The Perfect Angler

The Perfect Angler

We all fall short--but some fall shorter than others...

The Editors: "The Perfect Angler" is, in our opinion, one of the finest essays ever penned on the subject of fly-fishing. Right from the start, author Sparse Grey Hackle (aka the late Alfred W. Miller) immediately confesses that his "perfect" angler is purely hypothetical. But that doesn't stop him from describing all the many qualities of mind and body that would comprise such a person if he did exist. It is an array of talents and aptitudes--some natural, others acquired--that will have most fly-fishers checking off the boxes on an invisible scorecard to determine how close they (and all their fishing companions) come to this Angling Ideal.

"The Perfect Angler" was published in 1971 as part of Fishless Days, Angling Nights, Sparse's classic collection of angling stories, reminiscences and lore. The entire book is just as valid and valuable--and every bit as crisp and precise a read--as it was when it first came out. Unfortunately, it is also out of print. Although The Lyons Press issued a paperback reprint in 2001, the publisher recently told us that around a dozen copies remained in inventory, and that there were no plans to return to press with it. To which we say, thank God for the Internet and the vast secondhand book market it supports… In any case, please write us or send us an email at [email protected] to let us know whether you agree with us about "The Perfect Angler."

I never saw him
; if anyone else ever did, it has not been reported. I don't believe he exists. But if he did, what would his attributes be? If we accept the little girl's statement that piano playing is easy--"You just press down on those black and white things"--and apply it to trout fishing, all it involves is: 1) Finding a fish 2) Deceiving it into taking an imitation of its food 3) Hooking, playing, and landing it The first requirement is the most important; my guess is that finding a fish is anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent of catching it. Overwhelmingly, the reason why so many experienced and well-equipped fishermen catch so few trout is that most of the time they aren't fishing over fish. Bill Kelly, a research aquatic biologist and a skillful, experienced angler, says I should specify a feeding fish. If he means a big fish, I agree.

"To catch a five-pounder, you must be there when he's feeding," Ed Hewitt once told me. And experts like Herman Christian agree that a good hatch of big flies must be on for about half an hour before the larger fish, over sixteen inches, will come on the feed. Also, if Bill means the rich Pennsylvania limestone streams or the lush British chalkstreams, I agree.

But most of our eastern trout waters are hungry streams in which the smaller fish, up to maybe twelve inches, tend to harbor between hatches close enough to a feed lane to seize anything edible that may come riding down the current. Anyway, finding a fish is the problem; the rest is patience. Fish-finding is done by sight; by knowing the kinds of places in which fish harbor or feed; or by the simple hammer-and-chisel process of fishing one stretch so often that eventually one learns where the fish are, without knowing or caring why.

The first method is the rarest, the second the most difficult, and the third the easiest but most limited. Really fine fishing eyesight is a gift of the gods, the rarest and most enviable attribute a fisherman can possess, and I have never known a truly great angler who did not have it. Edward R. Hewitt had the eyes of an eagle, right up to his death; so did George M.L. LaBranche.

And Ray Bergman's ability to see fish was so instinctive that he never could understand why everyone couldn't do it. The hawk-eyed angler sees not only the fish themselves but the faint, fleeting signs of their presence--the tiny dimple in the slow water next to the bank, which indicates a big fish sucking down little flies; the tiny black object momentarily protruded above the surface, which is the neb of a good, quietly feeding fish; the slight ruffling of the shallows by a school of minnows fleeing from the bogeyman.

George LaBranche claimed in The Dry Fly and Fast Water that the knack of seeing fish underwater can be learned by practice, but I am inclined to believe that either one is born with sharp eyes or one is not. On the other hand, there is a mysterious mental aspect of eyesight; sometimes it seems to be a quality separate from mere keenness of sight--visual acuity. Resolving power, the ability to see what we look at, seems to be a mental as well as a physical attribute. How else can we account for the almost-incredible ability of the great British angler-writer G.E.M. Skues to discern whether trout were nymphing immediately under, or taking spent flies in, the surface film, when we know that he was virtually blind in one eye and had to aid the other with a monocle? Of course, knowledge plays a part. "The little brown wink under water," as Skues called it, means a feeding fish to the initiate but nothing at all to the tyro, just as the Pullman-plush patch in yonder bush, eighteen inches above the ground, means a deer in summer coat to the woodsman but is never noticed by the city yokel looking sixteen hands high for a hat rack spread of antlers.

The second method of finding fish, by learning to be "a judge of water," is to my way of thinking the highest attainment in this aspect of angling. Anyone who is willing to do the work can make himself a fair judge of water; like piano playing, a little of it is a simple thing to acquire. But mastery of the art is granted to but few, and a lifetime is not too long to achieve perfection. It is remarkable what a good judge of water can do. Gene Russell, who learned the angler's trade on hard-plugged public streams around New York City, doesn't even set up a rod when he gets out of his car to fish a new piece of water. He just saunters along the bank for half a mile or so, smoking a pipe and looking; then he saunters back and either drives away or gets out his rod and goes to one, two, or maybe three places which he has mentally marked down during his stroll. What did he see? Maybe it was a tiny patch of watercress on the opposite bank, or perhaps moisture on a rocky face above the stream; either would indicate a seepage of cold spring water below which a fish is apt to be lying in hot weather. Maybe it was a big stone in the current--not any stone, but one so faced and undercut that it creates an eddy of quiet water in front of it in which a trout can rest at ease while the stream brings him his vittles. Maybe it was a smallish trout exposing himself where no trout ought to be, on a clean sand bottom in brilliant sunlight. If there is a good lie nearby, the chances are that a bigger fish has driven the little fellow out of it; he wants to go back but daren't. Maybe Gene saw a long stretch of shallow, brawling water, the natural feeding grounds of the trout, without any cover for a sizable fish anywhere along it except one hollow about as big as a bathtub. Maybe such a fish is using it for an advanced base. More likely, Gene didn't really see all this, for an experienced, capable angler's stream sense becomes a part of his subconscious. Probably all he saw were a few places that seemed to say: Try me. The third method of fish-finding, that of learning a piece of water by experience, is, of course, a limited one, and yet it is remarkable how many miles of water an industrious and wide-ranging fisherman can learn by heart. I once heard the late John Alden Knight and a man named Crane, of Deposit, New York, testing each other's knowledge of some ten miles of excellent fly-rod bass water on the West Branch of the Delaware between Deposit and Hancock. They checked each other stone by stone on every pool and disagreed but once--as to whether there were four or five stones at the head of the Cat Pool. They finally agreed that there were five, but that there never was a bass behind the first one. Still, the angler who depends on experience to know the stream is like the applicant for admission to the bar who had read nothing but the laws of the state. "Young man," thundered the judge, "someday the legislature may repeal everything you know." The stream is continually repealing much of what the local angler has learned; after every big storm, with its attendant filling of old holes and digging of new ones, he has to learn the water anew. Thus far we have been able to follow a firm path. But it ends on the shores of an illimitable sea of controversy when we come to the second requirement of angling: to deceive the fish into taking an imitation of its food. Fortunately, it is not necessary for us to wet much more than the soles of our shoes in this sea. First, let us consider a few fundamentals. The trout is a very primitive creature with only two primary instincts. One is the spawning urge; it comes during the closed season so we need not consider it. The other is self-preservation. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the trout spends all its time at the business of staying alive. Unfortunately for the trout, its internal economy is such that it is never very far ahead of starvation; and the larder of the stream is not in the safest but in the most dangerous, i.e., exposed, places. The whole "food chain"--plankton, insects, minnows--lives in the fast, shallow places where there is lots of sunlight and quickly changing water. So when a fish gets hungry enough, it has to risk itself out where the food is. Aside from food, it has only two other requirements: oxygen (as you know, it is dissolved in the water) and cover--protection from its enemies and shelter from such elements as floods and ice. Obviously, the only instinct of the trout to which the fisherman can appeal is its appetite; the only lure which will interest it is an imitation of its food. Trout eat about every living thing that they can catch and swallow, but in the main they feed on smaller fish and the various life-forms of water insects. There is something in the composition of water insects that makes them preferred by the trout to any other form of food. But a big fish, which eats more, in proportion to its weight, than a man, just doesn't have the time or the energy to collect its nourishment one insect at a time, so it is forced to feed considerably on minnows, frogs, crawfish, and other sizeable mouthfuls. But it is the glory of the brown trout that he never entirely ceases to feed on insects, no matter how big he grows, so that the fly fisherman always has a chance--not a good one, but a chance--of setting his hook in the biggest fish in the stream. For the purpose of this article we shall assume that "food" means stream insects in their several life forms. So to catch a trout the angler must deceive it into taking an imitation of some form of stream insect. There is a lot of dynamite in those two simple words "deceive" and "imitation," for they are the keys to the most uncompromising and violent disagreements in the whole world of Sport. Let us consider imitation first. The trout, being essentially a very simple creature, does not go through elevated mental processes in feeding but depends upon its reflexes; it has more automatic controls built into it than a guided missile. (They work a lot better, too.) It reacts to the approach in, or on, the current of an insect larva or winged fly according to the triggering of these automatic controls, varying with the circumstances. So imitation can only mean: whatever deceives the reflexes, the automatic controls, of the fish, according to the circumstances. That is an important qualification. An invitation to dinner doesn't look anything like a dinner, but, under different circumstances, each may bring a hungry man a-running. The angler may use a replica of the natural insect, complete even to its eyes, like Halford, or depend mostly on where he casts his fly and how it floats, like LaBranche, to deceive the fish. But if he does deceive the fish, that's all that counts; who will say he is wrong? For the purpose of our hypothetical perfect angler it is sufficient to say, as regards imitation, that he knows how to imitate the natural food of the trout so well that the fish is deceived under every circumstance. This involves a great knowledge of both aquatic biology and stream entomology and a great skill in expressing this knowledge in the concrete form of artificial flies. Our perfect angler must have the technical knowledge of such authorities as the late Dr. James G. Needham and his son Dr. Paul R. Needham (Life of Inland Waters and numerous other works, jointly or severally), and the late Dr. Ann Haven Morgan (Field Book of Ponds and Streams, and others). And like Theodore Gordon, who was probably the first man to fish the dry fly in America, our perfect angler must have a large practical knowledge of stream insects and the ability to construct imitations of them. Imitation of the fish's food, the stream insect, is only a part of deceiving it; the rest is presentation, which involves stalking--getting into casting position without alarming the fish--and casting, including also fishing out the cast. Stalking is another of the fundamentals upon which one may judge the quality of an angler. The real expert is always willing to credit the fish with the inordinate wariness which it always manifests, and he is willing to take the trouble to stalk as he should, even if it is no more than taking pains to scare the little fish in the tail of the pool downstream, out of the way, rather than upstream where they will alarm the bigger ones. The great Skues was well into his eighties, an enfeebled old man, when he wrote to a friend that he "found it increasingly difficult to adopt an attitude of becoming reverence to the fish." British chalk streams usually can't be waded, and, typically, their banks are bare except for a few bushes to which the angler creeps and behind which he kneels to cast. Skues was finding it "increasingly difficult" to do so; but he was kneeling, nevertheless. Over on what used to be the "railroad" side of Cairns's Pool on the lower Beaverkill, there was a magnificently deep, boulder-lined run that was just right for big fish. Every day during the season, literally scores of fishermen flogged that run, carelessly and ineffectually, from the shallow, "road" side. It couldn't be fished properly from that side and they knew it; they just wouldn't bother to do it right. But for an expert like Harry Darbee it was not too much trouble to cross the stream above the pool, walk along the railroad track, slither down a dauntingly steep and loose embankment, and then work from one to another of the huge rough rocks that protected the railroad fill from floods. With the stream on his left, his casting arm had to contend with an abominable mess of high bushes, low-strung telegraph wires, poles, and the embankment itself, and most fishermen said it wasn't worth it. But I saw Harry perched like a chamois on one steep-faced boulder after another, holding his rod across his body and making niggling backhanded casts to every good spot within reach. Seldom indeed will one see the average fisherman crawling to reach the right spot, or kneeling in the stream to reduce his visibility; but Ray Bergman used to wear out the knees of his waders before any other portion, and Otto v. Kienbusch not only fished but progressed upstream on his knees along a quarter mile of the flat, gravel-bottomed, fish-infested upper Nissequogue on Long Island. Otto was one of the few who could get into the big browns in that stretch. Every dryfly man knows that there are ways of casting a curve or loop in his line so as to allow his fly a natural float when he is fishing across varied currents. But Ray Bergman was speaking an important truth when he told me: "Curves are too hard to throw and succeed too seldom for you to bother with them. For every fish there is one place from which you can cast to him with a straight line and still get a free float. Figure out where it is and go there even if it means walking back a hundred yards to cross the stream and come up the other side." My lady wife, who can fish like an otter, heeded well this advice. Although she learned her fishing from a whole galaxy of expert casters and anglers, she has never even tried to cast a curve. She wades around until she finds the right place and then makes the short straight cast which, too often for the comfort of my ego, takes a fish. Having stalked the fish the angler must now cast, and here all hell breaks loose, for there is more misconception, disagreement, and prevarication about casting than any other part of the sport. For one thing, practically no fisherman knows how far he really can cast, a fact which once nearly broke up one of the older Beaverkill clubs. The clubhouse is right on the bank, and at noon the members come in for lunch and discuss the morning's fishing at the table. One low miscreant got tired of listening to these tales. Secretly he drove two stakes in the bank, a measured sixty feet apart. Next lunchtime, the first member to voice a standard fish-story remark--"I made a medium cast, about sixty feet"--was challenged by the miscreant. Bets were made, and the whole party repaired to the riverside, where an appalling thing was quickly discovered. The storyteller couldn't cast sixty feet, and, what is worse, none of the others could, either. Since it is obviously impossible to tell a fish story without mentioning a sixty-foot cast, the members lunched in gloomy silence until at last they rebelled, chucked the beggar out, and went back to making sixty-foot casts at the luncheon table. As a matter of fact, long casting is not of much use in trout fishing, at least not in the East. Few, indeed, are the times when an angler really has to make a cast longer than forty-five feet, and fewer still the times when such a cast raises and hooks a fish. But if distance is not necessary to the angler's cast, control--the ability to cast accurately and delicately--is. Accuracy is a prime necessity when obstacles make it difficult to reach the fish. When deep water, overhanging trees, or the lack of room for a backcast forbid the use of that best of all fish-getters, the short straight cast, the angler must resort to high art flavored with black magic--the skillful manipulation of rod and line that so defies analysis and classification that it is called, simply, tip work. George LaBranche likely may have been the greatest of them all at this, his forte. His preference was for smallish water, and the limitations imposed by so restricted an environment required him to perform blackest magic with the tip. It is a revelation to watch the tip work of an artist like Guy Jenkins, whose almost imperceptible manipulations seem to endow the fly with independent ability to guide its own flight among bushes and brambles and still achieve a perfect float. Delicacy is the other half of control. The average fisherman cherishes the delusion that his casts place the fly on the water as delicately as an alighting insect. But if he casts on stillwater so that he can walk down for a close look at his fly, he probably will be distressed, as I have been, to see that it is awash in, rather than riding high on, the surface film. The reason, I think, is that most fishermen still believe in that ancient chestnut which one fishing writer has copied from another ever since the dry fly became popular. It is that the caster should check his line while his fly is three or four feet above the water and "allow the fly to flutter down onto the water like an alighting insect." This is so much bilge, tosh, sheep-dip, and hogwash. Even without a line or leader attached to it, an artificial fly cannot be dropped onto the water "as delicately as a natural insect alighting" or anywhere near it anymore than you could do the same thing with a seaplane. Every winged creature uses its wings, and uses them a lot, in effecting a landing; a flying duck can make a beautiful three-pointer, but a shot duck can hit the water so hard he bounces. The instant and universal popularity which fan-wing flies and long-hackled spiders achieved in the 1920's was due to the fact that their larger sail area permits them to parachute down slower and more gently than an ordinary fly when they are checked high in the air and allowed to drop. George LaBranche had the most delicate presentation of any angler whom I have ever observed. In his books, George speaks repeatedly of checking the fly in the air to get a delicate delivery, but what he did was really more than that. He made each cast, short or long, with a deliberate powerful stroke; checked the line hard so that the fly whipped down until it was only an inch above the water, with its headway killed; and then seemed to lower it gently, through that remaining inch, onto the water. On short casts, he could put his fly on the surface before line or leader touched the water. To sum up presentation: In this, as in imitation, our synthetic perfect angler must meet one test--the exacting standards of the trout. He must be able to stalk and cast so well that he always deceives the fish. The final angling requirement--hooking, playing, and landing the fish--is universally slighted both in practice and in literature, in spite of the axiom that a sale does the store no good until it is rung up on the cash register. The average fisherman's record on big fish is brief and dismal. He loses practically all of them that rise to his fly, and on the average it takes him less than five seconds apiece to do so. He hits them too hard and holds them too tight; that's the whole story. Striking and playing a fish correctly is a matter of iron self-discipline and rigid control of one's reflexes. One of the greatest examples of it that I know is Tappen Fairchild's conquest of "Grandpa," a four-and-a-quarter-pound brown trout that each year in late summer was driven by the warming of the upper Neversink to take refuge in a little ten-foot feeder stream that is always forty-six degrees Fahrenheit. There was just one pool, about fifty feet in diameter, in this little spring brook, and in it this veritable whale lived, nervous and wary because of its restricted, dangerous quarters. Tappen studied that fish for most of two seasons. He was a very tall man, and he had arthritis, but whenever he found time, he crawled to the edge of the pool and knelt behind a bush in order to study, hour after hour, the feeding and harboring habits of this fish. He found that its lie was under a submerged, fallen tree on the other side, and that, when feeding, it worked around the pool, vacuum-cleaning occasional nymphs off the sandy bottom. The trout was patrolling like that when Tappen finally went after it. Of course, laying a line anywhere near the fish, no matter how gently, would have sent it flying in panic. So Tappen cast a small nymph on 3X gut and let it sink to the bottom while the fish was at the other end of the pool. Imagine the mounting tension as he watched this enormous fish turn and start feeding back toward him. The faintest movement of rod, line, or lure would have sent it bolting off, but Tappen knelt like a bronze statue while the fish approached the nymph, inspected it, picked it up, started away with it, and by its own movement pulled it into the corner of its mouth and hooked itself! The fish lashed the pool into foam when it felt the iron and darted irresistibly in among the sunken tree branches. Tappen backed off into the meadow so as to be out of sight, pointed his rod at the fish, and with his left hand gave a couple of very delicate, gentle pulls on the line. The fish quietly swam out the same way it had gone in. To top it off, Tappen had lent someone his net. So he had to play his fish until it was broad on its side and completely exhausted, and then crowd it against his leg while he gilled it with his middle finger and thumb, thus completing a perfect demonstration of angling technique. The tactics of playing a fish, like those of warfare, depend almost entirely on the "terrain," and it is difficult to establish doctrine on them, but there are a few principles on which knowledgeable anglers seem to be fairly well agreed. Holding a fish hard when it is first hooked lets it break off. "Let him go; tear line off the reel and throw it at him; don't put any pressure on him at all. He won't go far--maybe fifty yards," Ed Hewitt used to say. "Don't try to check that first run." The time-honored adjurations "Keep the tip up" and "Don't give any slack line" should not be observed strictly. They may be wrong or they may be right; it depends on the circumstances. In order to breathe with any facility, a fish must face the current; even when migrating downstream it lets the current carry it tail first so it can breathe readily. So when a fish starts to take line downstream, it won't go far at any one time. Try to lead it into slacker water at the side of the stream. When a fish gets below the angler, it can hang in the current, breathing comfortably and doing no work to maintain its position. In this situation it is simply recuperating; unless the angler can get below it and put it to work, his chances of losing it are good. A fish going straight away from the angler with the leader over its shoulder is like a horse in harness, in the best position for pulling. If it is held hard, it may easily break off. But a fish swims as a snake crawls through the grass, by moving its head from side to side and using its broad body surfaces against the current. A light sideways pull will so hamper this serpentine movement that it will quickly abandon its effort and turn aside. Where there is room, it is possible to keep an active fish turning almost continuously in a figure-eight pattern and thus prevent it from dashing downstream or into a hole. It takes long to tire a fish by swimming; the angler seeks to drown it by maintaining steady upward pressure so as to tire its jaw muscles and force its mouth open. A fish has to close its mouth to squeeze water through its gills; when it can no longer do so, it quickly drowns. The harder a fish is held, the harder it fights; if pressure is released entirely it will stop fighting and swim around aimlessly or rest on the bottom. A fish that is held too hard tends to sound, or go to the bottom, and sulk, jerking its head like a bulldog. This is hard on tackle and the hold of the hook; lightening the pressure will encourage the fish to come up and make an active, hence tiring, fight. After the first five seconds of hooking and fighting his fish, the angler's greatest chance of losing it is through trying to net it before it is completely exhausted and broad on its side. Usually he unfurls his net immediately after hooking the fish. As soon as he can drag the still-vigorous trout within range he extends his rod hand far behind him, assumes a position like a fencer lunging, and extends the net at arm's length like a tennis player trying to stop a low shot. In this position the angler goes to work with his net like a man chopping down a tree, and unless his fish is well hooked and his leader sturdy, he's going to lose his prize. Charlie Wetzel is the best netter I ever saw. He uses one of those big "snowshoe" nets, and he doesn't even get it out until the fish is on its side and completely tuckered. Standing erect, facing upstream with his elbows at his sides and his rod held just back of vertical, he sinks the net deep and draws the fish over it. Slowly, gently, he raises the rim of the net, tilting it from side to side to free the meshes from the fish's fins. Then he quietly, deliberately lifts the fish out of water, and it lies in the net as if hypnotized until Charlie grasps the upper meshes to hold it shut. It doesn't go into its final flurry until too late. To sum up, we must require our hypothetical perfect angler always to hook his fish perfectly, in the corner of the mouth; to maintain utter, absolute control over his own reflexes; and to play and net the fish without committing an error. Now we have constructed the perfect angler, but he's dead. To bring him to life we must infuse him with the spirit of a great angler. That is not the relaxed, gentle, lackadaisical spirit which delights in birds, flowers, wild animals, clouds, and the sweet clash of running waters. I have known great anglers who were thus benign, but it was not the spirit of their formative years, the thing that made them great, but a luxury which they could afford after fishing had ceased to challenge them. Ed Hewitt pinpointed it when he said: "First a man tries to catch the most fish, then the largest fish, and finally the most difficult fish." After that, the birds and flowers. The spirit which makes the great angler is compounded of terrifically intense concentration and a ferocious, predatory urge to conquer and capture. What less would drive Dick Jarmel, a well-known Beaverkill fisherman, to risk a bad battering and possible drowning by working his way for fifty yards along the retaining wall of the Acid Factory Pool, holding his rod crosswise in his mouth and clinging with fingertips and toes to rough projections of stones, simply to get to the spot from which the run can be fished effectively during high water? Or impel Tom Collins (Ed Hewitt once called him the best fisherman ever) to climb down the face of a cliff, swing across a cleft on a rope affixed to a branch, and shinny down a convenient tree, all to get to a secret spot on a secret stream, down in a gorge? Tom had the heft of a grizzly as well as the strength and endurance of one, and he risked a broken neck and stove-in ribs time after time, as a matter of course. I laugh when I hear a doctor approving fishing as light recreation for a heart patient without finding out what sort of fishing it will be. He thinks of his man as soaking a worm while he dozes on the bank; he would be shocked to see, as I so often have, the hard-case angler coming in at eventide limp and sweat-soaked from prowling and galloping along the stream all day. The furious urge of the great fisherman expresses itself in an intense competitive spirit. Some anglers conceal it very well, but it is there nevertheless, so strong that it can even bias their devotion to the truth. I still grin privately at what happened long ago when two really great anglers, who must remain nameless here, met by chance on a certain pool. They got into a discussion of wet fly versus dry fly and set up an informal competition, each fishing the pool in turn. I've heard the story from each of them, and you'd never guess that they were both talking about the same event. The only thing they agreed on was the name of the pool. Ed Hewitt and George LaBranche were always tilting at each other. When both of them were aged men, Ed and I went up to George's office to surprise him one day. The two really dear old friends fell upon each other, and then George asked Ed what was new. Nothing, said Ed, except that he had another grandchild. "How many grandchildren have you?" asked George. Ed fell for it. "Eight." "That's one thing I can beat you at," crowed George. "I have twelve." Ed's eyes darted about as he sought furiously to redeem his defeat. "How many great-grandchildren have you?" he demanded. This time George was under the guns. "Five." "Hah!" cried Ed triumphantly. "I have twenty-one!" George's secretary looked shocked and beckoned me into the hall. "Mr. LaBranche doesn't have twelve grandchildren!" she whispered. "That's all right," I reassured her. "Ed doesn't have twenty-one great- grandchildren, either. They're just trying to beat each other." Some twenty-five years ago I met on the stream a then-well-known fishing writer, the late Albert C. Barrell, who, it developed, had fished a lot with LaBranche on the Konkapot in Massachusetts. "George is a duelist," he explained. "The fish is his antagonist, his adversary. He'll return it to the water after he has conquered it, but he attacks it as furiously as if he was fighting for his life." Here, then, out of the zeal and the skills of many experts, we have synthesized the perfect angler. In the flesh this perfect dry-fly fisherman does not exist, and it is doubtless a good thing that he does not, for surely he would be intolerable to all us imperfect anglers.