This account of Loch Tay was written at the close of 1905. Now, when reading the proof-sheets, on March 5, 1906, I am able to state that the theory which it presents has had very remarkable justification. During December and January the weather was exceptionally mild. The temperature of Loch Tay was higher than that of the tributaries of the Tay below the loch. The spring salmon, therefore, ran into the loch, instead of running into the tributaries; and the season on the loch, as far as it has gone, has been as good as the best of which there is any chronicle.
The Tay, about 126 miles in length, is the greatest river in Scotland. I have not known it intimately long enough to be able to say from my own knowledge whether it is as prosperous as it used to be. My impression is that there must have been a falling-off for a few seasons before I became intimately acquainted with it a few years ago. This surmise is based upon what Mr. Watson Lyall, who knew the river thoroughly and fished it often, used to tell. Once he caught nineteen fish, salmon and grilse, weighing over 200 lbs., in a day! Though reasonably proud of this feat, he did not speak of it as if it were unprecedented. I gathered that it was hardly more than about twice as good a basket as a man might expect any day in a moderate September. There have been no tales so thrilling since I have known the Tay. It is not easy for one observer, however vigilant, to give more than a general account of so great a river. I will, therefore, recite what I have learned from three thoroughly competent actors and witnesses of sport on the magnificent stream.
Mr. C. A. Murray, who has Lord Mansfield's stretch at Stanley, says that there is a falling-off. He believes that this is due partly to over-fishing, and largely to fishing with sunken lures, such as prawns. Mr. Murray thinks that only fly-fishing is proper.
Colonel Edmund R. S. Richardson, owner of fine reaches at Ballathie, is less absolute in judgment. He writes:-
"The autumn results for the past two seasons have certainly been most disappointing. The catch has been little more than half of the usual quantity. I attribute this very much to the fact of our not having had the customary floods about the third week in August. Floods about that time -'Lammas floods'-used to be looked forward to regularly every year. They thoroughly wash out the bed of the river below Perth, which, being towards the top of the tidal water, gets into a most objectionable condition from the immense quantity of town sewage accumulated throughout the summer season, when floods are not usual. I don't think salmon mind a reasonable amount of sewage; but the collection below Perth is too much for them. In an ordinary season, when we get floods at the normal period, there is not, I think, any falling-off in the number of fish taken, compared with what were caught, say, twenty years ago. At that time there were not nearly so many boats on the river daily. I am bound to say that if the total catches of these boats were added together, quite as many fish would be accounted for daily on each mile of water as were taken twenty years ago. I think the stock of fish in the river is quite as good as ever. No doubt it has been maintained greatly in consequence of the nets above the Lynn of Campsie having been removed some years ago. Fish now pass up to the higher reaches earlier in the season than was possible formerly. When fish come beyond the tidal water in September and October a great many are so heavy and lazy that they cannot run far, and content themselves with spawning in the first gravel beds they reach. These beds are, as a rule, exposed to the heavy floods, and a great quantity of the ova must be washed away. As a proof that the stock of salmon is not diminishing, I may state that last season, 1905, the Tay Syndicate nets caught considerably more than double the number of fish that were recorded in their books five years ago. The spring fishing in these parts is certainly better than it used to be. This I attribute partly to the fact of fish now getting up the river to the spawning grounds earlier in the season. It is, I think, reasonable to expect that the progeny of early-spawning fish may be inclined the same way as their parents."
Mr. P. D. Malloch, tenant of Lord Ancaster's stretch at Stobhall, is highly optimistic. As he is almost constantly on the river, which he knows from the source to the sea, his judgment is especially important. Mr. Malloch writes :-
" During the last five years sport on the Tay and its tributaries has increased at least 100 per cent. The causes are the removal of nets, the making of the hang and toot and hall nets illegal, the curtailing of the nets for six days in the autumn, and the control of the nets having been given almost entirely into the hands of the Tay Salmon Fishing Company. Apart from the increase of sport, there are from twenty to fifty fish in the river for each one there was when the Company began operations six years ago. I have not the least doubt that during the next six years quite as great an increase will come about."
The Earn is one of the large tributaries of the Tay. Lord Ancaster informs me that on that water, as on the main river, the stock of salmon has largely increased during the last few years.
The Tummel is another large tributary of the Tay. Mr. A. E. Butter of Faskally, who owns the best part of the Tummel, enables me to give a statistical account. " As the result of a careful inspection of the records for the last eighteen years, it may be fairly said," writes Mr. Charles B. Robertson, at Mr. Butter's wish, "that there has been within that period no marked tendency either towards improvement or towards deterioration. It happens that in the first and last years of the series-1888-1905-the fishing was continued over a similar period - about five months: from February to July in 1888, and from January to June in 1905. The number of fish caught with the rod in these two seasons is practically identical. There was one less in the later year. The average weight in 1888 was 15-20 lbs.; in 1905, 1697 lbs. The average for the whole period has been 16.37 lbs. The weights of individual fish ranged from 9¼ to 25¼ lbs. Any variations in the number of fish caught from year to year can easily be accounted for by the varying periods during which fishing has been carried on in the seasons, and by the different conditions of rainfall. Although the records of fish caught indicate no improvement in the fishings on the river, the keepers are inclined to think that there have been more fish running up during the last two or three years than ever before. There is little or no poaching, in any systematic way, on this water; and pollution is now unknown, the sewage of Pitlochry-the only considerable township on the Tummel-being treated on a sewage farm before discharge into the river. The run of fish is well maintained, and if netting were still practised the hauls would doubtless be as heavy as ever they were. Those who have known the river for a length of time are of opinion that fungoid disease has been increasing in recent years. The falls on the river just above Faskally House form a serious obstacle to the ascent of fish, and there is no recognised salmon fishing above that point. Nevertheless, a good many fish do get up. Some are occasionally caught in Loch Tummel and in Loch Rannoch. John Macdonald, gamekeeper at Kynachan, Strathtummel, mentioned that he had seen about 200 fish lying in a pool below the weir at Dalcroy, below Tummel Bridge."