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Salmon Fishing

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Salmon-While fly fishing is considered the highest form of the art of angling, it is to be remembered that it is but a section of a general sport, and that it has distinctions within itself offering endless variety of attraction. In glancing at these, the salmon must come first into consideration. With some sportsmen fly fishing means salmon or sea-trout fishing only, just as the word "fish" in Scotland is an exclusive term by which Salina solar alone is honoured. In trout fishing there have of late years grown up definite schools, but the noble sport of salmon fishing does not admit of much divergence from the settled practices of our forefathers ; with the exception of developments here and there, not necessarily improvements, in the details of rods, lines, and artificial flies, the general principles of salmon fishing remain what they were fifty or sixty years ago, when there were eminent masters whose wisdom is embalmed in the literature of their day, and whose prowess has never been surpassed.

There are, it is true, other methods than fly fishing for the capture of salmon, and these have in the present day, perhaps, increased rather than diminished. By the fly fisher pure and simple they are viewed with disfavour. But there are excuses to be advanced. It is not always that a salmon will be in the humour to rise to a fly; and there are rivers, of which the Trent, in the Midlands, is the most conspicuous example, where salmon habitually decline to be taken by the artificial fly. They have been tempted with every known composition of fur and feather, yet to no purpose. Even in what are known as the sporting salmon rivers, for which enormous rents are paid, there are pools that are apparently by nature " sulky " ; the fish run into them and lie there, and may be caught by spinning baits, prawns, or worms, but as a rule they refuse the fly. Perhaps if salmon fishers would oftener try the experiment of sinking their fly to somewhere near the bottom they might be more successful, but it is not easy to persuade the purist that the wrapping of lead round the body of his Jock Scott o: Durham Ranger, or the adoption of any other unusual device for taking the line down to the floor of the pool, consorts with the honour-able canons of sport.

The apparatus for salmon fishing and some other methods of angling will be treated of in their alphabetical order as they occur in future numbers ; at present we are concerned with the general principles, and the mention of such matters as spinning, prawning, and worming for salmon may be dismissed with the remark that they are not in themselves illegal, that they are operations requiring great skill, and that, under certain conditions, they are legitimate practices if conducted in sportsmanlike manner. The rod is the item of the fly-fisher's equipment of highest importance, and he should aim at selecting one suitable to the size of his hand, the strength of his wrist and the length of his arm, the inches of his stature and his physical strength ; he should be equally careful to attach to a reel, in balance with the rod, a line that, being neither too heavy nor too light, will work in harmony with both. These are first principles, and it may be added that the line or collar of gut attached to the winch line should be of a substance in proportion to the rest of the tackle as well as suitable to the kind of fishing to be engaged in ; and that the artificial fly should be suited to the character of the water upon which it will be cast. These admonitions are the A B C of the game, but it is necessary to put them in plain words, for one often meets brother sportsmen who have fished long enough to have earned the description of experienced, yet ,who make their recreation a burden and their sport a failure by non-observance of just such primary considerations.

Choice of Rod-Spite of much writtenand oral advice, the man himself must be the judge of the rod that will suit him. The discussions which are conducted as to the relative merits of whole cane, split cane, or greenheart rods, should not persuade the purchaser to overlook the paramount importance of obtaining the thing that pleases, not his ethical notions, but his hand and arm. In the matter of rods we have learned something from American sportsmen; no longer is it insisted, as a hard and fast law admitting of no amending clause, that the salmon-rod must be eighteen or twenty feet in length. The longer the rod the more power, of course, in the casting of the line, in its recovery from the water, and in the command of a fish when the hook has been driven home. There are, obviously, many advantages which may be claimed for a long salmon rod, but they are too often obtained at the cost of excessive labour. When the angler is either fishing from the bank or wading in the stream, a rod of seventeen feet is, in these progressive days, considered to be adequate for all the purposes of salmon-fishing, and many British sportsmen are adopting the practice of their comrades across the Atlantic, and are content in boat fishing to use a rod of fifteen or sixteen feet ; but it is strictly essential that the materials and workmanship should be of super-excellence. A length of line sufficient for all practical purposes can be cast by a rod of this description, and as for the playing of a heavy salmon, if the smaller rod entails upon the captor another ten minutes or quarter of an hour in the struggle, the eager sportsman will not complain of this as a serious hardship. There are well-known salmon rivers where angling is only possible from a boat, and if this is not the most scientific way of catching a salmon with the fly, it is largely practised, with most satisfactory results, and with the knowledge that if the operation of casting becomes in time monotonous, there are compensations in the minimum of tax levied upon physical exertion and mental excitement. The angler, however, whose enthusiasm is most warranted, is he who dons a suit of waders and, with well-spiked brogues, be-takes him to the river bed, studying the places where salmon would naturally be found, regulating the length of his cast to suit the situation, and when fortunate, following his fish up or down, fighting him from terra firma. This sort of salmon-fishing offers the chances of many a moving incident on land and water, of perils and obstacles, of the wit of man pitted against the wonderful instinct and pluck of the gamest of fishes ; and he is not to be laughed at as rhapsodical who avouches that he would rather hook one salmon in a contest so fought out than half a dozen from the tranquil limitations of a boat. But boat-fishing, like the use of baits other than artificial fly, is at times a necessity.

The British pessimist is occasionally heard to assert in those very desponding moments when he pretends to think that everything worth having is played out in this weary world, that our salmon-fishing, amongst other great institutions, has gone to the dogs; but, as a matter of fact, in our rivers that are properly preserved and managed, this particular sport, taking one season with another, and considering all circumstances, holds its own with that of any other country. For matters of practical comparison, we have to deal with Norway and Canada. In the early years of the century-when Sir Hyde Parker wrote that he sometimes had so muchsport with the salmon as to be indifferent whether he fished any more for a week-phenomenal bags were made in Scandinavia, but we seldom hear of anything like such wonders in these days. In the rivers that are least harried by the nets, Norway salmon-fishing is still fine in favourable seasons, but the old flavour is gone. In Canada, also, the results are on the whole enough to satisfy an average appetite for sport ; but given a typical river like the High-land Dee, where the riparian owners have wisely taken measures to secure a free ascent of fish from the tidal waters, and taking into account the duration of the season with its spring, summer, and autumn runs of salmon and grilse, there is no better sport in the world, although the size of the fish may leave something to be desired. The legislation for salmon-fishing, which has long ago reached bewildering proportions, has been generally in the interests of the netsmen at the mouth, rather than for the sportsmen in the upper waters. The observer, indeed, who formed an opinion solely from the persistence with which in legislative action the sporting is sacrificed to the commercial interest in the matter of salmon-fishing, would not be much out of order in defending Napoleon's dictum that we are a nation of shopkeepers. The worst drawback to the salmon-fisher in the British Islands is the caprice of the climate, with its alternations or long spells of drought and flood. Over-netting in the ,tidal waters is also the curse of nearly all the good salmon streams of the United Kingdom, and without early remedy by Act of Parliament even the commercial interests will be ruined by greed. A painfully notorious illustration of a salmon river temporarily ruined for the angler is the Blackwater in Ireland ; once the desire of all sportsmen, it is now practically worthless for rod and line.

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