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Chapter VI. - Amongst Wild Fowl and Salmon

Awake, awake ! the morning mist is lifted,
The sun-lit hills shine forth in purple gay;
Hear! each glad bird gives voice as God has gifted;
Arise! fresh morn too early wastes away.

More powerful for early rising than rhyme or reason was a frightful discord perpetrated by Fred on Ward’s cornet; and after shying a pillow at the wretch, which, of course, he dodged, I shuffled out to the bath and felt the soft west wind and bright sunshine so pleasant after yesterday’s rain: the air was sweet with the smell of the plants, and the honey-like aroma of heather bloom.

“We shall want both boats, Major,” said Ward.

“Yes; and you and Fred might take your guns— there will be men to carry all, we go in force—and Archie says there are lots of ducks in the marshes by the loch.”

“A good idea; and better have a change of stockings, as we get into the boat: when one continues walking, wet doesn’t matter. I am not effeminate, but I funk sitting long when wet since that bronchitis in Ireland. You remember, when carelessness in changing lost me a week’s cock-shooting, don’t you, Abbott?”

“I think I should: your temper was dreadful.” Everything being now in order, we set off across the moors; and a pretty strong party, viz., we four, besides Archie and his boy, and Dick with the pony.

On coming near the loch we took round the east comer to reach the marshes, Dick and the boy going down to the boathouse to have the tackle put in order.

The place for the wild fowl is a long narrow bay, fringed densely with reeds. The flat moor around is interspersed with bogs, water-plants, and peat-holes, and the whole about as pretty a find for mid fowl as could be desired.

When we came to the duck-grounds, Ward and Fred went quietly ahead with Archie and the dog.

Grace, the retriever, is in her way a curiosity, being a cross between a Newfoundland and a Russian setter, and far from a beauty, having a shaggy coat of dirty brown, short legs, blunt head, and a sidelong evil

eye. It needs no Lavater to tell that Madame Grace is infinitely cute, and very queer in temper; but she is tip-top: I never saw a better dog, and I have seen many of all breeds. No use puzzling or aggravating Grace by shouting “Hark! back!” &c. She knows what to do quite as well as the sportsman, and how to do it a mighty deal better.

Almost directly on getting to the swamps there was a call of “Mark snipe!” as two or three rose from a wet corner. Ward dropped one, and Fred missed; the reports put up a whole lot of ducks from the reeds, and they almost all flew right away from the loch.

“Never mind,” Archie said, “it’s only the auld birds that are leaving; there’s plenty flappers left behind.”

We presently came on some teal. Ward killed right and left, and Fred got two at a shot; the others, after a short flight, settled in the reeds. A little farther on, Archie whispered, “I’m thinkin’ I see ducks ahint yon bank.”

Hope and Fred got stealthily round the pool, and flushed a nice covey of mallards; two were killed, and another, wounded, was caught by the dog; the rest went off to the rushes in the loch. Then, at some deep trenches and peat-holes, three and a half couple of teal and a snipe were added to the bag; Fred shooting well for a youngster.

We now got round the corner of the reeds, and as Archie was pointing out a swampy place a little way off as being likely for ducks, he suddenly exclaimed, “Lord, there’s the falcon!” and sure enough one of these beautiful and now rare birds, the peregrine falcon, was slowly cruising over the swamps; but, on seeing us, she wheeled round with a graceful swing, and flew straight away to the hill.”

“I suspect, Archie,” I said, “that if there be ducks there, they should sit close enough for a while.”

“Deed, sir, they will there may be nae getting them out of the reeds.”

Certainly the sight of this arch-enemy of the duck-tribe appeared to have had a decided effect. There were seven mire ducks and five teal in that weedy bog; and we got nearly all the ducks and two of the teal, as they would hardly rise, the retriever having more than the guns.

Some snipe, a plover, and two hares were shot on our way to the boathouse. Altogether, a very lively episode in a day’s fishing.

As our party was so large, both the boats were taken out; the old boat being a sound coble, but not suited for more than four people, while the new craft might have held us all for a sail, although quite easy to manage.

Fred, who was anxious for pike, went off in the small boat for a trial in the weedy bays. And by-and-by the Major, Ward, Archie, and myself embarked in the Jersey, as we had just baptized the new boat, and sacrificed a bottle of wine in the ceremony.

Ward and I now took the oars, and pulled right away for the deep parts of the loch, where the hills shelved steep down to the water. We were then to fish for a mile or two round the loch, or to act as found expedient.

On the way out we passed Fred’s party, busy with tackle and trout-bait for the pike, and Ward called out,

“I say, Fred.”

“Yes, my love,” cried Freddy.

“Do you see that island about a mile up? Be there at three for lunch.”

“Perhaps; but if not up to time, be comforted; we have bread here, and may be engaged,” replied Fred.

“As you choose; but be at the boathouse when we leave at five.”

“Yes, yes; shove ahead.”

We rowed on quickly, the loch being quite smooth, except here and there a cat’s-paw ripple; but there was not much fear of wanting a breeze, as in the great Highland lochs the least wind ripples the surface, while a moderate gale gets up sea-like waves.

It was a lovely scene to-day going up the loch, and observing the various shapes and shades of the hills on either side—the* grey rocky faces, green patches, and distant views of the far blue mountains ; while the near slopes, now purple with the heather in full bloom, were reflected on the glassy lake, showing every detail of outline and colour in softer hues— double beauty, hill and shadow, as Wordsworth says of his swans.

All round the edge of the loch there is sand or. shingle; and, but for the absence of shells and seaweed and of that peculiar sea-beach smell, one might fancy oneself on the sea-shore; the more so from the screaming of gulls floating on the water, and hovering about the islands.

Archie told us that these birds breed in thousands on a small loch just over the hill, and that the sheep-farmer there makes a good sum yearly by collecting the eggs and sending them to the towns, where they are sold as plovers’ eggs (and, by the way, are quite as good).

We landed at the bay to put a finishing stroke to the tackle and whistle for the wind, while Ward made a sketch. We had not long to wait; the puffs of wind increased, and in half an hour or so the lake was covered with the dull grey ripple suited for fly fishing; after having chosen some flat stones for the harling-line, we shoved off. Allowing the boat to drift across the bay, Ward and I fished at stem and stern, and for a while only getting some small trout, when Ward called out, “I have a good one at last; ” but, on being got into the net, it turned out to be an ugly, lean sea-trout, of some three pounds.

“If this is the sort of fish,” said Ward, “we might better be pike-fishing with Flibberty.”

“Be thankful,” the Major said, “that he is not in the boat to hear you, and to see that pretty fish; but this is no fair specimen, yet we shall likely see some even uglier.”

“Do you mean sea-trout?”

“Yes, and salmon also. All the salmon-kind quickly lose both beauty and weight in fresh water; that trout, a few weeks ago, left the sea quite fair and plump.”

Shortly we passed over a small bay into which falls one of the hill burns, and in this corner got some beautiful spotted trout from a half to two pounds; but we wanted salmon, yet had seen no sign of any, although I fished all' the deeper parts with a grilse.

By this time the west wind had settled into a steady breeze, and the waves were curling and sparkling in the sun, so we decided for an immediate harling cruise for salmon only.

The light casting-rods were now taken down, and two stout salmon-rods put in order, with powerful reels and strong cast-lines. Ward put on his a lively Irish fly, and I mounted a “dusty miller” (a fly with dark peacock harl and silver twist). We faced the stern of the boat, placed the rods and a clewline between, baited with a trout on spinning tackle, and moved off, the Major and Archie at the oars.

The boat was now rowed well out from land, and across the deep bays, and for some time blank, when suddenly the stone was jerked from the clew, and out flew the line. The Major at once shipped his oars and took the clew, while we reeled up our lines out of the way. We thought it was a large trout, hut presently showing on the surface, the Major exclaimed—    '

“By Jove, it is a salmon, and a good one! Go slowly in shore, Archie; this is no work for a landing-net.”    .

When close on shore the Major jumped out with the clew, and Archie followed with the cleek, and after a moderate tussle .the fish was gaffed—a good one of eleven pounds, slightly discoloured. Thus came dram number one.

Out went the boat again—all in order.    .

For a good while we saw nothing but a grilse which rose to Ward’s fly, and a sea-trout which he got; but at last, on passing a ledge of rock by very deep water, a large fish was seen to rise some- distance farther out, and presently another showed about the same place. It was arranged to go to windward; and drift slowly past, casting all the way. .We did so, and I thought we had passed the spot, when I rose and hooked a fine fish.

“You have him,” said Archie; “reel up, Mr. Ward.”    .    ;    .....

“Easy to speak,” gasped Hope. “I have another; he’s strong as a bull, near pulling me into the loch.”

"Canny, sir, canny,” cried Archie; "gie her line.” Ey good luck the fish took off in one direction, and the boat had not moved far before both fish were well in hand; hut just as I landed, mine broke away. Attention was now given to Ward, who worked his fish well, and soon gave Archie a chance, when he cleeked him. This was a fine new-run salmon of x fourteen pounds. Hope was a proud man, and although a temperate, he drained number two in honour of his fish.

“This is jolly,” he said; u did any of you ever before see two fish on at once?”

“I have not in a loch,” I replied; “but it is not a very rare thing when harling large rivers like the Tweed or Tay, and when fish are plentiful in autumn. I once witnessed three being hooked. I came on the party just as they landed the second; the last fish got off. This was on Eedgorton Water, on the Tay. With kelts' two at once is common enough.”

“I thought nobody caught kelts.”

“Nobody should; but in early spring it is a great coup to kill a clean fish, and kelts being abundant in spring season they are always getting hooked. Do you know; Hope, that a fine-sized Tay salmon of thirty or forty pounds is worth four or five pounds sterling; and even a moderate fish brings more money than a sheep, and at that early season it is the perfection of red fish.”

“Is this for the novelty of being the earliest of the season?”

"To some extent, possibly; but the flesh is firmer and finer than later in the year, and a new-run twenty-pound spring fish cannot be bettered; and should not be buttered, Fred might say, as it wants nothing but a little of the water in which it is boiled and a pinch of salt.”

"Our own fish here are approved by the people we send them to, and I find them capital with Chili vinegar.”

Eespectable esculents; but there is always something or other that beats ‘Bannagher,’ and one of these is a Tay fish in February or March; no turbot, mullet, king herring from Loch Fyne, or Dublin Bay haddock can compare; and these are about the pick of fish.”

“I should except mullet, red and grey. I think them indifferent fish; like tench and pike, they require fancy dressing. Why, Major, your black fellow would do four passable courses out of a sturgeon.”

“He might well enough; sturgeon is pork, veal, beef, and fish.”

“Verily, by being a contemptible imitation of each—insipid pork, flabby veal, and dry beef; as fish it is nought.”

“What of caviare, another of its phases?”

“Simply beastly; ditto olives, ditto toothache and comic songs.”    ’

“Go on,” I said, “and add, ditto politics, ditto genteel people, stewed veal, creaky shoes, and Papists.”    ’

“Too bad, Abbott. One might turn out a queer list of your own whims. Hillo, Archie ! shove off the other side—bow oar, man; now we are adrift.” The island where we had fixed to lunch being a long way to leeward, it was resolved to try the moderating sail. This was carefully arranged and reduced, The wind being strong. It was a first trial, but yet worked admirably, and we were enabled to go over a great deal of water, and to regulate pace as we chose.

In this way we secured another salmon of nine pounds and some good trout. When a fish was hooked the bow oars readily stopped the boat, as it was going at an easy pace, and the helm is lifted to prevent tangling the lines.

I have little doubt this plan of trolling may become general and effective in most large lochs, if well managed. We were greatly pleased with its success. Such a mode, however, is only new in fresh-water fishing, as mackerel and other sea fish are regularly taken in that way. It is, besides, so much more pleasant to meander gently here and there through the rippling waters, than to have the eternal monotonous creaking and fuss of the oars, disturbing both fish and one’s nerves.

On getting near the island we observed smoke, and when landed behind the promontory, here found young Hopeful and party seated round a roaring fire made of dried heather and the remains of an old boat which they had discovered and managed to smash up.

In front of the fire a string of trout 'was suspended, nearly cooked; and Fred graciously invited us to sit down, remarking, that as he was by no means proud we might furnish the tipple.

Dick- had selected a mossy bank for the table, and laid a small cloth thereon, and having toasted a loaf in respectable slices, and pnt a roasted trout on each, announced luncheon. Invaluable Dick!

But Fred had the merit of the suggestion of this gouter a la ligne, as he called it, which was a great success, and Ward and he made such fun that even saturnine Archie yelled with laughter at their reckless mirth.

Lunch over, the Major called, “Now, Fred, show your bag.”

This was done. Five pike, one of them very large, and some good trout.

We again embarked, and fished along to the boat-house, but with no great success. Bather a curious thing happened in fishing the last bay; the spinning bait was taken by a large eel, which was secured after having made a sad mess of the tackle.

Eels, although strong and swift swimmers, seldom take a moving bait. I think they have indifferent sight, as I have often seen them sniffing around a bait, which, when close enough to see, was greedily seized; however, that may arise from being so much night-feeders, and they are probably cuter in the sma’ hours.

All fish will occasionally deviate from their usual habits. I once caught a flounder when spinning a minnow in a rapid stream, and at rare times eels have been caught with a fly. Near Pitllochry, in Perthshire, there is a small loch where the pike refuse trout bait, and freely take a large fly. I once fished it, and refused to believe what the keeper said about this, and so tried both trout and minnow, but to no purpose, .and I had to resort to large bright flies; and they did well enough. All the pike were small.

When we came to the boathouse the spoil was spread out on the heather, fowl and fish, which made a very sporting show. We now started home, leaving the men to put up the tackle and bring the baggage.

At dinner to-day we had sea-fish—a nice change from trout and salmon.

The Frasers had received a supply from the coast, and John considerately sent us part; inter alia, some lobsters, but, alas! no crabs: to my mind the best of shell-fish, barring natives.

Fred was questioned at dinner about his pike war, but the grilse had spoilt him for that sport.

“Pike, indeed!” said Fred contemptuously: “loggish, sneaking brutes; a grilse has more fight in him than a loch full of those cravens.”    .

“Even the big one?” the Major asked; “did he not pull strong?”

“Oh yes, for a few minutes, and even ran out to the deep open water; but he soon lost pluck, and hung about the weeds till Dick gaffed him.”

“Like most tyrannical bullies, easily owed when tackled, Fred.”

“Did you find it so with tigers, Major? ”

“I had little experience of tigers, Fred, except in shooting from a howdah—a tower on the back of an elephant; but, as a rule, all the cat tribe are shy and nervous, unless wounded or cornered,— then they are dangerous.”

I asked the Major about the arena fights of buffalo and tiger, when, it is said, the tiger always funks; and if he had seen any such trial.

“No: but it is hardly fair play,” he said; “the bos is among friends, and the other is like a fox in a trap. However, I once saw a panther so baited, and it was nearly the same; but he was too nimble, and did not get pinned.”

“Then, Major,” said Fred, “you never shot a tiger?”

“I may have from a howdah, as I have been at the death of several; but, certainly, not on foot.

I am not such a perfect rifle shot as to risk my skill with such an active foe. I kept to buffalo and deer, and could always manage to dodge a wounded buffalo ; but the tiger’s charge is a dead certainty.”

“Did you never meet one when shooting on foot?”

“Only once. We were driving for deer in a nullah, and I was half hid behind a tree, when a large tiger passed within forty yards; but, as he never noticed me, I let him go. I might have fluked, but as likely as not have only wounded him, and been killed. Had you, Fred, been in the cat’s mouth, I might have risked it.”

Fred laughed and said, “I believe my discreet cousin there would have pegged at the brute with snipe-shot.”

“And have been killed, or scalped, as Hamilton of ours was, from firing at a leopard with buck-shot."

“Which of the Hamiltons?” Ward asked.

“Clawed Hamilton, of course, you silly Hope,” said Fred.

“Ah! an extra task for pertness, Mr. Fred.”

“Yes; and afterwards Major Duncan and I will give you your revenge at whist.”

This evening we had a good deal of conversation about Indian matters. Major Duncan, who is familiar with the languages, and personally intimate with many Hindoos and Parsees, told us much that was new and interesting; and Ward and I felt how greatly clearer an idea is got of a people by conversing with one who really knows them, than by any hook, however well written. One readily gets an answer to any question; while hooks are often elaborate about the very things which interest us the least. It is only in Oliver and Boyd, or in Maunder, that one finds what is specially wanted, and even they fail sometimes.

By-and-by Fred came back, and there was a whist battle with nearly the same result as before; but this evening Fred bore his honours meekly, as he was too sleepy for mischief.

A pair of owls hoo-hoo’d round the house all night. It is an cc eerie5’ sound; but I like it, as it is associated in my mind with many pleasant memories of the country.

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