream on the average day of a well-launched season the fly will catch at least as many trout as the worm.
In fairness it must be admitted that on certain waters flies aren’t worth a whoop down a rain barrel. The narrow, brushy creek is the flyman’s bane and the wormer’s delight. Whatever waters you fish don’t scorn the lowly garden bait. Days will overtake you when the artificials, even the threebucks - a - dozen ones, won’t stir a fin, and then you’ll be very glad of a can of worms tucked into a corner of your creel.
A few anglers make their own rods. Very many more are proud as punch of their ability to tie or “dress” better trout flies than the bulk of those offered in the stores.
Individual professional flytiers have made mighty reputations in the craft, but production is mostly in the hands of women. They work fast—have to in order to make their groceries at it— and their acquaintance with trout and trout streams is often of the most casual.
The finest tier I ever knew was a six-foot Scottish coal miner with hands that looked more capable of swinging a pick than magicking fur, feathers and silk into a trout’s evening snack. He scorned the vice which most tiers use, manipulating his materials between his big fingers. His finished flies he stowed in Copenhagen “snoose” boxes, and a gift of one of these boxes containing a dozen of his specials made a red-letter day for the angler so favored.
Perhaps you won’t achieve his degree of excellence, but it shouldn’t take you long to acquire the dexterity required fora workmanlike job. There’s a certain prestige that goes with “tying your own,” and as a hobby it offers a fascinating occupation for dull offseason evenings.
The materials themselves come from the ends of the earth, and their colors are only exceeded by their variety. Scanning the list you find seal fur, dyed in more hues than the rainbow offers; polar bear hair; bucktail from the scut of the deer; jungle cock feathers with enamelled “eyes”; herl from the gaudy caudal appendage of the peacock; shining crest and patterned neck tippet of the golden pheasant; short fur culled from the English hare’s scalp; skunk’s tail, daintily disguised by, the trade name o*’ “mephikis”; ostrich plumes; wing quills of swan, goose, duck and turkey; hackle feathers from the necks of roosters; chenilles, wools, silks and tinsels of endless variety.
A fly-making outfit, you'll find, never stops growing. Friends will begin to save you choice specimens they come across, and you will cultivate hunters for the fur and feathers t hey bringhome.
I know, at firsthand, of a fiytier who lusted after the tail feather of a cockatoo minding its own business in a city aviary. A cockatoo has a wicked beak, and the angler wasn’t quite quickenough on the draw. He got his feather, but he also wore two fingers bandaged for a considerable time!
Numerous hooks have been written on fly tying, any one of which will give the beginner all the information he needs.
Flies, like ships and race horses, have names. The Professor is reputedly the brain child of an absent-minded Scottish pedagogue who forgot his fly book one day. With a rusty old hook out of his bonnet, a ravelling of wool from his sock, and a wisp of dry grass, he contrived a lure that brought him trout for supper. Prepared now with less casual materials, the Professor has an honored place in most fly boxes. Peculiarly Canadian is the gay scarlet, yellow and white Parmachene Belle, which according to tradition simulates the trout fin preferred as a bait by backwoodsmen. The Coachman, rightfully one of the most renowned of all trout flies, took its title from its originator, who handled whip and reins for George IV. Among lures of recent origin are the yellow-red-yellow bucktail streamer which rejoices in the sinister name of Mickey Finn, and the potent big-trout special, the Alaska Mary Ann, devised by a northern outdoorsman of note.
Incidentally the trout fisherman who gets a killing fly named after himself needn’t worry about his immortality. His name will be blessed—and cussed -as long as the rivers sing their siren song.
Pink Lady, Silver Doctor, Olive Quill, Pale Evening Dun, Dusty Miller, Yellow Sally, Montreal . . . there is the stuff of poetry in these names and a thousand others.
Cooking Your Trout
Trout are pretty to look at, fun to catch, and they can be very nice to eat. Let's suppose you’ve caught your fish and that a day on the stream has given you a ravenous appetite. The catch can be prepared in a diversity of ways, so I’ll simply pass on our own procedure.
First, though, the oft-heard claim that “you can’t beat the little fellows for the pan” shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
A stated preference for smaller trout, you’ll notice, is generally forced by lack of larger fish in the basket. A 12to 14-incher, weighing from three quarters of a pound to a pound, is nice eating size. He has dignity and substance; his plump sides, garnished with bacon and supplemented with new potatoes and green peas, offer a belt-stretching meal for any but a glutton. Cook him right and his flavor is something to remember wistfully between seasons.
Take your fish from his swathing of fern or grass and slosh him about at the stream’s edge. This washing restores the sheen to his flanks and gives you a last opportunity to admire him in the round. Then with your knife unseam him from the nave to the chaps. Saw through the backbone at what would be the base of the neck if nature had constructed trout along different lines, and grasping your fish firmly in one hand (just try and do it!) pull down on his head with the other. The head will come free, bringing with it the gills, the pectoral fins of the throat, and most of the interbubbles.
Don't throw these in the river. Bury them, burn them, or, if you're in wild country and wish to make a feast, for night-pattering fur bearers, leave them on an off-trail rock. The platter will be clean in the morning, and small pads will have left a thank-you note in the sand.
To finish off, run your thumbnail, or knife point if squeamish, along the blood sac that lies between air bladder and backbone. Scrape the blood away and wipe your fish dry.
With those grim details attended to, sprinkle his interior lightly with salt. All that now lacks is a dusting of flour or cornmeal, as your taste dictates. Lastly, into the pan with him, to sizzle, first on one side then on the other over a hot but not too hot fire, until his skin is a crisp brown, and his flesh yields cleanly to the fork, and his frizzled tail curls up as a handle to your eager fingers.
The cooking of trout, and outdoor cookery in general, is essentially a male art, most women being lost without a proper stove and a well-equipped kitchen. As a peace offering, however, let me hasten to add that the myth which maintains women have no place on a trout stream is long overdue for explosion.
More girls take out fishing licences each year, and the number of husbands who have found their wives to be good trouting partners has increased tremendously in the past three decades.
Here's some advice from the distaff side to wives who’d sooner go along than stay home as trout widows.
Leave the frills behind. Wear simple clothing -slacks, man-tailored shirt — and take along a pull-over for the chill of early morning or evening. Something with pockets, a jacket or fishing vest, is also needed, partly for your own convenience and partly because your husband is apt to become a changed creature when up to his knees in a riffle. Beg you ever so prettily, he’s liable to snort fire if you ask for a fly out of his box or a leader from his case when he’s working over a rising fish.
By the same token, learn how to tie on your flies, unsnarl your line tangles, care for your equipment and unhook your own trout, even though your mate has an actual preference for clingingvine tactics. As already stated, he changes when he lays out that first 50-foot cast.
One trip should convince you whether trout fishing is your dish or not. If it is make him furnish you with sound gear. If he attempts to outfit you with some lemon of a rod, warped in the tip and creaky in the joints, take a firm stand. You want a rod of your own, four to four-and-a-half ounces in weight, something under nine feet long, with line of the correct heft to balance it, unfrayed leaders, and flies that haven’t been a feeding ground for moths.
The chances are that nothing on earth can persuade you into a pair of shapeless chest waders, so purchase men’s hip boots in the smallest size, making sure the soles are cleated. Take up the interior slack with heavy woollen socks over silk hose.
A final tip— never outfish your husband. There may lurk somewhere in his bosom an atavistic feeling that you’re trespassing in a male sphere; and, however good a face he puts upon it, he doesn’t like to be beaten at his own game.
Code of Ethics
Each province formulates and publishes its own sport fishing regulations. The game warden will catch you if you
don’t obey ’em. But beyond the letter of the law are certain unwritten rules, a code of ethics by which anglers abide. Natural consideration for those who share the stream with you is at the base of the code. If you walk into the other fellow’s backcast and get a hook through your ear, blame yourself, not him. Don’t horn into the patch of water he’s fishing, and unless invited, never try to net his trout for him. Friendships have ended abruptly when well-meant interference resulted in a snapped leader and a lost prize.
The matter of water rights is much too complicated for treatment here, but it’s a very sound idea to keep off private property until you have the landowner’s permission. And when such consent is forthcoming, make it a point to close all gates securely behind you. Open gates and breached fences mean valuable livestock strayed or damaged; and there would be fewer cranky bulls in river pastures if closer attention were paid to this point of angling etiquette.
Extreme caution with campfires and cigarette butts should be second nature to any fisherman, and I’d like to be able to report that it is. Forestry men in nine provinces would rise up to contradict any such claim, however.
Are our provincial bag limits too generous? When they run out of other topics of conversation, anglers can always spend a brisk hour arguing this question.
Perhaps the most sensible answer is that no man has to take home a limit if he doesn’t want to, and the fish hog has no regard for the law anyway, provided he can break it without drawing upon himself a fine or a spell in the digger. His breed is responsible for the fine trout left to rot in piles by more than one hinterland lake or waterway, and every decent angler regards him with the same abhorrence he holds for the watersnake.
Limits should be reduced promptly wherever or whenever there is any threat of depletion; but the trout of Canada have graver enemies than the sportsman.
Inevitably, lumbering, land clearing, hydroelectric development and industrial pollution have worked to the detriment of our fishing. Where the timber is gone, logged, burned, or a combination of both, rain and snow runoff is far too rapid for the good of the streams. Freshets become devastating, and brooks that once retained their flow year-round now show their bleached bones in August.
We can only marvel at the trout fishing that our pioneer ancestors enjoyed; but it is not at all unlikely that our grandchildren will know fishing as good or even better than we have today.
Game laws in most of the provinces are of comparatively recent vintage, and support for policies of wild life conservation didn’t begin to gather weight until long after the passenger pigeon was extinct and the buffalo was all but a museum piece. We still have those among us who would declare a permanent open season on deer because deer have a way of getting into farmers’ orchards, and who would exterminate the ringneck pheasant for the damage he is alleged to do to growing crops, but by and large we have suffered less from the anticonservationists than have the American people.
It was only after continued pressure by United States sportsmen that Alaska discontinued the practice of paying a bounty on trout tails—a bounty supported by cannery operators, whose claim was that trout were reducing the salmon runs by devouring salmon eggs wholesale on the spawning grounds. A somewhat curious claim, this, when one considers that trout and salmon were sharing Pacific coast rivers with no diminution of numbers before the canners arrived!
Few streams but have their oldtimers who complain that the fishing is gone plumb to blazes. Sometimes they’re right. Surprisingly often, though, they’re dead wrong and are viewing the days of their youth through a nostalgic haze. There are plenty of lakes and rivers in Canada where conservation, well - administered laws and judicious restocking have resulted in better fishing than was to be had 30 or 40 years ago.
Extreme examples are some of British Columbia’s interior lakes which were once entirely barren of trout, although rich in fish food. Young rainbow brought to them by truck, pack horse or even manpower throve enormously. Certain of those lakes now produce trout well over 20 pounds, and their fame brings many a tourist dollar to the far-west province each season.
Restocking involves much more than the dumping of a few thousand fingerlings into a depleted body of water. Both Canadian and American wild life authorities have discovered, and are profiting by the knowledge, that it is far worse to overstock their water than to put in too few fish. Overstocking means that the finny population either starves to death or remains stunted in size and puny of physique through lack of enough food to go round.
The ichthyologists—fish experts to you—have also become aware of the evils that sometimes attend the introduction of “foreign” species to replace a dwindling native supply. Placing of Atlantic salmon in one western river and brown trout in several others a number of years ago was a conspicuous failure. The salmon simply disappeared; and the brownies, those that survived, became potbellied cannibals, preying on the native cutthroat fingerlings.
Speaking of restocking, Vancouver in the middle thirties had a rousing mystery which might be titled “The Vanishing Trout of Lost Lagoon.” A fishing club formed for that express purpose planted well-grown trout in the fresh-water pond at the entrance to lovely Stanley Park. They flourished for a time, and club members, strolling the lagoon banks of an evening, fairly licked their lips as they watched their pets leaping merrily.
Then, almost overnight, they vanished. Some claim that a lingering brackishness in the lagoon, once part of Burrard Inlet but now fed by cold fresh water from one of the cross-inlet rivers, killed off the trout. A more widely accepted version, though, is that the fish escaped to the sea through an outlet hatch left open by misadventure.
Anyway, the trout were gone; and the members of the club still mourn their loss.
Canada’s speckle-sides, whether they be such “true” trout as browns, rainbow and cutthroat or such chars as the Eastern brook and his western cousin, the Dolly Varden, don’t appear to be in danger of extinction. Perhaps the greatest threat to the ordinary angler of limited means will be not a dearth of fish but a scarcity of open fishing grounds. The “No Trespassing” signs grow more plentiful year by year, and the concept of privately owned water, one of Britain’s less worthy exports to this democracy, has its supporters.
I don’t altogether endorse the action taken by a certain set of lively lads who, encountering one of the tweedy “I - own - this - water - demmit!” gentry, dumped him into the reach he claimed as his private property. But I
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do suggest that the angling associations watch for, and nip in their earliest stages, future moves aimed at giving individuals or groups power of exclusion on any trout stream large enough to float a shingle bolt.
Trout fishing isn’t an exclusive sport;
and if it ever should become such, I Canadians of future generations will have lost one of their happiestheritages. Meanwhile, spring is in the air, fat white puffball clouds are adrift in a very blue sky, and 1 keep seeing those ; spots before my eyes. Bluntly, I have a date with a trout!