The fish may be browns or rainbows, both game to the core. I am unable to conceive anything more gamy than a rainbow of medium size, sixteen inches or thereabout. The exceeding rapidity of continuous leaps, sometimes wide apart; the extraordinary fear, or perhaps anger, displayed, and the many devious, skilful devices they show in efforts to get away, are one long wonder and surprise to us. I have found in the right water that rainbows far exceed in brilliant aggressiveness either the ouananiche or bass; their movements are more rapid and their leaps more frequent.
I am perhaps unusually fortunate in fishing water where, in the matter of leaping, the brown trout is a good second to the rainbow, but there are many who hold contrary opinions to this, especially bass admirers, some of whom have gone so far as to make positive assertions that brown trout don't leap at all; that they are lazy, fat, cannibalistic, ugly brutes - and so on. They are welcome to that view. For many years up to this day my experience has been that with the brown trout I am well pleased to fight any time - and be assured I like the game of fighting fish, and shall as long as I live. My habit has been to make records of what each fish does in the matter of gamy display, and the finest record I have is of a brown trout of fifteen inches, caught on a shad-fly the 13th of May, leaping above the surface eleven times before being brought to net. It is a common occurrence for them to leap four and five times. I shall be pleased to have any sceptical expert accompany me any time the last week in May to this water and see for himself. The remarkably varied ways they resist is a never-ending surprise to me. Exceptions there are to every rule, due, of course, to season, the kind of water, and the lure employed. On rare occasions I have had brook-trout leap, but it is not the usual thing. Neither is it usual for large chub or pickerel, yet half a dozen of the latter fish, caught in Hempstead pond at Rock-ville Centre, L. I., leaped above the surface exactly in the manner of trout. But it is not the habit of pickerel to leap above the surface, neither is it of large perch; yet they do sometimes display that trait.
Lawrence spotted muskellunge Lucius Masquinongy.
With the Montana grayling it is their constant habit to leap. They lie in shoals at the bottom of deep water; then, darting upward to the fly like an arrow, if they miss, go down just as quickly, but if they succeed in taking the fly, then begins a fight under and above the surface equally aggressive. Time after time their silvery slim bodies flash above in the sunshine like iridescent shells waved in the sunlight. With wide-open mouths and tall dorsal fins erect they seem like a part of the sparkling clear element which is their abode. The grayling is a fish that should be more widely known in Eastern waters. They have for centuries lived in amiable relations with trout in English rivers, and could do so in American waters if the States had energy in favor of the people's welfare. Much can be said for and against the methods pursued by State hatcheries, but here is a fine opportunity to earn the gratitude of a multitude of Eastern fly-fishermen by planting the grayling in our Eastern trout streams. The season of breeding for this gamy fish would make it possible for anglers to open a grayling season for fly-fishing in August, to continue till the rivers are frozen - about January. Grayling are a good table fish. Though they never attain great size, they are as game as any fish that swims.
How very different from the grayling, by contrast, is the bold black bass! Ugly in shape and color, and not particularly fine as a table fish, yet what a fighter he is! Look at his mouth and eye when freshly caught, what a bulldog mug he owns ! When we think of our speckled beauties as a comparison, we feel the two should not be allowed to lie alongside in our fern-lined creel. The bass is quite as ugly as a bluefish, and of about the same temperament. Yet what a wide circle of enthusiasts he has, popular all over the continent, North, South, East, or West. But the "simon-pure" method - that is, casting the fly for it - has yet to gain a much larger number of adherents, and such cannot be had till the bass becomes a more epicurean feeder, which I fear will not come to pass. A bass taken on the fly in swift-running water makes a tussle in which angler and fish are equally matched. They begin equal, and the winner on either side is not ashamed of his fight. My old friend and fishing companion William Keener of Roscoe, N. Y., one evening hooked a three-pound brown trout in that grand pool formed by the junction of the Willowemoc and Beaverkill. I was fishing the other side, and at dusk watched him walking up and down the pebbly shore. In the dim twilight I shouted: "What on earth makes you so restless?' He replied: "Got two on.'! Determined to see the end, I waited for nearly two hours in the moonlight, when at last I saw him slow up at a little cove, step in the stream, give a sweeping kick with his mighty hobnailed boot and out flew the pair of fish into the tall grasses on shore. To my utter amazement he had carefully played together a three-pound trout alongside a four-pound bass - a feat in fishing I have never seen or heard equalled. With a twinkle in his laughing eyes Bill said: "If that fool bass had once started the other way, he would have got home, sure enough." It turned out that the bass had taken the upper fly while the trout was running at full speed and they both sped onward side by side. I have captured many doubles of bass, trout, and ouananiche, but never had a mixed double.
For pure, undiluted anger and fury watch a bass as he repeatedly breaks from the water; how he shoots up so unexpectedly in different parts of the pool; where, we know not, till we see him quivering in the air. He wastes no time in his eagerness to shake off the offending restraint; for a second we see him shaking his body in a cloud of spray, then, with his big jaws snapping he goes down, only to emerge again in another second or two, a hundred feet away.
If the mighty salmon had the same gameness in proportion to his size, a forty-pound salmon would be able to leap forty feet in the air, and nothing but steel wire would be able to hold his fearful rushes. A large salmon will sometimes make a long graceful curved leap; then, I have seen him shoot straight up, turn a somersault and dive straight down to deep water; in fact there is no movement he will not make in his lordly anger. He will even run quite close to the angler, and so break water. No fish shows so varied a manner of acting when hooked on a fly. He will run for a mile, the fisherman following on as fast as his legs will carry him, fearful lest his tackle should part, and then, in the end, finds his salmon stock-still with his nose at the bottom and tail straight up, trying hard to rub the hook from his mouth. There he stays till he is well rested, and the angler makes every effort to stir him up and succeeds at last only to find that without a moment's warning he has again started for the surface with a powerful leap in a quarter little expected. Very many salmon break loose in the act of leaping. They know by experience a slack line gives the desired chance to flick the fly away. The landlocked salmon is rightly named a leaping salmon, and for his size shames his bigger brothers in his acrobatic performances. How suddenly he appears and how quickly he is gone! I have seen him leaping up the falls but never out of the water in play or for food; he just bobs his nose above the "bruae," or foam, to take in the flies; yet, when he is hooked and his freedom curtailed he is a veritable demon, tearing along up above and down below with incredible swiftness, and all this in rushing, tearing water. His movements are like flash-light - there and here and gone. His trimly built body, large broad tail and fins have been developed by battling with the flood and torrent, so that his actions when hooked seem like an arrow shot from a bow.
Landlocked salmon Salmo Sebago.
I refer, of course, to the salmon of the Grande Decharge of the Saguenay. I never found the same characteristics (and others agree who know them well) in the Maine landlocked salmon. One would not expect it in the quiet waters of an inland lake as in the wild and stormy Lake St. John Falls. Nevertheless, this little salmon, place him where you will, is capable of fighting and resisting capture, not only by quickness and cunning, but by strength and energy. Not the least of all fine qualities is his habit of leaping from the water on a slack line.