Some of the waters mentioned by Lord Fincastle are fished by members of the Hebridean Sporting Association, a club formed in Glasgow not very long ago. Mr. George D. Stirling, the Secretary, sends a pleasant note.
The waters leased by his Association are the Obbe Lochs, attached to Rodel House, and the Finsbay Lochs, attached to Finsbay Lodge. " The fishing is partly in tidal waters, and partly in fresh-water lochs. There are no rivers, the fish obtaining access to the lochs by short streams or runs, in which they do not rest before reaching the lochs. There is no pollution, and disease is unknown. The Association leased the fishings in 1903, and their experience thereof is limited to the three seasons 1903-4-5. During the first two seasons various improvements in the way of making new lochs and opening up the streams were carried out, and possibly this may, for the time, have disturbed the running of the fish. The catch of salmon, which average about 6 lbs., was nearly equal during 1903 and 1904; but that of 1905 shows a considerable falling-off, due, I should say, more to the weather than to anything else. On the other hand, the catch of sea-trout has increased, though the average weight was somewhat less last season. The brown trout are very plentiful; but the average weight is small. They have been allowed to increase unduly, and new blood is required. The crofting inhabitants have derived considerable advantages from the work of the Association and from the visitors thereby attracted to the place, and most of them now actively assist in the preservation of the fish. These lochs, so near the sea, differ from many others in that they give good sport in autumn. Indeed, August is usually the best month. The fish remain in the lochs until the need to spawn impels them onwards. Only fly is used."
The Ullapool, the Carron, the Cannaird, the Oiskaig, and the Polly, in Ross-shire, are reported on by Major E. W. Blunt MacKenzie, Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, who writes :-
"I cannot say that there is any very marked change, excepting, perhaps, in the case of the Polly. That certainly has been yielding more fish since a dam with a sluice-gate was built, in 1901, at the outlet of Loch Shinaskaig. By this aid we can send down enough water to induce fish to leave the sea when, as so often happens on these short, rapid-falling streams of the west coast, there is too little water for the fish to run. I am taking steps in the same direction in the cases of the Cannaird and the Oiskaig, though these are not so easily managed. There is a hatchery at Drumrunie, from which, since 1901, from 100,000 to 150,000 salmon and sea-trout have been distributed every year among the three rivers. Since 1901, also, a third of the bag nets have been removed, and there is no net within two miles of a river mouth-except one about a mile from the mouth of the Oiskaig, which is mainly sea-trout water. We only get ten or a dozen grilse on it in the year. I suppose that salmon do go up; but they are never caught. I have undertaken the work too recently to be able to give any decided opinion as to results. One thing does seem certain, and that is, that the fewer nets get just as many grilse and salmon. 1905 was a great grilse year; which, I suppose, was the consequence of a wet season and a big run of fish up the rivers in 1902. The results of the seasons 1906 and 1907 should tell us whether the work done is to be reproductive. There is no pollution of rivers, which flow entirely through our own forests and sheep ground, and are well looked after."
The Alness has been falling off for three years. Mr. John R. Meiklejohn, Novar, tells me that the net fishing at the mouth has decreased in value by probably 50 per cent. He thinks that the cause is the bag-net fishing farther seaward, outside the Sutors of Cromarty. The nets have been increased a hundredfold within the three years. It is noticeable that the net fishing at the mouth of the river is fairly good, after the weekly close time, on Monday mornings; during the rest of the week it is indifferent.
The Conon, in Ross-shire, is by nature a fine river. The many pools are attractive both to salmon and to sportsmen. Within quite recent years they yielded ample baskets. Latterly, I learn, the angling has fallen off. Colonel Stewart-Mackenzie of Seaforth attributes this to excessive fishing by nets in the sea, and especially by those off the Sutors of Cromarty.
The Berriedale and the Langwell, in Caithness, join each other just a little way from the sea. They belong to the Duke of Portland. For six recent seasons sport was equal to the average; but it was not so good last year, when the rivers suffered from drought. It was evident from the produce of the stake nets in the estuary that the stock of salmon and grilse had not diminished. Sometimes, especially when the wind is from the east, the mouth becomes banked up with shingle, even in fairly good water, and that keeps back the fish.
The Helmsdale, in Sutherland, affords a remarkable and very instructive instance of river management. A carefully detailed account will be given in our chapter on Storage and Passes. Streams on the Duke of Sutherland's estate falling into the sea on the north coast suffer considerably from the very successful working of bag nets.
The Borgie, which flows east, has, especially in spring, improved during recent years. That is due to the making of new pools, the improvement of old ones, and more careful watching.
The Naver, the largest river in Sutherland, flowing north, affords excellent sport during spring and in the summer months of a rainy season. It is carefully watched. Schemes of improvement are under consideration.
The Halladale, flowing north, is an early river, but it is uncertain. It soon floods and soon runs out. When the water is in order good sport is found. The angling has not improved within recent years, some of which have been dry.