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Lochs and Loch Fishing
By Hamish Stuart M.A., LL.B. (1899)


Preface

MYSTERY, romance, the freedom of the larger heaven, these are the possessions of the lake, so long as a tarn gleams like a blue jewel set in the swart hills, so long as a legend runs, so long as the commoner of air has a heritage. Of the mystery the kelpie is not alone the overlord; he shares the kingdom with many creations of the fancy born of the grey silence under ghostly hills, of the crested wave, white-gleaming above the dark depths, of the ominous calm of the amber-surface fading into the blackness of the inner places, home of the demon trout, that haunts every lake retaining its legacy of the Wilderness, as an heir of the unknown that may be terrible. Each cast or any cast may bring up this demon trout. The fancy is always raising, hooking and playing him for doom and the breaking of the spell of old enchantment.

Nor is the realism of angling wholly able to check the fancy or lull to sleep the ambitious pleasures of hope. Each lake must be a Loch-na-Breack Mohr and hold its big fish, which, for the most part, are unknown to fame. The Thames angler has his ambitions; but they are ambitions set on a fixed fish known of some men and capable of being known of all. The salmon angler knows the limitations of his most optimistic hopes. Rivers can become low, their area is confined, and salmon will show. The prose of the net deals with figures, and pounds, and ounces. Its arguments are facts, destructive of all mystery.

Least of all can the dry fly angler enter the lists. His feeding fish, his "smutters," his "tailers," his "bulgers,'' and "genuine risers," they are catalogued and tabulated, and their chronicles are writ in the transparency of limpid water and sun-dried shallows.

Of the lake alone is the mystery.

And old romance sits ever by its shores. Even prosaic Loch Leven, where one pays half-a-crown an hour to angle in a fish-pond peopled by a masterful race of civilised fish of lithe activity, has its Lady of the Mere—superior to good days and bad—a possession for ever, set above the bringing down of trout to the grave with blood. East, West, North, and South, over lakes large and small, famous and mutely glorious, the same old romance lingers. The shade of Cormac Doil is with you as you angle in Loch Coruisk; the mountain breeze from every Ben-na-Darch that carries out your line pipes a thousand legends; in the ghostly silence of the evening the boat song of dead clansmen comes across every Hebridean lake, and the air is vocal with the sound of voices long since still; every dismantled rum is restored; every greener spot on the hillside has its history that is a romance, its legend that is tragic, comic, pathetic, human, but ever dramatic and always interesting.

Of the lake are the mystery and old romance.

And the larger air, the glorious heritage of its commoner? It is the very elixir of life itself, the intoxicant which inebriates in its free sweep when we breathe the same air, live the life of Nature herself, think her thoughts in a glorious union that is of the very essence of the higher and truer Pantheism. In a single week the breathing of such an atmosphere and the living of such a life should send one swinging over moor and fell, over rocks and stones, in the exuberance of new-found life and the paradise regained of superabundant vigour until the old, fierce fire of the lost youth of the world thrills through every vein, makes each muscle grow instant young, each nerve become a servant of the will and the heart bowed down leap to the rainbow in the sky and catch the music of the shrill, free wind amongst the listening rocks and the dancing reeds.

Of the lake are the mystery, old romance and the larger air.

These attributes alone are sufficient to justify the writing of a book devoted to the charms of loch-fishing and' the joys of wandering in lakeland.

But lakeland had a further claim upon the consideration of the angling writer. It has received but scant justice, and there is no book exclusively devoted to loch-fishing. It was this consideration which tempted me to essay the task of filling up the blank in our angling literature. That I have filled the blank, I neither hope, nor expect, nor pretend. The volume now submitted is the hasty product of thirty evenings' work after days of such toil as modern "evening paper" journalism necessitates. In many respects, it is an incomplete treatise, and in no sense can it be claimed that it exhausts lakeland. Possibly some of its defects in this respect are due to the progressive nature of angling knowledge, and the insoluble, or at least, difficult character of many of the problems of fish-life, fenced as it is with an inviolable, elemental barrier. In any case, if I have succeeded in indicating the kind of thoughts angling compels the angler to think, and have, in their stating, succeeded in vindicating the claim of angling to be not only the contemplative man's recreation, but also the best and most brain-resting of sports for the mind fore-done with the storm and stress of modern life, I shall be amply rewarded.

I may, venture to claim for "Lochs and Loch Fishing," that a consistent theory of fish-life—the Sensational theory—runs through all its pages, that the facts stated are the result of personal observation, and that both the facts and the inferences drawn from them are for the most part original, even if they are not accepted as satisfactory.

With regard to the chapters on the future of our lakes I may mention that, since this volume was in the Press, the facts of some instructive cases have reached my hands entirely corroborating the theories advanced, which, I now regret, not having put in more dogmatic form. That our lakes yield but a poor harvest compared with the yield of thirty years ago, and that there is no comparison possible between their present productivity and their sport-giving capacity both in the days of Franck and of Thornton, are facts beyond dispute. Franck can be thoroughly relied upon as a witness on this point, while those who doubt that Thornton could kill, inter alia, six trout, weighing 32lbs., in a morning, on Loch Tay, may be doing the memory of that gallant officer an injustice. That the glories of those days can be restored I do not doubt, but the difficulties attending the restoration are great, and are, I venture to think, stated with fairness, if not with clearness, in the following pages. I may add to what is stated therein that both in the case of salmon rivers and of our lakes, the restoration of natural conditions must be the chief object of all amelioration and reform. As to the former, in the old days when "baggits" and "kelts" could be freely come by, the "spawners" were spared. In these days, the "spawners" are sacrificed and the spawning beds, which should be the chief care of conservators, are shamefully neglected in order that a greater appearance of active interest may be secured by ostentatious and mostly useless stocking with fish purchased with wasted money, which could be far more profitably employed in watching and improving the "redds." One hundred spawners, who make an average success of what is too often the last duty of a salmon, mean an addition of 1,000 fish to the river or loch, or both. The fact speaks for itself. What is true of rivers, is true of lakes, and in dealing with the future of the latter, I have urged the importance of aiding and imitating nature, of making all ameliorations in accordance with her laws, and of constructing our fish-farms and improving existing environments on the lines of her best and most instructive models.

For such errors and blemishes as the volume contains, I need scarcely offer any special apology, though it is perhaps necessary to explain, that here and there, I adopt my own nomenclature, as when for example, I prefer to call a "bob"' fly a "first dropper," and to disregard custom. It may also be mentioned that my "hook numbers" refer to the "Pennell-Limerick" old scale, in which No. 12, corresponds to No. 3, new scale.

"Lochs and Loch Fishing" has been almost entirely written; here and there occur a few excerpts from articles which I have contributed to the sporting and daily papers. These excerpts have been sub-edited and adapted to my purpose. For permission to utilize them I am indebted to the kindness of the Editors of "The Field," "The Angler," "The Fishing Gazette," "Westminster Gazette," "Globe," "Bradford Daily Telegraph," and other papers.

The plates have been specially prepared for this work, and I am indebted for the original "pictures" to, amongst others, Mr. Thomas Wilson of Harris, Mr. Hill of South Uist, Mr. Leopold Layard Budleigh-Salterton, and Mrs. Collingwood of Lilburn Tower, Northumberland, whose very clever snap-shots of leaping salmon were taken, with the assistance of Mr. A. B. Collingwood, on the Mingan River, Labrador. I regret that a series of plates which I had designed to illustrate the evening rise and loch-fishing in a calm do not appear in the present edition. If the book is ever reproduced, the omission will be rectified. There is nothing more difficult to obtain than pictures of fish and fishing. When you have the subjects, the camera is absent, and when you have the camera, it kills the subjects. Anyone who has ever been followed the livelong day, when angling, by a photographer, will appreciate the difficulty.

In conclusion, if "Lochs and Loch Fishing'' has only touched the fringe of the subject and left much to be said, I trust that it will be accepted in the spirit in which it was written by one who, "if no fisher, is a well-wisher to the game" and to all who follow it by stream, loch, canal, pond or sea. North, South,- East or West.

HAMISH STUART.
Leeds, 1st August, 1899.

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