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The Moor and the Loch
The Moor Burn


I DON'T know whether the moor burn more properly belongs to the moor or the loch; but, as it begins in the one and ends in the other, it was rather an omission on my part to have left it out in my first edition, especially as at certain times of the year it affords excellent sport to the angler who penetrates the wilds.

When in ordinary trim, the moor burn is generally neglected by the finished adept, as a more fitting amusement for the school-boy during his summer holidays ; and certainly nothing can be easier than to kill a basketful of burn-trout at such a season. To do this in as short a time as possible, treat them with earth-worms baited upon a smallish hook. They will rise well at the fly, but the worm is more deadly. As you have often queer-looking places to scramble up, where a longer and smarter turn-out would be sadly in the way, use a coarse short rod, very small reel, and casting-line of good single gut. I have generally been most successful when the burn was small, the trout being then eager for worms, having tasted few since the last flood. The great point at such a time is to keep out of sight, by dropping the bait over a rock, or from behind a bush or tuft of heather. There is generally sufficient motion in these rocky streams to prevent your line from being seen by the trout, and they will seize the bait with such avidity that I have sometimes, when a boy, taken a dozen out of one pool or lyn, as they are called. Many prefer the burn a little swollen, and in this state it is certainly easier for the unscientific craftsman, who is then much less likely to be observed by the trout. But would he take proper care to conceal himself, he would not only find them more greedy when the burn is small, but would be better able to detect their usual haunts, which they are very apt to leave when the water rises. When the lyns are black, and whirl round in eddies, let the bait humour the water, in fact the only art in fishing them is to make the worm appear naturally to follow the course of the stream. When again the burn flows over level ground, lengthen your line, as you have there more difficulty to keep out of sight. Fish all the streams and deep-looking places, and, if need be, don't grudge to crawl to them on hand and knee, or you will often be detected by the quick-sighted trout when the water is clear. To fish the moor burn in this way is capital practice for the novice in angling; with a little attention, he will seldom return with an empty creel. In the Balnaguard burn. which runs into the Tay near Logierait in Perthshire, I killed nine dozen and two in a few hours. I tried the burn by the advice of an old gardener, who told me he had one day killed nine dozen in it himself. So having equalled him, with two to spare, I washed my hands of bait-fishing during the rest of my sojourn on the banks of the Tay.

Of trout so caught, not above one in fifty averages a quarter of a pound. But there is another manner of fishing the deep lyns and rocky eddies, which is difficult, and sometimes even dangerous, except for a steady head and practised hand. Yet if love of adventure should entice the angler to try it, he will be rewarded by larger trout, and perhaps a heavier creel.

In most of the small Highland burns, there is a succession of cataracts and pools, with a parapet of rock rising perpendicularly on each side, and often scarcely footing enough for a dog to pass. The greater proportion of picturesque looking brethren of the angle would almost start at the idea of continuing their pastime under such disadvantages. They therefore make a circuit, and come down again upon the burn, where it is more easy to fish, and the ground less rugged. The trout in these places are thus left till many of them grow large, and each taking possession of a favourite nook, drives all the smaller fry away. The difficulty of reaching these places is, I admit, often great, the angler sometimes having to scramble up on his hands and knees, covered with wet moss or gravel, and then to drag his fishing-rod after him. These lyns should always be fished up stream, otherwise the moment you appear at the top of the waterfall or rock, the trout are very likely to see you, and slink into their hiding-place. The burn, however, must always be low, as at no other time can you distinguish the snug retreat of these little tyrants, which indeed they often leave, during the slightest flood, in search of prey. By fishing up the stream, your head will be on a level with the different eddies and pools, as they successively present themselves, and the rest of your person out of sight. Hold the baited hook with the left hand, jerking out the rod, under-handed, with your right, so as to make the bait fall softly at the lower end of the pool. The trout always take their station either there or at the top where the water flows in, ready to pounce on worms, snails, slugs, &a as they enter or leave the pool. Should a trout seize the bait, a little time may be given to allow it to gorge, which it will most likely do without much ceremony. If large, care must be taken to prevent it from getting to the top of the lyn, which may probably harbour another expectant. The best plan is, if possible, to persuade it to descend into the pool below. [In fishing a small pool, where you have reason to think the salmon have congregated, the same method ought to he adopted. When you hook one, tumble him over out of the pool down stream ; at all events, prevent him, if you possibly can, from disturbing the throat, where there may be several more. If the fish are at all tractable when first hooked, several may in this way be taken out of the same pool; whereas by fishing down stream, should a salmon be hooked at the throat of the pool, he will so frighten the others that very probably no more may rise.] Having deposited the half-pounder in your creel, you will now crawl upon hands and knees, just so near the top of the lyn as will enable you to drop the bait immediately below the bubbling foam, nearly as favourite a station for an over-grown monopolizing trout as the other. Except in such situations the burn-trout seldom exceeds a quarter of a pound, and may be pulled out with single gut, without much risk of breaking it. In these lyns, however, I have occasionally taken them upwards of a pound, which is easily accounted for. As soon as the trout grows to a sufficient size to intimidate his pigmy neighbours, he falls back into the best pool for feeding, not occupied by a greater giant than himself, and as these lyns are almost always in precipices very difficult of access, he remains undisturbed and alone, or with a single companion, driving all others away, until he may at last attain to a pound weight.

I have seen two curious instances of the rapid growth of the burn-trout under such circumstances, from the size of a par to fully half a lb. They were deposited in separate spring-wells, about three feet deep and five round. The trout in neither had any means of escape, and became so tame as to seize worms, minnows, &c. when dropped from the hand. One of them was within a hundred yards of Arden Connel house in Dumbartonshire, where I then lived. It had been in the spring about four years, and although large-headed and lean-looking as all overgrown burn-trout are, seemed in good health and spirits. It always came to the top of the water for the remains of my minnows, when I returned from trolling ; and on one occasion I emptied a pailful of live ones into the spring, which not only gave it several hearty meals, but exercise and amusement to boot. It pursued and seized them with a rapidity the eye could scarcely follow. At last the poor minnows, from several dozen, decreased in number to three or four, who only escaped the fate of their companions by discovering a small crack between two stones ; and I noticed that the trout soon ceased to molest them, having discovered that the attempt would be vain, as they always kept close to their refuge. This trout, I believe, is still alive, but the other, I have heard, is dead, after a solitary existence in the spring of nine years' duration !

But to return to the burn. Although when small or in ordinary trim the angler must be content with its common inmates, yet the time to fish it in perfection is during the floods at the end of summer and beginning of autumn. The sea-trout, salmon, and grilse then come up in great numbers. To select the proper moment for commencing operations is the great point. Many of the smaller burns remain in proper trim for so short a time that the angler ought to be waiting at the side, ready to begin fishing as soon as the white muddy water has run out, and the burn assumes the deep red tinge. After it decreases to a certain point, he will hardly rise a single fish. Nay, he would even stand a better chance before the water is sufficiently clear, with an enormous gaudy fly, with which, should he come half an hour too soon, he may amuse himself until it is time to put on the proper ones.

As I have already said, every experienced angler is well aware how capricious are the salmon, sea-trout, and grilse of different streams as to their flies. I was in the habit of fishing sea-trout in three burns in the same neighbourhood, (two of them running into the same sea-loch,) each of which had its favourite fly. I often put on the chosen three, and fished them all in turn; but invariably, when the water was in its best state, the fish in each were most constant to their own fly. I merely mention the fact without attempting to account for it, and will name the flies to show that the difference was considerable : one was a yellow and green, or red and green body, red hackle, and either teal or light-speckled mallard-wing. Another, a blue body, red hackle, and turkey-wing. And the third, (for the burn which ran into a different loch,) a green body, thread of gold tinsel, red hackle, and dark mottled mallard wing. The second mentioned of these flies, with the addition of an orange tuft, is the best that can be used for salmon on the Tweed, if the water is in its ordinary state ; and by lessening the hook as the river decreases you may continue to kill fish with it, when the water is so small, that they will not look at any other.

[The best turkey feathers for the wings of salmon and sea-trout flies are those with the smallest spots,-very difficult to procure ; and nothing can stand a comparison with the forked tail of the kite, when a red-brown wing is required for salmon.

Flies for salmon ought to be fastened to the gut in a different manner from any others, viz., with a small loop of double or triple gut, through which the length of gut is passed and tied with a double knot. You may thus fish always with good strong single gut, next the hook, cutting it off and making a fresh knot, whenever it chafes at the shank, This method, of course, will not be very strenuously recommended at the fishing-tackle makers, as, by the usual way, the fly is of no more use when the gut cracks or chafes close to the hook, which, unless double, or even triple, it will soon do.]

As to the most killing flies for particular burns, it is impossible that any rule can be given ; this is a point which one's own observation, or the information of adepts in the neighbourhood, alone can decide. But supposing them chosen, we will now proceed to throw them. If unacquainted with the burn, you should never pass over the streams, eddies, &c. when it first runs clear, and as it decreases in size pay most attention to the pools. If the "spate" or flood has not been very heavy, the fish will soon refuse to rise at all. It is then that a man who knows the water will often kill a fish or two when perhaps an angler, equally expert but without this advantage, would stand little chance. I once in this way astonished a fellow-craftsman, no mean performer either : I was at the burnside, just at the proper moment, and having fished the best of the water, was about to return after killing a couple of fine sea-trout, when I saw a rival, with whom I was unacquainted, rushing down to the bank. His first salutation was, "Are the fish rising?" He then desired to see my flies, being a stranger to the burn. As he seemed what is called "a greedy angler," I thought it no harm to take a rise out of him. The water by this time was long past its best; so, after supplying him with a fly, I said I would not interfere, but walk down and show him the casts. He was evidently a good fisher, but, as I anticipated, did not kill a fish, and only rose one. In the burn there was one very strong eddy, where the trout never rose to the fly, but where I seldom missed taking one with the worm, when the water was at all swollen. On coming near this place, I said, "if he had done nothing it was not his fault, but that I would now try my luck." I then let him go a good way a-head, took off my flies, put on a bait-hook and worm, and from this place pulled out two whitlings half a pound weight. I then whipped on my flies again, and overtook him at the end of the burn. I could hardly keep my gravity at his astonished face when I showed him my success. He never suspected the bait, and I soon took my leave, wishing him better sport the next spate!

Sea-trout, after the burn has run small, will never rise to the fly, they fall back to the pools. and, as anglers say, stick to the bottom, where they may often be seen. At such times they are also very unwilling to take a bait, and the only chance is to try both pools and streams with the minnow after it becomes nearly dark. I recollect once, when the water was quite dwindled, taking a very fine one with worm; but although I have often tried the same pools before and since, never with success. I had been fishing a small moor loch in company with another angler, and thought of returning home by the burn, and trying the steep lyns with bait for a sea-trout. My companion laughed at the idea, saying, that to catch one then was totally out of the question. I thought the same, but having plenty of time, resolved to make the attempt ; so, selecting one or two of the largest pools, where the rocks on each side rose perpendicularly, darkening the water, I gently and slowly let down the bait, allowing the worm, but no part of the line, to touch the water. After one or two attempts I hooked and killed a fine trout, fresh from the sea, and as white as silver. So small was the burn that he never even tried to get out of the pool, and my great difficulty was to scramble down the precipice in order to secure him. This trifling occurrence would not be worth mentioning, did it not serve to show that an angler always has a chance, however little he suspects it, if his energy and perseverance do not fail. Perhaps the following may be a still better instance of the efficacy of this latter qualification, when science and skill have been found unavailing. One of the fat, lazy trout of the Thames, which I detected feeding near one of the locks above Henley bridge, after refusing my artificial flies, a bleak, and a minnow, I hooked at last with a common bee sunk like worm, which I had intended for a chub, and happened to think might take his fancy! [The above examples are not related for imitation, as they would probably be unsuccessful ninety-nine times out of a hundred, but merely to enforce the advantage of patience-the angler's good genius.]

Having named the noble Thames, I cannot let him pass without a tribute, and, if I may be permitted, will offer a few hints on river-fishing, though not properly belonging to my subject. I have had, perhaps, nearly as much practice in the sluggish and muddy waters of the Lowlands as in the rapid and rocky Highland burns ; and, if I cannot but prefer those to which early association bind me, yet the pleasure of wandering along the green banks of the southern streams, as they sweep through the clovery meadow or the fringing copse, is perhaps increased by contrasting them with the gray rocks and purple hills of my country; while the laugh of the wood-pecker, the song of the nightingale, the " azure plume " of the little halcyon as he flits past on a calm summer's eve, are noticed with a more lively interest when substituted for the swoop of the eagle and the crow of the "gor-cock."


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