Thames and Tweed
Opinions of the Press
We can sincerely recommend 'Thames and Tweed' to anglers who are desirous of getting many wise hints and suggestions of a practical kind. It deserves the success of a second edition. - Observer.
Under the title of 'Thames and Tweed' Mr. Rooper has given us another of his interesting, amusing, and highly useful books on sporting subjects. The book is essentially an angler's book, full of useful hints given in the pleasantest and most popular style. . . As a contribution to angling literature, we look upon it as among the best, and certainly one of the pleasantest we have ever read. - Sporting Gazette.
A really practical book, fit to be put by an angler into his bag. In it he will find valuable hints about tackle, fish, their habitats, their inclinations and even the mode of cooking them. It is an eminently pleasant volume. - Echo.
This is a book that fishermen will devour with as much avidity as the trout swallows a fly, and with a great deal more satisfaction... A more delightful and a more instructive work, to incipient fishermen, than 'Thames and Tweed,' never fell to our reading. - Brighton Herald.
Mr. Rooper's writings are always welcomed by the genuine sportsman, and this little half-crown treatise will be a valuable addition to Piscator's library - Nottingham Herald.
Mr. Rooper's practical observations in all matters relating to the capture of fish of all kinds, of which he treats, are very good, and, as the writing is agreeable, and the jokes racy, both profit and pleasure are derivable from it. The book is neatly got up and well printed. - Sportsman.
Mr. Rooper's book is full of interesting items of intelligence respecting the taking of salmon, and other popular inhabitants of the water, with whose habits he seems to be on terms of the utmost familiarity. - City Press.
This little book is the most satisfactory practical guide to the art of angling we have come upon in these modern times... We recommend all young anglers - and many old ones as well - to provide themselves with it before they start on their next fishing expedition. - Lloyd's News.
The best expedients to be pursued for all fish in the Thames and Tweed, and such like rivers, are fully explained. The work is thoroughly practical, and useful to the adept as well as to the beginner. - Bookseller.
Mr. Rooper is a salmon fisherman of some experience; he has a strong sportsmanlike feeling, and a very pleasant way of rendering a sketch of salmon-fishing exploits, or describing a run with a salmon. - Field.
A sensible and useful little book... The young angler may find some useful hints in this book, and the experienced angler will be reminded of delightful places he has visited in bygone years.- Athenæum.
Unpretending as the little book is, it contains admirable directions for the principal methods of angling, and will no doubt be of the greatest service to those who aspire to excel in the art which has been aptly termed 'the contemplative man's recreation'. - Northampton Gazette.
Bag & Basket
Throwing the Fly
The Trout (part)
I CONFESS to approaching the subject of trout-fishing – "trouting," as it is generally called in the North – with considerable diffidence. So much has been written on the subject, and so well written, that it seems a work of supererogation to add to the quantity; but a fishing-book containing no chapter upon trout-fishing would be "Hamlet" with the part of Hamlet left out; and I therefore, as in previous chapters, offer to the young angler the results of my own experience and observation for just what they may be worth.
When I commenced writing the present volume, I determined not to "read up," to consult no authorities, and to record no experiences except my own; this on no principle of vanity, or supposing that I could learn nothing, but from a desire of avoiding repetition of truisms, or the promulgation of erroneous dogmas vouched for by recognised authorities. I have observed, in all books of Natural History, the great mischief which arises from the system of "reading up." Naturalists are not infallible, however scientific, accurate, and observant they may generally be; and if one in good repute make a mistake – and I never read a book on the subject without detecting many – every subsequent writer adopts, and so perpetuates it.
The only two books on the subject of fishing that have come under my notice for many years are Walton's "Complete Angler" and Stewart's "Practical Angler." From the former I am free to confess I have derived neither pleasure nor profit. There is no doubt but that in his day the worthy citizen was an excellent angler; he was also a simple-minded, kindly, prosy, and very vain old gentlewoman; but he lived in days when coaches travelled at the rate of five miles an hour, and Izaak Walton must even then have been considered a very slow coach indeed. I would not whisper it at the "Walton's Head" or the "Walton's Arms," or hint it at the "Jolly Anglers" or the "Rest," or any other resort of his so-called disciples, but to my readers I will impart my private conviction that there is now at least little practically to be learnt from Izaak Walton's "Complete Angler," and that the reading of it is rather heavy work than otherwise.
Mr Stewart's admirable little book is of a different stamp. I am convinced that a more skilful angler than Mr Stewart does not exist. He has probably killed a hundred trout where I have killed one, and in a day's fishing would give me a start till lunch-time and then beat me. With this firm conviction, I shall still venture to recommend to my readers an entirely opposite mode of fishing to that so ably advocated by that gentleman.
Before discussing the subject, I will record – only to show the extreme divergence of opinion that existed, and probably still exists, among writers on the subject of angling – a few random notes which I accidentally stumbled upon in an old memorandum-book, and which I had extracted from various authors some thirty years ago, when I first became a follower of the "gentle art." Here they are:-
"Rods. – A rod cannot be too stiff; it is impossible to throw a line lightly, or at all against the wind, with a pliable rod."
"Purchase your rod in Ireland; they are always pliable, and play from the butt: no fisherman will condescend to use a stiff rod."
"Flies. – The colour of your fly must be adapted to that of the water – a dark fly for dark water, a bright fly for bright water."
"It is useless fishing in dark water with a dark fly."
"The brighter the water, the darker the fly, and vice versâ"
"In trout-fishing three or four flies should be used."
"No fly-fisher requires more than one or two flies on his cast."
"Reels. – A multiplying reel is indispensable in fly-fishing."
"A multiplying reel is a mockery and a snare; it is sure to fail you at the pinch."
I cordially assent to this last dogma; but I have merely selected the above, from some dozens more or less contradictory, to show how widely really practical men differ in their opinions on the most essential points, and to justify my offering advice founded exclusively on the results of my own experience and practice.
I BEGIN with the gudgeon. Why? Because, as a much-respected friend of mine, formerly a tradesman, remarked, in explanation of his refusal to visit a captain on half-pay, who, covered with scars and glory, supported his rank, his wife, and four children on £300 a year – "One must draw the line somewhere." I draw mine at the gudgeon, otherwise I would fain give the little urchins, who sometimes fish for minnows and fry in the Serpentine with crooked pins, some hints for their guidance. Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well, and the pin might be crooked more artistically, more scientifically; the broken match which does duty for a float might – but I abstain. One dogma only will I enunciate, and that more for the benefit of the owners of aquaria than that of the little Arabs. If you wish to transport your minnows, especially in hot weather, from one place to another, fill the bottle half full of water, insert the fish, and cork it tightly down. Of course, this is all against philosophy, analogy, and so forth, but it is the true method, I have proved it. Now for the gudgeon.
Gudgeon-fishing may be considered as the very accidence of the grammar of fishing, and, unless with the minnows I have referred to, I could hardly commence lower in the scale than with the phase of Thames angling known as "gudgeon-fishing." Reader! do not curl your lip in scorn! Thames angler! dread not a sneer! We have heard your craft contemned, we have known it mentioned with deprecatory and faint praise, as though it required an excuse. In our estimation, nothing of the sort holds place; we are fishermen – pure and simple. As a learned judge said to his brother judge at a bar-dinner, – "No, brother; not bad port wine: there is no bad port wine; some port is better than other – but there is no bad port wine." So say we of fishing: some fishing is better than other, but there is no bad fishing; and we would rather angle for a stickleback in a ditch, or a newt in a tank, than not angle at all. There are degrees, too, in gudgeon-fishing. Every man, .no doubt, can catch gudgeons; but one will catch a hundred, while another catches a score – one will catch a score, while another catches a dozen.
But before we approach the subject of catching him, let us consider what he is. The gudgeon is one of the "Cyprinidæ" – a branch of the great carp family, which, with a few exceptions, populate the Thames. His scientific name is "Gobio" – a word originally applied to any fish of small value – "Gobio fluviatilis" – and he enjoys, in common with most other fishes – therein contrasting favourably with birds – the advantage of having only one name, English or Latin. The appearance of the gudgeon is too well known to require description, but it may be remarked that, like his cousin the barbel, he is gifted with two small "barbules" pendant from the angle on each side of his mouth. The exact purpose of these appendages it is difficult to assign, but no doubt they act in some way as feelers, like the whiskers of a cat, and assist the fish, which is essentially a bottom-feeder, in detecting its prey in the gravel among which it loves to "routle."
In fishing for the gudgeon, a lengthy rod is unnecessary; it is naturally a bold fish, greedy, and, like most others which feed in shoals, ever anxious to snatch the worm from its neighbour's mouth, and almost proverbially easy of capture. The gudgeon is not, in fact, more stupid than other fish; but, swimming in immense shoals, and distributed over the greater portion of the rivers it inhabits, there are always young and inexperienced fish ready to snap at the bait offered to them. There is no doubt, however, that gudgeons, like all other fish, have learned wisdom from experience, and the numbers formerly taken – sixty in an hour was no unusual quantity – are now unheard of.
To fish for gudgeon, the depth of water should be first accurately plumbed, and the bait – a small red worm – allowed actually to trail upon the ground, being carried down by the force of the stream, acting on a sufficiently-leaded quill float. The line, as in every description of angling, should be kept well out of the water – not so tight as to impede the swimming of the float, but never so loose as to allow an appreciable interval of time between the strike and its effect. In rapid streams the strike can hardly be too quickly made, but in slower ones, the float should be allowed to disappear beneath the surface; and it must be ever borne in mind that the strike, to be effective, must be made while the fish is running from you. If the float has begun to rise, the slight turn of the wrist which effects the strike is made in vain. A rather oblique direction, with reference to the assumed position of the fish, we have generally found the best.
It is customary for the puntsman to use a long, heavy iron rake, with which he disturbs the bed of the stream, thereby exposing the myriad of insects and partially-developed forms of insect life on which the gudgeons feed, and towards which they, with small perch, ruffs, young barbel, and other fishes, eagerly rush. For ourselves, we, upon the principle of "nec Deus intersit" &c., prefer trying a few swims before we rake. It is easy to see the shoals of fish where they exist, and the bottom being level and clear of weeds, to make your pitch accordingly. When the appetite of what may be called your invited guests is to some extent satiated, it is time enough to use the rake, to call distant friends and strangers to the feast.
This fish is in season from June to September, after which they retire to the deep holes, and are rarely, if ever, taken – remaining probably in a semi-torpid state throughout the winter. It spawns early in the season – the end of March or beginning of April.
The gudgeon, properly dressed – fried in oil, or abundance of lard, we consider the best mode – is a dish worthy of an epicure, and a few hours may occasionally be spent in capturing him with both pleasure and profit.
Like a small minority of the intelligent youth of the present day, this fish is principally distinguished by its beard, from which it derives its name, and which consists of a pair of wattles pendant from either jaw. The precise mode in which these appendages are utilised by the fish in seeking out or providing food is not clear, but that in some manner they assist in the search, if not in the capture, there can be no question.
The barbel is the very hog of fishes; it feeds at the bottom, "routling" like a pig with its long snout among the stones, rotten weeds, and debris at the bottom of the stream. It is omnivorous, feeding largely on water-weed as well as worms, insects, fish, and garbage. That it feeds on the first we assert from the unanimous testimony of Thames fishermen; on the fourth, from the fact of our having frequently taken the fish while spinning for jack; and that it feeds on the last we assume from the fact of greaves being an excellent bait for it. Worms, however, are the ordinary bait used, and you often take barbel while fishing for roach with gentles.
Although voracious when on the feed, and by no means particular either as to the nature or quality of its food, no other fish which we are acquainted with is so capricious as the barbel. When they are in a taking mood, the well of the punt may be filled with them in a few hours; but one may fish for days or weeks without feeling a "tug." The capture also depends, in some inscrutable manner, on the locality. There are barbel holes swarming with fish, which may be seen at all times chasing one another about, turning on their broad backs, and performing all sorts of clumsy antics in the cool depths they rejoice in, but which are never known to take a bait. They are like the Laird of Macfarlane's geese, which are recorded to have "liked their play better than their meat." There is a barbel-hole near the mill-tail by Caversham Lock of this unproductive nature. We will venture to say there is a ton weight of fish within a very moderate space, but after long and fruitless endeavours, the attempt to catch them has been given up as hopeless by all the fishermen in that neighbourhood.
The mode of fishing is peculiar. The barbel-pitch must be baited for several days or nights previously with quarts of great dew-worms embedded in clay. The fish collect in great numbers to feed upon the dainty morsels, and having grown bold from impunity, fall, occasionally at least, victims to the angler, who offers them just the same thing, with the slight addition of a barbed hook attached to a slender line within each. A hundredweight and upwards may thus be captured in a morning; but the line is often used in vain, the fish is not in the mood for taking, and three times out of four the worms expended, or assumed to be expended, by the fisherman, are thrown away.
The orthodox mode of angling for barbel is with a reel and line, both of considerable length, and the latter of moderate thickness, ending with eight or ten feet of gut, the last eighteen inches passed through a bullet, which is kept from slipping down by a No. 4 shot, playing the bait (the most taking is a large well-scoured lob-worm) just clear of, but almost on, the bottom. Ten or twelve yards of line are let off the reel, coiled at the bottom of the punt, and, aided by the weight of the bullet, are thrown out down the stream to the full extent of the length. The bait having reached the bottom, any slack there may be is at once taken up, and the line being moderately taut and passed under or round the fisher's finger so as to give immediate notice of a bite, the point of the rod but a few inches above the water, he waits with what patience he may for the desired result. This, as we have said, is sometimes long a-coming, sometimes it never comes, but when it does the fact is signified by a smartish jerk on the line. To this first summons, you, like an over-worked waiter in a second-class inn, pay no attention, but should your customer persevere, and ring the bell a second time, which he will do somewhat impatiently, you may strike, but not too hard; hard striking is always objectionable, and the barbel represents a heavy mass of matter, which is very apt to operate as a break upon tackle, when force is too roughly applied. When struck, your fish is absolutely safe, barring breakage; for your hook would be as likely to lose its hold on a piece of india-rubber as on this essentially leather-mouthed fish, and it is just a matter of discretion or taste what time you may spend in landing him. His piggishness is never more manifest than when he is hooked; he neither jumps out of the water nor runs out the line, but spreading his broad fins, putting his head well down, and opposing his great body to the weight of the water, he pulls in an obstinate, swinish way, never yielding an inch, but succumbing at last to main force – an ignoble prize, for the barbel is coarse to look upon and worthless to eat.
Another and a better mode of barbel-fishing is one more generally practised on the Trent than on the Thames. A longer, lighter rod than that used as already described is fitted with a "pirn," a kind of wooden reel, which runs round on the slightest possible pressure, without check of any kind, and which requires some little skill and experience to manage properly. This is furnished with some eighty or a hundred yards of "Nottingham line," a float eight or ten inches long, of trifling bulk, and a light lead of just sufficient weight to keep the bait at the bottom without stopping the float, which is then allowed to travel down the stream, dragging the bait with it, to any distance within the reach of the line which the nature of the bottom will allow. This is by far the most scientific, the most sportsman-like, and the most killing mode of angling for the barbel, and I commend it to the attention of my readers.
In the days of my youth, barbel were more confiding or more greedy than at the present time. Ignorant and unskilled as I was, and provided with the most ordinary tackle, I never failed to kill five or six fish in Shepperton Deeps, under the auspices of Purday (I think his Christian name was John), the father or grandfather of the Purdays who still practise the craft in the same locality. Although of late years I have generally spent the autumn months on the banks of the Thames, and have frequently fished for barbel, I have had but one really successful day. The Court journalist was pleased to notify my success to the world; and if the record of that excellent paper be true – and I have no reason to doubt it? though I did not myself weigh the fish – I killed twenty-five fish, weighing eighty-four pounds, and but for the intrusion of a stranger, who coolly stationed himself at the tail of my swim, and whose fisherman caught a good many fish which he hauled out, I should, no doubt, have killed many more.
The barbel is known as the largest of the family of Cyprinidæ ("Cyprinus barbus") sometimes attaining the weight of twelve or fourteen pounds. It spawns early in the summer. As an article of food it is utterly worthless, at least to man, Pike appreciate it when young, and its shape, like that of the dace, peculiarly adapts it for a spinning bait. I recommend its being used as such whenever taken. I cannot doubt but that this fish operates beneficially in the humble capacity of scavenger in the localities he affects. His large size, voracious and indiscriminate appetite, and habit of feeding at the bottom, justify the assumption. Mr Frank Buckland should take him under his especial protection.