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The Moor and the Loch
Sea-Loch Fishing


THE sea-loch has a character peculiarly its own-no wooded islands, no green or pebbly margin, like its inland sister, except perhaps for a short time at full-tide; and the dark mountain more often rises abruptly from its side in craggy and bold relief. It is a novel sight for the traveller, whom the refreshing evening breeze has tempted out of the neighbouring inn, at the landlord's recommendation, to try his fishing-luck with such a clumsy rod and tackle as he had never dreamt of before. The awkward-looking herring " skows," well matched with their black or red sails, scudding in all directions ; the nasal twang of the Gaelic, as they pass the bow or stern of his boat, shooting their nets ; the hardy, weatherbeaten face of the Highlander, always civil in his reply, and courteous in pointing out the most likely ground to the " stranger" -reiterating his injunctions (when his stock of English extends no further) " to keep on the broo," yet plainly showing that he expects the like courtesy in return, and that the least slip on your part would immediately make him change his tone,-all this can hardly fail to impress on the mind of the imaginative, that the spirit of the Highlands, though dormant, is not dead, and to carry back his fancy to the old times of clans, catarans, and claymores.

[It is often amusing to see how easily the warm blood will boil, even in those whom years and hardship might have cooled. The following characteristic instances occur to me:-A spruce young gentleman and party of friends, in crossing a ferry, had only one boatman, nearly eighty years old, tugging away at both oars. The young spark, who rather piqued himself upon his performance, offered to relieve him of one. " Na, na," says old Donald, whose manner was the extreme of respect, yell no be accustomed to this wark." "Me!" says the youngster, "I'll row any man in your country." The Highlander instantly faced him with a look and tone of perfect equality-"I've seen the day when ye wad has been sair pushed!" The other case was that of an old "grannie" in defence of her rights and privileges:-An efficient and benevolent magistrate, who had been very active in his endeavours to stop the progress of the cholera, was inculcating the necessity of cleanliness. Grannie listened with a sort of half-consenting air, which seemed to say-" we must submit to all this for the good that's to come''-.until he mentioned the necessity of removing the dunghill from before the window. Her Highland blood could not endure so audacious an inroad upon her freedom : she determined to make a stand upon this odoriferous ground, proverbial for inspiring pluck even into the craven. With an attitude of defiance, and her fists firmly stuck in her sides, she bawled out-" Deed, Major, ye may tak our lives, but yell no tak our midden !!"]

The fishing of the sea-loch is not nearly so scientific as that of the inland. The great art lies in being thoroughly acquainted with the best state of the tide for commencing operations-in having a perfect knowledge of the fishing ground, and being able to set your long line with neatness and despatch. Having lived for a couple of years on the banks of two sea-lochs, I had every opportunity (which I did not neglect) of practising the different kinds of fishing, and making myself master of the most propitious times of the tide for doing so with success.

TROLLING FOR SEA-TROUT

may be ranked at the head of this fishing ; but, before attempting to describe it, I shall mention two curious facts relative to the sea-trout and salmon, which it is difficult to account for. One is, that the former will take greedily in one loch, while you may troll a whole day in its next neighbour, though full of them, without getting a single bite. This was precisely the case in the two lochs alluded to. The other, that, although you may see the huge tails and back-fins of salmon rising all round, I never heard of one taking the bait ; and during the whole of my trolling in the salt water, I have only killed one grilse. This is the more strange, as the salmon is not at all shy of the spinning-bait in the fresh water loch.

The best time to begin fishing for sea-trout is at the turn of the tide, when it begins to ebb : the same rod and tackle as when trolling from a boat in fresh water. The herring-fry, salted, are the most killing bait,) also excellent for large fish in fresh-water lochs,) although minnows are very good: a sand-eel may also do, the black skin pulled over the head, so as to show nothing but the white body; this shines very bright, but, as it does not spin, is far less deadly than the others.

A- boatman who thoroughly knows the fishing-ground is indispensable, as it is much more difficult to find out than in the fresh water. Strong eddies, formed by the tide, are often good places ; also any bays, especially if mountain burns run into them. The largest size of sea-trout are caught in this way; and when hooked, from the depth and strength of the water, make capital play. Large lythe also are frequently taken : these arc like passionate boxers-fight furiously for a short time, after which they are quite helpless.

If there is a good pool at the mouth of any mountain burn, by going with your fly-rod during a "spait," or coming down of the water after heavy rain, and it-hen the tide is at the fall, you may have excellent sport. The trout are all floundering about, ready to take your fly the moment it touches the water. This only lasts for a short time, as they all leave the pool at the receding of the tide. I say nothing of seatrout or salmon-flies, which vary so much in the different lochs, rivers, and streams, that every angler should be able to dress them for himself. Any fishing-tackle maker will be happy to teach him for a consideration. He has then only to learn from an approved hand near what flies are best for the loch or stream lie intends to fish, and tie them accordingly.

THE LONG-LINE.

The eel-line, already noticed, is precisely the longline in miniature, with the exception of the hooks, which are such coarse, blunt-looking weapons, that the wonder is how they catch at all. They are sold for a mere trifle at any of the shops in the sea-port towns, and tied on with a wax end, but sometimes only with a knot of the twine itself: a turn of the wire on the shank enables you to do this. A baiting basket is required, one end for the line, the other for the baited hooks, which are placed in regular rows. My line had only three hundred hooks, but some have double that number. Herring, cut into small pieces, are the best bait: I required about a dozen for one setting, provided I eked out with mussels, but eighteen or twenty were necessary if the line was baited exclusively with herring. Mussels, however, drop off the hook so easily, that when herring can be procured they are seldom used. Seeing the long-line baited, set, and drawn, will thoroughly teach any one who has an idea of fishing-writing how to do so never will. It generally took me about an hour and a half to bait mine; so I taught a boy, who, after two or three lessons, could bait as well as myself.

The best time to set the long-line is after low water, when the tide has flowed a little, and brought the fish with it. To know the different "hauls" [Banks, and parts of the loch, where the shoals of fish congregate.] is most important, as your success in a great measure depends upon the selection of a good one. After the line is set, it should be left exactly one hour; and, if you have hit upon a shoal, you will most likely half fill the boat. I have several times killed about a dozen, from twenty to fifty pounds-weight, besides quantities of smaller. The fish for the most part taken are cod, ling, haddock, skate, large flounders, and enormous conger-eels, some of the latter more than half the length of your boat, and as thick as a man's leg. These would generally be thrown back again, were it not for the havoc they make among the other fish, and the damage they do to the set-lines. Their throats are, therefore, cut as soon as they are pulled up, after which operation they will live for hours. The skate is also very tenacious of life; and nothing can be more absurd than the grotesque, pompous faces it will continue to exhibit for sometime after being deposited in the boat. The round shape of its jagged crown is exactly like a judge's wig; and when it puffs out its cheeks, the whole face and head so forcibly remind one of those learned lords, that you almost fancy you hear it pronouncing sentence upon the devoted congers. The conger, if dressed like other fish, is uneatable ; but when the oil is taken out, by parboiling, some people prefer it to cod. Care should be taken to untwist the line as much as possible when drawing it, which saves a deal of trouble afterwards. There is generally so much filth and discomfort in the whole business, that gentlemen seldom care to engage in it, except a few times from curiosity. [Thunder is generally believed to be destructive to fishing of all kinds-and so it often is. I, however, know an instance, when a friend of mine set his long-line just before a tremendous storm, which raged the whole hour it was in the water. As soon as it cleared, he rowed to his line, with no hope of success for that day : to his astonishment it was perfectly loaded with heavy fish. Something similar happened to myself, when going to fish the Almond, near Edinburgh. I was overtaken by a thunder-storm when close to the river; directly upon its subsiding, I commenced fishing, and at the second or third throw hooked a fine trout. After a few hours I returned home, having had excellent sport.]

THE HAND-LINE.

When a boy, I used to be much delighted with the hand-line, and never failed to practise it as opportunity offered. It is simply a piece of whalebone fastened cross-wise to the line, and a hook at each end, tied upon strong gut, with a heavy lead in the centre. This lead sinks the line rapidly to the bottom, which it no sooner touches than you feel it strike. You are thus enabled to keep moving the hooks a yard or two up, and then sink them to the ground again, which entices the fish. All the art of the hand-line is to pull up the instant you feel a bite, and never to slacken till the fish is safe in the boat. Keep changing your ground, and dropping your anchor, unless the fish seem taking. Mussels are the best bait; and it is a good plan to throw a few into the water, as well as the empty shells.

Hand-line fishing may be followed at any time, but is best at the flow of the tide. As the water retires, shift your position further down the loch, and vice versa. Almost every cottage on the banks can supply a handline, and every inmate knows how to use it.

THE WHITE FEATHER.

To some highly facetious authors, a pun upon the white feather might prove a prize, so I shall make them a present of it instead of my readers, and proceed to it. dressing and use. Of all apologies for a fly, this is the clumsiest ; it is only a swan's or goose's feather tied round a large and very coarse bait-hook, without the least pretence to art; any man who had never dressed a fly in his life would be as successful in the attempt a: the most finished performer. [Worsted is occasionally used instead of the feather, and it is sometimes a killing way to have a different colour for each rod - viz. white for One, yellow for another, and red for a third. This last is best for mackerel ; and in some states of the water and sky, both lythe and seithe, especially the former, prefer the yellow to the white. It is a curious fact regarding the seithe, that when it grows old it changes both its nature and appearance; the colour is nearly black instead of the rich green; it grows to a great size, and gains a formidable set of teeth. It is then called a stanlock, or black salmon, and is quite as destructive to other fish as the conger-eel. In this stage it is never known to rise to the fly, but it is occasionally taken by the band or long-line.] The rod and line are in perfect keeping with the fly ; a bamboo-cane, or young hazel-tree, with ten or twelve yards of oiled cord, and a length or two of double or triple gut next the hook: no reel is used.

The fish generally caught in this way are lythe and seithe, although mackerel will rise freely also; when fishing for the former, good double gut may be strong enough, but if large fish are expected, I should always recommend triple. Seithe take best in the morning and evening, and a slight breeze is rather an advantage : although the fly is sometimes sunk a little with lead, it is more often fished with at the top. You may begin at any state of the tide, and row over all the sunk banks and places where the fish frequent, at a slow rate, with three or four rods placed regularly in the stern of the boat. When a small seithe is hooked, pull it in at once, and out with the rod again as fast as possible : sometimes nearly all the rods have a fish at the same time. In lythe fishing you need not launch your boat till low water ; sink the fly with a couple of buck-shot, and troll on the brow, where it descends perpendicularly; this is easily seen at that state of the tide. When you hook a large fish, try to prevent it getting down, or you may be obliged to throw the rod overboard, in case the lythe should break away ; but, if you can manage to swing it about at the top for a short time, it will soon be unable to offer any resistance.

Trolling with the white feather has this recommendation, that it may be enjoyed by an invalid or party of ladies-and, certainly, a more delightful way of spending the cool of a summer evening cannot be imagined : rowing slowly along those romantic shores-hearing the distant gurgle of the dwindled mountain brook in its steep descent, and ever and anon passing the blue curling smoke of a shepherd's or fisherman's grass-topped hut upon the banks.

I have now, I think, given all the necessary instructions in fresh-water and sea-loch fishing; and feel confident that, by following them, the admirer of "flood and fell," even if a beginner in angling, may return from his fishing tour, having as often filled his creel from their depths as gratified his taste with their scenery.


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