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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER XXV - SOME FISH STORIES


I COMPLETED a fourteen months' tour by another extended visit to Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. This was the first time I had taken in Van Dieman's Land, as Tasmania used to be known in the old days, and the experience was novel and charming. Tasmania is a little England as the names of the territories, or counties, into which it is divided, at once suggest. There is a Devonshire, a Westmorland, a Dorset, a Cornwall, a Lincoln, and—so that Wales may not be left out altogether—there is a Montgomery and a Glamorgan! The island is rich in agriculture and sheep pastures and in the towns like Hobart, the capital, Launceston, and Burnie there are many thriving little industries. There is no poverty in Tasmania and no unemployment. The country is well governed by its own legislature and the governor is Sir James O'Grady a former Socialist Member of Parliament at West- minster and a most popular and able man. I have never in all my travels seen better roads than they have in Tasmania. They are little short of magnificent. I was told that they were built by convict labour in the days when Van Dieman's Land was a penal settlement for British malefactors; if this is so the convicts were amongst the world's best roadmakers and they have left behind them monuments that will last for centuries long after their murders, arsons, burglaries, sheep stealings, and highway robberies have been forgotten! I doff my Balmoral to the memory of these Tasmanian convicts and assert that they must have been splendid fellows. The population of the island is less than three hundred souls all told and I should think there must be room for hundreds of thousands more. But don't take this from me a8 authoritative and start an international rush for Van Dieman's Land. They may have all the people out there that they want! And those they do have are certainly good!

When I reached New Zealand this time I was all on edge to get amongst the trout in the rivers of the south island once more. For over a year I had not had a rod in my hand. All my life I have been an enthusiastic fisherman and if I ever boast of anything it is in my ability to coax the finny ones to my fly, minnow, or spinner. But whether I catch them or not I yield to nobody—not even Bob Davis of New York or Alec Mathewson of Dundee—in my passion for the past- time immortalized by Isaac Walton. So those of my readers who are anglers can well understand the delight with which I looked forward to some trout fishing in New Zealand at the end of a long and arduous tour.

Give me a rod and line and a Highland burn, or a Galloway loch, or a New Zealand river (all these, mark you, when I cannot get to the Dee or the Don!) and I am the happiest of mortals. I must have caught fish in more parts of the world than most men whose fishing has been an adjunct to hard work rather than a life's pursuit. While saying this, do not imagine you are going to hear tales from me of giant tarpon or tuna killed off the Florida coast, of sword fish or sting rays weighing a thousand pounds, hooked in the swarming waters down Panama Way. Some day when I can afford the time—and the money!—I will get after these big fellows and then I hope to write a book that will make all anglers' mouths water.

In the meantime I am more than content to have an hour or two with rod and line whenever I can fit it in with my work. This summer, for instance, I have been several times on Dupplin Loch, that angler's paradise on the estate of my great friend Lord Forteviot. It is one of the best stocked lochs in Scotland and the fish are rare fighters of splendid size and quality. Many and many a basket have I filled at Dupplin. Only last week I had nineteen fish, 22 1/2 lbs., and if there are many better averages than this from a water more or less constantly fished I would sure like to hear of them. Lord Forteviot's keeper, John Crannie, is the most amazing fish expert I have ever met and the hours I have spent, either in his house or beside him in the boat, listening to his angling lore and philosophy have been altogether delightful to me. When I went up to Dupplin some time ago to open a new recreation hail in the model village over which Lord Forteviot reigns so benignly John was one of the audience and afterwards I asked him what he thought of my performance and the evening's revels generally. He scratched his head for a few seconds as if he were thinking out a reasoned criticism and then observed, "Sir Harry, there's been nothing like it in the country since Queen Victoria's funeral!"

One of the greatest thrills in a man's lifetime comes to him when he hooks his first salmon. I caught my first "fush" on the Dee many years ago now, and although I have landed many hundreds since that chilly May evening I have never again experienced the breath-catching joy which assails every sense as you realize that your fish is "on" and the music of the reel begins to sound in your ears. The "kill" I refer to happened on the stretch of the Dee owned by the late Mr. Duncan Davidson of Inchmarlo, near Banchory. He was a bonny fish of 25 lbs. and he fought me for fully twenty minutes. A "Jock Scott" did the trick; I have been partial to the illustrious Mr. Scott's fly from that day to this!

I have taken salmon from the Tay, the Deveron, the Spey, and the Tweed, and I have had splendid fishing on the Usk waters in South Wales owned by Lord Buckland, who, as Mr. Seymour Berry before he was raised to the British peerage, had so spectacular a career during and after the War. He is the oldest of three brothers who have all made their mark in British industry within a remarkably short time by the exercise of brilliant gifts as industrialists, financiers, and newspaper proprietors. Moreover they are thorough gentlemen and good sportsmen. Lord Buckland has a lovely home on the banks of the Usk, one of the best fishing rivers in Wales and I am looking forward to the time when I shall again whip a cast or two over his fine waters. There is grand fishing in Sutherlandshire, both river and loch, and the angler could not do better than spend a holiday on Loch Assynt or on wandering up and down the Inver or the Kirchaig. He will be sure to get lots of trout, as I have done on more than one occasion.

During my Indian tour the harbourmaster at Karachi gave me a real sporting day among the snappers twenty-five miles out at sea. We went out by tug. On the way to the fish ing grounds the harbourmaster, an old Arbroath man, entertained me immensely by his disquisitions on fish and fishing in these Eastern waters. We caught a lot of fish that day of from two to twenty pounds in weight, mostly snappers. And, take my word for it, they are well named for they snap at the bait like hungry wolves. I ate a snapper on getting back to the hotel. It was very tasty indeed. I have also done a lot of deep-sea fishing off the coast of New South Wales where there seems to be a plenitude of all manner of fish. We caught so many different varieties that I cannot remember their names. But I do remember most distinctly the name of one big fellow I booked—shark! He was five feet eight inches in length and weighed sixty-eight pounds. He fought like the sea-tiger he is and gave me as much excitement as I wanted. I landed another shark once off Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. This was a mammal and not a fish because when we got her aboard she disgorged six young ones from little pockets, like sausages. At Durban Harbour I have had good sport among the flat fish which appear to be the chief inhabitants of the seas round South Africa. They are of decent size but not very sporting from a fisherman's point of view.

I was almost on the point of saying that I had never had the chance of fishing while in the United States. Usually I have been so hard-worked there by Will Morris that I have had no time for angling and many a time I have gazed longingly at the American streams and rivers as we have flashed past them in the train. But I did once have an extraordinary fishing experience at Denver, of all places. Hearing from somebody that I was very fond of fishing, an admirer of mine in the Colorado city, Mr. Cliff Welch, invited me to have "as much fishing as I liked" on the private lake of a friend of his. This gentleman reared trout for sale to the hotels in Denver and did a very fair business. The lake was an artificial affair. It was perhaps a hundred yards long by fifty yards at its broadest point. There were reputed to be five thousand trout in it and they were fed daily with liver and light hash. All these facts I was unaware of before making my descent on the "preserved waters." When I arrived I found the lake frozen over. My disappointment was keen. But it was explained to me that this need not stop my fishing; one of the proprietor's servants got a big pole and smashed the ice all round the edges. So I started. My only trouble lay in seeing that my line did not foul the jagged ice anywhere and with this in view my "casting" was more like "poking" than the regulation action of a respectable angler. Did I catch any fish? I didn't catch them—it was pure murder. I had only one fly, a blue and black with a yellow body, but it did more execution than any single fly I have ever known. No sooner did it light on the water than a dozen trout came for it like bull-dogs. In spite of years of hand-feeding—more probably because of it—these trout were gluttons for the strange lure offered by my fly. I couldn't unhook them fast enough. In less than an hour I had forty or fifty pounders and pound-and-a-halfers lying on the icy bank of the lake. Then my conscience got the better of me. I stopped. It wasn't playing me game and if I hadn't been desperate to have a rod in my hand once more I could not have continued without bursting into tears. When the owner of the lake came along to see how I was faring among his speckled beauties, I had chucked it. "Thank God, Sir Harry, you didn't fish any longer," he remarked, "or you would have cleaned up the lake like a thin-mesh net!" I have never told this story before. Any time I have felt like telling it a wave of shame has swept over me preventing the revelation of my one ghastly crime as a fisherman!

Next to Scotland the finest fishing country in the world is undoubtedly New Zealand. I have fished all the rivers and the lochs in South Island and have been rewarded with magnificent sport and overflowing baskets. My fishing cronies down under are Donald MacDonald of Edendale, Invercargill, and Mr. John Smith, the proprietor of the Progressive Stores in that purely Scottish town. We have had numerous days together on the Matura, the Minnehau, the Wyndham, and the New Rivers—all full of lovely trout of the Loch Leven type and running from half a pound to four and five and sometimes six pounds. The last time I was in New Zealand I sent home some photographs of my catches spread out in front of me, or festooned behind me—you know the usual type of fisherman's photograph. One of these I posted to John Robertson, of Dundee, who fishes a stretch of the Tay every year and in whose good company I have killed many salmon, but all the acknowledgment I received from him was a laconic post-card "Thanks for the fishing picture. I don't believe it!"

There is a lake in the South Island called Te Anau in which there exists a species of land-locked salmon. Fishermen will tell you that there can be no such thing; that the salmon must get to the sea every year if it is to live. Well, I am convinced that the "salmon" of Lake Te Anan don't get to the sea. I have studied the configuration of the lake and the streams that run from it so closely that nothing will make me alter my opinion, namely, that the falls on these streams are so tremendous that they could not be "leaped" by any salmon that was ever spawned. Both MacDonald and Smith are always silent when I get on to this topic of the landlocked salmon of Te Anau. They are too orthodox fishermen to be otherwise than chary of giving a decided opinion either way—are they salmon or are they some other kind of fish closely resembling salmon? Here is a problem for anglers the world over to discuss. To me they look like salmon in every detail with the exception of girth—they don't seem to thicken. They are a beautiful silver fish with the flesh of salmon and the taste of a salmon. Game to a degree they fight for their lives with all the determination, the wiles, and the tenacity of a Tay fish. Curiously enough they will "take" neither fly nor spinner, only the minnow, and you have to be well up in the handling of this lure before they will respond readily to it. The general weight runs from three to eight pounds.

I trust my non-fishing readers will forgive me these rather lengthy digressions into purely piscatorial reminiscences but you all know how it is when fishermen start off— there's no stopping them. As a matter of fact I have gone back over many pages of fishing reflections and experiences and cut out a lot that I had originally intended to put in, fearing that I might bore those of you who are only interested in fish as a table food.

One final remark I would, however, like to make—and it is this. Would all the experts who agree with me that the fish of Lake Te Anau are land-locked salmon please write and say so. It would give me great joy, when I got to New Zealand next year for a long fishing holiday, to be armed with their opinions and pronouncements on a topic of supreme interest to fishermen everywhere. If they don't agree with me they needn't mind writing. And with that observation I think you have a very fair insight into the bigoted and "thrawn" (stubborn) mind of the average fisherman, myself included!

 


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