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An essay by Morley Roberts

Trout Fishing In British Columbia And California

Title:     Trout Fishing In British Columbia And California
Author: Morley Roberts [More Titles by Roberts]

At that time I acknowledge that trout-fishing as a real art I knew nothing of; whipping English waters had been almost entirely denied me, and with the exception of a week on a river near Oswestry, and a day in Cornwall, I had never thrown a fly over a pool where a trout might reasonably be supposed to exist. But in British Columbia I used to catch them in quantities and with an ease unknown to Englishmen. I am told (by an expert) that using a grasshopper as a bait is no better than poaching, and that I might as well take to the nefarious "white line," or _Cocculus indicus_. That may be so according to the deeper ethics of the sport, but I am inclined to think many men would have no desire to fish at all after going through the preliminary task of filling a small tin can with those lively insects.

Owing to the fact that I was working for my living on a ranch at Cherry Creek, I had no chance of fishing on week-days, but on Sundays, after breakfast, I used to take my primitive willow rod from the roof, where it had been for six days, see that the ten or twelve feet of string was as sound at least as my frayed yard of gut, examine my hook, and then start hunting grasshoppers. That meant a deal of violent exercise, especially if the wind was blowing, for they fly down it or are driven down it with sufficient velocity to make a man run. Moreover, near the ranche they were mostly of a very surprising alertness, owing, doubtless, to the fact that the fowls, in their eagerness to support Darwin's theory of natural selection, soon picked up the slow and lazy ones. But after an hour's hard work I usually got some fifty or so, and that would last for a whole day, or at anyrate for a whole afternoon. Then I went to the creek, fishing up it and down it with a democratic disregard of authority.

Cherry Creek was only a small stream; here and there it rattled over rocks, and stayed in a deep pool. Now and again it ran as fast as the water in a narrow flume; and then the banks grew canyon-like for fifty yards. But for almost the whole of its length it went through dense brush, so dense in parts that it defied anyone but a bear to get through it. But when I did reach a secluded pool and manage to thrust my rod out over the water and slowly unwind my bait, I was almost always rewarded by a lively mountain trout as long as my hand, for they never ran over six inches. The grasshopper was absolutely deadly; no fish seemed able to resist it, and sometimes in ten minutes I took six, or even ten, out of a pool as big as an ordinary dining-room table. The fact of the matter is that the greatest difficulty lay in getting to the water. When I fished up stream into the narrow gorge through which the creek ran, I often walked four or five miles before I got the small tin bucket, which was my creel, half full; yet I knew that if I could have really fished five hundred yards of it I might have gone home with a full catch.

But it was not so much the fishing as the strange solitude, the thick, lonely brush, that made such excursions pleasant. Every now and again I came to a spur of the mountains, and climbed up into the open and lay among the red barked bull-pines. If I went a little higher I could catch sight of the dun-coloured hills which ran down, as I knew, to the waters of Kamloops Lake, only five miles distant. If I felt hungry, I could easily light a fire and broil the trout; with a bit of bread, carried in my pocket, and a draught from a spring or the creek itself, I made a hearty meal. And all day long I saw no human being. Every now and again I might come across a half-wild bullock or a wilder horse, or see the track of a wolf, but that was all, save the song of the birds, the wind among the trees, and the ceaseless murmurs of the creek. In the evening I made my way back in time to give the cook what I had caught.

In California I used to fish in the small creek running at the back of Los Guilucos Ranch, Sonoma County, and, though the trout were by no means so plentiful there as in British Columbia, I often caught two or three dozen in the afternoon. But there I had to use worms, and they seemed far less attractive than the soft, sweet body of the grasshopper. Yet once I caught a very large fish for that part of the country. He was evidently a fish with a history, as I caught him in a big tank sunk in the earth, which supplied the ranch, and was itself supplied by a long flume. As I went home past this tank one day I carelessly dropped the bait in, and it was instantly seized by a trout I knew to be larger than I had yet hooked. But, though he was big, he had very little chance. The smooth sides of the tank afforded him no hole to rush for, and, after a short struggle, I hauled him out. My only fear was that my rotten line would part, for he weighed almost a pound, and I was accustomed to fish of less than seven ounces.

I often wondered in British Columbia why so few people fished. In some of the creeks running into the Fraser River, near Yale, I have seen splendid trout of two or three pounds; there would be a dozen in sight at once very often. They always seemed in good condition, too, which was more than could be said for the salmon, for those were half of them very white with the fungus, as one could easily see on the Kamloops or Shushwap Lakes from the bows of the steamer if the water was smooth.

Perhaps the reason there are no trout-fishers out there is that those who care sufficiently for any kind of sport find it more to their taste to hunt deer, bear or cariboo. When these have disappeared, as they must, seeing the ruthless manner in which they are slaughtered, many may be glad to take to the milder and less ferocious trout. The country certainly affords very good fishing, and the spring and summer climate is perfect. If it were only a little nearer they might be properly educated, until they were far too wary to fall into the simple traps laid for them by a man who fished with a piece of string and carried a bucket for a creel. It may have been my brutal ignorance of tying flies, but when I tried them with what I could furbish up, they seemed to resent the thing as an insult. So there seems some hope of their being capable of instruction.

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Morley Roberts's essay: Trout Fishing In British Columbia And California