Lord Galloway, whom I asked for information on these streams, referred my queries to Mr. James Drew of Craigencallie, for forty years Agent on the Galloway estates. Mr. Drew answered :-
"The Cree, with its tributary the Minnock, is entirely dependent for sport upon the weather conditions of each particular season. Salmon run in the Cree in April and May. If there is heavy rain they are abundant and sport is good. If these months are exceptionally dry the season may be written down as a comparative failure. The Cree is essentially a spring river. It has no autumn run. One season being taken with another and an average struck, the Cree has remained practically the same, as to stock of fish and sport, for twenty years."
In sending Mr. Drew's note, Lord Galloway favoured me with a lively and interesting letter. "I don't agree with all he says," Lord Galloway wrote. "In regard to both the Cree and the Minnock (which falls into the Cree about fifteen miles from the sea), he is right in saying that they are spring rivers; but I think if we have rain in June and July good sport will be had. Unluckily, of recent times there has been practically a severe drought from the beginning of May yearly. In the autumn I have seen the river full of fish, perhaps twenty or more jumping in one pool; but they will not look at a fly then. I remember some twenty years ago crossing the river in the month of December on the ice in a hard frost, and seeing at least a dozen salmon frozen in the ice! In my opinion the falling-off in the fishing is principally due to the ridiculous over-draining that has taken place on the estate, in order to grow corn, which, when grown, does not pay. The consequence is that a spate lasts but a few hours, and all the rain has gone to the sea, instead of, as was the case when I was a boy, the river remaining in order for three or four days. The effect of the over-draining has been to spoil the fishing, ruin the snipe and wild-duck shooting, load the estate with debt to pay for the draining and do no earthly good to any one, just because some idiot thought he was wiser than the Creator, and said that a man was a benefactor to mankind who made two blades of corn grow where one grew before, ignoring the fact that the soil might not be suitable for corn, and that the expense of cultivation would take away any profit. One thing, I think, might be done to benefit the rod-fishing by legislation, and that is to do away with all net-fishing in rivers. Compensation might be given to net-fishing riparian proprietors by the assessing of the rod-fishings, which would thereby benefit. I don't know how this would affect me personally if it were done, as I own most of the rod-fishing on the Cree and all of the Minnock, except at its source, and, I should think, most of the net-fishing near the sea; but it would be equitable, as a riparian proprietor near the sea, especially when there are no spates and where the river is not wide, can every tide get hold of all the fish that wish to run up, but have to return to the sea for want of water. The tide in the Cree runs up some four or five miles, and in some places the river is very narrow. There is one thing that Mr. Drew has not mentioned, and it is a very important one. Most of the poaching is high up in the waters, where the fish run to spawn. It is there that watching is principally required. Poaching is easy work with a gaff."
Lord Galloway notes, in a postscript, an instructive fact. "Lord Stair or his son, Lord Dairympie, could tell you about the Luce and the Stinchar, which are both on his estate. The Stinchar, curiously enough, though only three or four miles from the Cree, is an autumn river; but then it flows to the west of Wigtownshire, and the Cree to the south."
The Stinchar, the Luce, and the Girvan suffer from instability of flow caused by the draining of the moors. Lord Dalrymple deems that to be the only serious influence at work against them. Before the drainage there were three or four days of sport after rain ; now there is only one day. He mentions, without definitely accepting, a local belief that some of the Girvan salmon quitted their own stream because of pollution, and took to the Stinchar. That stream has a shifting mouth, and the peculiarity may be perplexing to the fish. Colonel the Hon. North de Coigny Dalrymple Hamilton writes :-
" As far as I can gather, the sport in the Luce has improved of late years. It seems to have resumed its old character as regards both salmon and trout. I can assign no cause in particular. Sport on the Stinchar varies a good deal. As a rule the fish are shy. The best period for this river in the lower reaches is October and November; in the upper reaches, September. There is no spring fishing. By arrangement, made periodically, there is no netting of the pools, except in the case of one proprietor, who declines to join his neighbours in the compact. I do not consider that, as a general rule, the fishing has either improved or deteriorated. The Girvan suffered from pollution, which has now been put an end to; the fishing of the upper waters, I understand, improved while it continued. The fishing on the whole suffered ; but steps towards restoration are being carefully considered. The pools are not netted at present. That is in virtue of a five years' agreement, which has been once renewed."
The Nith, many years ago, had a deservedly high reputation. Tradition tells that thirty or forty years ago the fish were so plentiful that in certain places they could almost be lifted out. Now, alas! but little of this opulence remains. Mr. T. G. Salmon, an experienced sportsman, writes:-
"For ten years the salmon have been becoming fewer, and for three the river has been a failure. On the twelve miles of upper water in Dumfriesshire three seasons ago the catch was only twenty-two salmon; next year it was about a dozen; this year, 1905, as far as I can find, only four. The lower waters have been not less unprofitable. The only nets on the Nith are at its entrance into the Sol way at Glencaple. This year has been ruinous to the lessee. Sea-trout and herling were fairly plentiful until about three years ago; but the Nith never could show a large run of herling, such as can be seen, for example, in the Annan. Grilse have been absent for a good many years. This state of matters can hardly be attributed to pollution. True, nearly every day there may be about an hour when there is a suspicion of coal gum, supposed to come from workings in Ayrshire; but fishermen do not attach much importance to that. The explanation seems to be, simply, that not many fish enter the river. Whether the stock in the Solway is lessening or not I cannot say. Of late years we have been unfortunate as regards floods. The Lammas rains used to keep the river full for ten or twelve days, and then, with the nets removed from Saturday evening at 6 o'clock until Monday morning at 6, we were sure of a run. Any flooding of late years has often been in the beginning or in the middle of the week, and by Saturday there has been no water to entice the fish. Any time that salmon have been fairly common in the pools or on the redds has always been far too late to permit of rod-fishing. It has been said that salmon go back to the place of their birth. If that be so, there must be a decrease in the stock of the Nith. The draining of the hills brings the water and sand down with great force, and often the spawn beds are injured. Restocking from hatcheries is the only resource."