Miss Winsome and I had resolved to visit a certain pool which in September had yielded us on the average a brace of trout, usually about 2 lb. each, daily. Lest that should seem sport too mild for consideration, it may be well to mention that until that time Miss Winsome's part had been with the landing-net, which she wielded with unfailing dexterity ; she had not yet used the rod. Many a time the year before, after fishing the whole of that pool, about a quarter of a mile long, without even the modest reward of a rise, we had succeeded well enough on going over it again. Only a very few times had we left it with an empty creel, and on three or four occasions we had caught more than two trout. That opening day it gave not a single rise. Why? My own belief is that, though the pool is a favourite haunt of the fish in summer and for a month or two afterwards, they are not there at the beginning of the season. The rush of water is rather heavy, and I think that for a good many weeks after returning from the spawn-beds the trout lie in places where the current is gentle.
What was to be done ? If excessive sport did not detain us, we were to take tea not far off at five o'clock. It was now nearly four o'clock. Should we give over for the day, or should we try that other pool about half a mile down? To try the other pool would be flying in the face of local precepts. Even Angus, the gamekeeper, who is an optimist, had declared it to be hopeless. In the deep water on the south side of the island just above it there are large pike, which, he and every one in the neighbourhood believe, make raids. The repute of the pool is so poor that nobody with local knowledge deems it worthy of a serious trial.
Still, there would be no harm in letting the flies flit over it. The pool was on the way to the tea-cups.
It turned out that there was indeed no harm. At the fourth or fifth cast a fish rose and was hooked. Not having been very hopeful, I had not been attending so carefully as is always desirable; but as the fish turned to plunge I saw a flicker of what I took to be his tail, judging from the size of which I assumed that we had come upon one of the two-pounders so common in the Tay. Miss Winsome was in high glee.
" I knew this must be a good place!" she exclaimed, flourishing the landing-net.
" So did I," said the angler, with that profound sagacity of which one becomes conscious when other critics are discomfited.
" Where in all the Tay could we find a better-looking pool ? "
"Nowhere. I question whether there's a better in the world.'"
A good many minutes passed in agreeable converse, and the fish had not yet shown himself.
" There can be no doubt as to his condition,'" I remarked. "The fellow who told us that the Tay is an early river was right.""
Off ran the line at a great rate. The fish seemed to be making for the pike-haunted backwater. When near the mouth of it he turned and cut across the stream. Unless we had him by the tail or by the dorsal fin, this fish, I felt, must be more than 2 lb. Was he actually, at this time of the year, going to take all the line out ? It seemed so for a few moments. Fortunately, however, the Tay itself checked him. In the middle of the river there is a bank of gravel, over the broad summit of which only half a foot or so of water was rippling. When he reached the edge of the gravel the fish paused.
" How I wish I could see him!" said my pretty comrade.
We were standing low on the bank, and the water at our feet was deep : even if I coaxed the fish close in, he might not be visible from where we stood.
"Well," I answered, "just step up to the top of the bank. From there you may see him when he comes in."
The top of the bank was about nine feet above us. Miss Winsome did as I had suggested. Slowly the fish came in; but I felt no sign of weakening. ... It must have been nearly a quarter of an hour since he took the fly ? . . . Certainly, I think I saw his tail, which wasn't bigger than would beseem a two-pounder. Yet . . . ? That's a powerful strain he puts on at times ! . . . ?
Ruminating thus, I felt impelled to follow Miss Winsome to the top of the bank. Curiosity was awake. . . . Whizz! He was off again in a slanting direction across stream and down. I had to run some yards. When at length the fish came in again we could see him from our eminence. He was a disturbing apparition. I had been wrong about the tail. It was no trout that we had hooked. It was a salmon. He was a ten-pounder apparently.
Miss Winsome clapped her hands and danced a step; but 1 was constrained to silence. Mind and nerves had received a shock. The gut was not thick. The line was not long. The landing-net was not large. The course was not clear. About fifty yards down stream, set in a tangle of scrub, was a four-barred fence. Here was a how-d'ye-do !
I ventured to say as much.
Run for a gaff and lose the fun ? Not she !
Was it worse that half of us should lose the fun than that the whole of us should lose the fish ?
" Go hon!" said Miss Winsome, who had been reading Mr. Snaith's novel, and liked its language. " We'll get him somehow, by-and-by."
That fence, then? No doubt she noticed how furiously the deep water was raging past. Would she kindly say how I was to get over and yet keep pace with the salmon when he should turn and run down ?
"O, I'll go first and take the rod while you scramble over."
Of course that was the plan. Begone, dull care! At the moment I rebuked myself for not having thought of the way out. Afterwards I found a poor excuse in remembering that, in modest fearfulness lest she should lose a trout, Miss Winsome had on all previous occasions refused to take the rod when one was hooked. I had not foreseen that she would take it now. I had not realised that she would have resource and courage in the hour of need.
The fence was passed in safety. The salmon was going vigorously, and for a moment the rod, in Miss Winsome's hands, bent ominously; but, remembering instructions just in time, she allowed the line to run, and our hold on the fish felt sound when she gave the weapon back.