A FEW words picture Scotland. Uneven, varied, and
picturesque beyond other lands, the subtler elements are wrought into a few
bolder effects. But for these she would have no character. She is the land
of the mountain and the flood. Should the lovers of her scenery find this
bald ; for the sportsman, at least, it is enough. She is the land of the
grouse and the salmon. What else is there to make a third ?
The classic haunt of the grouse is the Highlands. Salmon
are there, but take a second place. The classic haunt of the salmon is the
border district. Grouse are there, but take a second place. The records of
the Tay are mercantile. For how much the different fishing stations were let
to tacksmen. What number have been netted in a season. For how much per
pound did they sell. Tacksmen are there in the south, whose good or evil
luck may interest themselves, but who do not find their way to notice. The
annals of the Tweed are the triumphs of sport.
Every borderer is an angler,
which is quite another thing from being able to handle a rod. Every ghillie
can handle a rod on an off day, which is quite another thing from being an
angler. On the border, angling is a tradition with its wealth of story. In
the Highlands it is bald and raw. No words will make this quite plain. To
learn the difference one must see the borderer at the streamside, and know
something of his relation with his rod. An atmosphere will be seen to lie
around him. The rod is his companion, not his plaything. Many memories have
they in common, which betimes they interchange. It is a business in the
north; it is passion in the south.
And yet the Tweed is not in
the first rank of salmon streams. Only the unbroken tradition, the
seriousness, the passion make it great. It is too narrow, over long reaches,
too pent in. The frequent low water gathers the ascending salmon into
struggling masses at the cauls, to the temptation of the lieges; and keeps
the spent salmon in the pools till they are spotted like lepers. On the lash
of a sudden thunderstorm it is given over to sudden rushes, which scour the
redds and scatter the spawn, for the benefit of greedy pensioners. From the
draining of the olden marshes no longer does the syking lend a long tail of
slowly sinking water. A swift rise, as sudden a fall, is the record of a
spate. Salmon it has in plenty - too many of them. The autumn rush is great.
Infection spreads. The affluents are few, most of them insignificant. When
deep enough to admit the migrants, they are overcrowded.
As a salmon stream the Tay is
facile princeps. It is generous of proportion, swelling into an
estuary, denied to the Tweed. For many a mile from its mouth it is sea
flushed. Lake-fed, its extremes of rise and fall are narrowed. The overflow
is gathered, the floods tempered, the droughts tided over. Tributaries are
ample, as the mighty limbs of a tree. Crowding is unknown. For running fish,
the way up; for spent fish, the way down are open. Nor does disease spread
as in the attenuated waters of the south.
With bank calling across to
bank, and countless fords where the pool shallows and the current runs,
Tweed appeals to me as a trouting stream. The smaller forms are in keeping
with its character, in sympathy with its atmosphere of poetry and song.
Trout are idyllic. The true 'migrant is the sea trout. Salmon is out of
proportion and sensational, and save in some of the lower reaches below
Dryburgh and Kelso, might almost be spared. The Tay is a salmon stream, with
trout. Salmon are in the greater sympathy. Trout are out of proportion,
overshadowed, thrown in. It is perhaps a question whether perfect salmon and
trout fishing are found in the same stream.
Ladies do not fish in the
south. Though the old borderer was a raider, it would seem as though his
wife and daughter stayed at home. It is so with his descendants. I never saw
one, save once. She was catching parr about the length of her little finger-parr
are to be caught in the Tweed by the simple process of dropping a fly, any
way, all summer through. She seemed to be interested in the small fry, which
goes to show that she was not a borderer. As a rule even visitors do not
Perhaps it is that fishing is
a contemplative engagement, in which the oft-long intervals between the
rises dream by with the idyllic flow of the current-at least, they so dream
to the flow of a border stream. Ladies may not be contemplative. Trouting
leads along miles of chequered bank into wild and solitary places, where the
sheepdog's bark is as a clap of thunder. Ladies do not like to be miles
In the north they fish. Royal
ladies fish; are said to cast a long, sure line, and land skilfully. They
fish for salmon, which is more exciting and less idyllic. Others follow
their example as in fashion bound. Whether they go far from companionship I
cannot tell. I can scarcely imagine them being led on from morning to night,
taking their frugal lunch by the alder tree, with not so much as a
shepherd's hut in sight. It flashes across me that I met one scrambling over
the boulders of a brawling Highland stream. She was known to be eccentric.
Trouting is, on the whole,
the gentler sport. It bears the same relation to salmon fishing as hawking
with the merlin and the peregrine. Trout is the lady's fish, as the merlin,
was the lady's hawk. Stalwart men find the art and charm to be as great, or
greater. Tackle and lure alike are more delicate. The conditions,
atmospheric or otherwise, under which trout will rise, and the argument to
be used for the day, are of the subtlest. One must look to the sky, and from
the patches of blue to the travelling cloud; to the gleam on the water with
the chasing shadow, measuring the interval between ; to the insect life
dancing in the air and dipping to the current. The fly, most like these
creatures of a day and a dance, must be dropped where the ring breaks, in
the sunless moment when the gleam has passed. Under the covert of the
shadow, deeper by contrast, the trout will rise.
Evanescent elements spoil the
reckoning - changes of mood, so sudden as to seem like caprice. Hours there
are when the rise should come and does not. Other unpromising hours when a
churning is on the surface. The angler notes how cloud and wind and water
were thus and thus when the play was merry ; and when cloud and wind and
water are thus again, goes back to find the play dull. A sharp shower
flushes into sudden spate. As
the stream falls the trout should rise. How eagerly they do rise. For an
hour I have stood in one spot and cast over the water, dipping down on the
sedges, and settling into wine colour. Every cast seems to bring a rise. I
can see the place now-the graceful sweep, the fresh green haugh, the purple
hills. After a like spate and over the same pool, I have cast in vain.
What is there in pulling out
a heavier weight with a stronger tackle, save to cause the mouth to open and
the eyes to round? The sensation is gained at the cost of the idyllic; charm
and delicacy are gone. An angler, from the crowded record of a long
lifetime, had one tale he loved to tell. It came as a sweet morsel, slowly
rolling over his tongue. The gist of it was a light rod, a trout cast, and a
salmon at the end; such infinite delicacy was needed in the play.
And, like all that is truly
delightful, all the real possessions of life, trout fishing is free as air
or sunlight. No man need pine for it as something beyond reach. The river
flows to the sea, and the water flows to the river, and the burn flows to
the water. The rill trickles past every upland cottage door. In Scotland is
no village school where the lads may not reach a burn in the interval of
lessons, on whose banks he may not spend his Saturday. At the one extreme
the expert may cast his delicate fly, at the other the child may dabble with
his bent pin. Around the lure will break the circles of the rise. The thrill
of a bite will pass to the chubby hand, which holds the shepherd father's
There is a great republic of
the waters. Men will do well to see they do not slip out of their hands. No
streamside should be barred to any one who is there for no purpose save for
the shadow on the pool, the song of the current, the freshness of the
environment, and the art and mystery of the sport.
Nor should the life of our
streams be enervated by pet fish reared in tanks, nor changed to the rainbow
hues of some stranger from other waters. Not that I think the evil
ineradicable. If they do no good, after a little time they may do no harm.
The stream will take possession, and shape and tone them into the likeness
of its own kind, till those who put them in at first would stoutly disown
them as any handiwork of theirs.
It is a while before the
stranger finds out what is wanting in the borders. He is impressed by what
is there. He looks around, and the wrinkle of speculation is on his
eyebrows. And then he bethinks himself that there are no lochs. None, or
few. So very few, that one may ascend hill after hill and see no gleam.
In imagination, he places a
sheet here and there-a spark round the edge of yonder law, a silver,
wind-chased surface, filling yonder cup, with flights or flocks of
water-fowl. And feels how it would light up the scene. The vision passes,
the reality comes out. All is brown heath and shaggy wood, with the silver
winding down the glens.
So Scott's border ballad is lakeless, save for hints of a
few mountain tarns, hidden away in the uplands, by the sources of the
streams. In a lakeland the shading would have been lighter. So, too, would
the temperament of the people-with no wide expanse of light, relieved only
as by the transient gleam on the hillside, or the song of running water. So,
too, would the course of border history, the atmosphere of border story and
song. The "Lay of the Last Minstrel" might not have been written. Sir
William of Deloraine's ride was all by stream-sides. From the Teviot it
Far beneath in lustre wan,
Old Melrose rose, and fair Tweed ran.
The haughs are green and pleasant, the shade of trees
grateful in the midday heat. Between the banks the stream glides, widening
slowly by the way. Burns trickle in; and below, the volume of water is so
much more. Nowhere does it bud out in a sheet of wind-chased ripples.
Salmon enter at Berwick; they sail for a while along the
border. They pass Dryburgh, where Scott sleeps, and Abbotsford, where he
lived. The course narrows: as streams are left behind the volume is so much
less. Nowhere may they follow the retreating banks, to dash out into the
expanse and freedom of a loch. They are in a pent way from which is no
escape. There is a want of freshening. A life within such cramped outlines
saps the vigour. Herein may lie one cause of disease.
For the trout - which may not go to sea - is no change of
condition, save from one pool or current to another. Monotony is in their
annual round. They may not get out of the river, or, as we would say, the
rut, for a change of water or diet. There is a lack of the variety found in
the life of their kindred, where loch is strung to loch on liquid cords.
Lochs mould, feed to greater size, shape on their own model. Enter within
and adapt the organs to receive the food they offer. Tint also, stain the
flesh pink or red, using for a dye the dull molluscs that crawl up the
sluggish sedges, or the crustaceans, which dart hither and thither.
For as many lochs there are as many differences in the
life forms; not very great sometimes, but visible enough. Three lochs strung
on to one stream may differ in the changes they work. The trout, which have
sojourned there for a while, return from their holiday to the current and
the pool, to vary life. Of such forms, the mainly lochless border streams
Up the Tay, beyond the tacksman's limits, are magic
waters. Lakes abound. There can be few hills of any height that do not
possess one. Some command quite a number. Far and near, the gleam is
everywhere, breaking and lighting the brown heath. In them is the gaiety of
the scene. More there than on the grouse moor; since heath enough grows in
the south. Their presence marks the difference from the borders, dispels the
melancholy which is only not sadness. The Highlands might be called land of
the mountain and the lake. Removing the mountain common to both-as compared
with the land of the stream, land of the lake.
Scott, who made Deloraine ride by stream-sides, makes
Fitz-James ride by lakes. The streams might be neglected, except in so far,
as they string the lakes together. The scene is changed. Genius nor
atmosphere are any longer the same. Lake after lake is passed. A lake seems
ever in sight. The horse pants along the connecting stream only to bear its
rider to another lake. One, two, three, in a string. Last of the three gives
the title, "The Lady of the Lake."
These lakes lie in basins of the poem and gleam out in
the verse. From the height of any stanza one is sure to be in sight. The
sparkle is on the action as the figures pass along the shore.
The brightness, the exhilaration, the vivacity are
theirs. The holiday humour they excite; the laughter of light hearts and
sunny moods answer to the ripple on their strands. Remove the lakes and the
light would go out.
Men fish the lakes-at least, strangers do : they who come
from graver and uglier scenes for a few weeks' refreshing, and space, and
beauty. The elbow-room is so great, the ripple so far-spreading, the joy so
effortless. And women fish, their laughter rippling pleasantly and sunnily
over the rippling of water, away to the magic strand. It is no longer a
contemplative person's pursuit -that is horrid. With half a dozen in a boat
it may be mixed up with so much that is companionable.
Salmon splash in from between the pent riverbanks, and
joyously spread out in the ample space, sailing for miles round the winding
shores, or across the deep, from shore to shore. In so great a hurry have
they been that they still wear the silver sheen of the sea. Nor are the
salmon of the lake altogether like those of the lakeless stream, nor the
salmon of one lake like those of another.
For the rest, anything may rise to a lure; from a
salmo ferox - big as a salmon; only not a migrant, but a dweller
from year's end to year's end -to a burn trout which has wandered in from
the stream for a change, and may be already rounding and flushing pink from
the moulding and staining.