Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

#37 “Hooked” Fish by Schaldach, William J. Schaldach (1932)
#37 “Hooked” Fish by Schaldach, William J. Schaldach (1932)

The centuries of literature on fishing as well as the great online treasure trove of blogs, forums and digital magazines has and I suspect always will be asking and answering the question: “Why I Fish”. Not me particularly, but in general why do some become so enthusiastic and passionate about angling that it becomes a fire in their belly. It is a timeless question and in my search for brilliant pieces of angling wisdom I came across this story about becoming an Ardent Angler.

In 1878, a mere 12 years after brown trout were introduced into Tasmania, William Senior, a well-known angling journalist made what was probably the first visit to Tasmania as a tourist to go trout fishing. At the time, Senior was working as the first short hand recorder “Hansard” to the Parliament of Queensland. Prior to working in Australia, Senior was a contemporary of Marryat and Halford in England, the editor of The Field and wrote many a fishing related column in the English press. Prior to returning to England in 1881, under the nom de plume of “Red Spinner”, he penned one of his many books on fishing: Travel and Trout in the Antipodes (1879). It is in the classic style of travel accounts of the era, voluminous, wordy and full of picturesque antidotes and descriptive passages in excruciating detail. Absent the visual drawings and images we find today, writers in the mid-19th century had to tell their stories in words alone.

In the Australian summer of 1878, Senior, a passionate angler, longed for the trout of English chalk streams. Of course none existed in the sweltering heat and humidity of Brisbane in the colony of Queensland. So, as permitted by the annual summer recess of the legislature, Senior organized a family vacation to Tasmania to see if he could experience the brown trout and other finny creatures in that southerly isle. In Hobart, Hobart Town, as he calls it, Senior links up with a successful middle-age businessman to whom he was acquainted with in Queensland. In the story, Senior calls him “The Major”, not because he is one, but because “mostly because he looks like one, and speaks as one having authority …”. The Major is not an angler and Senior vows to take him in tow as Piscator and Venator in the classic sense of Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Senior starts his story thus:

“You’ll come with me a-fishing?” I inquire.

“Not this afternoon, I think,” he says. [the Major] “I feel more moved to seek some woodland shade and finish the Pilgrim and the Shrine.

“You shall do nothing of the sort,” I rejoin. “Today you commence your pupilship to me, in the character of Mr. Venator, and I forbid mooning under hedgerows or shrubberies. Here is the end of our journey; here is a twelve-foot fly-rod that last did service on Dartmoor; and here’s a hand, my trusty friend, able and willing to wield it.”

“The man who putteth on the harness should leave boasting to him who taketh it off.” the Major answers. “Wait till you saunter home in the gloaming before you sound the timbrel. Ah! Yonder is the Huon, like ‘Iser, rolling rapidly.’ [The Iser is a large, fast Bavarian river that was the scene of the Battle of Hohenlinden in 1800 during the Napoleonic Wars. The river was immortalized with the phrase ‘And dark as winter was the flow, Of Iser, rolling rapidly’ in Thomas Campbell’s epic poem ‘Hohenlinden’.]

ardent 2In the chapter entitled: First and Second Lessons, Senior describes his and the Major’s visit to the Huon River valley southwest of Hobart Town. After an unsuccessful first day on the Huon, Senior and the Major venture off to a small mountain tributary of the Huon. What follows are excerpts of Senior’s description of that venture.

“A soft wind blows across the river. I search my book for a brown fly, and the Major, to whom the rod has been entrusted, tries a cast, to while away the time. It seems the simplest thing possible when the expert, apparently without an effort, sweeps the limber rod over the right shoulder, describes a horse-shoe curve, and then, bringing it forward with a graceful movement, delivers the flies straight and light upon the water. But the result of the learner’s attempt is the unseemly splashing of a curiously entangled mass of flies, cast, and line into the stream.

‘Try again’ he is encouraged, ‘and take it coolly; let the rod and the wind do the business for you.’

Trying again, the learner succeeds in sending the flies, a little clumsily, as may be expected, but without mishap or hindrance, into space, the dropper pitching upon a log and rolling quietly thence into the sharp stream, escaping from its butt.

‘What is this?’ he asks; ‘I am fastened to a log’

‘Give him line. It is a trout!’ shouted I. Keep up the point of your rod. Winch in. Let him go. Bring him away from the stump,’ etc., etc.

Some readers, at least, will understand the history of this trifling accident, and will be rejoiced to know that the learner, keeping himself tolerably cool, eventually brings his prize to the landing net, and has the felicity of gazing upon a beautifully speckled, bonâ fide brown trout, gasping and struggling among the grass.

From this moment on the Major is an ardent angler. [voluminous description the accidental nature of the capture of this trout follows], … So far as the Major is concerned, the triumph, as we have seen, is purely accidental. Many of the crises which influence our lives are of that category. I repeat, then, that from this moment my friend develops into one of the most ardent of anglers. For the rest of his days he blesses the memory of that one-pound trout: it introduces him to a new sensation; it kindles a flame which no amount of subsequent failure can dim; it inspires him with ambition; it gives him something new to live for. This, however, in the familiar phraseology of the novels of our youth, it to anticipate.”

Travel and Trout in the Antipodes—An Angler’s Sketches in Tasmania and New Zealand, William Senior (Red Spinner), (1879)

Anticipation is indeed a primary characteristic of the ardent angler. As I think back to my youth and inexperience with trout and flies there are many, what must have been at the time, accidental encounters with trout that created no end of anticipation and are etched into my memory. The first was a huge brown trout (at the time probably no more than 10 inches) that came rocketing out of a deep, and dark hole under a heavy snag on the tiny Mammoth creek outside Mammoth Lakes, California. I was probably 10 years old or so and the tiny salmon egg I dropped into the hole brought that trout out and on to my hook. I grabbed the trout and ran breathless for several hundred yards back to my father upstream to show him the trout. Later in life as I learned a lot about fly tying and fly casting, and less about fly fishing, I found myself in the wilds of Eastern Washington on tributaries of the Columbia River in the great Okanagan and Colville forests of Northeastern Washington. This was the home of native Columbia River redband trout, wild, brilliantly colored rainbow trout. At a favorite camping spot on the Sanpoil river, my fly fishing skills were severely tested as hatches in the crystal clear stream were difficult to master, and few fish fell to my clumsy attempts at dry fly fishing. But close by was a foot bridge across the river and immediately below the bridge was a heavy mass of shrubbery that covered half of the deep run that flowed under the bridge. At the time, one of my favorite flies was the Parmachene Belle, not because it was designed for Washington, but because I liked to tie them up and they really looked nice. On the foot bridge I would tie on a #10 Parmachene Belle and slowly drift it downstream on a taut line under the shrubbery. Invariably, just like that brown trout and the salmon egg in my youth, a brilliantly colored rainbow would rocket up and take the fly. The spot was a honey hole of trout. Many escaped, but many made the morning’s fry pan. My wife and I camped on the Sanpoil many times in the 1970s and there was always anticipation of brilliantly colored and feisty rainbow trout. I would probably fish the spot near the footbridge completely differently today, but I would still anticipate the trout that would come to hand.

I am sure that the road to becoming the ardent angler that I am, started, in no small way, when I accidentally connected with that wild, feisty, and beautifully be-speckled brown trout from an obscure creek with a lowly salmon egg. I still remember the breathless romp back to my father to show him my prize. Emotions that William Senior described so well almost a century earlier.

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