The lochs were less satisfactory. There was no boat upon them, the bottom was of soft peat, and the wading peculiar. After wading a few steps into the water, one's feet sank into the soft bottom, masses of bubbles came up with a wallowing sound, and one had an impression of standing upon a yielding surface, which would collapse suddenly and let one down into an abyss. There was no firm ground in the lochs whatever, but we became used to the alarming feel of the soft peat and to the bubbles, and in time lost our fear, though we observed a certain caution to the end. The most troublesome habit of the lochs was that of becoming perfectly thick after a night of wind and rain, and even in the rare and short intervals of quiet weather the water in them was always full of floating particles. I think, the fish would have risen better in clearer water, but even as it was we found that some fish would take so long as the colour of the lochs remained black; when the colour became brown, fishing in them was hopeless.
The third and most interesting sort of fishing was in the voes in salt water. There was one voe some two miles in length, with two small burns about a quarter of a mile apart at the head of it. It looked a likely place upon the large map, and we walked over to it one Sunday afternoon to see and hear what we could. There were a few crofters near the sea at the place, and we were told by one of them that fish were seen jumping in the voe in September, and that some one was supposed to have fished there once and caught nothing. We thought this hopeful, for where fish are seen in Shetland they may be caught, and one day I walked over to experiment. I seldom spent a more wretched and hopeless morning. There was no sign of a sea trout, and to be wading amongst sea weed, throwing small flies in common salt water with a split cane rod, seemed perfectly foolish and mad. The burns were only large enough for minnows, and I could see that there was nothing in them. Discomfort was added to hopelessness, for my mackintosh had been forgotten, and some miles of rough peat hags and bogs were between me and the house : the morning had been fine, but about ten o'clock a series of cold, pitiless storms began, which lashed the voe with wind and heavy rain. This would not have been intolerable, if it had not been for the long waders, without which the deep water of the voe could not be reached ; but to stand in heavy rain with waders nearly up to the arm-pits, and without an overcoat, is to turn oneself into a receptacle for collecting fresh water. Desolate hills rose immediately behind, and as each storm came frowning up over the top of them, I retired from the water and crouched behind an old boat on the shore till the fury was past. After some hours of flogging the sea, hooking only sea weed, and dodging the storms, there was no spirit left in me. Blank despair overwhelmed me, and I turned to go. My back was to the water, but I had got only a few paces from it when I heard a splash, and looking round, saw where a fish had jumped, the first sign of one seen that day. I went straight to the place and caught a sea trout almost at once, and in the few remaining hours of the day landed sixteen pounds' weight of fish with fly. It may not seem a very heavy basket, but it was something to carry over the moor in addition to heavy waders, and not to be despised as a contrast to the prospect of the morning. I had a delightful reaction from despair to good spirits, and the satisfas-tion which perhaps a successful prospector or pioneer feels in a new country. The largest fish that day was under three pounds, but I lost one or two good fish in sea weed, and saw some much larger.
We still had much to learn about that voe and the trout there. They moved with the tide, and we had to understand their habits and follow their movements. Sometimes the burns had been in flood, and brought down muddy fresh water which floated on the top of the sea water. A good wind soon carried this out to sea, but if the wind was blowing up instead of down the voe, it dammed back all the burn water at the head, and made fishing impossible. Much time was spent in learning these and other tricks or secrets of the place.
Some of the trout in the sea were brown trout. The largest we caught weighed four pounds and three-quarters, and several were over two pounds. They were perfectly distinct from the sea trout, and had yellow under-sides and some red spots, but their flesh was in colour and flavour that of sea trout. We saw several grilse and small salmon jumping in this voe, and in October they turned quite red without having been in fresh water at all, but we did not succeed in hooking any of them. I suppose that none of the large fish, neither salmon, sea trout, nor brown trout, attempted to enter the little burns till they were quite ready to spawn. They then could have gone only a little way up in a flood, and no doubt returned to the sea immediately after having spawned.
We were told that there were no true salmon in Shetland, but we certainly caught many fish from three pounds to six pounds, which were exactly like grilse, and would have been called grilse without hesitation anywhere else. They were quite distinct from the sea trout, though the latter overlapped the grilse in size, and our largest sea trout were heavier than our smallest grilse. Some of the large fish, which were jumping in the voes, were apparently salmon, and perhaps we might have hooked some of them, if we had used some large bait instead of flies, but we were always having some success with flies, expecting still more, and experimenting with flies of different kinds, and so the time passed away. In spite of the forked tail and other distinctions, I cannot say that I always find it quite easy to be sure whether a fish which I have landed is a large grilse or a small salmon; but the difference between sea trout and grilse seems to me clear enough, for the one is unmistakably a trout, and the other is not.