In May, and in dry seasons often in April, salmon angling is apt to be spoilt by want of water, and this difficulty remains till autumn, though each flood ought to bring up fresh fish, and the angler who is always on the spot may have many good days. In July the grilse run in numbers, and favourite streams and pools become alive with jumping fish of all sizes and colours, but except when there is fresh water in the river they take very badly. I have fished on such a river as the Lochy in August till I have been exasperated and made weary by the sight and sound of fish jumping, splashing, making boils, showing heads and tails, and doing everything except take my fly. In summer the fresh run fish are generally either small salmon or grilse, but when the water is in order there are plenty of such fish in first-rate condition to be caught. Very good sport may then be enjoyed, especially on a small rod and light tackle, but my experience has been that August and September are very bad rising months on large rivers. October is on the average the wettest month of the year, and in ordinary seasons the rivers become full again, and the salmon that are in them take better, and continue to do so in November, but to me much of the charm has then gone. It is true that on a river, such as the Tweed, fresh run salmon may be landed in November. They are fresh from the sea, but they have neither the liveliness nor the hard condition of spring fish, and in all autumn fishing, the greater number of the fish landed are either red or discoloured. Perhaps I have become unduly fastidious, but I cannot care for autumn fishing with the same eagerness as in past years, and cannot get away from a sense of regret and discontent caused by the appearance of the fish at that season. It is essential to the perfect enjoyment of salmon fishing that the fish which is landed after hard work and a long struggle should be brilliantly white, with all the redness and strength and goodness accumulated by rich feeding in the sea still stored in its flesh.
A Blue Book about salmon was published last year (1898), which contains most interesting but rather depressing information. It has given rise to much controversy, chiefly, I think, because in some comments made upon it the conclusions to be drawn from the book have been stated too absolutely. To say that unspawned salmon never take food in fresh water at once provokes a statement that they take worms and swallow them. We all know this; but the fact that a salmon will often swallow a bunch of worms curling just in front of his nose, or has occasionally been seen taking natural March brown flies" in spring, and been caught with an imitation of them, does not prove that there is no conclusion to be drawn from the very careful scientific investigations described in the Blue Book.
The result of these seems to me to confirm, beyond all possibility of doubt or dispute, a fear which has always haunted me when salmon fishing, and weighed upon my spirits during long days and hours of effort without success. This conclusion is that it is not in the least necessary for salmon to feed in fresh water after coming from the sea, and that we who fish for them are dependent for our success upon their caprice, whim, temper, curiosity, or any chance emotion known to fish, except appetite. In angling for trout we rely with some confidence upon their appetite. If the fish are there we conclude that they will feed at some time, and we expect to succeed when they do. But that upon which we rely in trout fishing is absent in the case of salmon in fresh water. Salmon do not need food then at all, and the stomach is so changed that they cannot digest much, if anything, and presumably therefore do not hunger. The wonder is that salmon should ever be caught by angling in fresh water at all, and as a matter of fact there is said, to he one variety of Pacific salmon which never is caught in this way; but the rule with British salmon is happily less absolute.
Apart from the angler's skill and knowledge of the river, success in salmon angling depends more upon the condition of the water than upon the weather. It is better to fish in the most unlikely weather, when the water is in good order, than in the best of weather when the river is rising or " dead low." The most certain time of all in which to get a salmon is when the river begins to rise. If the angler is then at a good stream or pool and the salmon are there, he will probably hook a fish ; but this favourable opportunity only lasts for ten or twenty minutes or half-an-hour. The more quickly the water rises, the shorter will this happy period for angling be, and after it is over there will be no more sport as long as the water continues to rise. The serious business of a salmon in fresh water is to work his way up stream. He does this when the water is rising, and when he is fairly engaged in doing it he will not look at playthings. It must also be borne in mind that fish do not as a rule take well when they are expecting a flood, and it follows that a day on which the river rises is likely to be a bad day on the whole, though one on which the angler will probably save a blank, if he is lucky enough to be at a good place at the right moment. The best chance of having a really good day's sport is when the river has cleared after a flood and is falling. The salmon have then stopped running, but are not yet thoroughly settled in their new places. They are still active and alert and more ready to pay attention to salmon flies. I think it is probable, that the more recently a salmon has entered a pool the more likely he is to take a fly. It is not hard to imagine that he is in good spirits at finding himself in an easy comfortable resting-place after struggling through rough water and over shallows. In spring, when the rivers are full and salmon can keep on moving up day after day without being dependent on a flood, I have noticed that a fish, which is seen to make a boil at the tail of a pool, frequently comes at the fly, if it is cast over the place directly or soon afterwards. A ghillie of much experience, a very good fisherman, first called my attention to this, and said that he thought these were fish which had just entered the pool, and I think he was right.