I have never been very successful in salmon fishing. Another angler once caught over fifty fresh run salmon with fly in six consecutive days in March on a river on which I was fishing at the same time. That is the best record for the United Kingdom of which I know, for I should not count any number of autumn salmon or of salmon caught with minnow as against these. My own total for those six days was fifteen clean salmon. I was sharing a rod with a friend, and in consequence only fished for half of each day, but I felt that under no circumstances should I have come near to my neighbour's figures.
I once caught two fresh run spring salmon in one day which weighed over fifty pounds together. The actual weights were 29 1/2 pounds and 21 1/2 pounds. The first one rose to my fly four times before I hooked it. After the first rise I made a mark in the bank, walked back a little and fished carefully down to the place again. Each time that I reached the mark the fish rose, but I had no idea of its size till, after being played for some time, it rushed to the other side of the river and splashed and kicked in shallow water — and a very uncomfortable moment that was. The second fish took under water in the middle of the river at the tail of a rapid stream, and for quite a perceptible number of seconds both the ghillie and I thought I had hooked a rock. But when it did move it became lively enough. Those no doubt are no great events compared to the success of others, but if it is a question of competing in records of bad days I think I can do better. I once fished every day for four weeks on a good beat on a good river in the Highlands in September and caught only two salmon. They were both under fifteen pounds, were both red, and one of them never rose at the fly at all, but happened to foul hook itself by jumping on the top of the gut in a swift stream. Another season I fished for ten consecutive days during what should have been the very best fortnight of the spring fishing, on one of the best spring rivers in Scotland. The water was in order the whole time, but I not only never landed one salmon, but never even had a rise. On the last day of all my fly was taken by a fish under water, and I landed a—sea-trout kelt! Finally before the day was over my rod broke in two. It is difficult to believe that it all happened without design on the part of some hidden power, which took delight in watching my long blank days of disappointment, then in mocking me with a sea-trout kelt, and which at last in sheer hatred and malice broke my rod.
I have found the weather very interesting in March in the north of Scotland. More than once the river has been frozen. There was one exceptionally severe frost in 1891, which for a few days made fishing impossible. In the first days of the frost we used to break the ice at the sides of the best pools and push it out in large pieces into the open stream in the middle, which gradually carried it away. By this means we used to get a little clear water in which to fish during the middle of the day, but every night the frost became more and more severe, and at last there was no open water left except just the rough streams at the head of the pools, which after a few yards plunged under a sheet of ice unbroken from bank to bank. I have no accurate record of the shade temperatures of that time. There was a thermometer hanging on the side of the lodge exposed to the sun in the daytime, which registered remarkable extremes. On one night it fell to 50 (270 of frost). The following day was still and cloudless, and with the sun full upon the wall the thermometer rose to 90°. The next night it fell to 30 (29° of frost). I remember on that day spreading a mackintosh upon the snow, and lying in the March sun without an overcoat in great comfort, looking at the frozen river. In very severe frosts, when the air is very still and cold the water freezes on the line, the fly becomes frozen hard and stiff, and the line with its coating of ice becomes too heavy for casting. The smaller rings on the top joint of the rod then become solid blocks of ice, and the line cannot run. You thaw the fly in your mouth, strip the ice off the line and clear the rings, but it all forms again, and little progress is made. In a moderate frost, when the sun is strong and thaws a little snow and ice in the middle of the day, the river will rise a few inches in the afternoon. I remember one March when this happened for several successive days, and in consequence we invariably hooked one or two salmon at the same hour in the afternoon. As long as the frost lasted, this was the only good hour of the day, but it was a certainty. The only drawback was that the slight thaw and rise of water brought down a quantity of small detached pieces of soft ice, which interfered with the working of the fly, and were often caught by the hook.
There are other days in March which are typical of spring, very bright, and caressing one with warm breezes. Then one sees the grouse in pairs walking about tamely, the cock bird with a crimson crown, full of play and pride, and showing off with various antics; while the clear air vibrates with the most wonderful of all the notes of birds, the prolonged spring notes of curlews, the most healing sound that ever was, full of rest and joy.
One great charm of the actual fishing for salmon is found no doubt in casting right out into dark rushing water; in having to do with the full force of a strong river instead of with shallows and gentle places in small streams, as in fly fishing for trout. Each has its charm, but the unobtrusive delicacy of trout fishing is out of place in a salmon river. Angling for salmon is coarser work, but it requires skill, and the effort and surroundings are most stimulating. In spring, too, there is a great sense of mystery about the water. Fresh run salmon do not jump at all, or show themselves much in the early part of the season. The angler may see nothing, and yet hope for everything: the number of salmon in any part of the river varies continually, and each day, as the angler watches the river, the water betrays none of its secrets; they remain hidden till his fly discovers them.