A little farther down there is a quick bend in the river. Behind the turn the water on our side, excepting in time of flood, is shallow and quiet. By this bay we found ourselves at length. The steely spring sunshine aflash on his sides, the salmon was cruising in shallow water on yellow sand. He had been somewhat tamed in the course of his assisted passage down the torrent; but he was still agile.
Miss Winsome, I observed, was taking off her fur jacket. She announced that she was going into the river whenever the salmon settled down. . . . She was as good as her word. Into the water she stepped as gracefully as if she were entering a minuet. Before I had recovered from my astonishment she had turned and was handing to me the salmon.
If this incident were unique, one would not on the strength of it venture any suggestion as to flies or tackle; but it is not unique. Four times that spring we caught a salmon on a trout fly, a March Brown. I have since heard, from a friend who has fished on nearly every river in Scotland and many a river elsewhere, that such good fortune is not uncommon. This suggests a question. Why, when we know that slightly thick gut will scare a trout, should we assume that the thickest gut will not scare a salmon ?
Many men even use casts of double or treble gut. Apparently they believe that fineness of tackle is necessary only when the river is low. They do not seem to consider that when it is "fishabler" at all the water, however high, is comparatively clear. It may be tinted by the essence of the peat; but it can be seen through. If it could not be seen through, salmon, which habitually lie at the bottom, never, as trout do when feeding, near the surface, would not rise. Salmon are much larger game than trout, and the heavier gear with which they are usually approached, besides being necessary, is proportionate; but can we be certain that its thickness is of no importance? Have we any reason for believing that at short range the eyes of a salmon are much less acute than those of a trout ?
Is the salmon blind to a warning at sight of which the trout goes down? It is conceivable, of course, that, instead of not noticing thick gut, the salmon may regard it as being a trifling freak of nature, to be treated with contempt; yet one cannot be sure. The point is not unimportant. Some may think that, as many salmon have taken flies in spite of the thick gut, all salmon are indifferent to it; but such reasoning is not conclusive. Once I saw a small boy catching a large trout on a salmon fly tied to a string and cast by a walking-stick; yet it is not likely that he has ever had such luck again. The capture of that fish was an exception to a well-ascertained rule founded upon the wariness of trout. Is it possible that every salmon taken on thick gut is in some measure an exception to a rule that may yet be acknowledged if we discover or invent a cord thinner than salmon gut and not less strong ?
It is not in my own mind alone that the speculation has arisen. Mr. Andrew Lang, who as an angler is much less casual than readers of his buoyant writings would suppose, has said: " I once fished a Highland loch, using the same flies as a friend (the Wasp was the favourite), but employing the finest gut of the chalk stream. My friend, who used the ordinary thick gut of Highland lochs, had scarcely a rise, while for once I was lucky, and got a number of sea-trout and a salmon. The water was brown, and there was plenty of breeze; yet the fish preferred the flies on fine gut."
The moral of that statement finds support in an inference from the fact that double hooks, which give in anticipation a pleasant sense of secure hold, are generally discarded except in the case of the smallest flies. Double-hook large flies almost invariably fail. Why ? Some authorities say that they fail because they are clumsy; some that they fail because the distribution of weight upsets the proper attitude of the fly in the water; there are other conjectural explanations. All theories save the correct one have been advanced. Look at a double-hook large fly head-against-the-stream, and the correct theory will make itself evident. The two hooks split the stream; they mark the water; the quivering streaks look like limbs of a weird creature with a long and tumultuous tail. If the running water itself can be made to appear uncannily solid to the eye of a salmon, is it not conceivable that the real solidity of gut may sometimes be viewed with misgiving? The gut must seem a monstrous horn. Who is to devise the invisible cord ?
The habits of trout and the state of the atmosphere are in well-defined relations, which I have endeavoured to state and to explain in Trout Fishing; but in relation to the weather, as in regard to flies, the moods of the salmon are in great measure a mystery. Going out of a morning, the wisest fisherman cannot have more than a surmise about what the day will bring forth. There is no sign or symptom of the weather that is also a sign as to the humour of the salmon. The temperature is significant in one respect, upon which I will touch by-and-by; but otherwise, as regards fly-fishing, no guidance is to be gleaned from barometer, thermometer, weather - cock, or wind-gauge. Sometimes there will be sport even when the exhausted atmosphere awaits the restorative touch of lightning; sometimes, in that state of weather, there will be none. We can never tell. Trout keep down in sultry weather, in which char often rise; but salmon do not then or at any other time either rise or sulk as a matter of course. The conditions by which their habits are governed seem to be within themselves, or within the water, exclusively. It is well to remember, of course, that on most of our rivers salmon are not much sought in summer.