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All who fish for trout with an artificial fly will agree, I am sure, that the really great fascination of the sport lies in the challenging problems of stream strategy. The strategist, in the ultimate, reckons not only with the habits and moods of the trout and the behavior of its insect food but also with the whole character of each stretch of stream: the speed of the currents, the depth of water, the variations in pools and riffles, the surface winds, the sunlight and shadow and an infinity of immobile stage props—trees, brush, rocks and logs.
The real reward of the observing and skillful angler lies in his ability to plan an attack that penetrates the natural defenses of the trout, tempts it to strike a fly and brings it through the obstacles to his net. The instruction in stream strategy offered in this second of three parts on The Art of Fishing with the Wet Fly is, like the first article in last week's issue, based largely on the lifetime accomplishments of the late James Leisenring, an angler who is still respected for his skill and strategy with the wet fly. Leisenring took more than a lucky share of trout because he understood the trout and its food, and also because he adjusted his various techniques to fit the character of the water. He knew where the trout were. Equally important, he selected a strategic position on the stream that enabled him both to present a fly temptingly to the fish and to play the fish with ease and convenience once it had been hooked.
The wet-fly fisherman explores both surface currents and those in the deep water below. Leisenring hooked trout at the surface, below it as his fly was descending and moving at various depths and also—perhaps better than any other angler—as the fly was rising to the surface. He used the tensions of the currents to activate the hackle fibers of a fly so that it seemed to move with the joie de vivre of the insects themselves. In brief, he presented a fly, as he put it, "naturally, so that the trout will enjoy and appreciate it." On the following pages you will learn fine points of Leisenring's strategy, tactic by tactic, as they apply to typical stream conditions. First, however, you should know something of the basic ecological features of the water as Leisenring understood them.
The currents of a stream, illustrated above (right) in the cutaway of a stretch of typical trout water, are food lanes, and trout are attracted to them by hunger. Other factors, such as the urge to protect themselves, may divert the trout but, in the main, fish are found where the food is. If Leisenring were fishing uncomplicated water, like that shown here, he would first cast into the relatively quiet water short of the main current. Such an area is not so likely to hold trout as the lane of secondary velocity farther out, where the broken surface water offers better concealment and where the trout can wait for food sweeping by in the main current. But the quiet water sometimes does yield trout; in any case, if the fly is cast there first, then advanced, cast by cast, into more promising areas, the trout, wherever it is, will see the fly before it sees the leader or the more disturbing ripples and shadows made by the line.
When the angler advances his fly beyond the main current, as above, he runs into a common, recurring problem: drag. Any fast current that drags on line or leader causes the fly to move unnaturally fast. Sometimes the simple expedient of holding the rod high so that the line enters the water beyond the main current solves the problem.
Often, however, when fishing beyond the main current, you must resort to a maneuver known as "mending" your cast. To mend your cast, you first release a little slack line through the guides. Then, by simply flicking your wrist, you impart a circling motion to the tip of your rod, which will throw a loop of the slack line upstream. With this extra slack on the water, your fly for a little time is undisturbed and unaffected by drag.
If the structure of streams were as simple as that we have shown on these pages, there would be little more you would need to know than the behavior of trout, their food and the effects of currents. But few streams are this simple, and on the following pages the finer points of strategy are covered as they apply to the true, complicated character of typical streams.
A Pool Full of Hidden Hazards
The stream situation shown in the drawing at the right presents a fairly common but always intriguing problem of strategy. The moment you approach the bank of the pool shown in the foreground you watch for trout feeding at the surface. If there is no surface activity, you can still presume trout are feeding beneath the surface, as they do most of the time on all streams. On a pool which looks as promising as this one, a wet fly fished deep could produce a fish almost anywhere. And here, as on many pools of medium size, you might cast from any of several positions. Your choice of position—indeed, your whole plan of attack—depends on what your ambitions are. Will you settle for any fish, or do you want a large one, perhaps the largest in the pool?
If you want a large trout, the place to present your fly is near the half-submerged rock on the far side of the main current. On the downstream side of this rock, decently concealed from predators by the broken water eddying around it, a trout can hover with ease on the edge of the food-laden current. Logic would indicate that the trout by the rock is a good one. The best trout are usually found in the best places.