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tion system of fly-fishing, thus found their theory: —“The form of the eye in fishes proves that they are all very short-sighted; so much so, that the dense medium of water can have but small influence in extending their vision, which must be further limited from the eye being covered by the common skin of the head, in order to defend the eye-ball, as there are no eyelids for this purpose as in other animals. This indistinctness of vision may be observed, by any one who will take the trouble, in the gold and silver fish usually kept in glasses. It is of considerable importance for the angler to bear this indistinctness of vision in fishes always in mind, as much of his success must depend on being guided thereby. The shadow, for example, which will be cast upon the water by having the sun in his back, will have the same effect in frightening the fish as if it were caused by a harmless sheep or a prowling otter; and the poor fishes, being unable to discriminate between friends and enemies, dart away in terror at every shadow which crosses them. The same indistinctness of vision will prove the decided fallacy of the supposed art of the routine angler, who fancies the fish are so well skilled in the colours and forms of particular flies as to
refuse all other sorts on particular seasons and days, and even at different periods of the same day. Nothing can be more preposterous than such a notion, universal though it be amongst the most experienced anglers; yet, at the same time, I am well aware that the facts are certain upon which they found the fancy, but are to be accounted for on a totally different principle. The fish appear to seize upon an artificial fly, because, when drawn along the water, it has the appearance of being a living insect, whose species is quite unimportant, as all insects are equally welcome. The aim of the angler, accordingly, ought to be to have his artificial fly calculated, by its form and colours”, to attract the notice of the fish, in which case he has a much greater chance of success than by making the greatest efforts to imitate any particular species of fly.” This extract, from “The Alphabet of Angling,” contains the substance of Professor Rennie's remarks on this subject, — a subject to which we shall revert in a subsequent chapter, remarking at present that we are forcibly struck with the idea that indistinctness of vision in fishes seems incompatible with the harmonious arrangements and wise adaptations of Providence, as manifested in every object of creation. It seems strange that a creature, provided with organs of the most rapid motion, and using them freely and fearlessly both in escaping from its enemies and in avoiding the numerous obstructions which constantly present themselves in the element in which it lives, should yet be deficient in organs so indispensable to this freedom of motion as those of seeing. The sight of birds is exquisitely acute; and therefore it is no wonder that, in their rapid flights through the air, they should never come in contact with one another, or with the obstacles which we constantly see them avoid; but it certainly would be a strange anomaly if fish— the motions of which are still more rapid than those of birds—should also escape similar mischances, as we all know they do, and yet possess only the “indistinctness of vision” ascribed to them by Professor Rennie. It seems unnatural to associate, in the same creature, rapidity of motion with defective sight; and, until such an association is admitted by all naturalists, or at least has preponderating evidence in its favour, and is found not at variance with the
* The learned Professor appears to have forgotten what he had just said about “colours and forms.” The “routine system” is very ingeniously defended from the Professor's “heretical innovations” by Messrs. Shipley and Fitzgibbon. See their Treatise on Fly-Fishing, chap. vii.
general laws of nature, we do not see why plaingoing anglers, although it may prove that they labour also under similar “indistinctness of vision” (intellectually speaking), should not venture to question the correctness of even a professor's notions, particularly when a difference of opinion, on anatomical and other grounds, exists among naturalists themselves, and when a new angling theory is founded on those notions. Mr. Erasmus Wilson, in summing up a minute consideration of the subject, thus declares his opinion: —“Whether, therefore, we regard the mechanical or the vital apparatus of the organ of vision, or whether we pursue the inquiry by anatomical investigation, or by observation of the habits of the animals, we have the clearest evidence before us that the faculty of sight in fishes is one of their highest sentient endowments.” Our readers will judge for themselves as to the respective merits of these conflicting opinions. If it be true that fish possess the faculty of smelling in the perfection ascribed to them by some naturalists, as mentioned in a preceding page, it cannot be unreasonable to suppose that rather from the lack of odour in the artificial fly than from anything wrong in its appearance, trout sometimes rise snappishly, or short, without taking it. On these occasions it is probable that they have already fed to repletion, and, from being indifferent about further rising, are the more difficult to be deceived. Some affirm that, in this case, the application to the artificial fly of a small portion of a worm or fly, or of any other substance composing the food of trout, will often, from its emission of odour, induce the fish to seize the previously rejected bait. We know, also, that rhodium, oil of aniseed, assafoetida, and other aromatics, are said to possess marvellously attractive properties, and to be in frequent use by many ultra “cannie” craftsmen. We are not at all inclined, however, to apply this knowledge to any practical purpose—piscatorially speaking — though we presume not to say that it is equally unworthy the attention of the naturalist. Although anatomical observation has proved the existence of the organs of hearing in most species of fish, there can be no question that, as affecting his sport, the angler need be under no concern about them. The result of numerous experiments with fire-arms and otherwise has confirmed us in the opinion which our own experience had long before induced. Who ever dreamed of imputing his piscatory success to the observance of taciturnity, admirable quality though it be — a quality of which we would not say a syllable in