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