Waiting for the Wind—An Unexpected Rise—"A Birr! a Whirr! a Salmon's On! a Goodly Fish ! a Thumper!"—Involuntary Cruisings—An Alarming Dive—The Salmon Sulks—A Stirring Squall —Ronald in Despair—Cast on a Strange Shore —No Gaff!—The Outflowing River—A Disquieting Prospect—Pull-Devil, Pull-Baker—Honours Even.
When Ronald and I set out on Loch Voil the weather was unusually promising. In the morning there had been squalls charged with rain ; but now, just after luncheon, the wind was steady. Surveying the hillsides of the glen in which the water lies, one could now and then see a patch of heather or of bracken gently gleaming in sunshine.
That showed the clouds to be thin and airy. At length, apparently, we were to have a good day. Anglers will know what that means. Others will regard it as an unimportant remark, and will perhaps say that fishermen, like farmers, are always grumbling. Those who are neither fishermen nor farmers are strangely ignorant about the weather. The outstanding facts are plain to them; but they are not conscious of the gradations and other subtleties. They know when there's rain, or heat, or cold, or a gale; but when they go forth to business of a morning feeling chilled a little they say, " Ah ! an east wind again," although probably it is from the west, and are unaware that the force of the wind varies from minute to minute. The knowledge which they lack is possessed by anglers; and that is why, having a strange story to tell, I begin about the weather. It is all-important. If the wind is strong the boat drifts so quickly that in playing one trout you pass over places in which others might be expected. If it is of the fitful, gusty kind that sometimes comes when there's thunder lurking about, the fish are sulky and don't rise. If there is no wind at all, what are you to do ? The boat won't move unless you pull it.
The last-mentioned predicament befell Ronald and me. We had not been five minutes afloat before our soft breeze drooped and died. We had intended to go to the head of the loch, where there is a large sand-and-pebble shallow, just the place where sport is to be hoped for in a good wind ; but, now that the breeze had passed, there was no use going. Indeed, was it any use going anywhere? I put it to Ronald frankly, but with chagrin.
" 'Deed, ay, sir!" said the gamekeeper reassuringly. "Ye have to throw the flees lichtly in a dead calm like this; but if ye manage that ye often raise a troot".
This I knew. In a smooth stream a dead calm does not put a stop to one's sport: why should it render hopeless fishing on a lake ? Only because the flies and the gut which one uses on a lake are as a rule heavier than those which one uses on a stream. The cast I had on was not at all a thin one; it was stout enough, indeed, to hold as big a trout as could be expected; still, there would be no harm in trying. Perhaps the wind would be back ere long.
Out on the deep, then, Ronald slowly rowed, and I kept casting as we went along. Not a trout moved. The water was so still that the scenery was reflected on it with bewitching minuteness of detail. As you gazed steadfastly, there seemed to be no water at all, but only space, with two ranges of hills converging downwards, downwards, until, very far down indeed, they were standing on their snow-capped heads. It was a spectacle the paradoxical fascination of which made one giddy.
" There's a rise, sir," said Ronald: "wull I pu' to't?"
It was a relief thus to be recalled from looking upon the Highlands upside-down. We pulled towards the rise, the expanding ring of which lingered on the water; but, although the flies fell lightly over where the trout was, the trout remained below. So it was with a good many other trials. Like hunting the fugitive ripple when the air is faint, stalking the rising fish is sometimes a fruitful occupation ; but it was of no use that particular afternoon.
Ere long we reached the head of the loch. "Wull we try Doine noo?" Ronald asked. Lying to the west, Loch Doine is connected with Loch Voil by a short, deep, slowly-moving river. I was not sure whether it would be well to go into Doine. If the wind, when it rose again, should be from the east, we should be favourably situated as regards Doine, having only to slip through the river, with a drift the whole length of the loch before us. On the other hand, if the breeze should come from the west, we should be equally well-placed on Voil. So I answered :
" Let's wait a little, and see where the breeze is to come from. It will probably be either from the east or from the west".
" Ay: that's so," said the gillie. "There's never a north or a sooth wind on they lochs. The cloud-carry may be frae ane o' they airts ; but the hills block the wind, and it aye soops up or doon the glen".
I laid aside the rod, and prepared to smoke.
"That's a dainty bit wand," said Ronald, taking up the rod and making a gingerly cast. " Nae mair than nine feet long, I'se warrant; and as licht as a heron's feather".
" Only five ounces, without the reel," I answered proudly. "It is a present from America. Built-cane, you see, and quite strong—the friend who gave it to me says there's not a trout fit to break it in this over-rated island".
" No ?" said Ronald, who during this brief dialogue had been testing the casting power of the little rod.—" Guidsake, what's that ?"
It was for him, rather than for me, to say; although out of the corner of an eye, as I was screening with my hands the flame of a match, I saw a disturbance just where the flies had fallen. It was a sudden surge in the water and a furrow heaving outwards.
" She's a whustler, whatever," said Ronald eagerly. " Tak' the rod, sir ?"
" No, no, Ronald: your bird, you know. Does he feel heavy ?"
" Vera," said he in quiet wonderment. " A whustler beyond a doobt".
" Whustler " means big and fierce fish, probably so-called from the peculiarly agreeable tune which the reel plays as the line is run off. Thus, Ronald's statement was very cheering.