As I nave not yet seen the fiord end of the river, we cross down from the other side, and our host of the day kindly points me to scenes of exciting adventure, in which the difficulties of killing a hooked fish virtually furnish sport which amounts to catching twice over. He presses me to try a somewhat shallow and level run where sea trout love to lie, and offers me his rod (mine being left behind) for the purpose. About the twelfth cast the reel sings a sweet anthem, and I have a delightful quarter of an hour with an unconquerable fish that leaps again and again in the air, but that has to give in at last, and lie beside the salmon eventually, as handsome a fresh-run sea trout of 9 lb. as mortal eye ever feasted upon.
The Norwegian angler, as I soon discover, has to regard the sun not precisely as would a worshipper. It has so fatal an effect upon the pools that he gets into the habit of laying aside his rod, and waiting, book in hand, pipe in mouth, excursionising in the land of Nod, or practising any other pursuit that may occur to him for filling up the time. In the southern streams that are not affected by the melting of glaciers, and that have a habit of quickly running out to a no-sport level when the winter snows have disappeared (confining the fishing often to about one calendar month), the cloudless days, glorious though they are to the tourist, are a dire affliction to him. Such a river as this which gives me friendly welcome to the Norway fish is generally in fair volume, and I see it tinted with a recent rise of some feet. In a grey light, and from the water level, it seems to have a milky discolour that bodes ill; but get upon one of the knolls when the sun shines, and you have an exquisite blue, or rather variety of blues, according to the depth of the water, or reflection from the changing lights. There is a sweet silence in all this out-of-the-world valley, and you can always lift your eyes to the eternal hills that look so near, yet are so far, and smile at the thought of how very small you are. The head gillie here is a Norsker, who makes nothing of dashing into a whirlpool to gaff a salmon, and he once followed a fish to whom the rod had been cast under a bridge where the torrent madly swirled, came out safe on the other side, and triumphantly killed in the open. My friend had many a story to tell of his smartness and knowledge, born of a true love of sport. He once hooked a salmon at dusk, the man standing by with the gaff. With one impetuous rush the fish raced down the pool, through a long rapid and round a promontory, taking out line until little was left. The angler held on grimly in the dark, and the man, after grave cogitation, struck a match, leisurely made himself acquainted with the angle of the line, and without a word moved away. Possessed by an afterthought he, however, returned, struck another light, and examined the quantity of line left upon the winch. Then he walked off, and was heard climbing rocks and forcing his way through the alders. After a time the line slackened and my friend reeled up; but the fish was safe enough on the grass a long distance round the promontory. The man had made his observations (literally throwing a light upon the subject), concluded therefrom behind what particular rock the salmon was taking refuge, groped and waded his way to the spot, and gaffed the fish at the first shot. Such an attendant, who knows every stone, so to speak, in the river, is invaluable.
CASTING FROM ROCKS AND BOATS
The reader of these sketchy studies of fishing in Norway has been fairly warned already not to expect exciting records of slaughter amongst salmon. Of course, no angler would be at a loss to explain away his poor bags; his excuses are proverbial, they are an old joke, they have long been a proverb. When people hear of unfavourable weather, too much sun, rain, wind, or too little, they very sensibly smile. I smile too, whenever, as so often happens, the necessity of offering such pleas is emphasised by a discreet silence. The fisherman who knows will be able, for himself, to read that the fates were very much against us; and I would again remind him that my object is to provide him with some knowledge that will be useful when the good time of casual visits to Norway returns, and he sails across to make one for himself.
To a student of geology anxious to acquire knowledge on the practical methods of Mr. Squeers, or to the athlete who loves to skip like a goat from crag to crag, I fearlessly recommend No. 8 beat of the Mandal river. He may take choice of rocks of every sort and size. The convulsion of nature that transformed this peaceful valley of Southern Norway did it with a will that left stupendous evidence of thoroughness through all the ages. There are rocks more or less along all the higher portions of the river, but in our section we had them in unquestioned abundance. Sometimes they acted as frowning walls for the stream, running deep and dark through narrow gorges; elsewhere they took the form of great round-headed boulders, varying in size from a coalscuttle to a dwelling-house. At other times they were strewn about miscellaneously, varying in size, angular, and abounding in traps for the unwary; at a distance they might look innocent as shingle, but the going when you once began to tread amongst them was most fatiguing, and even dangerous.
Rocks are very well in their place, and as Norway is mostly rock they give a distinctive character to the country. Peeping out, weather stained, on the pine-clad mountain sides, they claim your admiration; as a foothold for casting your fly or battling with a fish they are apt to be a severe trial to the muscles, and in any shape or degree they are an ever-present source of danger to rod or tackle. Had the water during our stay in the country attained full proportions I must have put up my best salmon rod. But I had too much respect for my favourite steel centre split cane to leave any of its dainty varnish upon the South Norway granite. The smaller greenheart, therefore, for the third time gallantly survived its month on a Norway river; but those rocks have literally chipped the shine from every joint, leaving, I believe and hope, its constitution, nevertheless, quite sound.
The higher reaches of our beat, as I have intimated, were a succession of gorges or rapids; but whether precipitate wall, which rendered it out of the question to fish the water, or comparatively open boulder-land, you must always look down into it from the excellently kept road which mostly followed the course of the stream. There were no footpaths or tracks down to the water, but an adventurous person might let himself down from crag to crag, and have his rod lowered to him from above. This part of the Mandal I tried twice, but "Sarcelle," who had been accustomed to some such exercise in the mountains of Italy, tried it later with much perseverance, when the white foaming water of the rapids had become moderate pools of dark water.
We were often told that they always held salmon, and when the river is in ordinary volume probably they do so. Very exciting it is to hook a fish in one of these cauldrons, for the salmon must be held by main force, and prevented from rushing into the rapid below. With the strongest tackle, and a firm hold for the hook, it is amazing what a strain you can put upon rod and fish when the playing must be confined within a space of 100 yards by 50 yards. As a matter of fact, we did badly in these rapids; the beat above had the advantage of a number of long resting pools, and the fish apparently ran past us with scarcely a halt. They seemed to know that the river was dropping; instinct told them what the inhabitants were told by memory and eyesight, namely, that so low a river had been seen but once before in this generation; and they said, "Let us hasten until the rapids be passed; in beat No. 9, lo, we may rest from our labours, and, free from anxiety as to the future, perchance lie at ease in the tranquil flow of the pools, and push on to the lake at our leisure."
Whereat the anglers of No. 9 rejoiced, for they had lovely wading ground, with probably a minimum of rock trouble, and so killed fish day by day. The rapids and passes to which I have been referring as constituting the upper length of our beat were, I may add, not continuous, but had to be approached by repeated climbs up to the road level and a descent at some point farther on. The rocks hereabouts, too, were wonderfully sharp-edged as compared with others which had been fashioned and polished by the action of water, and there was a general idea of Titanic splintering up that was not a little impressive.
One pool of the highest repute for salmon in a fair height of water was walled by lofty rocks on the village side, but was fishable from shore on the other. This could only be attained by crossing the river either above or below in a boat, and walking or stumbling to the head of the pool over an acreage of scattered rocks. From the elevation of the road this seemed an easy task, for distance toned down the obstacles so that they appeared scarcely more formidable than pebbles. At close quarters they, however, proved the most fatiguing of all; they were too high for lightly stepping over, and too far apart for unbroken progress, so that for a quarter of an hour you were letting yourself down and hoisting yourself up these countless hindrances. The stones along the edge of the pool were a trifle smaller, but it was never safe to take a step without looking at your ground.
You soon get into the way of such a condition of affairs; you learn that, however the torrent may swirl or roar, you must keep your eye on your foothold, since a small error may plunge you into the current. It is essential, of course, to take advantage of every boulder that affords even an extra foot of command over the pool. The pool in question could only be properly fished by keeping the rod at right angles over the stream, which could be beautifully worked at the edge or centre by the rod-top pointing a little upwards. But to do this you had often to stand on a boulder-perch in the water not larger than your brogue.
Strangely enough I was always in dread of hooking a salmon in this pool, though in truth we never caught or saw one in it. I had arranged beforehand with Ole to lend me the support of his strong arm if I had some day to follow a fish down from boulder to boulder, and I am not ashamed to confess that on many occasions both Ole, the gaffer, and Knut, the boatman, rendered me assistance of this kind; they hauled me up, and lowered me down, and kept me from falling when I was engaged in a fight with a fish.
So far as the pool under consideration went this emergency did not arise; it yielded me nothing but tired limbs, and a few precepts which may be useful to brother anglers who cast from rocks, as, for example: In moving about, keep your eye on the stones; if you support yourself with the gaff handle, make sure that the end of it is not jammed in a crevice; keep going when stepping from boulder to boulder, as the swing of regular advance is a greater help than occasional pauses; do not put down your rod save when actually necessary, if you would do a friend's duty to it and your winch; keep on examining the point of your hook; do not be afraid of sliding down a rock that cannot be otherwise travelled over, for in these days of science the reseating of breeks is not impossible, and any casual personal disfigurement that may ensue is not likely to be obtruded upon the notice of even personal friends.
The nearest bit of fishing to our honest farmhouse gave us a charming landscape, and it was not reached without some little difficulty. Just above the village the rapids and fosses were finished by a broad pool pouring over a fall, and creating the particular pool about which something has been said. Then the river opened out to a lake-like area from three to four hundred yards either way; the stream then took a sudden turn at the lower end, charging direct upon a long line of smooth, lofty, round-headed rocks, sloping considerably more than the roof of an ordinary house. They would be of an average of 30 ft. above the water. The river, after babbling over its expanse of shallows, swerved sharply and coursed along at their feet in a kind of gut, which was said to give the best low water holding ground in that part of the river.
In the early part of July the view from The Rocks, as we called them in special distinction, was most enchanting. The whole expanse was full like a lake, only a single spit cumbered with logs showing above water. One of our three boats was fastened ashore to a line of booms fixed to direct the course of the timber, which was already beginning to come down in force, and it was always possible to pull across to a convenient corner of The Rocks, and save ourselves a considerable journey by land. As time went on the brimming lake disappeared; little white heads of stones would appear one morning, and thereafter enlarge day by day until they emerged as innumerable upstanding boulders. The boat was now no longer available, for the water was so shallow that it was blocked effectually at the outset. The stream, of course, charged down upon The Rocks in gathering strength, and for the first fortnight we were always sure of a grilse or two. At first The Rocks had to be fished by standing on their open crowns, and although one was in constant fear of scaring the fish by showing on such an eminence, no great harm seemed to be done, probably because there was a background of pine trees in the forest behind. As time advanced little ledges on the rock slopes were left dry by the water, and it was possible to slide down to them on all fours and fish the run with the rocks behind us, necessitating left-handed casting, but giving perfect command of about 60 yards of stream, which was for a while sure holding ground, since it was deepest at the foot of the rocks.
"Sarcelle" had his first experience of a fish on the Mandal river from this place, and it was rather unfortunate. If I remember rightly, it was Sunday evening, and in a shame-faced sort of way we had gone out at seven o'clock to fish. The grilse were then running, and, as they are here to-day and gone to-morrow, and I had already discovered that they did not linger long in our parts, it was almost a duty not to allow a day to pass without an attempt. "Sarcelle" had adventured upon a Mayfly cast with a fly of sea trout size as dropper, and in point of fact a sea trout fly at the end. I was sitting down filling a pipe when he made his first cast, more by way of wetting his line than anything else, and "I've got him" brought me to my feet, only in time to see a grilse bend the rod and then break away. At the next cast a salmon came, took one of the small flies, made a thrilling run, and then snapped the collar.
Even after this mishap "Sarcelle" killed his grilse and lent me his rod to try for another. We had an example that evening of the way in which fish are made shy. "Sarcelle" had the first turn down the pool, and, besides losing two and catching one, he rose several others, three or four of them showing away on shallow water that was rippling merrily, but that was quite out of the orthodox limits of the run. I had the second turn down, rose two, hooked one, and killed one. "Sarcelle" had the third handling of the rod, and killed one fish without moving any of the others. The place that evening seemed to be alive with grilse, and there was an undoubted salmon that had escaped below. It was too late, however, to give the pool the necessary rest and fish it down again; but we were up early in the morning, to find that our grilse during the night had left the country.
After a fortnight's miscellaneous sport from The Rocks, during which the grilse proved themselves to be as game as fish could be, frequently running down into the rough water a hundred yards before we could get on terms with them, we began to discover that even in this essentially good place the water was too thin. If the grilse were running at all, they no longer stopped in the old haunts; but the neck of the lower pool gave us fish occasionally. But during the last three days what had been here dark, deep water became a rough stream, which clearly revealed the yellow boulders at the bottom. On our very last morning "Sarcelle," who had been disappointed throughout in not getting a good salmon, determined to make a final attempt from The Rocks where he had made his first. I had packed up on the previous night, and was ready for breakfast at eight o'clock, with all my goods stowed away on the carriage, when he triumphantly appeared with an 8-lb. salmon and a 5-lb. grilse. He had caught them in this newly formed rapid, the salmon being close by the side.
The Rocks, however, were troublesome when they were slippery, but there were little niches and crevices on their shoulders and sides, from which grew flowering ling and tiny seedling pines, by the aid of which we could manage to insert the edge of a boot sole somewhere and hold on. "Sarcelle" one evening had hooked a capital fish in pretty strong water, and had to follow it as best he could over The Rocks. Generally very sure-footed, on this occasion he tumbled on his back, keeping the rod all the time in his hands, but of course making a slack line. The fish was still on when he regained his feet and tightened up, but the relaxation had been fatal, and the grilse presently escaped.
The Rocks, as I have said, were our favourite spot. When the water became too low for ferrying across in the boat we had to walk about half a mile down the dusty road, then diverge across a bit of marsh, into the moss of which the foot sank as in velvet-pile; then ascend a forest path, carpeted with pine needles that made the walking most slippery; then traverse a bit of high plantation, and then walk or slide down a steep, slippery, winding ascent to The Rocks themselves. In the hot weather we generally arrived at our starting point in a bath of perspiration, and began our fishing from a low platform, with a great rock concealing us from the fish. This, however, was not the favourite lie for the migrants, though it was the spot where "Sarcelle" lost his salmon and grilse. I have already stated that The Rocks formed a practically straight line right across the valley. Sitting on the highest point, which would be fifty yards above the stream, there was outspread to our eyes an exquisite panorama of typical South Norway scenery; that is to say, there were pleasing evidences of cultivation everywhere. Here, instead of having to get their bits of grass with small reaping hooks, and send their baskets of hay by wire down from the mountain tops, the farmers enjoyed fair breadths of pasture and grain crop, so much so that mowing machines could be used. The verdure of these bottoms and easy slopes at the foot of the hills was delicious, with mountains all round, dark with pine, relieved with occasional rock and patches of silver birch and other deciduous foliage.
It was a glorious amphitheatre with environment of picturesque mountains, and within these towering ramparts reposed the little village of Lovdal, the prominent object in which was the church, with its pure white walls, gables, plain grey spire and red roof, standing on a little eminence in the middle distance. Then came a patch of greenery formed by the apple trees of our most comfortable farmhouse. Around it clustered the red-roofed wooden houses of the neighbours, and there were two or three flagstaffs always conspicuous in the clear air. On my arrival they had hoisted the Union Jack on our flagstaff, and there was generally either the Norwegian or English flag to be seen flying. The farthest point of mountain would be, perhaps, a couple of miles distant as we looked straight up from The Rocks.
It was my fortune to behold this entrancing scene considerably transformed during my month's stay. At first the immediate landscape was beautified by wild flowers; the blue of the harebells was exquisitely set off by masses of golden St. John's wort, and on our walk to The Rocks we would trample down meadow-sweet, marsh mallow, bird's foot trefoil, and potentilla. There was one little detail of the picture that was quite remarkable; it was a bright composition of harebells, with the red-brown of ripening grass, and a patch of Prussian blue representing a crop of oats immediately behind. By and by the haymakers came, and down went the harebells, and in course of time the Prussian blue became yellow straw. One Sunday evening impresses itself upon my memory especially. The bells were tinkling as the cows came down from the mountains, and the voices of the women and children were heard afar in the clear air; down the valley came the music of a military band in the encampment, and the sun disappearing over the mountains brought out the colours of the pines and birches in an indescribably vivid manner, and everything seemed luminous beyond conception.
But what impressed itself most upon me were the odours brought down to me on my rocky seat by the soft wind. For quite half an hour there were regular alternations of the fragrance of pine and new-mown hay. I had often read of scents borne by zephyrs, but never so thoroughly realised the sensation of air filled with them. The Rocks, I may add, were at places hoary with age, curiously stained by the weather, patched with mosses and ling, and rearwards was the wood with all manner of shrubs and diversity of forest trees, amongst which I noticed elm, oak, and cedar, and a complete undergrowth of bilberry and other berries, which we could pluck and eat at any hour of the day, and diversify such dessert with wild strawberries and raspberries by a little search. The whole scene from The Rocks was one of peace and tranquil prosperity, and one's heart was always warming towards the kindly people, whose friendship we had quickly gained. During our stay we cast and caught from many rocks, but none gave us so characteristic and beautiful a picture in sunshine and in shade as these to which we gave the distinctive name.
* * * * * *
The majority of anglers probably agree that fishing from a boat must, under the best of circumstances, be ranked amongst the necessary evils of an angler's life. The ideal salmon pool is one that can be waded, and the stream where the salmon lie commanded from head to tail with precision, without danger or unnecessary exertion to the wader. The foothold for the man should be shingle or stones presenting a fairly even bottom, sloping gradually from the edge, and enabling the fisherman to operate comfortably with the water at his hips. Should he have to venture deeper, the necessity of keeping the winch above water requires a special strain upon the muscles, and this in time becomes fatiguing. There is always, however, compensation in hooking a salmon in this position, in which you have to hold your rod well up what time you retire slowly to the terra firma that is above water, carrying on the action as you go.
A long pool of sufficient briskness to keep the fly in lively and regular motion, a pool with varying depths and a sharp shallow at the tail, a pool that will, let us say, take not less than half an hour to fish down carefully, is what we should all perhaps choose if we could do so; but even where the bottom is rough, and the angler, if he would escape peril, must move with wary steps, where the stream is so out of reach that it can only be properly worked in parts, and then with difficulty—even this is better than fishing from a boat. I know of nothing more delightful than wading such a pool at just the depth and force of water which allows you to sit on it. Those who have not indulged in this sensation may laugh at the idea of sitting on running water, but it is quite possible, and many a time have I enjoyed this utilisation of a current strong enough to support you as a seat.
The principal fishing must after all be from a boat. It must not be supposed that the frail craft in Norway are to be compared with those models of boats for casting which you have on Tweed or Tay. The Norwegian boats have to be used upon water that is often both shallow and swift, and must be dragged from place to place. It is not comfortable to cast from such boats in a standing position. You cast sitting, very much cramped, on the first thwart, with your back to the oarsman. After a little practice you can get out quite as much line as you require, and for myself I retained my seat in playing a fish. There is no need to enumerate the drawbacks of casting from a boat; suffice to say that there are always enough to prevent you from becoming attached to the practice, save as an occasional change. I say nothing of harling, which is a different matter; you can lounge at your ease in the stern of the boat, with a book in your hand, and trail on until the winch gives you warning that a fish has hooked itself.
Casting from a boat is much more trying than casting in other ways. When on foot you are tired of fishing, you can choose your resting place and sit down; but in a boat you are cramped and confined all the time, with only the muscles of arms and shoulders engaged. One forgets all this, of course, when there is sport, and I often smile on remembering the amused expression which used to steal over the faces of my men when they first beheld the little formulas which I always observe, be the fun fast or slow. I can best explain this by recalling one particular evening on the Mandal river. It was the one occasion when I deemed it necessary to take out a mackintosh. With the exception of a thunderstorm in the early part of July, the downpour as to which was during the night, the days had been of strong and unbroken sunshine; but in the middle of the month there came a close, cloudy day when the flies were exceedingly troublesome, and the only mosquitoes that were annoying during our stay came out in full trumpeting for an hour or two. There was a favourite pool, very long and lively, which we called Olaf's Garden, that served me very well, and one morning, in bright sunshine, in the course of a half-hour I caught three fish weighing 15 lb.
On this day it began to dawn upon me that the water had become too low for a grilse to remain here any length of time. Higher up was a favourite reach of mine, named Pot Pool, and after fishing Olaf's Garden and another reach, finding only a couple of grilse, I moved elsewhere, and in the evening discovered that the fish appeared to be resting in Pot Pool. A gentleman who formerly leased the Mandal river had recommended me to try some of the delicate flies dressed by Haynes, of Cork, and with one of these (the Orange Grouse), at starting, between seven and eight, I killed a grilse of 5 lb. The pool was then fished down leisurely, with no other result. Returning to the head, a long rest was called, and, as I suspected there might be salmon, I changed the fly to a fair-sized Durham Ranger. My gaffer, Ole, had done me the honour in the forenoon of losing an 18-lb. or 20-lb. fish in another pool, and though his custom was to sit on a rock and sing a hymn while Knut was working at the oars, this evening, while I was fishing the pool, the memory of his afternoon mishap kept him dolefully silent. I had directed him to a little rocky cove for service in case I should have the fortune to bring in a fish, as fruit meet to his repentance. My custom is to fish a pool very patiently and thoroughly. It is true that not more than half a dozen times in my life have I ever hooked a salmon other than when the line was straight down the stream, but by keeping the boat in the right course, and handling the rod to suit it, there are several possibilities of presenting the fly on an even keel.
The swish, swish of the casting becomes decidedly monotonous as the boat drops downward inch by inch. You lose yourself in dreamy reveries, casting at length quite mechanically. The fly goes out to its appointed place, sweeps round with the stream, and with a kind of involuntary sigh the line is recovered, and the cast repeated. It becomes machine action at last. On this evening I had impressed upon Knut the desirability of being very slow indeed, and he was working well. The stream was strong without rage, there was a dull curtain of slate-grey overhead, and a light breeze was blowing in your teeth, but not enough to make casting twenty-five yards of line a hardship. For a time your thoughts centre upon the working of the fly. You wonder whether a salmon has noticed it and is following it craftily round; if so, will he take it? Or is it possible that after all you are not in the exact lie of the salmon?
The water, you see, has not yet become, as it will (and does) in a few days, clear enough for you to know that the entire bed of the river consists of huge boulders, with manifold guts and hollows, all lovely abiding places for any well-disposed fish. You speculate on what you shall do if you do hook a salmon at this or that particular point. You scan the shore, mark the likeliest spot for landing, and mentally go through the whole programme to its happy ending. You think what a splendid thing it would be if you could get four, five, six, a dozen salmon in as many casts, and how much better the bottom of the boat would look if, instead of two or three comely grilse, it showed the biggest salmon ever known in these parts. But no, nothing disturbs the monotony. Swish, swish, swish! Gradually you forget all about salmon and sport, and are thinking, maybe, of kith and kin across the North Sea, or of sins of omission and commission. All at once you are startled by that inspiring cry of the winch which some faddy people pretend to think a nuisance. It is to the angler what the trumpet is to the war horse.
This was precisely what happened to me on the evening of which I write. The bent grilse rod described an arc that only a salmon could make. He went straight down, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty yards without a possibility of check, even if one were so foolish as to wish to stop a strongly running fish. At the first slackening of speed, however, it is always wise to put on a little pressure, and cautiously begin with the winch. After such a run a salmon will generally respond to the slow winding in of the line, and, although after he has advanced ten or fifteen yards he may make another spurt, you have him more under control than in the first burst. A taut line, a bending rod never for a moment allowed to unbend, and a firm yet sympathetic finger and thumb at the winch handle are enough. Just keep cool, you and your man. Knut, I may say, had to learn his management of a boat for fishing purposes from me, and, therefore, knew the importance of being ready on the instant to pull ashore, when and how he was ordered in a crisis. On this occasion we had fixed upon our landing place, and Knut had already received orders to pull steadily towards it if I hooked a fish. In his excitement he put on the pace a little too much, a source of danger met by letting the line ease the position.
The salmon was incessant in short, sharp rushes, but, in course of time, we were out of the stream into easy water, although the fish had returned half a dozen times before he relinquished the advantage of the current. He became convinced, however, that resistance was vain, and stubbornly allowed himself to be towed on and on to land. Ole, eagerly waiting in the cove, gaff in hand, was now determined to mend his damaged reputation, and listened with humble attention to my injunction to take it easy, and not to hit till he was quite sure. He was standing on a small slab of rock that protruded into the water, and, unfortunately, there was nothing but lofty rocks behind us. What one likes is a nice beach or field upon which one can step backwards, conducting the salmon safely and easily into the net. There was no possibility of this now; indeed, we were forced to change our tactics in a hurry. The salmon at the finish came in more quickly than I wished, and was virtually under the point of the rod. With a couple of inexperienced men I feared a smash if I attempted to land at such a place. Salmon at close quarters often prove troublesome. This one was several times brought near enough for a skilled gaffer to strike him as he swam slowly along parallel with the boat, but this would have been too much to expect from a learner. I had, therefore, to keep to the boat, and not only to bring the fish in, but to guide it past me to the ledge below. The fish, however, as I knew, was firmly hooked; it was merely a question of time, and, as a fact, Ole very cleverly gaffed a clean-run salmon of 13 lb. That day, besides the salmon caught and another lost, I had grilse of 5 1/4 lb., 3 1/4 lb., 4 1/2 lb., and 3 lb.
It was my good fortune to have Pot Pool again for the evening. Again it was dull, with an incipient drizzle as we started out at six o'clock. The fish were now rising, at any rate, in my pool. At the very entrance to it, which was, in fact, the connecting run from The Rocks, I killed, after a fussy tussle and plenty of leaping out of the water, a grilse of 4 lb.; and we had barely rowed out into the stream when a fish of 6 lb. or 7 lb. leaped head and tail out of the water at my fly without touching it. The overcast character of the evening suggested to me the use of a Bulldog, and we were now enabled to practise the formulas at which Ole and Knut at first appeared so much amused. On hooking a fish I keep my seat, and direct the course of the boat to a suitable landing place. The craft must be pulled partly ashore, if feasible, before I attempt to move. Then I rise and back gently to the bow of the boat, where Ole is in readiness to lend me a hand as I step out, sometimes no easy thing to do if I have to land on a high, slippery rock. Delightful it is to have the fish fighting all the time as only a grilse will. Your salmon often moves sullenly, and will cruise slowly about with a dull, heavy strain that is most comforting to an experienced man, who feels certain that the fish is well hooked; but this is not wildly exciting.
Your grilse is here, there, and everywhere. There is no slackening for him. He is a dashing light dragoon ever at the charge, determined to do the thing with spirit if it is to be done at all. At first I have no doubt I lost more grilse by giving them too much law. The longer the fish is on, the looser becomes the hold, and I have always found it better with fish of 5 lb. or 6 lb. to play them to the top of the water, and then run them in without another check. Occasionally you may lose a fish this way, but in the long run you gain, and after a little practice you will get into the trick of bringing the grilse on his side submissively into the net. The butt, however, must be applied at the proper moment, and when the proper stage of exhaustion is reached can be told only by experience. To return, however, to the formulas. The fish, being in the net and landed, is handled by myself only; the eager, sportsmanlike instinct of your man will have to be repressed, his first idea being to seize it and knock it on the head with a stone. I have sufficient respect for either salmon or grilse to finish them with the orthodox priest, and that also is a function I like to perform myself. Then comes the extraction of the hook, always an interesting, because instructive, formula for the angler. Next follows the satisfaction of weighing the game with a spring balance, and then seeing that it is deposited in the boat with a covering of ling or alder leaves as a protection against flies or sun.
Returning now to my evening, I may explain that Ole was absent on leave, and that Knut, who was a most intelligent young fellow and the schoolmaster of the village, was anxious to use the gaff or net as the case may be. Having caught a 3 1/2-lb. grilse on a small Butcher, I fished down Pot Pool very leisurely without a touch. After a fair interval I removed the small fly and elected to take my chance thereafter with a Jock Scott of larger size. It was now about eight o'clock, and we went down the pool again, having a brief run with probably a grilse, which held fast only a moment or two; then I was becoming conscious again of the monotony of fruitless casting when there was a splendid spin of the winch. This, I confess, was of such a nature that I rose at once and determined to take my reward or punishment, as it might happen, standing. It was an undoubted salmon, for fifty yards down out of the water he came, the winch, curiously enough, screaming all the time, and never ceasing when he fell in with a loud splash and resumed his run. I had about 115 yards of line on my winch, and I noticed, just as the fish moderated his express speed, that there could not have been ten yards left.
He was fighting all the time. Knut, fortunately, understood my directions to follow him down instead of pulling up-stream and a little across, as he usually did, and I was able at least to winch in three-parts of the line before the next rush, which was equally formidable, but not so long. I think I never had a salmon fight as this one did. He, at any rate, was not one of the sulky kind, and it was quite on the cards that I had one of the twenty or thirty pounders for which the angler is always longing. By and by we landed on a rock—or rather two rocks—Knut on a flat bit of crag and I on the round head of a small boulder. The fish had so tired himself in his shoots and fights out in the stream that he gave little trouble in the slack water, but refused for a long time to be brought up anywhere near the surface. When he did yield he came in the most lamb-like way, and Knut had the pleasure of using the gaff for the first time. He hit the fish fair and well, and, marvel of marvels, it was to an ounce the weight of the fish killed in the same pool in the previous evening, viz. 13 lb.
Having now a good salmon, for this water, in the boat, and a grilse or two, and it being nine o'clock, overcast, and with a dark bit of the forest to walk through to the road, I signified my intention of going home; but Knut's blue eyes opened wide in surprise and pleading, and he besought me to have one more trial. As the young fellow had been working hard for three hours, and this was uncommonly good of him, I consented, and, keeping on the same fly, we began half-way up the pool, my intention being only to fish the tail end. At the fifth cast, and on a portion of the stream which I had fished over without disturbance twice the same evening, up came another salmon, which fastened and went off at the same fierce pace as the other. He stripped off the line several times, gave me a splendid quarter of an hour's sport, and there we were, the dangers of the stream left behind, the fish quietly circling in easy courses in the slack water, Knut ready with his gaff on his little platform, and I, cocksure of the fish, standing on the round rock. To the left was water that in the dusk seemed to be deep and black, and as all along this side the water was deep close in, I concluded that all was safe. The fish was coming quietly in, and was not two yards from the gaff, when it made a sudden dart to the left into this dark water close to the rocks, and in a very short time I realised that he had hung himself up.
Getting as quickly as possible into the boat again, we moved slowly out to the impediment, in the hope of its being nothing more than a rock which could be cleared; but on looking down I saw that the bottom had been a regular trap for sunken logs, and as I looked down into the water I saw the fish, a silvery, clean-run fellow of about 8 lb., fighting his hardest at the end of the line, which sawed and sawed until it parted. I recovered most of the cast, but the fish had got away with my bonny Jock Scott and the last strand. This was very sickening, for we might have had a nice bag to take home; but it was not to be, and in somewhat subdued spirits we fastened up the boat, got our baggage together, and walked homeward. Still, it was a typical experience of casting from a boat, and Knut and myself had the pleasure of carrying home in the net, I holding the handle and he the rim, a salmon of 13 lb., and grilse of 4 lb., 3 1/2 lb., and 3 lb.
This, I may say, was the day when I hooked and played fifteen fish, of which only five were caught. I dreamed about that fraudulent dark water and its hidden logs, and in the searching sunlight of the next day went over to examine. It was most artful of the salmon to take the course he did, for I found that he had run under what was virtually a spar of about 10 ft. long, with each end resting on a rock; below it was a nice little interval of 18 in. of water, under which a salmon could run.
SOME CONTRARIES OF WEATHER AND SPORT
At my first visit to Norway in 1899 I was greeted with days of roasting heat, with roaming thunder growling incessantly in the mountains. The angler fresh from England, out of training with his salmon rod, and with the precarious rocks and boulders for foothold, gradually discards his clothing; the coat is shed first, then probably the collar and scarf, then the waistcoat. Some underclothing goes next. In two days the heat sufficed to stick together in hopeless amalgamation all the postage stamps in my purse, and I have at last discovered that the haberdashery goods warranted fast colours, and paid for as such, leave confused rainbow hues upon every vestige of attire after a good Norwegian sweat.
All this will signify to the initiated that fishing during the six middle hours of the day is out of the question. It is not the case that salmon will never take in glaring sunshine, but it is the exception rather than the rule, and the game is decidedly not worth the frizzle. It means, moreover, that the rivers are low, and it may be stated that they have been so all the season so far, and that there can be no really good sport until there is a change. To be sure, even a single thunderstorm does help a little, but in my case it has wrought harm; the rolling of thunder in the hills day after day, and the surcharged atmosphere have had an undoubted influence in sulkifying the fish, and there is a worse thing than that.
This worse thing is the modest pine log of commerce. Driving, last Sunday, from Christiansand over the hills and down into the Mandal Valley, a distance of twenty-eight miles through most beautifully typical South Norway scenery, in which, with the towering mountains of rock timbered with dark sentinels to the very skyline, alternate verdant, peaceful, prosperous, valleys glowing with wild flowers, in which the bonny harebell is more assertive by the waysides, I was much interested in the cut timber strewing the half-dried river bed whose course we followed. The logs are of no great size, mere sticks of pine, averaging a foot diameter and in lengths varying between twelve and forty feet. It was obvious that these spars, like the anglers, were waiting for a spate. How nice it would be for the hardy, honest natives engaged in this all-important lumber industry if these prepared sticks, each well ear-marked for recognition leagues perchance down-stream, were swept offhand to market.
My sentiments changed somewhat yesterday and the two previous days. I may explain that there was a violent thunderstorm on Monday night, and the Mandal river, a noble type of the rocky Norwegian salmon stream, rose, perhaps, a couple of feet in the wider portions, and considerably more where the bed contracted. Even such an addition to the volume of water gave these logs a friendly lift, and brought them tumbling and grinding along in hundreds without the aid of man; but on Thursday they appeared in endless battalions, for by this time the timbermen had been ordered out in force to give a friendly shove to the masses that had jammed in some eddy or rocky corner. It is astonishing what a mere touch will effect. With my pocket gaff last evening I lightly nudged a floating spar in the ribs, and he set off right heartily, very gently, yet firmly, cannoned without temper against a neighbour, and in less than five minutes a block of perhaps 150 logs had started off, scattering irregularly over the stream, and making a noise like distant thunder as they charged over the boulders of the rapids below.
There are circumstances, I have been told, under which salmon will rise as well as at other times while logs are drifting, but our best pools here are even-flowing and stately, reminding one often of the Tweed between Kelso and Coldstream. The logs in such water are bad for fish. The testimony of the local men is that the pools, from the piscatorial point of view, are always unsettled while the logs are descending in quantities, and that it is a rare thing at such times to induce a salmon to take a fly. Moreover, with a thunderstorm spate of this nature, and the operations of gangs of lumbermen hastening to set the stranded stock on its way to port, the water is rendered very dirty; in a word, until the muck has passed, and the river settled, the angler's chances are poor indeed.
The danger to the angler's gear, and any fish he hooks, when he finds himself amongst the logs, is well known. The tenant of the beat above ours lost two or three good salmon in one day by collisions of this nature. Down at Lovdal we fish mostly from one of the somewhat crank boats of the country, and my first salmon was hooked from the stern of one of them, at the moment when a score of logs that had been gyrating in an aimless sort of way in a great dark backwater must needs hustle one another in company into a corner where they were suddenly caught by a strong undercurrent, and almost hauled out into the current, unnoticed by my boatman. For myself I was engaged with a hooked fish, and fortunately for me he was not large. The man had all he could do to fend off the spars with his oars, and at that critical moment, when the fish is either turned or allowed a new lease of life, we had the honour of notice to quit from a spar on either side. Mr. Salmon, without a fin-flick of apology, taking a mean advantage, darted under the stick to the right, and at express speed made across stream. One does not, however, use Hercules gut for nothing; the log was travelling swiftly, and I ventured to clap my rod-top down to and under the surface, thus saving my tackle, and being presently able to land and gaff my 10-lb. fresh-run salmon without risk or hurry. This fish, I may add, rose in the fiercest of sunshine in the forenoon, and some logs were coming down, but only one here and there.
The river in fact had only then begun to rise briskly, and on Wednesday, when the lumbermen were hard at work above, three salmon, one of them a certain twenty pounder, fluttered up at the fly. They did not mean business though. That pool I fished, with change of pattern and abundant intervals, until I was not merely fit but ready to drop, and rose two of the fish a second time. On Thursday the river was so out of order that I left the salmon rod in its rack in the barn and drove up to Manflo lake, arriving there in time to see the effects of an apparently innocent occurrence of thunder and lightning. There was no storm or overcasting of the heavens, only a single discharge from one wandering cloud, yet it fired the forests in two places, and we saw the columns of white smoke of the conflagration. With thunder all around the hills it did not seem promising for the trout; still we had driven eight miles to try them, and were there for the purpose, so we unmoored the boat and began. The trout were small and of two varieties—a dark, heavily-blotched, lanky fish, with coarse head, and a shapely golden fellow, thickly studded in every part with small black spots. I used merely one cast—Zulu, red and teal, March brown with silver ribbing—and in two hours I had caught forty-one trout weighing 13 lb. In salmon fishing here one catches brown trout every day; your salmon fly may be large, medium, or small, it is all the same to these voracious fario, which never appear to be more than half a pound. One has the consolation always in Norway of knowing that what one catches need never be wasted. There is something quite touching in the gratitude which the poor villager evinces in return for a present of two little trout.
An instance may be mentioned of apparent service to the salmon angler by the trout which, as a rule, are execrated as an intolerable nuisance. After you have succeeded in working your fly some thirty yards below, and can feel it swimming on an even keel at the end of a straightly-extended line, the supreme moment of expectation has arrived; to have the situation thus achieved by labour ruined by the impudence of a trout 9 in. or 10 in. long is warranty, if ever, for speaking out. My example is of such a nuisance to which I owe a grilse. At any rate, that is my theory. Two salmon and five grilse were at that time my total for odd hours of fishing during part of the week, and I had fished with the Durham Ranger and Butcher (No. 4). One evening, putting off for another drift down the pool, I bethought me of a set of his favourite turkey wings specially dressed for this expedition by my friend Wright, of Annan, and resolved to fulfil my promise of giving them a trial without further delay. The name of the fly of my first choice is, I believe, the Border Fancy; the brown turkey wing showed well in the water, and the irregular mingling of lemon, red, and black of the pig's wool, relieved by a band of silver twist, made altogether a very attractive lure. The boat was crossing diagonally to our course, and I was leisurely getting out line, when a trout plucked at the fly. I saw him, as it were, knocked aside rudely, and shall always believe that it was intentionally done by the grilse, which immediately fastened to the fly, and was duly netted on shore. Within twenty minutes the same fly rose and landed me a salmon. I rechristened this fly the Wullie, and determined after that evening's work was done to preserve it for copying. King log, however, interfered with my well-meant intentions. A stick of pine by and by feloniously shot round a corner of rock unawares, and ere I could recover the cast the fly was embedded in the butt of it, and there was a quick smash. In what remote part of the earth will the Wullie be next found—or will it become the adornment of a permanent waterlog without leaving the river of its birthplace?
The fish which I have caught to this date, fishing about twenty hours during the whole week (including Sunday night, when, after my sea journey and long carriage drive from Christiansand, I went out at eight o'clock, caught seven trout, and afterwards read a chapter of Shandon Bells under an apple-tree at half-past ten at night in good daylight) have been curiously uniform in weights. The salmon were 10 1/2 lb., 10 1/4 lb., and 10 lb.; the grilse 3 1/2 lb., 3 1/4 lb., 3 lb., 3 1/2 lb., and 3 lb.
As a contrast to these hot days, let us arrive at the doings of a wet week, of which most travellers in the country get more or less experience.
When you read in your guide-book "The climate of the west coast is usually mild, being influenced by the Atlantic and the Gulf Stream, which impinges upon it," you will, having the ordinary experiences of this vale of tears, not omit the mackintoshes from your baggage. It may be, as is set forth a little farther down, that July and August are the best months for this part of Norway; but there is never any trusting that Atlantic and Gulf Stream. Yet here we are at the end of a solid week of rain, with every promise of more to follow. This morning the rushing sound which greeted my waking moments was, nevertheless, different from that of previous mornings. It was merely the steady but strong flow of the river, not fifty yards from my bedroom window, speeding from the wooden bridge to the mouth at the fiord, half a mile below. Previously there had been variations upon this unceasing monotone, and they were caused by the rain pattering upon the leaves of an old ash outside, upon the shrubs and trees of the little orchard, and at times upon the veranda and even window panes.
There is no mistake about rain in Norway when it is in earnest, and a week of it is more than enough. It is true the nights have not this time been so wet as the days, but what consolation is that when the effect is to keep the river in perpetual flood? No; there is a vast difference between three and seven days, on a salmon river. The lesser infliction moves the fish and improves sport. In the days that are left you may find ample compensation in superior bags. Now there have been seven days' downpour, the river getting worse every day, and leaving a tolerable certainty of three days' additional patience for running down and clearing. But that is not the worst. I have said that there was a difference this morning when I got up and looked out. The sandy paths were dry, showing that there had been no fresh rain in the night. Moreover, the hillsides were open to view, the silver rills that veined the rugged steeps were dwindling, there was a blue sky, and great ranges of wooded or desolate mountains were in clearly cut outline—the first time since the wet period set in. Over the shoulder of the huge pyramid to the east there was actual sunshine, and the fleecy clouds were high. So at last there was to be an end to our mourning; verily so, since the wind had at last veered from south to north-west. Yet at this very moment, and it is still an hour short of noon, a heavy storm is making uproar without, the rain is descending in torrents, and there is the added discomfort of a shiver-breeding atmosphere. At any rate, we are under cover, and need not issue forth unless we choose. This is better than what must have been the fate of poor S., who went to the fjelds just before the break of fine weather to shoot ryper. He has been literally up in the clouds, and the birds will have been lying so low as to give points to "'Brer rabbit." Condemned to the solitude of a rude saeter, a hut in the most primitive sense of the term, he must have furnished a capital example of the English gentleman who forsakes the seductions of a London season and the luxuries of a Piccadilly club for the sake of sport.
To be sure, in our case, this reverse is only part of fisherman's luck, and we may be—and no doubt are—thankful that there was a fair fortnight, to begin with, placed on the right side of the account. Sport was, for various reasons, not by any means up to par, but we can, on this miserable Sabbath day, in our comfortable hotel by the strong, highly coloured river, count up a total of a trifle over 500 lb. to our two rods in little more than a fortnight. These were mostly sea trout, but of a lower average weight than is usual at this period of the season, the run of heavy fish—anything from 6 lb. to 16 lb.—having apparently taken place in July instead of August. The rule on this river is first a run of big sea trout, then a run of smaller size, and, lastly, a small run of bull trout, with occasional salmon throughout. H. has had the best of the bag, but a few salmon and grilse on another river gives me 244 lb. as my share.
My prettiest experience in the wet week was interesting. The river was big and dirty, the rain most hearty. The prospects were so poor that H. stuck to Anthony Trollope in the veranda. A thin piece of water on the lower beat to my mind offered a remote chance for a sea trout, and I was rowed down in a particular direct rainfall to it. The boatman shook his head at the small Bulldog I put on; he would have preferred a darker fly, salmon size. In a rough tumble of water over small boulders, which were not a foot beneath the foam-headed waves, a fish fastened, and the spin of the reel was shrill above the tumult of the waters. The grilse rod was tested severely, as in truth were my arms for a few minutes. The fish rushed forty yards down stream at express speed, then dodged and fought right and left. By and by the clever boatman got the boat through every variety of strong water to a landing place, and in good time the fish came to the gaff, a splendid bull trout of 10 lb. I wish some of my friends who are not satisfied upon the bull trout question could have seen this dark, broadly-spotted, burly fish, as it lay side by side with a silvery four-pound sea trout that I had previously taken with the same fly. It was as a Clydesdale to a thoroughbred. Seeing must then have been believing.
For the present let us forget that wet week. We will return to the rain, perhaps, another day; suffice now to state that we had three weeks of it—three weeks and never a day without mackintoshes. Last night it must have snowed pretty hard up on the fjelds, for there are at this moment white mantles lower down on the mountains than have been seen for many a year at this period of the season. The only way by which I can temporarily forget the weather is to go back to the day when, in England, the sportsmen were "inaugurating" (there are worse words than that though it is not pure English) the grouse season. On August 12 we were on a visit to S., whose river is a few hours' steaming from the stream upon which I was established in headquarters. It was our fourth day there, and, as a relief from the salmon rod, which had found out the unused muscles of my arms and shoulders, I took a holiday so far as to go out for once with a trout rod. It was a whole-cane pattern of 10 ft. 6 in. As it was already put together in the rack at the back of the hotel, I borrowed it just to save the bother of fixing up my own greenheart. In the tidal portion of the river capital sport was sometimes to be found with the common trout. They are Salmo fario of the kind one often catches in Norway—silvery, marked with a galaxy of small black spots, with a red point here and there, and game to the death; and their favourite taking time in this river was when the tide was nearing low water.
On that particular date this happened pretty early, and I was on the pebbly strand by eight o'clock. Our friends who fish the river use small March browns, blue duns, and teal and reds for such light amusement; but I had with me a couple of patterns—to wit, the Killer (a sea-trout fly which in a previous visit to Norway the small trout had fancied very freely) and an adaptation of the Alexandra used on the Costa for grayling. Both have silver bodies, but the former is a study in yellow, the latter a harmony in peacock-blue; and these special dressings were on eyed hooks, say about the size of a medium sedge, though of more scanty material. One of each was put up on an untapered cast of the finest undrawn gut; but, in ordering the collars to go with the flies, I had begged that every strand should be of picked stuff, round and even from end to end, and that they should be in every detail sound and sure.
My temporary gillie D. was by nature taciturn but always willing. This morning he was willing enough, but mum as an oyster. Nay, he sat upon the great grey rock on the little island and watched me make ready with a wonderfully melancholy expression. It was only when a salmon on the other side splashed noisily that he smiled—the grim relaxation of features that means resignation tempered with pity, not encouragement, nor hope, nor approval. His entire demeanour said, "To think that I should have carried the gaff, and gillied good salmon fishermen for years, and be degraded into this mean tomfoolery." A little impressed with his attitude, and, I think I may add, half in sympathy, I advised him as well as I could to rest him tranquilly on the rock, and not worry till I demanded his assistance. Then, hitching up my wading stockings, I went in to less than knee-deep and angled for trout for a quarter of an hour to no purpose. The green, dark water of the regular current was an easy cast out, but the fish I sought were generally taken on its edge, or in about a foot depth of shallow, when the flies came down at the end of a line that had been allowed to sweep round with the stream. I got a couple of 9-in. fish, and knew that the half-pounders were not rising.
Next I moved in to above the knees, and pulled out a little more line; was looking up at the snow patches on the mountain tops, and the fir trees on the slope, when I was startled by a rude pluck and a whirring of the little reel. I receded to shore as quickly as I could with a bent rod and running fish to hold, and then became aware that my line could not be more than thirty yards in length. Down and down went the fish. Sometimes he paused and shook himself; now and again he even responded to my winching in, or even played about without rushing. Once he ran ten yards upstream, but for the most part I ran with him, and was mainly absorbed by a desire to keep as much line in hand as possible. D. had seen my position at once, and was soon at my rear, pocket gaff in hand, and all the sadness gone from his harsh visage. I think the fight lasted about ten minutes, but it was splendid battle every moment of the time, and D. finally gaffed out a silvery grilse, the smallest I had ever taken. I weighed him on the spot; he was 3 lb. He had taken the small edition of the Killer, and a few moments more would have given him liberty.
This was an encouraging beginning certainly, for I suppose no man complains if, going out to catch half-pound trout, he bags a grilse, small though it be. Now I regretted that I had no longer line, and that I had not stuck to the winch which I had replaced by one of my own—a small ebony and silver one, which five-and-twenty years ago formed part of a collection of goods composing the only prize I ever received. It happened that the biggest pike of the year at the Stanley Anglers, of which I was a member, had been caught by me without competing, or thinking of prizes; but I was proud to take the award when it was offered, and had the amount laid out in tackle. Here was the winch, after much service, accounting for a grilse in Norway! I now ran my fingers down the gut cast, tested the knots, and began again. D. did not go back to his rock, and while in the water, having delivered my cast, I was turning round to hand him my tobacco pouch, when a furious pluck nearly brought the rod-top to the water. But one manages these things by instinct, and the whole-cane was arched like a bow again, and, out of the water, now abreast, now below, now away in the stream, leaped a sea trout. He was the most restless of fishes; the grilse had gone through his campaign with severe dignity, but this fellow played endless pranks, and led me a merry dance down the pebbles, ending in the production of the spring balance, and a register of 2 1/2 lb. The sun was out strong now, and I feared that the fun was over. Never, however, leave off because of the sun with sea trout; no, nor with salmon either, though only half or quarter of a chance is left you. I have killed some salmon and plenty of sea trout, though after much apparently hopeless toil, against all the rules as to sun, wind, and cloud. I was recalling examples when the rod was made to quiver again, and this time it was a sea trout of over 1 1/2 lb. I would not degrade D. by allowing him to interfere, but walked back and hauled the fish up a sandy spit, extracted the hook, and weighed him myself, as I generally do. In the next quarter of an hour I got three sea trout of the smaller size, and weighed them en bloc, tied together, at 5 lb. the leash. Breakfast was now fairly earned, and in a fine state of perspiration and contentment I led the way home. In the afternoon I was bound to make a show with the big rod, but left the whole-cane trouter where I could pick it up for an evening trial on the scene of the morning's sport. We all got something that day, but the sun was too much for anything but casualties with salmon. With a small Bulldog I found, hooked, and strove with a fish that bored and jiggered most unconscionably. He worked like a fair salmon so long as he remained dogged; when once he moved up from the bottom, however, I estimated him for a sample that would at least not prove beyond the 10 lb. limit of my spring balance. And so it turned out. D. did me the honour of missing him twice in succession with the gaff, and he quite lost his nerve. He threw down the gaff, in his agitation, and, amidst roars of laughter from a couple of onlookers on the farther side, literally danced about amongst salmon, gaff, and line. Sternly I bade him get out of the way, and by a crowning mercy his gaff at the false strikes, and his feet during the pas deux (he and the salmon were actually waltzing together on the stones) had not touched the line, However, the fish was exhausted, and followed me with commendable docility as I retired in good order up the bank, hauling him bodily. D. now seemed stricken with remorse; he clattered into the water behind the fish, and with the ferocity of a very Viking kicked it ignominiously up to the grassy plateau to which I had moved. How much avoirdupois the worthy man had kicked out of that salmon I know not; what remained weighed 7 lb., and it was a singularly bright and handsomely shaped fish. There was this advantage in the application of the boot instead of the gaff—the fish was not disfigured by a gashed side.
The salmon was very welcome, but I was thinking all the while of the excitement of the morning and the brisk quivering of the trout rod. Somehow I found myself down there again in the early evening, D. accompanying me with another attack of depression. He was quite right from his point of view. His master had taught him—if, indeed, he had not inherited the doctrine—that salmon are the only things worth calling fish. Sea trout count for nothing; brown trout for less than that. Still, he pocketed his disapproval, and came along with lack lustre eye. S. came down, too, just as I was wading in, to see me start, and in a few minutes I announced that a good fish had risen short at the small Killer. This was a timely falsity, as I wanted just then the opportunity of filling my pipe—not an easy thing to do knee-deep in water. By putting your rod over your right arm, and fixing the butt into your pocket, it may, however, be done; the line takes care of itself, and the flies will be below you somewhere out of danger. There must have been down there a 10-in. sea trout at the very lap of the water on the stones—perhaps it had followed the fly in from the stream; anyhow, there it was on the Killer when I had lighted the pipe, and I gave it freedom, without including it in the bag of the day. After the brief interval I addressed myself to the false riser who had, without knowing it, accommodated me in the matter of the pipe. With the sense of obligation strong upon me, I gave him his opportunity with delicacy and deliberation; he came up like an Itchen patriarch at a Mayfly, and I had a full ten minutes' race down the bank, with heartfelt tussles at intervals that made the engagement gloriously alive. This fish was quite worthy of the gaff, being a beautiful sea trout of 5 lb.
The five-pounder had been hooked on the shallow, and to the shallow I again devoted myself. There were rises, without touches at the fly, in two successive casts; at the third I was fast in another good fish; saw him roll over and over on the surface, and lost him. He was lightly hooked, and the little Killer and the cast came back entire. It was a sea trout quite as large as that last knocked on the head. But I could afford one loss that day, and my philosophy was presently rewarded by a sea trout of 2 1/2 lb. As the golden sun set in a world of rose-coloured clouds reflected in one of the loveliest of bays, I found myself engaged in a warm contest that seemed never to end. Twice there was not a yard of line left on the small winch; several times I had to go into the water again; between whiles I was kept on the trot and canter, and was puffing like an engine when the combat ended with a grilse of 3 1/2 lb., the gaffing of which caused the loss somehow of the ornamental handle of the instrument. I never found the gaff handle, but I retain a vivid remembrance of my gymnastics during that superb sunset. There was another sea trout to complete the day's sport—an inconsiderable pounder—which my henchman, however, strung up with the rest. Besides the eleven fish (one salmon, two grilse, and eight sea trout) there were some small brown trout, given to a young Norsker who had been hanging about the bank; and the bag was altogether an honest 34 lb. It must be remembered that the stream was always so strong that the endurance of the cast and strength of the rod was a really remarkable fact. At times the rod was bent until it seemed it must break somewhere, especially with the grilse and 5-lb. sea trout; but it came home as straight as ever. The same fine gut collar and the one small Killer accounted for every fish caught that day except the salmon, which was taken with the usual salmon equipment. Yes; balancing the accounts fairly, I really do think I may with a clear conscience set that one bright day against that one wet week in Norway. At the same time it must not be supposed that such a bag is anything to talk about for Norway. Did not H., only two days agone, venturing out for an afternoon, return early with 40 lb. of sea trout, and did he not three seasons back kill 60 lb. in part of a day? The moral of my modest narrative is that you may do more than you wot of sometimes with a trout rod and fine tackle even in the strong streams of Norway.
LAST DAYS WITH NORWAY AND ITS SEA TROUT
To-day we say "farvell" to the willing, good-hearted fellows who have served us so loyally these bygone weeks, and to the kindly people with whom you cannot help making friends after a brief residence amongst the simple farmer and village folk of Norway. We have, therefore, to prepare for flight of seventy miles down the fiord in order to catch the English boat at Bergen; and, to do this, we have had to charter a small craft on our own account if we would intercept the next regular steamer plying from Trondjhem southwards. The greater part of the day has been, in consequence, spent perforce in the odious work of packing up; but I need here only say, as cognate to packing up, that the tackle one carries is considerable, and that many of us undoubtedly get into the habit of taking much more than is necessary. At any rate, the occupation of stowing away impedimenta has gobbled a considerable slice out of this day. Yet I have not only managed to get a bit of fishing but, strange to say, have made exactly the same bag of fish as to number and weight as I did on that bright day aforetime described. Perhaps it is unnecessary to begin by affirming that once more, as diem per diem for three weeks, we have had to work at our play amidst rain unceasing from morning till night. H. has been two hours and more gone up the river salmon fishing, and as dinner to-night will be somewhat late, I sit down with the storm racketing around the house, to write the history of this last day's sport with the sea trout. The consciousness of a fairly good day, all things considered, puts me at peace with myself and the world; and the transference from wet to dry clothes, not to speak of the storm-tossed appearance of an occasional boatman dropping down to the fiord, imparts a sense of comfort that is not at all a drawback when one takes up the pen.
Before getting into his stolkjarre this morning, H., referring to the high tides, solaced me by the remark that, although the river was a couple of feet higher than it ought to be, there was an even chance of fair sport. To begin with the water was not badly coloured, and it was clearing. The two hours preceding low water were, as usual, mentioned as the period in which business with sea trout should be most pressing. After, therefore, three hours in my littered rooms with two big portmanteaux, I summoned my man (always ready for a summons), and we trudged off along road and bye-track to the island which was our customary starting point, and a favourite place at all times.
If newly-run sea trout rested en route anywhere, it would be somewhere off its green banks. Above the island the river was a long, broad, dull reach, where a good deal of harling was done by the natives. At H.'s boundary there were rocks, breaking the stream into typical runs, and there was one channel or gut, about ten yards out from the island bank, which rarely failed in giving temporary lodgings to running fish. Properly speaking, an angler should, in fishing this down from shore, keep behind the low-growing alders; but it always seemed more advantageous to me, as a student of fish movement, to watch the progress of the fly. Never in the world could there be a better place to note the movements of a sea trout, and so you began the day with faculties all awake. The small Bulldog (after the point had been duly touched up by the file) was first put up, and at the third cast I beheld a brown streak and a silver flash, followed by an abrupt disappearance of the object. A sea trout had showed himself without nearing the fly, and had retired immediately to quarters. Ten minutes as a rule was ample for this island casting, but as, on this occasion, there was no other sign than that I have mentioned, I could not but spare a few extra minutes to my friend who had falsely made overtures to the Bulldog; the least to be done was another trial with a fly of a different pattern. But he remained sulky or scared.
Then we took to the boat, and began to fish the well-known water with careful assiduity. And my heart sank as time sped along, and resting-place after resting-place for fish was deliberately worked without result. Low clouds, in horizontal strata of white masses, shrouded the mountain sides, there was a miserable shiver of wind upon the water, and for any token to eye or hand there might not have been a fish in the river. By and by we came to the conclusion that, for the time being, the game was not worth the candle; and we went ashore to snatch a hasty luncheon under the dripping eaves of a boat-house. In the bows of the boat there were two fish, so insignificant that we would not weigh them, though we afterwards found that they were each about 2 lb. We shrugged our shoulders on the surmise that either there had been no run of sea trout during these propitious moonlight nights, or that they were by one consent in one of their non-taking humours. Sea trout, however, are notoriously capricious, and not being likely to get any moister than I already was from the rain, I determined, before saying a final good-bye, to toil on through the two hours after low water, notwithstanding that what remained was the lower part of the beat on which the slight incoming tide made itself felt earliest.
When you are fishing on the forlorn-hope principle, you are not thinking much about the immediate chances of sport. At times of anything like encouragement, you are keenly particular as to the fall of the fly and its correct working on an even keel; nay, you are so sensitive and alert that the touch of a passing leaflet on the hook produces some sort of excitement. Every cast goes out with a cluster of hopes in pursuit, and dreams as to possibilities; you keep looking round to be satisfied that the gaff is ready to hand, and everything in the boat shipshape for action. As it was after luncheon to-day, you think of anything but a fish taking hold; you swish on monotonously and mechanically; you muse of friends at home and abroad, of the sport you enjoyed yesterday or the day before, of chances lost, perhaps even of your general career through either a well-ordered or misspent life as the case may happen to be; and then, hey presto! you are startled, brought up with a round turn by a sudden plunge of the rod and that delicious sound—an alarm of the reel.
This was precisely my case, and from the evidences permitted it should have been a worthy fish which, so suddenly welcome, intruded upon reverie. One of the disadvantages of boat fishing in a big, strongly flowing Norway river, is the prolonged chances given to your fish by the necessity of going ashore to land him. We had now to tow this unknown quantity close upon a hundred yards across before we could gain the shore, and the hooked one was resisting all the time. It turned out to be a 3-lb. sea trout, hooked foul. For a little while there was seldom a cast without at least a rise. Twice the fish broke water heavily without touching the feathers, and that is comparatively an out of the way occurrence. Two or three times they just touched the hook, ran out a yard or so of line, fluttered on the top of the water, and were off. This is one of the common phases of sea-trout fishing; it just now showed that the fish were in a different temper from that of the pre-luncheon era, when there was no moving them, whether truly or falsely. There was, at any rate, a change, promising that sooner or later they would fall into a really gripping mood. Sea trout are indeed kittle cattle. There are days when the fish one and all seize the fly boldly and are fastened beyond recall, while for days in succession they touch the hook only to get off the moment a fair strain is realised.
Three times during this fast-and-loose interval was the fly changed. Now it was a Jock Scott with double hook, now a Durham Ranger on single hook, now the Bulldog again. The latter, however, was out of favour, and I rummaged out from the box a Fiery Brown, which I had selected with some others from the stock of Little (of the Haymarket), who happened to be in Norway at the time inspecting certain salmon and trout rivers, with days of fishing in the intervals, and who was good enough to allow me to take what I wanted from his book on the morning of his departure for England. The Fiery Brown did very well. It brought me in succession fish of 4 1/2 lb., 3 lb., and 2 1/2 lb., and others, so that at four o'clock in the afternoon, instead of two small sea trout in the boat, I had ten, and was quite satisfied if they remained at that figure.
On this last day I did not, however, care to lose sight for ever of that half-hearted sea trout which had baulked me at starting up at the island. A., although he was out of sorts, and had been pretty well worked day by day, was for towing the boat up-stream and fishing the whole river down again, but to this I objected. There was no use in working a willing horse to death; and perhaps I might also honestly say that by this time I was a trifle tired myself. We therefore left the boat at its usual moorings half-way, and plodded up through the sloppy marsh and over the slippery rocks to the desired spot. I wanted no more two- or three-pounders, and, in a sort of care-nothing spirit, decided upon a Butcher, of small salmon-fly size, this being perhaps one of the very best all-round patterns for Norwegian waters. A few casts tested the hold where my sea trout of the morning lay, but he was still obdurate, unless he had adopted the unlikely course of pushing upwards since our transient interview.
I pulled out a few more yards of line, and fished farther out over water that was deeper and not of high repute as the halting-stage of sea trout. But I had my reward presently in a determined assault upon the fly, delivered well under water.
It might here be mentioned that at the tapering point of the island, some fifty yards below, a swift branch stream, created by the island, poured in; and again fifty yards farther on there was a general conjunction of streams and eddies, making a leaping, roaring toss of broken water, with a tremendously heavy, sliding volume to the left. Below this lively meeting-place the concentrated currents swept round furiously under the cliff at right angles. It was tolerably certain disaster to one party if ever a fish got so far as that. To be forewarned was, however, to be forearmed, and, knowing the dangers of the position, we always examined our cast beforehand, so that, in case of the tug of war, defeat should not be caused by defective gut. It was evident from the very beginning that I was now at issue with a heavy fish of some kind. There was that short steady run deep in the water which we all like; no foolish pirouetting at the end of the line on the top of the water here. The rod was arched to its utmost; everything was splendidly taut. It was one of those combats when the fisherman feels that he may, when challenged, plant his feet wide apart and lean bodily against what he is holding.
After the preliminary canter the fish made a gallant rush straight down, shot like an arrow past the end of the island, and, hesitating an instant, betrayed a desire to sheer into the heart of the rapid. Kept out of this by a firm hand, he sped across to the other side, then made another attempt to get down to the narrows. For just about a minute it was neck or nothing between us, but I had made up my mind that, whether he broke me or not, go a yard farther towards danger he should not. He might have known what was my fell purpose, for, after doggedly holding his own while I might count ten, he came up, literally inch by inch, in response to the cautious turn of the winch handle. It is the acme of sport to have a fine fish on your winch, as it were, trying his best to increase distance, fighting right and left incessantly, and yet compelled to advance against his will in the teeth of a powerful glacier-fed stream. There was a prolongation of this exquisite excitement. Sometimes the fish would be winched up to within thirty yards of line, and then in a twinkling there would be fifty or sixty yards quivering at the stretch, and the old tactics had to be repeated. The fear all the while was that the fish, however well hooked at first, might eventually break away the hold; but I had not now to learn that in such a dilemma it is always well to be as hard with the fish as the tackle will bear, and the time arrived when the line became short and the fish subdued, and A., seeing his opportunity with the gaff, waded in amongst the boulders at the very point of the island. Nothing, however, could induce the fish to come into the moderately slack water where gaffing would have been an easy matter. He floundered about on the very verge of the branch stream, and before long, rather than give more line, I was forced to walk back amongst the undergrowth.
It was time the fish was out of these mutual difficulties, and if he would not take the steel where he ought to have been, we must strike him where and how we could. Back amongst the bushes I could just see A.'s head and bent body with the outstretched gaff. As the poor fellow had missed a fish once or twice that day (being as I have before said much indisposed with a severe cold and a splitting headache), I was, at this delay, fearful of the sequel, and observed with horror his wild, scythe-like sweep with the gaff. I could feel also, but too surely, that the fish had received a violent blow; but the sound of its continued splashing in the water and the steady strain upon the line allowed me to breathe again, and to realise that the weapon had not touched the gut. A. would get very nervous if you spoke to him under these circumstances, and the ejaculation that would have only been natural was therefore suppressed. Silently retiring a few steps farther into the bushes, with tightly set lips, I could only hope for the best. The best happened, and in a moment or two A. came up the grassy slope with a glorious sea trout of 12 lb. impaled upon the gaff. It was a mystery that the ending was of this kind, for on the shoulder of the fish there was a rip quite six inches long, where the gaff, on its errand of failure a few moments before, had shockingly scored the flesh. "A good one for the last," I said, "now we will go home"; and homewards we went, calling at the boat on our way down to string up the rest of the spoil, which I counted and weighed there and then, and, as I intimated earlier, found that it was exactly the record of my other best day in August—eleven fish (but all sea trout) weighing 34 lb.
Having written so much of this last day with the sea trout, I find on inquiry that there is no sign of H. yet, and that dinner will not be ready for at least another hour. I therefore amuse myself by going through my daily record, to tot up the gross returns. We are very curiously fashioned, inside as well as out, and although, considering the adverse circumstances which I have not failed to describe, I ought to be contented, I find myself grieving. Will the reader guess for a moment why? I will save his time by stating that it is because upon adding up the daily jottings of my notebook, I find that I leave off just 5 lb. short of 400 lb.—ninety-eight fish totalling 395 lb., not including sundry bags of brown trout. This is hard, but it is too late now to make the gross weight even figures. It is much too dark to go out again, the tide would be all wrong if I did go out, yet had I known that I was so near 400 lb. I should have remained on that river until I had made it up.
The salmon fishing, I may take the opportunity of adding, was a failure. But for the fact that we had hired the river for ten days, we probably should never have gone to the trouble of making the two or three attempts we did make. There had been some fine fish taken during the weeks when we were occupied in sea-trout fishing. There had been one of 57 lb. killed on a spoon, and on my first visit to our newly acquired fishing, a party of young gentlemen, who had taken the other side of the water, were in high spirits. On the lawn in front of the house there lay a fish of over 30 lb., another of 29 lb., and two smaller ones.
The angler who had caught them naturally thought that with a record of four fish weighing 96 lbs. in a day, and that his first day, too, and the fish all caught with the fly, he was in for an uncommonly good thing. But the river, instead of improving, afterwards got worse, and to the time of our leaving the party had had indifferent sport after that auspicious beginning. The sight of the big fellows lying white and shapely on the grass in front of the chalet taught me that I might have driven up two or three hours earlier, but there was still reason to suppose that there might be a salmon left for me. I began by hooking and playing in the first pool a small red fish of, I should say, 7 lb., which did me the honour of making a graceful twirl when I had, as I supposed, tired him out; with a flutter of his tail, he sheered off with contemptuous slowness under my very nose into the deeps again. An hour later I got a similar fish, small and red (just under 7 lb.), which did not escape. By and by, with a full-sized Durham Ranger, I had an affair of the good old sort; it was a well-sustained contest after I had been landed on the farther shore, terminated by the landing of a bright, handsome salmon of 25 lb. A young gentleman on the same side, fishing from the boat with a prawn, hooked and brought to the top, while I was playing mine, a fish of equal size apparently, but it got off, leaving him still the consolation of an 18-lb. fish and another smaller, which lay in his boat.
One of the most curious days in the way of weather was yesterday. It was my turn to fish the salmon water, and I did fish it, hard and honestly, but came ashore with a clean boat. H., on the same day, did splendidly with the sea trout in his own water, making a bag of close upon 40 lb. There was a gale blowing in the morning; rain of course was falling, but the curiosity of the day was an intermittent sirocco, which came up the valley like blasts from a fiery furnace. The wind was so overpowering on my salmon reaches that it was hardly possible either to hold the boat or to get out line. But here is a summons to dinner, and I have only time to add that on one day last week I had a very pretty half day with the sea trout, getting six fish, which weighed 29 lb., and they included one of 8 lb., one of 6 lb., and two of 4 lb. each, all caught with the small Bulldog. Three fish, weighing 17 lb., is the entry for another day, and that included an 11-lb. bull trout. On August 15, which was a day of continual losses from short rising, there were four sea trout, weighing 18 lb., one of them a fish of 9 1/2 lb. On the following day, fishing from eleven till three in a bright sun, the take was five fish and some small trout, making a total of 24 lb.
One morning (it is August 30) the mountain tops were beautifully white. There has been heavy snow during the night, and the poor hard-working people I find reaping down their scanty oats, or chopping off their 3-in. grass for hay, in a bitter north wind. The G. P. F., as we trudge off to his water, draws my attention to that spot in the middle of the estuary which has been mentioned before as exposed at low water. There are now a man and three women upon it, mowing and gathering in whatever growth it bears, so that not even this is unworthy of the economy enforced by their hard conditions of life. We fall into converse, as we walk, about the manner in which the Norway salmon are netted, and truly the wonder is that so many run the gauntlet and reach the spawning grounds. In ascending the fiords the fish creep along within some twenty yards of the shore, and this makes it easy for the native to intercept them. Besides bag and stake nets, there is a look-out dodge, under which a primitive but fatal net is hung out at each promontory in the direct path of the travelling fish. The nets are off, however, and the traps open after the middle of August. Thus holding sweet counsel by the way like the pilgrims of old, we defy the north wind, and can afford to stop occasionally to admire the new panorama which has been arranged during the night. Where there were only occasional patches of snow yesterday, to-day there is a widespread whitening, and the folds of the ermine mantle are lying far down the shoulders, traces of the first heavy downfall of the season. We do not expect any sport to-day, but a moderately lucky star smiles, and for myself, on one of Bickerdyke's Salmo irritans (Jock Scott) patterns, I get a lively quarter of an hour with an 11-lb. sea trout, a grand fish, so thick that I am not certain about it until I lay it on the grass. There was a fish of 14 lb. or 15 lb. killed by my friend yesterday, which he pronounced a fair sample of the richly spotted and burly bull trout which runs up late in the season. He himself has killed one of 19 lb. My fish I at first fancied might be one of the breed, but it is not, as indeed I see for myself the moment he points out the difference. In the afternoon I flank this fine Salmo trutta with a brace more—3 1/2 lb. and 1 1/2 lb., some compensation for a wet, cold, blustering day.