The Tweed is picturesque rather than romantic, as are so many of the Highland rivers. They have their legions of admirers, but there is no Scottish stream that can count so many ardent lovers as the Tweed, and this for many reasons. It has much varied and positive picturesqueness of its own, it has associations of legend and history; Walter Scott lived on its banks, and its dividing course between the nations that used to harry or be harried invests it with an abiding interest. As a river it is distinguished by a characteristic dignity, and, save at its narrowed channel and rocky bed at Makerstoun, maintains a stately yet irresistible strength of flow from Kelso seawards. Nevertheless, there are times when it shows moods of sullen rage, and is certainly too full for the angler, to whom, in spite of faults, it is always Tweed, the well-beloved.
"How is she the morn?" is, therefore, a common question amongst all sorts and conditions of men along Tweedside in the fishing seasons, and at the visit now under course of recall there was assuredly ample excuse for the formula. It soon transpired that the old-fashioned barometer in the hall had been having a hard time of it for many days. The master of the house never passed from drawing- to dining-room without an anxious tap. While the maids were doing their ante-breakfast work I myself stole down and consulted it, opened the front door, studied the sky, and noted the drift of the clouds. I make my forecast at once if the tokens are depressing. But I had ere this seen the river. One of my bedroom windows gave direct outlook upon a shrubbery, the most notable feature of which was a maple of most brilliant tints, varying from bright red to faint orange; the other framed a landscape picture of park, grassland, woods, and the broad Tweed sweeping round towards the lower portion of the water for which the angler cares. There was, however, another view from the front of the house—a nearer reach where there was a mass of rough water, and a certain tongue of shingle thrust out from the further bank. For days and weeks these river marks had warned the anxious inquirers that they might not expect sport. The diminution of the tongue of land on the one side, and a blur in the pure white of the foam on the other, told the one-word tale "waxing."
At the outset I was saved any anxiety by finding the river dirty. Travelling through the night, I had turned out at Berwick at half-past four in the morning in the cold of a roaring gale that sent the clouds flying express over the moon, and shrieked into every corner of the deserted station. There had been heavy rain, and, in short, when day broke bleakly near upon six o'clock, and I caught my first sight of the river from the early train to Coldstream, my fate was evident. In good order on Sunday afternoon, the Tweed was in flood when I drove over the bridge on Monday morning before the village was awake. Not for the first time, therefore, the kindly welcome of host and hostess was pointed with mutual condolences.
The October casts, so far, had been disappointing below Kelso. The Tweed anglers above that town had been more favoured, being beyond the malign influences of the Teviot, which has a wonderful facility for gathering up anything that comes from the clouds, and sending down dirt and volume to the beats eastward of the Kelso Tweedometer.
The records of a week such as this was to be are not worth telling, for men neither like to write about their own disappointments unless they can treat them from the comic side, nor to read about the woes of others unless they have the unhappy gift of gloating over them. Let this indication, then, cover several days, and no more about it, except that the time arrived when I caught a fish badly scored by seals, which infested the tideway, and that I worked hard for odd hits and misses with small fish on other days.
My best fish, in all senses of the word, was a godsend, and I rose her with a full-sized Wilkinson. She weighed 31 1/2 lb., and was the largest baggit which either Sligh or Guthrie could remember being caught in the Tweed. Up to the date of capture I believe it was the heaviest fish taken with a fly that season, but a week later a lady angler in Sprouston dub above took one of 35 lb. My fish gave me a rousing bit of sport, lasting a little over the accepted average time of a pound weight to the minute. But the circumstances warranted five minutes' grace. It was one of the very bad days, with blustering hailstorms, and evening was coming on. A grilse had risen short, and contributed another item to the losses account (nine in four days was the added total), and I was as gloomy as the weather, but fished on in calm desperation.
At last a long-drawn "Ha" from myself duetted (if I may coin the word) with "Y'r ento 'm, sir," from Guthrie. The fish walloped an instant near the surface, and then behaved with orthodox correctness, went down steady, and swiftly ran out sixty yards of line or so. Of the others I had said, "I shan't like this fish, Guthrie, till he's in the net." Of this one I now observed, "I think he's right this time." Guthrie responded, beaming, "Aye, he's grippit it weel."
It was a piece of good fortune that I hooked my friend so near shore that I was landed and free on the bank within five minutes. After running across the strong stream the fish moderated speed, and the winch could be worked. Some eighty yards below was a dangerous turmoil of broken water, foaming off to a shallow. The fish was manifestly a good one, and must be kept from those rocks at all hazards. Once in the hurly-burly of the foam the chances would be all on its side. Not a little disconcerting was it to find that it was making to this place with persevering steadiness. The tackle was tried and good; nothing was likely to give but the mouth of the fish. At one time my heart sank, and I feared I was to be outdone again. Pulling hard, the salmon forced me along the pebbly beach, with every ounce of strain I dared. There it was at last, within five yards of the rough water, and then it paused. Gradually it answered my leading, and with a slowness that became positively exciting, moved upwards, say, thirty yards. I heaved a sigh of relief, and Guthrie breathed like a bellows.
And now the salmon appeared to be struck with a new idea; it turned aside and shot across the river at a high speed for fifty yards. What meant the sudden stoppage? It was not the halt of sulkiness. I knew that well. Not daring to speak my fear I looked at Guthrie, who at once put it into words—"Round a rock." Down-stream and up-stream I cautiously moved, the rod never altering its tension curve. The racing river was cut by the tight line, so that there was a hissing heard above wind and stream. Somehow, though the chances were a million to one against me, I felt that the fish was still held by the hook. Five minutes of this suspense brought a different verdict from Guthrie: "Ah! ye needn't bother; ye'll find the heuk, nae doot, but nae fish."
"I am not so sure of that," I said. "Get the boat down, Guthrie, and we'll go out to him, anyhow." The boat was brought down accordingly, and out we went. The line was winched in cautiously (I might almost say prayerfully), and—well, something inside my waistcoat gave a mighty thump, and I could feel my face whiten. For, behold, the salmon—marvellous to relate—was still on, and as we approached to within a few yards of the rock the uplifted rod cleared the line, and the fish sped up-stream to the sharp music of the reel. Quickly as might be Guthrie brought me to shore, and the remainder of the battle was fought out from the shingle. There was one rush of nearly a hundred yards, then the fish calmed down and answered to the winch, moving down, nevertheless, much too persistently to Scylla and Charybdis.
Confound it, the old peril was coming close again. The good sign was that, as I followed on the bank, I could keep on reeling in line. A sheer towards the rock of offence prompted the thought that the salmon had been under its protection before, and I put on extra strain and kept him this side of it. By this time the fish was getting exhausted, but the distance from the broken water was so lessening that I determined to either mend or end the business by a gift of the butt.
"Go below, Guthrie, and I'll bring him in," was the word, and the old man soon got his opportunity, not to lift it out in the ordinary way, but to clap the net upon it as it struggled on the shallow, and pin it most cleverly to the shingle, hauling it out without accident. It was only done in the nick of time; two yards farther down would have been ruin. Everybody said it was a perfectly shaped specimen of the bright autumn Tweed salmon.
The season, as a whole, that year on Tweed was what, in the mildest form of regret, is termed "disappointing," though our old friend, Henry Ffennell, in his annual statement of large salmon, was able to mention a goodly proportion of heavy fish in the autumn. But that particular back-end was bad during October and November on most of the beats below Kelso. A few days after I had returned to the glories of Windsor House, and had Bream's-buildings as the choicest of handy landscapes, I realised the vast pleasure of learning in "Tweedside's" weekly report from Kelso, which I was reading in a November fog that pervaded the entire office, that Mr. Gilbey had been fortunate in catching a 42-lb. salmon at Carham, his best fish to that date, and, I think, the best Tweed fish of that season. It was taken on a salmon fly bearing the troutsome name of Orange Dun, and it was a fancy pattern worked out as I understood, by Tarn Sligh, one of the veteran gillies of Tweedside. This fly was a very taking harmony in yellow, and Mr. Gilbey was fishing with one of the small sizes on a single gut collar. The salmon was hooked near the Bell Rock, a favourite autumn cast under the right bank down by the woods below the hut. For some time the angler did not realise what was at the end of the line. It kept quietly down, and moved in steam-roller measure up-stream, never taking out more than a yard of line at a time, which, under the good management of the boat, fifteen yards or so in rear of the fish, was always recovered with ease. So the salmon advanced, yard by yard, up to the more streamy cast of the Craig. Mr. Gilbey landed in due course here on the high bank, and then for the first time caught sight of the broad-sided fellow, which the taciturn attendant netted without a mistake. The fish was pronounced by all who saw it to be as beautifully modelled and bright a kipper as autumn ever produced. Such a fish deserved to be caught, recorded, photographed, and cast, and all this was duly done. The plaster cast was a triumphant success, and you seem to see the fish itself in form and colour upon the wall which it honours and adorns.
A SERMON ON VEXATIONS AND CONSOLATIONS
A happy heading for this chapter, as I thought, occurred to me—"Spoiled days." But I retain something of a sense of the ridiculous, and feared that the title might be capable of misconstruction, for the amusing story rose to mind of the village publican who had a spoiled day according to his own declaration. He rode in a dismal mourning coach to his wife's funeral, accompanied by a grown-up daughter, and she insisted upon having the window down. The parent showing signs of uneasiness, the daughter ventured to hope that he had no objection. "Oh! no," the bereaved husband replied, "keep it down if you like, my gal, but you're quite spoiling my day."
My intention will, however, be clear, for every one of us must be acquainted with angling brothers for whom everything seems to go wrong. Nay, a pretty heavy percentage of even the very first rank have their bad days, and believe in them with a species of fatalism that of course helps on the result they dread. Endless are the angler's troubles if he will but devote himself to developing them. The worst victim is the man who does not take things patiently, who is ever turning the tap of impetuosity on at the main, who begins the day with a rush, goes through it in a flutter, and ends it in alternations of dejection and rage.
What a charming man So-and-so is, but what a wet blanket he is to himself and everybody from the common failing. The train is actually moving, and, as usual, like a whirlwind, he is projected in by the guard, panting and irritable. You know perfectly well how it has happened; he got up too late, spluttered over the hot coffee, chivied the cabman all the way, charged through the porters on the platform, and here he is. Naturally he discovers that he left his waterproof in the hansom; he searches in vain for his pipe; he fumes and frets, and swears he is the most unfortunate wretch on earth. The song birds, the flowers, the fields, the clear atmosphere touch him never a whit, and the chances are that he continues through the livelong day as he began. In running his line through at the waterside he will miss one or two rings, and only find it out when the collar has been affixed. The mistake remedied he essays a cast or two, and away goes half of his rod; he neglected to tie the joints together, and attributes the mishap to the tackle makers, who did not always provide patent ready-made fasteners. These blunders, miscalled ill-luck, do not soothe the temper, and they certainly do not assist him to joyousness and success.
As a matter of course our friend smacks hard at the first fish which rises, and hails the returning collar, minus point and fly, with a sarcastic grin, as if some evil genius outside himself had done the deed. Henceforth he will be in the mood to invite all mishaps that are possible and probable. In climbing a stile he will tickle the hawthorn hedge with his rod top, swing his suspended landing net into the thorns, and perhaps shake his fly-book out of his pocket in petulant descent from the top bar. If there is a bramble thicket anywhere in the parish, or a tall patch of meadow sweet in the rear, or a convenient gorse clump handy, be sure his flies will find them out. Another man would coolly proceed to extricate them; he pulls and hauls, and swears, carrying away his gear, and is lucky if his rod is left sound. In wading he goes in sooner or later over the tops of his stockings, cracks off his flies through haste in returning the line, and altogether fills his day full of small, unnecessary grievances. That this is possible I know full well. I have done it all myself. But the minor tribulations I had in my mind when I began to write this modest essay were not precisely of this kind, which are the heritage of those habitual unfortunates who are, in a measure, beyond hope of redemption. I had the pleasure of curing one of them, however, by pointing out to him the cause of his chronic irritation, producing haste, and a long train of inevitable ills. Anything in the shape of a burden about his body chafed him; and this being so, I need scarcely add that his equipment was always on the largest scale. The obvious suggestion was that he should hire a boy to carry his great creel, superfluous clothes, spare rod, and landing net. By proving to him that the expenses would be less than the amount of losses and breakages of both tackle and temper, he was induced to take my advice, and he was henceforth a converted character. My theme is, rather than palpably preventable disasters, the small accidents that will happen to the most careful anglers, especially if they put off their preparations to the last moment. Provoking is scarcely the word for the calamity of travelling a long distance by rail and road to realise that you have brought everything, including odds and ends that you will never use, but have left an important factor, say winch and line, behind you. To have brought the winch that does not fit your rod may be got over by binding on with a piece of your line; but the general variety of winch fitting is certainly a common trouble for anglers. Nor is it any good to boast of bringing your handle if you have overlooked the net; nor to take gigantic pains to buy live baits in London only to find that the water has leaked out long before you leave the train in Leicestershire. I have known a fly-fisher wretched for a whole day because he had not brought the bit of indiarubber with which he was in the habit of straightening out his cast; and a roach-fisher refuse to be comforted because his plummet was not.
You cannot, however, control the wind and weather; yet some men seem to be under a climatic curse. Any landowners whose crops require rain have only to invite them down for a day's fishing; there will be rain enough and to spare. No hankerer after an east wind should be without them. It shall breathe southwest balm when they start for the fishing; they will be met at the waterside by a blustering Boreas with out-puffed cheeks. Yesterday the wind would take the fly where wanted; to-morrow it will do the same; to-day it is dead down-stream or in the angler's face. This is no doubt inveterate ill-luck, and the victim is to be commiserated. You can quite believe him when he says that if he takes a fishing for August there will be no water; if for September, perpetual flood; and when, the week after his return to town, he greets you with a sickly smile and volunteers the information that the day succeeding his departure the river at once got into ply, you deal gently with the young man, for this verily is tribulation major, and it may be your turn to meet it round a corner next year. I suppose there are men in all grades of sport, as in all grades of work, to whom the cards invariably fall awry, and the worst of the case is that there is only one piece of advice to tender—forswear the cards, or grin and bear. The angler ought to hold by the latter clause. The retrieving chances that may happen; the many useful objects turned up even when the philosopher's stone is never reached; the assets to the right if there are deficits to the left—these may be philosophically set off in the general account.
How many acquaintances, are there not, who burden themselves by over much comfort, or, what comes to the same thing from my point of view, with too much fuss and fad as to their impedimenta? Some anglers whom I meet really never appear to be happy unless staggering along like Issachar "couching down between two burdens." Half of the gear is mere ballast, never produced for actual service from one year's end to the other, but always carried with patience most instructive to behold. Not a month since I remonstrated with a comrade upon the unnecessary exertion he was undergoing from the mere weight of his useless baggage. He said he preferred it; he considered that he was not properly equipped without that enormous sack—big as that which the "Pilgrim's Progress" man shuffled off when he scrambled out on the right side of the Slough of Despond. I think he regarded the trip to the river—though we drove comfortably to it, and drove home again the same evening—as a serious expedition into unknown wilds, and was buoyed up throughout with the fancy that he ranked with the eminent explorers who go forth with their lives in their hands.
Once upon a time I habitually made a toil of pleasure in much the same way, scorning assistance, deeming it unworthy of a British sportsman to accept help from boy or man in any shape or form. But the golden days all too soon become the bronze, and maybe iron, and then we naturally pay more attention to trifling comforts and easements than in the happy period of unchastened exuberance. The stage is eventually reached when you will never sling creel or bag to shoulder if another can be found to carry them; never gaff or net a fish unless obliged in your own interests to do so, or in rendering friendly help to a comrade; never bow your shoulders to a load which another will bear; and when, as a matter of course, you will hand over your rod for the keeper to carry as you pass from pool to pool.
But though you may avoid superfluities, and entertain an instinctive horror of effeminate luxuries, there are some things quite necessary. Food comes first. The view of angling taken by comic men in the papers, and satirists out of them, is that eating and drinking are the principal amusement of anglers. The citizen party in a Thames punt on a hot summer day makes it so, very often, no doubt; and hence the caricatures of anglers who get a very small amount of fishing to an intolerable amount of sack. This is of course a cockney view of what, without offence, I will term a cockney proceeding. In the real angling of the ordinary river districts, I find that as many men wholly neglect their food as think too much about it. This, as I know from culpable personal experience, is a fault. It is, however, a greater fault to waste time in a set meal in the middle of a fishing day. Fortunately a kindred spirit will sympathise with us when the hospitable invitation to come up to the house to lunch is declined with thanks; but there are times when the duty has to be done, and it often happens that the summons comes at the precise time when sport is hot and high.
Get a good breakfast before starting; secure an honest dinner at the finish; but beware of heavy eating meanwhile. Keep going steadily with the rod through the livelong day, taking a slight repast as it were on the wing just to keep body and soul from premature separation. By this method you will remain in condition for your work, and have all the chances of sport that the time offers you. Sandwich boxes I have long forsworn, for, after the contents (which are seldom satisfactory) are gone, the awkward metal shell remains bulging out your pockets, or banging about in your basket. Once I tried to fish upon a small silver box filled with meat lozenges. It may have been as per prospectus of the manufacturers that I carried the essence of a flock of Southdowns in the waistcoat pocket, but the sheep after all did not seem to have a satisfactory effect, and a sucked lunch was not at all up to my sense of proportion. Then I tried cold chops, or sausages, carried in a fine white napkin; and very capital they are for the five minutes you allow yourselves on the bridge, or by the fallen log under the hedge, when tired nature suggests rest and refreshment. Afterwards I pinned my faith to a couple of home-made pasties, at the same time adhering to the fine napkin, which comes in very handy for sundry purposes when the fodder has disappeared. To anyone who likes the excitement of a domestic breeze, as a wind up to a fine day's sport, I can recommend nothing better than the steady use of the household serviette for drying the hands after the capture of every fish.
As to drink, that is too delicate a subject. My friend Halford, until he had a fishing box of his own, and could establish "regular meals," carried a flask of cold coffee without milk or sugar, and to this I pretended to attribute his keen and valuable observations upon fish and flies. One day I told him that it was all very well to imagine that his second edition was due to his own genius, or the consummate art of the lithographer; it was simply cold coffee neat that did it! Smoking you may indulge in to any extent while fishing if your habit lies that way, since the wind helps you materially in lessening the weight of the tobacco pouch. To smoke cigars, however, is a sinful waste of good material and of time, and cigarettes are a nuisance. Hence the proverbial love of the angler for the pipe, and the d—n—ble iteration of references to smoking in sporting literature.
Some of us, I fear, will never learn the lesson of care in the matter of clothes and boots. We make a boast of roughing it, of getting wet in the feet, of letting the rain work its will, until one morning we go grunting to our doctor to know what that twinge in the knee-joint or wandering sensation across the shoulders may mean. If you must get wet through, as will occasionally happen, do it manfully and even thoroughly while you are about it, taking due care to keep moving and to change everything at the earliest moment. The danger need, however, seldom be incurred. For uncertain weather have the waterproofs near; but a suit of really good cloth should be enough for passing showers.
The angling authors of the last generation invariably elaborated sumptuary laws in this respect, enjoining upon you special suits of different colours to tally with particular days. I would not recommend staring white for a chalk stream, but otherwise the colour is a thing of small consequence. A distinctive suit for fishing is money well spent; and the fly-fisher especially requires something more than the commonplace cut of jacket. For years a small paragraph at the bottom of one of the Field columns advertised a certain fly-fishing jacket, and I smiled at the notion that such an article could be anything different from the ordinary shooting coat or Norfolk jacket. It was said to have gusset sleeves, a fastening for the wrist, plenty of good pockets for fly books, and it would not work up round the neck in casting. Eventually I became the owner and wearer of one, and can say that in fly-fishing or spinning I never previously knew what real comfort in casting was.
Wading stockings and brogues are always worth using, either for fly-fishing, even if you do not require to wade, or for winter angling amongst the coarse fish. They keep you dry, and you can kneel on the grass or potter about amongst wet osiers, nettles, and rushes with impunity. The best hat for me has been one with a moderately soft and wide brim that may be turned down like a roof, to shoot off the rain behind, or to shelter the eyes from the sun in front. The felt fly-band is a very serviceable affair, but, to avoid taking off the hat, the user of eyed hooks may have a band of felt stitched round the upper part of the left arm. Above all, let the angler wear the best woollen underclothing, and in winter plenty of it.
Finally, brethren, and in conclusion, let me say that when fishing in light marching order one has to dispense with many odds and ends that are in themselves fisherman's comforts, though not precisely essentials. The "priest" wherewith to knock your fish on the head, the machine for weighing him on the spot, the spare boxes of tackle, the second rod, or joints, may be done without. If you bring yourself to study how little you require for a day's outing, it is astonishing how much you will by and by leave behind. We are prone, of course, to make arrangements for a great catch, both in numbers and weights; take a 23-lb. creel for bringing home a brace of pounders, enough tackle to last the season through, and each article on scale as to solidity. Once in a hundred times, and not more, will the result be equal to the preparation. Still, there is a sort of pleasure in being equal to any emergency, though at the cost of personal convenience.
THE SALMON AND THE KODAK
We had waited with exemplary patience for the dropping of the water. There had been a fairly heavy flood during the last week in February, but there would be no trouble with floating ice; that, at least, was a comfort when one remembered the cruel sufferings from exposure of the previous year. The Rowan Tree Pool is, in the early part of the spring season, a sure find for a fish if you can but catch it in the humour. The humour, however, does not last long, and you require to know that pool with the intimacy of personal experience to hit it at the right time; you have to study its countenance, and then, sooner or later, the afternoon will arrive when you say "Thank the stars; she will be in order to-morrow." This year the to-morrow when it did dawn admirably suited the purpose of two friends of mine who were in temporary possession of the Rowan Pool. Cold weather one takes as a matter of course, grumbling not if the wind be moderate and mackintoshes remain unstrapped.
The two points of congratulation were (1) that the pool was in perfect height and colour; and (2) that the light was good. The first condition was satisfactory for Grey, the angler, the second for Brown, the kodakeer. And herein lurks a necessity for explanation. Grey had one evening, at the Fly Fishers' Club, been much impressed with a violent tirade from a member about the generally incorrect way in which the ordinary black and white artist illustrates the fisherman in action, and had listened attentively as a group round the fire argued themselves into the conclusion that there was much more to be done with the photographic snapshot in angling than had ever yet been attempted. He looked about for a man of leisure who was an enthusiast with the camera, and skilful enough to get his living with it, should fate ever drive him to earning his bread and cheese. Such an amateur he at length discovered in Brown, and these were the two who, by nine o'clock in the morning, were at the head of the Rowan Pool; their plans prearranged in every detail; both men in excellent form, head, body, and spirit; and Burdock, the keeper, resigned to the innovation of photography which he sniffingly flouted as a piece of downright tomfoolery.
There was another character in the comedy of the day, a salmon fisher of some repute for skill, but disliked for his selfishness, cynicism, and overbearing assumption of mastership in the theory and practice of fishing. As he was ever laying down the highest standards of sport much was forgiven him. The men who used phantom, prawn, and worm, however much and often they were made to writhe under his sneers, felt that in maintaining the artificial fly as the only lure with which the noble salmon should be tempted, he was on a lofty plane, and, if not unassailable, had better be left there in his vain glory. They loved him none the more, of course, and spun, prawned, and wormed as before, honestly envying just a little the purist whose fly undoubtedly often justified his claims. His beat was a mile higher up the river than the Rowan Pool, and he is here introduced because on this morning Grey and Brown gave him a lift in their wagonette, and dropped him at the larch plantation so that he might, by the short cut of a woodland path, attain the hut in the middle of his beat. Before climbing over the stile he exhibited the big fly which he had selected as the likely killer for the day, and offered Grey one if he preferred it. Grey, however, had his own fancies, and declined with thanks; there was a mutual chanting of "So long; tight lines," and the purist went off to his hut and the rod which he kept there.
Brown, with his compact paraphernalia, was put across from the lower end of the pool to the right bank. This was necessary for his share of the day's work, which was to take snapshots of his friend operating from the left shore. The fishing part of the Rowan Pool was directly under a rocky cliff opposite, and the position for the kodakeer was a clump of bushes on a small natural platform half-way down. From this elevation he could look into the deep water where the salmon was generally found, and could command the entire pool with his apparatus. Grey's side was an easily-sloping shingle with firm foothold out of the force of the stream, an assuring advantage to a man who had to wade within a foot of his armpits.
"Are you there?" by and by shouted Grey, looking across to the bushy ledge of the cliff. "Yes, and all ready," replied Brown, so well concealed that the angler had to look twice to discover him. It was a full water, and every cast that would send the fly to its place must be close upon thirty yards. Whatever may be pretended to the contrary, this is mighty fine throwing when it is done time after time; and Grey, having fruitlessly fished his pool down twice with different flies, waded ashore.
Had Brown seen sign of a fish? No, he had not. The fly had worked beautifully over the best part of the pool, and fished every inch of the run known to be the lie of the fish. Had Brown taken any good shots? Yes; he had been snapping Grey ever since he entered the water. "Then," said Grey, "I'll fish the pool below, and give you an hour's spell. If you move, do it as quietly as you can." "All right," said the kodakeer; "it is not very cold; I'll have a smoke and a read, and won't move at all unless I get cramped or frozen."
Brown enjoyed his book, suffering no sort of discomfort; he lazily smoked his pipe and thought how much better it was to be listening to the twitter of the birds, watching the clouds of rooks wheeling over the distant wood, and resting in peace, than slaving with an 18-ft. rod and straining every muscle in the effort to dispatch the unheeded fly across the big water to the core of the pool (for fishing purposes) under the cliff. Then, down out of sight went his meerschaum, for beyond the stile appeared the face of the great purist, who looked cautiously around, stepped stealthily over, laid down his rod, walked a little down stream to a point whence he could see the half-visible figure of Grey very clear in the noonday light in the water of the next pool. Then he returned and waded in to fish the Rowan.
"Here's a chance for the Kodak," muttered the witness, shrinking into cover, and scarcely breathing lest his hiding-place should be revealed.
The purist was too intent upon his design of fishing another man's pool once down, without loss of time, to look about him carefully. The coast was so obviously clear. Brown therefore took snapshots, a round dozen, of what followed: (1) A fisherman armed with a 12-ft. spinning rod, wading into the water at the precise bit of shingle previously trodden by Grey; (2) a guilty-looking man, looking up and down stream before making the first cast of a full-sized blue phantom; (3) the act of casting, well done, and dropping the bait in the exact place required; (4) the steady winding in of the line with the rod-point kept low; (5) the phantom and its triangles dangling a yard from the rod-point in mid-air, in pause for a fresh cast; (6) the bend of the rod as a hooked fish set the winch a-scream; (7) the figure of a dripping salmon curved in a fine leap out of water; (8) the retreat of the purist to dry shingle, playing the fish the while with a cool, strong hand; (9) the tailing out of the fish (with a backward view of the fisherman); (10) the slaying of the salmon with a blow from a pebble on the back of the head; (11) attention to tackle and removal of phantom, fish lying in background; (12) disappearance of the purist over the stile, dead fish suspended by the right hand, hanging for a moment on near side as fisherman clambered down the off side of stile.
The three men met later at the rendezvous for the wagonette. Grey and Brown were waiting in a state of suppressed hilarity as the other emerged from the plantation, placidly carrying his salmon by a piece of looped cord.
"Any sport?" he asked. Grey explained that he had had none—not a rise all day. Yet he had fished the Rowan Pool carefully twice down, and the other pool also.
"What did he take?" asked Brown, pointing to the bright little 10-pounder. The purist did not trouble to reply in words; he merely pointed to the fly left in the mouth of the fish.
"My fingers were numbed," he said presently in a casual sort of way; "and, as the gut broke off at the head, I just left it there."
There was a touch of suspicion, not to say alarm, in the look of amazement with which the purist received the shrieks of laughter which simultaneously burst from the other two.
"Pardon me," at length spluttered Brown, "but it is so dashed funny." Then Grey exploded again, and the purist looked from one to the other.
"Well, well, come along," Brown said at last. There was not a word spoken during the drive. The echoes were awakened once, on the brow of the last hill, by the kodakeer, who, without any apparent cause, exploded with laughter and held his sides. "Pardon me," he remarked, "but it really is—Oh, lord, hold me!" (Explosion renewed.)
Before alighting at the porch of the hotel, Brown called a halt as the other two rose to step down from the wagonette. "Let me take a last shot, please! Do you mind holding the fish up for a moment?" asked he. Snap! and the thing was done.
"Thanks awfully," said the operator. "That's my thirteenth shot. Oh, lord, but it is so funny." And the welkin rang with what seemed to be the mirth of a lunatic. Then Brown wiped the moisture from his eyes and recovered his breath.
"Shall we wet your salmon inside?" asked Grey, very quietly, and with a seriousness not obviously germane to a festive occasion.
"Certainly, why not?" answered its captor, much puzzled.
The three men, the door being shut by Grey, after the maid had left the room, drank to each other. "You'll take that fly out before you send the salmon away," said Grey suavely.
"Why should I?" curtly answered the culprit, by this time white-faced enough.
"Well," was the reply, "I'll say nothing about your sneaking down and fishing my pool when my back was turned, nor even about your poaching my fish with a big phantom; but we can't have you make it the text of a discourse on the virtues of fly fishing."
"The fact is," added Brown, "I have thirteen snapshots of the whole business, and if they develop as I expect they will, they will make an admirable series under the general title of 'Spinning for Salmon in the Rowan Pool.' I began with you as you waded in, and finished with you holding up the poached fish with the fly in its mouth. As Grey says, we'll forgive you the rest, but can't stand the fly. That means hypocrisy as well as lying."
The purist was wise enough to say never a word. He jerked out and retained the fly, left the salmon on the floor, walked softly out, and had vanished by next day.
HALFORD AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES
The story of Halford's life has been well told by himself in the Autobiography, published in 1903, and it would be with a pained amazement that the wide circle of readers who knew him and of him received the shock of his announced death in the daily papers. They will, I am sure, be sadly interested in the brief story of the close of that life under circumstances that were unspeakably pathetic. Mr. Halford was in the habit of escaping our English winter by going to the sunshine of resorts like the Riviera, Egypt, or Algiers, and this year went to Tunis with his only son Ernest, his inseparable companion on all such voyages. They had a good holiday, and Halford was in excellent health, full of life and energy, keenly enjoying the Orientalism of the place, and very busy with his camera.
"Tunis is a remarkably busy, bustling sort of place"—he says in a letter to me dated February 13 from the Majestic Hotel—"very Eastern, with the usual accompanying stinks, and most interesting to us. I have taken a good many photos, but am a bit doubtful about them, and do not know why. But—well, we shall see. They have made Ernest an hon. member of the Lawn Tennis Club (he is now Colonel Halford), so he gets plenty of exercise, and the other members are great sportsmen. Indeed, this is the most manifest development I notice amongst the French of today."
The Halfords left Tunis for home on February 24 in bad weather, and a wretched boat, and F. M. H., always a good sailor, was the only gentleman aboard who could appear at meals. At Marseilles, reached on the 26th, Ernest and his father separated, the former to make a business call at Paris, the latter to finish the voyage to London on the P. and O. Morea, which sailed on the 28th, arriving at Gibraltar on March 2 (Monday). Halford had found an old friend, Dr. Nicholson, amongst the Morea passengers, and was greatly enjoying his voyage; that day took part in a game of quoits, and cabled from Gibraltar, "Excellent voyage. All well. Best love." After leaving Gibraltar he felt out of sorts, and the ship's doctor and Dr. Nicholson, acting together, found him somewhat feverish. Symptoms of a chill developed, and on Tuesday he was no better, but after a temporary improvement became worse. Pneumonia succeeded, and so rapidly strengthened that on Wednesday morning the patient dictated a message, and in the afternoon the doctors, by wireless telegram, informed his family at home of his condition, and asked them to meet the boat. Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Halford, Dr. C. R. Box, and Mr. Bertie Brown accordingly caught the midnight train to Plymouth, rushed on board a tender that was on the point of starting, and boarded the Morea at just before nine o'clock. Mr. Halford was able to recognise his son and daughter, conversed a little at intervals, but with difficulty, and became alarmingly worse after a slight rally about one o'clock. He was passing away peacefully during the afternoon as the ship came up the Thames, and died in his son's arms as she was entering Tilbury Docks.
No man is perfect; many are perfect in parts; some are almost perfect. But the broad fact faces us that we must not say of any man that he is perfect. There is a word, however, that years ago I applied to my friend when I had learned to know and form a loving estimate of him. He was thorough—thorough in his likes and dislikes, in his work, in his play, in great things, in small things, in his common sense, in the things he knew, in the things he did, in his many merits, in the clear mind that planned no less than the deft hand that executed, in the privacy of the home, and in the brazen bustle of the world of business. That is how I long looked at F. M. Halford. He was just a specimen of a real man, the man you can respect, admire, and trust; and, should you know him well enough, you may add your love without being foolish. I grant you Halford was one of those men who require knowing, but that is another matter. It was my good fortune to be an intimate friend of over thirty years' standing. I was asked to supply the Field with this "appreciation"; for me, therefore, it is to justify my high opinion, and to praise him. This I do with all my heart, keeping myself in hand nevertheless the while, and not permitting the dolour of Willesden Cemetery to act in favour of him there laid to his rest.
But a man may be thorough, and at the same time we should not object if he kept his thoroughness all to himself. Halford was not of that kind. He was a delightful companion—generous, big-hearted, amusing, a sayer of good things in a human way, and finely opinionated, which, of course, was not a serious matter when he expected and liked you to be opinionated also. He was a dangerous man to tackle in argument if your knowledge of the subject was rickety. He was emphatically what is termed a well-informed man, for that thoroughness of his stamped his knowledge, and ruled his memory. You might not always agree with him, but could seldom floor him, the ground he stood upon being rock-solid. As both a giver and taker of chaff he was an adept. He had the courage of his opinions, and none wiser than he when it was best to keep opinions an unknown quantity. In travelling or by the waterside he was wonderfully helpful if help was good for you—perhaps, if anything, too helpful, though I cannot conceive a more pardonable fault than that. Aye, Halford was verily a fine fellow.
An important note to register in thinking of Halford is that he was one upon whom fortune smiled. That makes a vast difference probably in the shape a man will assume as he gets over the dividing range and goes down the other side towards the cold river. In this respect, H. had every reason to be grateful for blessings bestowed, and freely said so. He had, of course, his ups and downs, and his part in life's battle; but while still in the prime of life he had, so far as one could see, achieved all that a reasonable man could desire. He could go from a happy home in the West End to his club; as, per wish or mood, could wander on Swiss mountains or by Italian lakes; and, above everything, could have and hold his choice bit of fishing. In his younger days he was a great opera-goer, and never lost his fondness for music; he was an officer in the City Artillery Volunteers, and was thorough in that, and there is a silver cup that notifies his prowess at the rifle butts.
Need it be said that Halford's ante-chamber to paradise was his fisheries? He was not himself a hard fisher, being content with two or three hours in the forenoon (ten to one, as a rule) and the evening rise. It might be wondered how the time could be passed in that case. There need not be wonderment. He was not under the necessity, like so many of us, of crowding a maximum of fishing into a minimum of time. His fishing visits signified taking quarters and fishing the season through, a succession of friends sharing the pleasure. The host would be looking patiently after his water, collecting insects, carrying out experiments, making notes, concerning himself with banks and weeds—filling the days to the full with useful occupation, which, of course, gave a zest to his actual fishing when he took it. Within a fortnight of his death he was to take up his quarters at Dunbridge for the season; all arrangements were made, and Coxon, the faithful keeper, was ready to point out what had been done during the winter. And Coxon was one of the mourners at the Saturday's funeral in the Jewish Cemetery at Willesden.
It will be of interest and useful here to announce that Mr. Ernest Halford, after long consideration of what his father's wish would be, decided to maintain the fishery in all respects as it had been maintained since the beginning of the tenancy. Mr. Halford was immensely popular in the Mottisfont district, and I may mention that they had given a great ovation to his son and grandson on occasions when they attended or presided at the annual dinners to the tenants and workpeople on the fishery. That grandson, Halford always believed, would by and by develop the family fishing traditions. The young gentleman was meanwhile at Clifton College, and had already killed his brace of rainbow trout, which his father had preserved for the collection in the gallery at Pembridge Place; and these, at my last visit to him at home, F. M. H. showed me, beaming with pride. His pride also took the form of setting the head of the firm of Hardy Brothers to the making of a special rod to fit the young Cliftonian's hand.
To the advantage of ample means should be added in happy sequence that Halford had, on the whole, robust health to enjoy his fishing. His regular habits of living, and common sense in food and matters of hygiene kept him in excellent condition. Early rising and early bed-going were his rule at home and abroad. Truly, he was in these matters captain of both soul and body. Then his good fortune shone in his happy home life. After the death of Mrs. Halford a few years ago, it was feared the effect upon her husband would be abiding cause for anxiety. As time went on, however, a new era dawned; the son had married a lady who was, from the first, "puppetty's" best chum; bonnie grandchildren arrived to make much of "puppetty," a charming house was taken for the united home, and there was sunshine again. It was sweet to see the contented grandfather in the midst of it and witness the devotion of the young people to him.
Amongst anglers in the English-speaking world Halford has been long known as the apostle—nay, the Gamaliel of what is called "The Dry Fly School." It is said that he reduced dry-fly fishing to a science. By some he is ranked as the arch-type of the dry-fly purist, by which word, I suppose, is meant the pushing of a theory to an extreme. Certainly of late years devotion to the fly-rod admitted of no allurements in other directions, and henceforth Halford will be generally known, as he has been known since he took rank as master, as a first authority on the one branch of our sport. Yet he reached that position through the love and practice of every kind of fishing—in short, through his enthusiasm as an "all-round angler," as it is the custom to formularise the general practitioner of our sport. Even as a boy-angler, however, he showed his inherent tendency to inquire, and understand, and improve; he worked out the mysteries of the Nottingham style on the Thames, and the betterment of sea fishing tackle with the same ingenuity, perseverance, and success as in after years attended his studies of chalk stream insects, their artificial imitations, and the perfecting of the tackle demanded by the highest class of fly-fishing. Let it not, however, be forgotten that he was never out of sympathy with any class of angler or angling. If he appeared indifferent to forms of angling loved by others, it was simply that he placed his own first. In angling, it was trout and grayling fishing that mattered most. He adopted it as his choice, and clung to it.
People were just getting accustomed to the word "dry-fly" when Halford began his career as a scientific exponent of the art to which he devoted so many years of work and study. This was in the late sixties, and he took trout fever on the pellucid Wandle, at that time a beautiful stream with good store of singularly handsome trout, and a regular company of gentlemen fly-fishers. The dry-fly men were, however, few, for the eyed-hook was not in fashion, and the custom, not only on the Wandle, but on other chalk streams, was to use the finest gut attachments to flies that were dressed for floating.
It was so like Halford to listen with all his ears to the advice of the few who urged the advantage of the dry fly. Anything in the shape of an improvement upon something that existed was like red rag to a bull to him, and he went for the new idea with all his heart. He also went for the line which was the standard of perfection to our forefathers, and I must confess that the love of the familiar silk and hair line, with which we of the old guard learned how to cast a fly, abides with me to this day, and with it I, for one, can associate the hair cast, and a certain ancient pony up in Yorkshire who was famous for his never-failing tail supply of the best white strands, which were considered indispensable by the fishers of all Wharfedale. Halford, however, objected to the line, which certainly was given to waterlogging and sagging at inconvenient times, and eagerly he took up the dressing of modern lines. He had a hand in all the developments of the process, and only declared himself satisfied when the Hawksley line was perfected, leaving others to this day who are aiming at still more betterment.
How Halford accumulated his experience, building up a fabric so to speak, brick by brick, is told in the Autobiography and the other books written by him; and I may, in passing, suggest that in reading Halford in these volumes you must always read very carefully between the lines. You never know when you will find a pearl. The apparently prosaic statement often contains a valuable lesson, and what seems to be a sentence merely recording the capture of a trout of given inches and ounces will be found to have been written with the object of sustaining an argument or enforcing a truth.
The story in the Autobiography of the fishing on the Wandle in those early years is an instance in point. It is quite a short narrative destitute of embroidery, and seemingly a casual introduction to what shall come after, but it is in reality a revelation of the practical methods that governed him from first to last, and which I venture to sum up in one word "thorough." There is a paragraph telling how he overcame a difficulty in circumventing a certain trout that lay about the mouth of a culvert, and habitually flouted the Wandle rods. Halford made it a problem and solved it at the opening of his second Wandle season. He studied the position, obtained the necessary permission to put white paint on a patch of branches, have them cut down during the winter, and next season went down with his plan of campaign in his head. Of course, it succeeded. On the face of it you here have just an ordinary incident with nothing much in it. But it emphasises the value of the horizontal cast and something of its secret, while the kernel of the nut is the fact that it illustrates the efficiency of using the wrist and not the length of the arm in casting.
You will again and again find Halford's wisdom as if carelessly thrown down upon a bald place. Some of the critics in the daily press were fond of saying of his books, "Yes, yes: this is all very good no doubt, but it does look as if page after page is simply a monotonous recital of catching trout that are very much alike by processes that have a strong family likeness." A careless surveyor of the page perhaps would think in this way, and never for the life of him perceive the point sought to be made by the writer of the book.
Halford was an angler from his youth upwards, and himself tells us that by his family he was considered "fishing mad," which, as so many of my readers may remember, is the orthodox manner in which the young enthusiast is classified by the unbelievers of his family. He fished often and in various places as a youth, but it was not till he became a member of the Houghton Club water on the Test that he plunged into his life-work for anglers. The date may be given as 1877, and the fire was kindled by being on the river one April day, and witnessing one of those marvellous rises of grannom that might once be relied upon every season on the Test. Many of us who still linger have seen this phenomenon, only equalled by the hatch of Mayfly in the Kennet Valley twenty years ago. Just as clouds of Mayfly would greet you on the railway platforms between Reading and Hungerford, flying into the open windows, clinging to the lamp-posts and seats, so at Houghton and Stockbridge the shucks of the grannom would drift into eddies and collect almost as solid as a weed-bed. Such things are not to be seen now, and have not been seen for years.
From the swaddling clothes of the risen grannom, cast thus upon the surface of the water by the insect made perfect, Halford turned to the artificial imitations then in use. They were of importance in those days, for the grannom was an institution much regarded, and the grannom season was held in high esteem. Anglers packed their kit and hurried away when the grannom was signalled up. There were as many patterns of the artificial grannom as there are to-day of the March brown, and it was because Halford found them of varying forms and colourings, and not a really good imitation of the natural fly amongst them all, that he resolved to learn how to dress a fly for himself. His stores of patience were heavily taxed in the preliminary stages, and the victory came only after a long battle with difficulties. The standard volumes he produced on the subject of dressing, and the kindred subject of the entomological side of it, are conclusive evidence of what came of it all. "Halford as a fly-dresser," however, is a topic too big to handle in a chapter which merely aims at rambling recollections of him by the waterside, and indeed it can only be dealt with by a master in the art of fly-dressing.
In his early days at Houghton, Halford went to John Hammond's shop in Winchester just before the opening of the 1879 fishing season to buy flies, and there met, and was introduced by the rubicund John to, a tall, not to say gaunt, gentleman, who was the most famous of the Hampshire trout fishers, none other than Marryat himself. This was the beginning of a close, life-long friendship between the two men. Halford was at all times most grateful to any helper, and never failed freely to acknowledge assistance received. Whether he took advice proffered or not was another matter; he sometimes did it all the same, but he was always grateful. Words would fail to describe his appreciation of such co-workers as Marryat at the beginning, and Williamson at the end of the labours which are embodied in the series of books which preceded the Autobiography. They were co-workers in everything; hard workers, too. I have heard men lightly joke about these worthies going about the meadows with a bug-net and lifting individual ephemerals from the surface of the stream. Let those laugh that win. It meant collecting hundreds of tiny insects, selecting the fittest, preparing, preserving, and mounting them. It meant the endless autopsy of fish and the patient searching of their entrails. To stand by while Halford and Marryat with their scissors, forceps, and whatnot laid out the contents of a trout's stomach, and bent low in separating and identifying the items, putting what were worthy of it under a microscope, and proceeding all the while as if the round world offered no other pursuit half so worthy of concentrated attention, was most fascinating. Many a time was I a spectator—I fear sometimes an irreverent one—of this ritual, but always privileged and welcome; always, of course, sympathetic, and always in a way envious of the qualities of mind and extraordinary knowledge which made the whole work a labour of love to them.
It so fell out that two days after the meeting in John Hammond's shop the parties met at Houghton, and the first of many foregatherings took place that day in the well-remembered Sheep-bridge hut—Marryat, Francis, Carlisle ("South-West"), and Halford. Halford had rooms in the neighbourhood, and, in his own words, there this historical quartette would "hold triangular fishing colloquies," "South-West" having his home up the river at Stockport. Francis was the first of the trio to fall out, his last casts being on his beloved Sheep-bridge shallow. Halford's quarters were now at the mill at Houghton, and it was my privilege to take Francis Francis's vacant place there, as also in another place.
What ambrosial nights we had in the homely millhouse after untiring days with our rods! It was there that I insisted upon my host becoming a contributor to the Field, and he required considerable persuasion. Indeed, the suggestion roused him into one of his dogmatic disputations, and he held on tenaciously, till, taking up my bedroom candle, I said, "Well, I'm off to bed. You've got my opinion and my advice, and, if you don't write that article you are a so-and-so. Good night, old chap, sleep on it." Next morning I was taking my ante-breakfast pipe on a cartwheel in the shed outside, and listening to the diapason of the mill, when Halford came out. "All right, sonny," he said, "I'll try it, but candidly I ha'e ma doots." This was how the first "Detached Badger" article came to appear in the Field. Walsh, the famous "Stonehenge," was editor of the paper then, and he stuck for a while at the pseudonym which Halford chose. But he was the best fellow in the world, and very soon good-humouredly gave in and left it to me. Walsh, nevertheless, would always make merry over that signature, and used with a twinkle of his eye to ask me whether my friend the Badger was quite well.
And what a delightful fishing companion the Badger was! Perhaps for the first two years at Houghton the pleasure was just a little tempered with one insignificant drawback. I had not then been long a dry-fly practitioner, and was terribly ashamed for H. to watch me fishing. 'Tis thirty years back, yet I acutely remember my nervousness on that point. Having got his brace or so of fish, and finished his studies of water, rise of fly, weeds and weather, and neatly (and oh! so orderly and accurately!) made his entries in his little notebook, he loved to play gillie to his friend for hours together, criticise his style of fishing, and give advice; naturally, after a time, if you are nervous, you are certain of one thing only: that you are the king of asses, and had better imitate the immortal colonel who hurled his book of salmon flies into the pool shouting "Here, take the bally lot." The droll thing was that Halford never dreamed that his chum was put out by his good intentions, or that the victim's feeble smiles were but a mask for nerve-flutters.
One hot day I was over-tired and nakedly accomplished everything that was wrong; the backward cast caught buttercups and daisies, the forward throw fouled the sedges, the underhand cut landed line and cast in a heap on the water, the fish was put down, the whole shallow scared. Halford stood behind amiably commenting upon the bungling operations, and then I uprose from a painful knee and delivered myself of remarks. Well; yes, I let myself go, and let him "have it." The amazement of Halford; his contrition; the colour that spread over his countenance (you will remember how prettily he could blush with that complexion of his, delicate as a woman in his last days); these sufficiently told me that he had not the ghost of an idea of the perturbation that had been seething in me. It took him the rest of the week to cease regretting that he had been so unobservant, and never again during the remaining eight-and-twenty years that we fished together at different times and in divers places did he once depart from his resolve "never to do so no more." During our long and happy acquaintance that was the only cloud flitting over the sunshine of our friendship, and it was one of my making.
After Houghton there was a farmhouse at Headbourne Worthy, and a season's fishing in the Itchen, and later Halford fished a good deal below Winchester, where Cooke, Daniels, and Williamson had private waters. But after Houghton the most notable preserve to be mentioned was the Ramsbury water on the Kennet. The inspiration of "Making a Fishery" came from that, for the four friends who leased the water—Basil Field, Orchardson, R.A., N. Lloyd, and Halford—earnestly addressed themselves to the reformation of a fishery that had become depreciated. They spent much money, and carried out operations with a lavish hand for four seasons. The story has been fully narrated by Halford, and the conclusion (p. 217, Autobiography) is in these words:—"We had perhaps been extravagant in our expenditure, and also over-sanguine as to the probable result. The river when we took possession swarmed with pike and dace, and had a few trout in the lower part, and in the upper was fairly stocked. When we gave it up the pike had been practically exterminated, and every yard of the river was fully stocked with trout of strains far superior to the indigenous slimy, yellow Salmo fario of the Kennet."
The plain fact was that at the end of four years four of the best of our dry-fly fishers gave up a water of which they had become very fond because the trout did not rise at the little floating fly that appeared, and the sport had decreased to a marked degree. A fishery that gave poor and diminishing results, even with the Mayfly, sedge, and Welshman's button, was not suitable for dry-fly experts, and the Ramsbury experiment was abandoned. The moral has yet to be drawn, and I have not yet seen anyone grapple at close quarters with the question of cause and effect with the Ramsbury experiment as a test. "Making a Fishery" sets down in detail what was done; the Autobiography tells what came of it. Being one of those who has not faltered in the belief that the clearing out of coarse fish, the introduction of new strains of trout, and the artificial feeding of fish may be overdone, I used to discuss the matter with Halford, but he did not agree with me.
Having known the Ramsbury water before the reformation was undertaken, I can testify that I seldom at any time saw a good rise of duns upon it, and that a basket of trout more or less was, notwithstanding, a reasonable certainty there under ordinarily favourable circumstances, spite of pike and dace. I have with the wet fly, on days when no floating fly was coming down, caught my two or three brace of trout with some such pattern as Red Spinner, Governor, Alder, or Coachman for the evening; indeed, if I remember correctly, it was on a six-brace day with the "Red Spinner" on this water that, enamoured of that artificial, I annexed its name for a series of articles contributed in 1874 to the Gentleman's Magazine, and have held by it ever since. Foli, the opera-singer, once caught three half-pounders at a cast, and the keeper netted them all, on this fishery.
One evening we met at Ramsbury, after an afternoon without sign of fly or rising trout. Halford and Basil Field were there, and we stood and bewailed the absence of duns and lack of sport. We loitered there with our rods spiked, and smoked sadly. I then, and not for the first time, repeated the tale of my former experiences, and at last begged Halford not to be shocked, not to think me an unforgivable brute, but would he give me free permission to try the wet fly in the old way, and without prejudice. He at first laughingly protested, but saying he would ne'er consent, consented. I was to do my best or worst. The difficulty was to find a fly that could be fished wet, and in the end a Red Spinner on a No. 1 hook was forthcoming. I thereupon followed the old plan, except that there was one instead of two flies, and caught a brace of three-quarter pounders before we had moved fifty yards down the meadow. They were the only trout taken that day.
CASUAL VISITS TO NORWAY
It must be confessed that there is something really casual in the use of such a word to head these sketches of my angling visits to Norway, and the excuse is that it is appropriate as a keynote. The punishment in a word fits the crime. Those visits, between 1889 and 1905 were only occasional, a makeshift. The proper way to fish Norway is to spend the fishing season there, living amongst the people and the rivers. The casual visitor would always envy him who lived in the Norwegian cottage fragrant with its deal boards into which he loved to stick his flies when they had to be dried, or retouched with varnish or whipping, and where somewhere outside he could keep his rods in security and order when they were put together say in June, and kept ready till they were packed up for the voyage home when the season was over.
The fascination of Norway grew to be very strong amongst anglers and tourists by the sixties of the last century, and continued to grow until all the conditions were violently upset by the catastrophe of the reign of the devil engineered by Germany. The fascination will not be forgotten with the return of peace. It will lay hold of us again, and for the same reasons as before. The ordinary traveller will as before find in the scenery and ways of the people the old fascination of contrast.
It might, however, be remarked that the fascination of Norway to the angler somewhat changed as time proceeded into the nineteenth century. Early in the century it was known to the few as the paradise of the salmon fisherman. It remained without any great change for something like a generation, and, like Scotland and Ireland in a lesser degree, was not overrun. In those days only the rich could afford the time and money which travel and sport without railways demanded. The railways came, and with them a wonderful transformation of the world's habit and custom. The growth of the Press in journalism and literature ranged abreast of improved facilities for going afar, and the choice preserves of the angler were, all in the order of things, invaded.
Part of the fascination of Norway to the angler fifty years ago was the cheapness of it. The man who talked to his friends of "my river in Norway" paid but a few pounds a year for it; as the native farmer had not yet been exploited, he retained the simple notions of his class, and was mostly amused that the Englishman should take such trouble about the salmon, which were of such small account to him. It is common knowledge that this desirable state of things is past history, and there is no need to waste words, or pipe laments, or (to descend to homely metaphor) cry over spilt milk.
The change came home to me on deck one night in the North Sea with striking insistence. We were returning from fishing in Norway, and no one, after a particularly bad season of "no water," seemed inclined to be enthusiastic about the fascination of Norway; one sorrowful gentleman, however, told me in hushed tones that his seven weeks on a hired river had cost him 300 pounds, and for that and all his skill and toil he had been rewarded with two salmon, three grilse, and one sea trout. That, of course, was the extreme of ill-fortune, and might occur to anyone anywhere. The truth is there are still fine chances for salmon in Norway, and excellent chances for trout if you have the gift of searching for rivers and lakes in remote districts. The fascinations of the characteristic scenery, the comparatively unspoiled people, and the rich legendary past remain.
It is quite possible that the distance between Great Britain and Norway is somewhat in the direction of fascination. If you go there for a fishing holiday you are entitled to talk about seafaring matters. It is not a mere crossing; it is a voyage, and I have known men get a F.R.G.S. on the strength of it. On my first visit it did strike me on my return that five days to reach your river and five to return, was paying a fair price, apart from the fares (which were indeed reasonable enough), for ten days' clear fishing, and I would suggest to the reader to make his stay on the fishing ground as long as he possibly can, so that the journey may seem worth while. Justice cannot be done to Norway, its fish, or yourself under a month. There is not much to choose between the two routes, the one from Hull, the other from Newcastle, but care must be taken to time the arrival at the chief ports to suit the smaller steamers that traverse the fiords. The North Sea passage has its caprices of weather, but it is not very protracted. If you leave port on Saturday night, by breakfast time on Monday you are threading between the rocks that introduce you to Stavanger. That same night you are (wind and weather permitting) at Bergen, and thence next day you are going up the beautiful fiords to the river of your choice amidst surroundings that are nowadays the property of the picture postcard.
In the short Norwegian summer great variations in weather must be expected, and in the valleys I have experienced downpours of rain and spells of heat equal to what I knew in the tropics. But as a rule the angler has little to complain of. The warmer the air and the brighter the sun the better in reason for the glacier-fed rivers, but let no one wish for such floods as are caused by heavy rain in association with warm winds. Out of my four visits one only was seriously marred by wet weather, and that was nothing like so provoking as another year when there was no rain, and yet no generous contributions to the rivers from glacier or mountain. Even in July the rain is occasionally emphasised by bitterly cold wind, and should your place that day be in a boat there is little pleasure. An ordinary mackintosh is useless, and hours of casting in solid oilskin and sou'-wester become irksome what time the clouds press heavily down upon you and the rugged mountains frown right and left.
The one consolation rendered imperative under such circumstances by poetic justice is a continual carolling from the suddenly agitated winch. Fishermen forget this sentiment when they denounce the clamour of the check and lay all their money on the silent reel. After an hour of swish, swish, without touch from a fish, the scream of a winch is like hymns in the night. However, let that pass. The point is you must be prepared for heat and cold, wet and dry. I remember one morning when, going out of our snug farmhouse in the valley to reconnoitre, I found three or four poor cottagers cutting down their wretched oats and snipping off their 3-in. growth of hay in a cruel north wind, with the mountain tops white with new snow. A week previously we had been sweltering in moist heat, and it was the only time I ever saw a mosquito in Norway.
The right-minded salmon fisher will always give first place to casting from the bank, with or without waders. On some rivers such casting is from rocks or boulders, and the work here is of the hardest, since it means severe scrambling and slipping to pass from pool to pool. It is, besides, a hazardous foothold that you get now and then. The remembrance of half an hour in such a position has given me the shivers many a time since. There tumbled over stupendous rocks upheaving masses of pure white foam, true type of the great foss of the Norwegian river in all its thunder and impetuous onrush. They poured into a rock-hollowed basin of churning foam and smoking spray. It was a turbulent oval pool, roaring and racing on either side, and narrowing somewhat at the tail, where it leaped a barrier of boulders and became a succession of rapids. The middle of this pool was, however, comparatively tranquil, very deep, and more like an eddy than a stream. This was the lie of the salmon, and there was said to be always one there. To fish this maelstrom you waded across a platform of shallow paved with slippery boulders bushel basket size, and stood in rough water about a foot deep on a narrow ledge of rock protruding a yard or so into the pool. It was deep enough beneath to drown an elephant; the din of that roaring foss and the swirl of the waters bordered on vertigo and deafness. But there it was to take or leave.
Taken with good heart, after a thorough testing of tackle (the motto being "Hold on for dear life"), the big Butcher failed to attract, and I floundered ashore and sat on a rock before trying again with a Wilkinson. That trial succeeded, for the line was rushed out and across some twenty yards. The butt of the rod was then sternly presented, and thereafter no line of more length than five yards could be allowed. Every muscle strained, I literally leaned back solidly against the bent rod for a full quarter of an hour, the fish below meantime moving in circles or sulking. The gaffing was most cleverly done by the good man who had never left my side, and I staggered out, backed on to a mossy patch, and sank to ground exhausted and panting. That capture stands out as my most thrilling episode in Norway.
The more frequent occurrence is a foreshore of shingle, much or little according to the volume of water, and here wading trousers are indispensable, and I dare venture to say they are to the majority of anglers wholly delightful. In waders somehow you feel very good. The opportunities for wading on many of the large rivers are, however, limited, the boat being a necessity for both salmon and sea trout. It is the only way of casting over the fish. The boats are often too skittish for comfort, though they are never so slight as the Canadian canoe. You step ashore to finish conclusions with your fish, and when your gaffsman is a village worthy who leaves his ordinary occupations to gillie the stranger, accidents are not uncommon. Does one ever forget the swiping at the cast instead of at the salmon by the honest fellow who so much tries to please you, or the losses caused by sheer inexperience or natural stupidity?
The finest sea trout of my life ought to have been lost to me by this sort of blundering. I had, as I thought, drilled the worthy cobbler at least into the duty of keeping cool and combining vigour with deliberation. I was casting from a grassy bank overhung with alders, and the fish was well hooked on a Bulldog salmon fly. He ran hard and far down-stream, but was checked in time and reeled slowly up. After a quarter of an hour's play he was under the rod point, Johan all the while dancing with the excitement of the keen sportsman. I kept him off till the fish was spent and feebly gyrating at my feet. Then I gave the sign, and he swooped at him with a ferocious stroke, falling backward in the rebound. Just one word I uttered (spell it with three, not four, letters), and implored him to be calm. Then he hit the fish on the head with the back of the gaff. In the silence of despair I resigned myself as he smote again; he actually now gaffed the fish, but seemed too paralysed to lift him up the low bank. However, I dropped the rod and snatched the gaff out of his hands, to discover that the strangest thing in my experience had happened. The fish was gaffed clean through the upper lip. The point of the gaff lay side by side with my fly, the only difference being that the former was clean through and the latter nicely embedded in the mouth. It was a sea trout a fraction over 13 lb.
An unkind fate declines to give me the month of August in its entirety for a holiday; and the best I can do is to catch the steamer on Saturday night, August 19. Salmon, so late as this, are not always to be reckoned upon, and the best part of the sea trout run might be over before I reach my destination. Certain data with the talisman "Brevkort Gra Norge" had come to hand during that tropical fortnight under which London experienced a wondrous spell of melting moments. They were cheery messages of good sport and rosy prospects upon the salmon and sea trout rivers of Norway, all sound material for hopeful musing in the pleasant run from Hull to the Norwegian coast.
The visit on which I invite the reader to share my introduction to the country was very memorable. Five days to reach your fishing ground, as I said before, represent a fair price, in labour and time, for, at the outside, ten clear fishing days. We leave Hull at ten o'clock on Saturday night. After a sweltering day the sky is wonderfully brilliant with stars, the air undisturbed by even the faintest zephyr. The minutest of the myriad lights that glow where there are wharves and shipping are abnormally clear: and the dingy docks, in that atmosphere, under the lamps of the streets and houses, give somewhat Venetian effects. Outside is a summer sea, and the whole passage, in a ship which, if not large, is wholesome and comfortable, and officered by people who are never weary of ministering to your wishes, is pleasant.
On Monday morning at breakfast time you are passing through the three hundred and odd rocks, each having its own name, bestudding the entrance to Stavanger. Two hours' discharge of cargo gives the opportunity of running ashore, laying in a stock of Norwegian coins, and seeing the cathedral and the few other sights of the place. In the afternoon, when the Domino is fairly on her northern course, and when the fiord landscapes should be a delight, we are in a gale, with incessant rain. At eleven o'clock on Monday night we quietly come alongside at the Bergen wharfage, but the rain keeps on. At eight on Tuesday morning we are on board one of the smaller type of fiord steamers, with three rod boxes amongst the luggage, some battens piled on deck, and a moderate complement of passengers.
Here, then, is our introduction to famous Norway, which seems not to be in too kindly a mood. After the heat of London the gale blows very cold, and the rain seems too effectually iced. The weather is, it seems, phenomenally bad even for the time of year, and all this day, and all the next alas! the voyage, in and out of the fiords, with sundry stoppages in bays where the patient farmer makes patches of green on a stubborn soil, and the hardy, sober-sided fishermen toil for scant living, is done at disadvantage for those who would fain have the masses of rocky borderings clear against the sky. The mountains are shrouded in mist and capped with clouds, and during Tuesday night the gale howls, and the storms of rain volley against the windows of the cosy little smoke house on deck. Wednesday is an improvement in that the gale has blown itself out. But the rain it rains on, though now in a soft drizzle instead of driving sheets. The sides of precipitous mountain crags are silvered with cascades, and as we penetrate further into the fiord the scenery develops grandly, and the old snow patches on the dark and lofty summits and picturesque saddles look startlingly white.
Voyaging up the coast and on the Norwegian fiords is delightful indeed in fair weather. As a rule there is neither pitching nor rolling, but it would be rash, nevertheless, to suppose that it is always like boating on a river. Our little steamer for the best part of one day and night, as a matter of fact, pitches and rolls enough to save some of the passengers the expenses of the table. As the ticket only means passage money, and the traveller is charged, as in an hotel, for what he eats and drinks, he, at any rate, is not tormented by the thought that he has paid for that which he has not received. Still, it is not often that the fiords are in a ferment of waves under a heavy gale, and the worst that happens is a temporary deviation from the general smoothness when the course lies where there is open sea on one side. The voyage northwards from Stavanger, where the Hull boats first touch, is mostly between islands, and in continuous shelter. Sometimes the narrows are not wider than the Thames at Oxford; then you steam out into what seems to be a land-locked expanse of water, with precipitous mountain rocks ahead. By and by you swerve to right or left, and a totally different picture is presented. And so it is, hour after hour, and day after day. For many a league north of Bergen the mountains and island rocks are bare of vegetation—gloomy masses of grey and brown that frown upon the waters in cloud, and cannot be glad even in sunshine. Some of them are like gigantic wildernesses of upheaved pudding stone. Then, as the voyage progresses, the hillsides put on greenery, sombre when it is pine, cheerful when the hangings are supplied by the silver birch, and bright ever when the emerald patches bear testimony to the industry of the farmer, winning his scanty harvests against heavy odds. The calling places are numerous, but often consist of some half a dozen houses of the usual weatherboard, red and white pattern.
The hour is nevertheless welcome when you espy the sun-browned face of a brother angler, surmounted by a cap in which the flies cast upon the pools during the day are regaining a dry plumage, turned towards the vessel bearing you to the homely wharfage of the fiord station which for the time being is your destination. The rod box is no unfamiliar item of luggage in this country, and it is borne ashore by men who understand what it is, and who like to handle it. Norwegians have a deep respect for the English gentleman who fishes their salmon rivers, and when he has arrived at the same place many years in succession he is most heartily welcomed by natives of both sexes, who while he remains will devote themselves to his interests, in their own way—which has to be understood, no doubt, but which is on the whole of a character that makes the respect mutual. After five days' travel by land, sea, and fiord, the Norwegian hotel seems a veritable home, and you are quite ready to be predisposed in favour of bed and board. It is not true that first impressions are lasting, but they certainly go a long way; and that first tete-a-tete dinner with your host must needs be a merry one. He probably is not so full of fishing as you are, however keen he may be, for his rods have been for weeks on the pegs under the little roof built for them on the side of the house. Any wayfarer might take them, but they are safe enough, with reels and lines attached, in this country, where the honesty of the people is proverbial.
Conversation now, and at breakfast in the morning, reveals a temporary check in sport. About a week since there was a big storm, during which the thunder rolled amongst the mountains, and the lightning flashed upon the face of the fiords. Then followed three days of warm winds, and these did what heavy rains do at home. The river coming down in rolling flood through the melting of the glacier at the head of the valley, the migratory fish had seized the opportunity, to them no doubt a welcome chance, and pushed up to the higher reaches and even into the lake. But this particular river can wait, as an excursion is arranged for my first day to another river in a branch fiord, some eight miles distant. A little local steamer picks us up at nine in the morning, and my host, to whom I shall henceforth refer as G. P. F. (short for Guide, Philosopher, and Friend), does not appear in his war paint. He pretends that he wants an idle day, but he leaves his rod at home simply that I may take the cream of what sport is going; hence, by and by, when the owner of the river presses him to take his rod, he laughingly declines, urging that he never likes to break other men's tackle.
The wonderfully pure atmosphere deceives you so much in Norway as to distances, that it is best to give up guessing. The fine summit of dark mountain, mottled with snow, lying in the rear of the nearer range, at the head of the charming little fiord up which we steer this morning in water smooth as a mirror, and glaring in a bright sun, seems to me for instance, entitled to, say, a rank of 2,000 ft.: but I learn on landing that it is over 6,000 ft., and a notable sentinel on the outskirts of a most notable glacier and snowfield. The shores of the fiord are cultivated to an unusual distance up the mountain side, and after the rain and mist of previous days, this grand landscape is my real introduction to the characteristic scenery of the better kind of Norwegian fiord. In truth it is all most beautiful.
The English gentleman who owns the river lives in a house near its banks, and the ladies of his family are spending the season with him, delighted with the experience, and the daughters taking their share in the rod-work performed. The house is a type of the Norwegian fishing quarters where life cannot be described as discomfort, much less "roughing it." It is a pretty little villa, brightened by the refining influences of cultured womanhood, and a summer inside its wooden walls cannot surely be a hardship to anyone. One of the young ladies to whom I am introduced is made to blush by the paternal statement that three days previously she has slain a 28-lb. salmon, after two hours' battle, with a 15-ft. grilse rod.
But a man in his waders, eager for action after months of piscatorial abstinence, pants for the river and its chances. At present there are none of the latter. The sun is bright upon the pools, and we take a stroll by the stream that I may comprehend its points as an example of a Norwegian river of the smaller size. It differs from other types, hereafter to be described, but, like all of them, its headwaters are a lake, and it is fed by a glacier. The salmon, however, are prevented from reaching the lake by a foss, or waterfall, about a mile and a half from the mouth: the fishing is therefore limited to a few pools. It is, however, a real "sporting" river by reason of the turbulence of many of the runs for which the fish generally make a direct dash, and have to be followed and contended with in roaring rapids, what time the angler makes the best running he may amid stones, brooks, and with many a bush between him and the river.
It is the particular desire of the gentlemen who are looking on that I should hook a salmon that will at once corroborate this theory by a vigorous object lesson; equally sincere am I in my supplication that I am not thus forced to make play for the Philistines. The chances are as hopeless as they can be. But a slight cloud overcasts the sun by and by, and I verily find myself well fastened in a salmon, with that terrible threat of rushing foam at the tail of the pool; I make up my mind to do the best, and mentally mark the point, near a footbridge across a runnel, where I must probably come to grief. The salmon, however, is no more inclined to give amusement to the spectators than I am. He cruises about in a sullen humour, and acts as if he is rather anxious than otherwise to come to the gaff. There is no difficulty, in short, in applying the familiar time principle of a pound a minute, and without a serious attempt to try escape per rapids, he comes to land, a fish of 16 lb., that has been some time in the fresh water.