I never saw him;
if anyone else ever did it has not been reported. I don't believe he exists.
But if he did, what would his attributes be?
If we accept the
little girl's statement that piano playing is easy—"you just press down on
those black and white things"—and apply it to trout fishing, all it
1) finding a
2) deceiving it into taking an imitation of its food
3) hooking, playing and landing it.
requirement is the most important; my guess is that finding a fish is anywhere
from 50% to 80% of catching it. Overwhelmingly, the reason why so many
experienced and well-equipped fishermen catch so few trout is that most of the
time they aren't fishing over fish.
done by sight; by knowing the kinds of places in which fish harbor or feed; or
by the simple hammer-and-chisel process of fishing one stretch so often that
eventually one learns where the fish are, without knowing or caring why. The
first method is the rarest, the second the most difficult, and the third the
easiest but most limited.
fishing eyesight is a gift of the gods, the rarest and most enviable attribute
a fisherman can possess, and I have never known a truly great angler who did
not have it. Edward R. Hewitt had the eyes of an eagle right up to his death at
90; George M. L. La Branche still has a keen and piercing eye although he is
past 80; and Ray Bergman's ability to see fish is so instinctive that he never
could understand why everyone couldn't do it.
angler sees not only the fish themselves but the faint, fleeting signs of their
presence—the tiny dimple in the slow water next the bank which indicates a big
fish sucking down little flies; the tiny black object momentarily protruded
above the surface which is the neb of a good, quietly feeding fish; the slight
ruffling of the shallows by a school of minnows fleeing from the bogeyman. The
gauzy wings of a small insect lying flat on the surface, exhausted after having
laid its eggs, are invisible and its body may be a mere speck no larger than an
eighth inch of pencil lead. But given any luck with the direction and amount of
light, the keen-eyed angler can see this "spent spinner" well enough to
determine its approximate size and color and thus learn not only what type of
food the fish are taking but which of his artificials will best imitate it.
George La Branche
claimed in The Dry Fly and Fast Water that the knack of seeing fish under water
can be learned by practice, but I incline to believe that either one is born
with sharp eyes or one is not. On the other hand, there is a mysterious mental
aspect of eyesight; sometimes it seems to be a quality separate from mere
keenness of sight—visual acuity. Resolving power, the ability to see what we
look at, seems to be a mental as well as a physical attribute. How else can we
account for the almost incredible ability of the great British angler-writer G.
E. M. Skues to discern whether trout were nymphing immediately under, or taking
spent flies in, the surface film, when we know that he was virtually blind in
one eye and had impaired vision in the other. Of course, knowledge plays a
part. "The little brown wink under water," as Skues called it, means a
feeding fish to the initiate but nothing at all to the tyro, just as that
Pullman-plush patch in yonder bush, 18 inches above the ground, means a deer in
summer coat to the woodsman but is never noticed by the city yokel looking 16
hands high for a hatrack spread of antlers.
The second method
of finding fish, by learning to be "a judge of water," is to my way of
thinking the highest attainment in this aspect of angling. Anyone who is
willing to do the work can make himself a fair judge of water; like piano
playing, a little of it is a simple thing to acquire. But mastery of the art is
granted to but few, and a lifetime is not too long to achieve perfection.