Of the many fishes in American waters there are only fifteen that invariably rise above the surface when they feel the tension of a restraining line. "These are the salmon (both sea and landlocked), the black bass, the rainbow trout, the banded muskellunge of the Ohio Basins, the grayling, and occasionally the black-spotted trout of Western waters. Of the salt-water fishes that leap, there are only the tarpon, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, the kingfish of southern seas, and the needle-fish of Key West, which is the most skilful acrobat of them all, either in fresh or salt water, often making double somersaults." Such are the words of a famous practical angler of fifty years' experience, and I quote him because my own - small compared to his - exactly coincides, except that he fails to mention several game-fish named by Doctor Holden at Catalina Island, Cal., which include the tuna, swordfish, and several others - which is due to the list having been made previous to that time. He also leaves out what has since become one of our most famous fresh-water game-fishes - the brown trout (Salmo fario), best known in many localities as the German trout, because it was introduced into American waters by Von Behr.
But the brown trout is not German, having been famous in England centuries before such a place as Germany came to be what it is, and we hope to change the name to British trout. Many anglers will grade their conceptions of real sport by the practice of fish leaping, and with reason too, for here he makes his supreme and final effort to escape from the barb; not because it gives him pain, but because it restrains his freedom. The hook nearly always pierces the spongy, muscular skin of the upper lip when the artificial fly is used, and sometimes when live bait is used, though in the case of bass and pike, when allowed to gorge live bait, such as frogs and minnows, the hook naturally pierces a tender part, and the fish at once tries to eject it. As he cannot do so, owing to the water's resistance, he tries to leap over it, and by doing so often succeeds in ridding himself of the offending hook with his hard bony tongue.
In the whole domain of nature the lives and habits of fish are least known, because least seen. In captivity their movements are entirely different from those of the wild state, so that it is to practical anglers more than to scientific men that we look for the information of this chapter. A number of game-fish leap in play, or for their food. Salmon are constantly seen making a bowlike curve in the air two feet from the water and then slipping back with barely a splash. I have seen brook-trout (fontinalis) leap in a like manner, sometimes only half out of the water for a fly, then again, seemingly in pure wanton joyous-ness, though I have very rarely had a brook-trout leap out after being hooked. It will dash hither and thither, but always under and low down, in short turns and quick darts. Bass break water more often than trout; in fact, it is rare when they do not. Once being aware of restraint, they leap one to nine times before being subdued.
Atlantic salmon Salmo Salar.
On quiet evenings we observe bass (where they are plentiful) rising clear from the placid water surface, both in play and when trying to catch insects - large moths, and even birds on the wing. It is very different with the muskellunge, whose food lies entirely below the surface, and his leap is of bull-like ferocity and fierce anger at the unusual restraint of the line. When he leaps it is like slipping out and sliding along like an arrow which has touched the water and is gliding above the surface. His long heavy body prevents his making a graceful curve like that of the salmon, whose leap is sidewise, and he makes an upright movement instead. In nearly all cases it is fish who feed on or near the surface that make leaps from the water after being hooked, and all have a strikingly different method of doing it. The bass and ouananiche are very similar in their way of resisting capture. They shoot straight out and for a moment their whole bodies quiver; then, turning, dive or slide back and disappear beneath the surface. By doing this they very often succeed in ridding themselves of the hook, especially if the water is running swiftly and the line is not taut. In such waters it is scarcely possible to land the fish that makes a run toward the angler and then breaks to the surface close in. On the other hand, if he runs away to break, the line will often have sufficient tension to keep him on the hook. The natural habit of leaping for insects is to their undoing, for it gives the angler an opportunity to cast right to the spot where they lie when feeding, and if the flies cast are in any way similar to the natural insect on the water they are bound to rise to the feathery lure - and so the sport begins.
Only last spring I was fortunate to see a number of trout rising in a placid pool, and able to get near enough to cast to the spot without being seen. I succeeded in landing one after the other till nineteen lusty brook-trout graced the sward beside me. The cast being a long one, they were brought to the net away from the rest without difficulty, no obstacles being in the way, so the remainder were unaware of the danger; trout are bold and brave to rise at lure, yet equally timid at sight of angler. Had they been bass, I doubt if the same thing could have been done, because in leaping from the water with their mad rushes they would have scared the rest away, at least from feeding for a time.
The angry leap of any game-fish is a constant source of excitement to the angler, even if he be a veteran at the game, because of a possible break or escape by throwing off the hook and getting away. Every fisherman looks on with admiration, and, especially if he be a fair sportsman, will often give them a chance to use their cunning skill in getting away to fight again later on; for every angler knows well that most fish which escape are very likely to be taken later on in the same spot. As the angler approaches a quiet pool at sundown, his blood tingles at the sight of a number of fish rising to surface insects. There is nothing slow in getting together rod and tackle. So impatient is he to cast his lure right among them, being fully aware that the rise may last but a few minutes, that he is often unduly careless of his fly attachments and runs the risk of losing what he might get in a calmer mood.