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Ronan's report

Sunday August 21st 2011

I've been reading a really interesting little book this week. It's the fly fishing excerpts from WC Stewart's The Practical Angler. William C. Stewart was only twenty-four in 1857 when he published what was to become one of the definitive books on wet fly fishing for trout. In a nutshell, it was Stewart who popularised upstream wet fly fishing as a mainstream technique, as opposed to the (still) generally accepted down and across swinging techniques.

Stewart was obviously a bit of a character: So sure of himself, deprecating of the average angler's skills; absolutely positive that the fishing methods he used and the waters he fished were the pinnacle of the sport. They weren't and aren't, but that doesn't stop the book being very entertaining and informative.

Stewart sounds like he'd be fun to fish with: Full of beans, fishing up the river at high speed with rapid-fire casts of his spiders and winged flies. He fished my local rivers so I can readily imagine him sweeping along the banks near here, machine-gunning the pools and filling his creel with the same rapidity.

"-you must make the most of the time, fish quickly, walk over the intervening ground smartly, take the trout off the hook and basket them as speedily as possible, and in every way economise time."

Woah there, William! Wait for me!

"The moment the fly alights, being the most deadly of the whole cast, it is obvious that the oftener it is repeated the better, and therefore the angler should cast as frequently as possible...
...there is not much danger of casting too often, or even casting often enough, as the angler's arm will quickly rebel against it."

My shoulder hurts just reading that bit. Yep, you'd definitely know you'd been out for a day with WC Stewart. Don't think of him as being a dour Scot though. I think he'd have been a laugh:

"Dress. -The only advice it is necessary to give the angler... is to avoid any approach to foppery, as trout have the most thorough contempt for a fop..."


"Some anglers, who, we suppose must belong to the new school of muscular Christians, allege they never feel comfortable till they get wet; but if, as we suppose, the greater number never feel comfortable when they do, a waterproof coat, a wide-awake hat, and wading boots, will render them quite independent of the weather."

His casting instructions are fascinating. He'd be using a nine or ten foot rod: whole cane or ash in the butt and middle, with a "bamboo" tip; casting anything from three to six flies short distances. His emphasis was on getting a great presentation, with the flies landing first and only drifting a yard or so before picking them off and recasting. How about this to describe a power-stroke?

"...urge the rod forward, rapidly at first, but gradually lessening the speed, so that when it stops, no recoil of the point will take place..."

So much for our modern "start slow, finish fast" concept! But you only have to waggle some of these older rods to understand that, to Stewart "recoil" was something slightly more than the split-second counterflex we talk about. The bouncing "recoil" from some of these things would easily ruin a cast and you'd still be feeling the reverb on the train back home in the evening:

"The great essential, however, for the fly rod is stiffness...
...the rod must be stopped pretty suddenly. If this is attempted with a supple rod, it would bend till it almost touched the water, and then recoil, throwing the line only a short distance. A supple rod may answer tolerably for fishing down with the wind, but for fishing up, or fishing any way either against or sideways to the wind, it is perfectly useless."

I think he'd have loved a TCR.


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