Having reached the autumn, our pen has involuntarily broken from its habitual diffidence. It has been treating of sport as certain. Perhaps that is not far wrong. They are foolish who encourage the imagination to droop into gloom and decadence merely because the summer solstice has once more come and gone. It will come again. Meanwhile, the Parliament having risen, and many vigorous minds having been thereby and otherwise freed to think about the affairs of sport, there are discussions about what are the proper lures. No one challenges the fly. Many challenge all other means of capturing a salmon. " Harling " and trolling are particularly suspect. Harling is practised only on very large rivers. Many a time, in reading some book on sport, I had wondered what " harling" meant. I knew that it was a method of angling much practised on the Tay, and that it was pursued from on board a boat; but I had been unable to visualise it. If " harling" meant trolling a minnow, the boat must be moving up-stream; and would not that make too great a commotion even in the wide Tay ? So I had ruminated. Well, strolling up the river with a trout rod, in September the year before last, suddenly I came upon two lithe young men, gamekeepers, launching a boat. As a pair of salmon rods lay on the bank, it was obvious that they were going to fish. I had seen the boat before. It was of the coble type, and very broad in the beam. It had been a matter of wonder to me to think that such a craft could be held against the heavy rush of the pool by the side of which it had been lying. Behold ! in the very middle of the torrent the craft rested on the Tay as lightly as a skiff rests on the Thames! Being nearly flat-bottomed, it drew very little water. Without much effort, one of the gillies was keeping it in position. . His companion was putting out the lines. On one of them was an artificial sand-eel; on the other, a Jock Scott. Both lines having been let down the stream for thirty or forty yards, the rods were laid across the stern; then, oars in the hands of each, the gillies set about their harling. Immediately I perceived that harling was in principle the same as trolling. Only one of the details was different. Instead of making the boat move bow-forward to keep the lures in motion, the gillies allowed it to drop downstream, very slowly, about three or four yards a minute; the force of the water was sufficient to keep the Jock Scott floating, or nearly so, and the sand-eel from sinking to the bottom. From side to side of the river, too, the boat moved, thereby causing the lures to search every likely spot. This revealed the motive of harling. Even such considerable rivers as the Don, the Severn, the Avon, the Helmsdale, and the Thurso, can be fished by casting from the bank; but the Tay is so broad that most of its pools could not be fished thoroughly without the aid of a boat. Before the pool, which is about three hundred yards long, was half-covered, the gillie nearer the stern dropped the oars, which hung on pins; leapt from his seat, and seized a rod. A salmon had taken the Jock Scott. Quickly the other gillie, having reeled up the second line, pulled ashore; and he and his comrade landed.
Within half an hour the salmon also reposed on the pebbly beach. He weighed slightly over 20 lbs.
Fishing of that kind is much disliked by sportsmen whose experience entitles their judgment to high respect. It was a fly that caught the salmon in the harling just described; but the other lure, it is held, was not innocently occupied. Routing about near the bottom of the water, it may have scared, or pricked, or annoyed many a salmon. If fish are harried by the gear of the troller, how can they be expected to be in blithe mood when the fly fisher approaches ? Even a Tsar or a Sultan cannot rise at a constitutional fly when his hover has been searched by the tackle of the anarch. How is a salmon, timid creature, to be bolder ? As a matter of fact, he is not. He lies low. In Norway and in Scotland the symptoms are well known. Wheresoever, on a river, trolling is practised, fly-fishing is of little avail. Unquestionable proof of this is afforded by the Tay. On certain stretches of that great river only the fly is allowed; on others, minnows and prawns and sand-eels are not banned. Taymount, Stobhall, and the Islamouth water are in one class; Kinnaird, Dalguise, and Dunkeld are in the other. None of these stretches has any natural advantage over any neighbouring stretch; yet it is only on those of the first class that a fly can be thrown with a prospect of reasonable success. In relation to running waters, then, the argument for fly-fishing and nothing else seems indisputable.