What are we to think of any theory about the habits of the salmon that leaves out of account the fish of these streams of the third class ? Excepting the particular tribe mentioned by Mr. Grimble, which are off-colour now and then, they are not in any respect degraded fish. They are as distinctly salmon as those of any great river from the Exe to the Thurso. All who are acquainted with them know that they come freely at flies or other lures whenever there is a flood, and as long as the water is high enough to make retreat towards the sea unnecessary. As it is admitted that in doing so, after a fatiguing run, they mean to eat the things they seize, this is practically equivalent to saying that they feed at all times when in the streams.
It is more difficult to have an equally confident opinion about the salmon of the great rivers. Their comings and goings are much less easily ascertainable. One cannot peer into the Dee or into the Wye as exhaustively as Mr. Grimble examined the stream near the coast of the West Highlands. Even at their lowest the great rivers have pools which the eye of man could fathom only from some point of vantage at which the fish would see him before he could see them; and they would not wait to be inspected. Indeed, from about the middle of May until the first flood in August, a period which is usually almost rainless, we know but little about the salmon in most of the waters that are not netted. It is certain that there is not much sport during that time. One conceives it possible that there would be more if more were sought. Excepting as regards a few rivers, which, with all the many others, will be considered in later chapters, it is generally taken for granted that to cast for salmon at any time between the spring fishing and the autumn fishing would be useless, and only here and there does an angler think of trying. Perhaps, therefore, the understanding that such fish as may be in the pools then do not show any interest in lures is partly attributable to lack of experiment. Even in spring and autumn it is difficult to entice fish when the waters are very low; and perhaps in the middle of the year it is the in-appropriateness of ordinary tackle, rather than a rigorous fasting of the fish, that renders the effort hopeless. On each of four days at the very beginning of a recent season, when the water was at summer level, I myself caught a salmon on a large trout fly. The captures were noteworthy, and mention of them is relevant now, because on the particular days three or four other fishermen, all of them using ordinary large salmon flies or trolling lures, went empty away from the stretch on which I had not wholly failed. May it not be that this was due less to any abstemiousness on the part of the fish than to untimeliness of the lures? Then, it is a fact within my own knowledge, though not bruited abroad as the tidings from great rivers are, that at the very height of summer a salmon is not uncommon in one or another of the many heavy baskets of sea-trout, which are borne home after night-fishing with gentles on the tidal reaches of certain streams falling into the North Sea. The streams alluded to are open to the public; the sport they yield is taken as a matter of course by generation after generation of dwellers in their neighbourhood, one of whom told me that, fishing with worms during the fall of a flood, he caught ten salmon in a single day. Most of these "local anglers," who hardly ever fish anywhere else, and are not scientific students of natural history, have probably not heard that it may be from some impulse other than a wish for food that salmon take the lures; and, consequently, their instincts on the subject, which are not without importance, have never been formed into thoughts.
It will, I trust, be noticed that in these pages there is nothing like an absolute rejection of what has become the accepted opinion of the scientific authorities. The arguments in favour of that opinion are much too weighty to be treated with disrespect. When men so eminent as Mr. Huxley say that salmon quit the sea with masses of stored sustenance sufficient to maintain life without food for a period of months, we must incline to believe them; and it seems to have been shown, by systematic experiments, that while in the river the fish do not increase in weight.