Now I wouldn't go as far as that these days - not in Scotland anyway. But whenever I've been lucky enough to fish the Varzuga or the Ponoi in Russia's Kola and hit one of those spells when I'm hooking 20 fish a day, I've felt that those old aristos had a point. Because the real magic moment in any kind of fishing, from the plop of a pike float going under to the violet shadow of a big marlin coming up to engulf a 5lb trolled bonito, is the moment of the take.
But if I had to chose the most magical of all of them I'd pick a dark, humid, summer's night without so much as a single star's light on my own Towy in West Wales when after an hour of nothing and you've started to cast a touch mechanically, a 7lb seatrout smashes your black-and-silver tube on the swing-round so hard that you think your wrist's been dislocated. You're in for some wild, fighting moments after that, naturally, but that coronary-inducing first take is the cream of it - what you'll always remember most vividly.
For me, though, remembering was about all I could do for most of the last Towy seatrout season (I'm going to call them sewin, Welsh-style, from now on, right?). I'm still wondering why I was daft enough to leave what is arguably the finest seatrout/sewin river in Europe in mid-season, head to Malaysia and smash up my knee getting aboard a boat that the crew had forgotten to tie up to the jetty.
And it seemed doubly daft when 2000 turned out to be another spectacular Towy sewin season, a twin of 1999 which was topped by a rod-caught 19-pounder and, incidentally, gave me the best evening's sewin fishing - for sheer drama - I'd ever had.
Actually, I only had seven casts. Two produced nothing. On one I hooked a fish that jumped off first cast . And the other four gave me four fish. All of them of a beautifully even weight, between 5 and 6 lbs, and one of which I knocked on the head and took home, sliding the others back.
Hardly anybody would have thought of returning a fresh run sewin, even a few years back. But now, on the Towy anyway, it's commonplace - even though the runs in the last two years have been spectacularly good. I think this is partly to do with a significant change of attitude by game fishermen generally and salmon fishermen in particular. Sure, it's a strange feeling to catch-and-release a salmon, but after the first time it gets easier. It's wonderful, of course, how the Russians are insisting on catch-and-release - and flies dressed on barbless hooks - on the so-prolific Kola rivers. It's a lot harder, though, to put back the 9lb springer that looks like being your only salmon of the year.
But back to sewinOne important plus that's come out of the two great seasons we've had in Wales is that it gives the lie to the salmon farmers who claim that the virtual death of the of sea trout runs on Scotland's West Coast and the Northwest coast of Ireland has nothing to do with the deadly proliferation of sea lice in their sea loch salmon pens. Instead, they put it down to vague natural causes - seatrout/sewin are declining, they say. It's strange, then, isn't it, that this 'natural decline' hasn't happened on the salmon farm-free coast of Wales and the East Coast of Scotland
The question that's in my mind now, though, is whether we can expect a third 'annus mirabilis' down here on the Towy in 2001. The answer is "Yes - maybe." But any longer forecast depends, really, on the effect of the dramatic floods of late 2000 on sewin spawning redds.
Back now, though, to that prime evening I had in '99 - and note that I use the word 'evening', not 'night'. It's received wisdom, of course, that the darkest night is the best time to catch a sewin on fly, and that's pretty true most of the time. The problem is that you need to get to the river before nightfall and then have to fight off the impulse to make a cast or two (and - again in terms of received wisdom) ruin the pool or glide, especially when big fish start visibly moving a good hour before dark. It's a temptation that Tom Rowlands, an ex-Welsh international flyfisher who fishes the Dovey, put very graphically to me once when he said, "Boyo, the splash was so big I thought somebody'd thrown a spaniel puppy into the river."
The truth is, though, that if you are very sneaky and use a small fly, you can take sewin well before the light goes completely. On the Towy,
it's accepted that if you want a big fish - anything over 10 lbs, that is - you want to be scratching the bottom with a big black tube; 3-inchers are not unknown. Through the season that's probably right, but my golden hour of 1999 was in late twilight - and I was using a No 12 Dai Ben, a drab grey and brown little fly, traditional on the Towy.
Fair enough, my fish weren't of remarkable size for this king of sewin rivers, in which fish of more than 20 lbs have been recorded in recent years, But any sewin is wonderful, even a little August whitling which has only been in the sea for two or three months.
May is the time to catch a double figure Towy sewin, though. That's when there's a sparse run of big fish ahead of the main June/July run.
I can hardly wait.