« ForrigeFortsett »
Aa, wbich fows by the town of St, Omer, I set out from Laracosse, and travelled throngh the country for the higher branches of this stream. After many windings, and a good deal of labour, I reached the town of Fauquembergues ; a place of little interest, but which is pleasantly situated close to the banks of the Aa. I penetrated next day io the very sources of the river, which are two springs, about ten miles abuve Fauquembergues. The season still proved early for the fly, with which I only caught four trout; but I was more successful with the minnow. With the red worm I obtained but one solitary fish, near a inill-stream. All the streams of this river above Fauquembergues are well adapted for fly fishing, and I am confident there is a good quantity of fish in them. They flow through some very beautiful and interesting villages, and the general aspect of the scenery is, on the whole, picturesque and interesting. Many of the inhabitants of the villages are anglers, but they never venture on the banks of the river until the May-fly makes its appearance.
The streams of the da, for about five or six miles below Fauquembergues, in the direction of St. Omer, are better for the fly than those above the former town. They are more rippling and channelly in their bed, and abound with larger and finer flavoured fish. Prom the village of Lombres to St. Omer the streams are less numerous, and not so well adapted for the fly. This town prides itself on many good anglers who frequent this river during the whole of the spring and summer. The prevailing mode of fishing here is with the minnow. A short and strong line must be used; and, from the weedy and bad state of the bed of the river, no quarter must be given when a fish is hooked. If allowed to play about, he will infallibly soon break himself free, and the angler will lose all bis tackle, and, perchance, no small portion of his patience and good temper.
The preference of the St. Omer anglers seems to be given to light coloured flies for the Aa ; the season, however, for fly-fishing generally commences here in the month of May or June. What fish are generally taken in the spring months of March and April are caught with the minnow and red worm, the latter being, in the opinion of many, a very killing bait in these waters. Trout have been taken in the Aa six and eight pounds weight. To those anglers who are fond of still-water fishing, ibe marais around St. Omer present an interesting and boundless field for their enjoyment and recreation. These are really curious places in themselves. They extend for many miles along the north and north-easterly side of the town, from Waaten to Cassel, and are, in fact, a series of islands, formed by the artificial arrangement of the waters of the river Aa, and which are conducted by thousands of narrow channels, which form a collective labyrinth, out of which a stranger might in vain try to extricate himself during a whole lifetime. These small canals are traversed by the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, in small flat-bottomed boats ; and it is astonishing to witness with what adroitness these are propelled along the narrow gullies, frequently heavily laden with manure, vegetables, &c. Nearly the whole of this irrigated tract of country is cultivated by spade husbandry, and appropriated to garden purposes; and it is really an unique and interesting sight to witness, on a Saturday morning in summer, the immense fleet of boats which congregate at the llant. Pont, richly laden with every horticultural necessary and luxury for the market of St. Omer.
The canal waters of the marais are filled with immense quantities of fish of every kind, save the salmon and trout. Here we find carp, tench, pike, eels, &c., in great profusion. The right of tishing is let out, and yields a considerable sum of money annually. It is no uncommon thing for English residents to rent portions of these waters, which they visit with boats, and enjoy all the varieties of bottom fishing in undisturbed retirement. There are a number of men appointed, under the title of Gardes de Pêche, to repress poaching and illegal fishing during close time. Almost all the anglers in St. Omer affirm, however, that these guardians of the waters are themselves the most merciless and extensive depredators oa the finoy tribes; and, froin what I have myself seen and hcard, I think the accusations not by any means illfounded.
The still waters around the fortifications of St. Omer are full of fislı, and, except for pike, may be fished without hindrance. Indeed there are numerous French anglers plying their art every hour in the day. And here I witnessed, for the first time, how cleverly the French succeeded in snaring pike. In those parts of the waters of the fortifications which have a southern aspect the fish lie near the edges, among reeds and weeds, and seem to derive exquisite pleasure from basking in the sunshine. They fall into a dosing state--appear torpid and stupid and the angler, taking advantage of this listlessniess, cautiously slips a wire noose, placed on a stoutish stick five or six feet long, over the head of the pike, and chucks him out of the water by sheer strength of arm. This is admirably done on some occasions; and we seem surprised at the dexterity of the operator, as well as at the stupidity of the fish.
Having made St. Omer my head quarters for a short time, for angling purposes, I set out on my rambles to the veighbouring waters of some repute, both for bottom and trout fishing. The first place I visited was the river Lys, at Therouanne. It is situated near the stream, and it is certainly one of the most interesting spots in France, in an antiquarian and historical sense. It was originally the capital of the Belgic tribe of people called the Moriui, and fell under the Roman yoke in the days of Julius Cæsar. What vicissitudes and changes it has witnessed, and what a mass of human suffering bas here been inflicted and endured! It is now only about the dimensions of a good-sized village, and its massy walls and numerous public buildings lie buried under the green turf of many centuries' growth. Considerable quantities of Roman and French coins are found every season by persons engaged in the cultivation of the ground in the neighbourhood of Therouanne. Some of these may be seen in the muscum at St. Omer. In fact, everything about the place is interesting; and it is impossible for an intelligent angler to cast his eyes around him without his mind being deeply impressed with the changes which centuries make in the condition of human affairs. . There are some beautiful streams for fly fishing in the immediate vicinity of the town. The bed of the river is pretty free from weeds, and is of a stony and gravelly nature. The most successful bait, until the middle of May, is the minnow, and most of the large trout taken out of this stream are caught by this bait. They are, on the whole, larger, and of a richer flavour, than the trout of the Aa. The largest fish I took out of the Lys was about four pounds. It was as red as any salmon. Many of the French anglers, however, aitirm that trout of seven and eight pounds are by no means uncommon. They say, also, that there are many pliers in the river, which greatly diminish the number of fishi. But the most destructive thing in the Lys is the system of netting, which, in the big her districts of the river, and even in and about Therouanne, is carried on to a great extent by night poacbers. The streams generally are unfortunately but too favourable for this liase and illegal pil age.
It creates in an Englishman's mind no small degree of vexation to find that it is not the humble class of French society who are exclusively engaged in these low and poaching propensities, but the proprietor of the chateau follows the same ignoble babits to furnish his table with a dish of fish. The French gentleman has no elevated ideas of ihe nature of angling; everything connected with it is, in his mind, comparatively mean and sordid. True, the practice of the gentle craft is decidedly upon the increase in this country, as almost everything connected with English sporting is; but still it will take inany long years to root out the low and grovelling notions, so deeply embedded in the French wind, relative to sportiny matters generally, and angling in particular.
The Lys takes its rise out of iso feeders, springing out of the high country ncar to the sinall town of Fruges. About four miles from this place it becomes fishable. It runs deep, and has, comparatively speaking, a narrow bed, which is not very favourable for the spawn of the trout. I found the best streams for fly between the village of Capel and Therouanne; and light-coloured flies, not too large, are the most appropriate for the month of May. The May-fly is also killing, but it should not be bulky. In following the course of the Lys from Therouanne down to the town of Aire, a distance of about four miles, Very few streams are to be met with ; nothing but long sheets of still and deep water. There are here, however, a great number of very fine trout; and when the May-fly is on the water, and the fish feeding freely, a fine basket of fish may be readily caught. The angler should have a short line, and good stout gut; and when a fish is hooked, a firm hold must be kept of him, and no indulgence in running him must be allowed. I met with no places on the river, from Fruges to Aire, that were considered preserves; and the country people seemed quite delighted to have an opportunity of allowing me to go through their gardens to reach a particular spot of the stream. The number and magnitude of the dace in the Lys, in the vicinity of Aire, surprised me. They swarm near the fortifications, and are far beyond an average size. They take readily at the fly, but a gentle is a surer bait. Large pike are commonly met with between Aire and Armentier, but trout become in these localities very scarce indeed.
The next trout fishing tour I took was to the river Lianne, which enters the sea at Boulogne. I set out in a cabriolet for the source of the stream, which lies near to the village of Ecoæuilles, about half way on the post road from S:. Omer to Boulogne. This part of the country wore a more English appearance than any other I had yet seen in France. The small inclosures, with good hedge-rows, and fine timber standing in them, reminded me of some of the rich agricultural districts of Yorkshire, and proved quite refreshing to the eye, after walking for many days in a country resembling the downs of the Kent and Sussex coasts, where wood is a comparative rarity. The Lianne is too small at the first five miles of its course for the use of the fly; so I took the worm, and obtained three or four fine fish. The weather was singularly clear, and the sun shone with intense power over my head. The waters, too, were exceedingly low for the season. All these circumstances required extreme care in the use of the worm. I could see distinctly the bottom of every pool, and what fish were in it. I concealed myself under the branches of bushes and trees, and enjoyed the sport of shade fishing in perfection. To my taste, this is next to the fly in point of interest, and certainly superior to it so far as a knowledge of the peculiar habits and instincts of the trout are concerned. There are a few essential points that an angler in clear weather and shallow waters should invariably keep in view when fishing with the red worm. No shot, as a sinker, should be used; the line should be short, but made of strong gut, not dyed or stained ; the rod should be rather short and stiff, in order to make ready and quick progress among trees and underwood, and the angler should always have the sun in his face. The worm ought also to be neatly threaded on the hook, should not be too large, and dropped into the water in the most light and stealthy manner. If these few simple rules and precautions be observed success will be generally obtained, and a dish of fine fish can often be secured in this way when all other devices and contrivances fail.
As we descend down the Lianne, the streams become broader and aeeper, and the fly can be used with some comfort and advantage. The river has a course of about twenty miles, including all its windings, and has also four or five small feeders, in which a few trout will be found. Many fine pieces of water will be met with, about seven or cight miles from Boulogne; and the country in this locality is beautiful in the extreme. If the sportsman find it inconvenient to traverse the whole range of the stream, he may pay a visit to it by diligence to Samer, where good sport may be bad in the early part of the season (that is, in May and June) both for fly and minnow. I have seen one trout, caught about two miles from Boulogne, which weighed six pounds. It was a rich fish. Generally speaking, however, the trout run rather small in the Lianne.
The flies requisite for the river are, in the early part of the season, of a light and ginger colour, and by no means too large. There is a vermilion hackle and vermilion palmer, which are great favourites with the Boulogne anglers, and certainly they are both killing flies. I have found them excellent in other rivers, both in France and Belgium. What are commonly sold at the fishing-tackle shop of M. Guerlain, Rue Royale, Boulogne, appeared to me dressed on too large hooks. Full two or three sizes less will answer the purpose much better.
The minnow fishing in the Lianne is very good in the early part of the year, before the May-fly makes its appearance. Large fish are often taken in this way. The town of Boulogne is too well known to vast numbers of English people to induce me to make any remarks upon its history or institutions. Suffice it to say that it is a place in which a foreigner may spend a few summer months very agreeably.
Afier returning from my rambles on the banks of the Lianne, I set out, with other two gentlemen, on an expedition of bottom fishing, to the still waters in the vicinity of Gravelines, Dunkerque, and Bergues. Leaving St. Omer in the morning, in the canal boat, I soon arrived at the first-named town, which is a place of great military strength, and the waters around its extensive fortifications are full of all kinds of common fish.
I had very excellent sport with the perch and the bleak, both of which are here in immense shoals, and of more than average size. The perch is a bold biter, and I like to see the fearless spirit in which he takes the bait. These fish do not grow to a very large size. Some few solitary instances have been known of their attaining to eight or nine pounds. These fish invariably haunt the sides of streams or still waters, and shelter, themselves under shelvy bauks, among weeds, old piles of wood, wears, &c. I fished at Gravelines for this fish with the minnow, which I baited through the back fin, so as to allow it to hang about six inches from the ground. I had a large cork attached to the line, which was loaded about nine inches from the book. My success was in every particular fully commensurate with my wishes.
I had capital sport with the merry and active little bleak. How indefatigable his industry, and graceful his movements! They are to be found in almost all the rivers of Europe. They spawn in May and June, and multiply prodigiously. On this occasion I fished with a small black fly, on which I had fixed a small piece of white leather; this puts on, in the water, the appearance of a gentle, a bait these little tiny fish are passionately fond of. I caught about a couple of hundred in a very short space of time. There were some of them the size of small herrings.
Leaving Gravelines by diligence, we entered Dunkerque in the evening, which is a bustling and thriving seaport. Its appearance is respectable, and I should conjecture there must be a good many merchants of some wealth and enterprise among its people.
The bottom angling here is but indifferent; both limited in extent of range, and fish comparatively scarce. Yet a goodly sprinkling of the English residents daily pursue the angler's avocation. The canals are the only places of resori. A few perch and bleak were the only result of nearly eight hours' sauntering by the sides of the “monotonous waters."
In the morning we sallied forth to Bergues by the boat which left at half-past six, which was crowded to excess with passengers, being market day. It is an interesting and novel sight to witness the congregation of people from all parts of the surrounding country on this occasion. There are some English traders in butter, eggs, and poultry, who make a point, winter and summer, of being at Bergues on the market day. It is a great corn mart, and the quantity of business transacted in ordinary seasons is quite astonishing, for such a small place. Everything we saw indicated that this was a thriving country town,