In the second place, there actually seems some reason for believing that a disturbance of the water is not always a disadvantage to the angler. I have never myself had any experience to suggest this possibility, and I have not witnessed any in the sport of others; but I was much impressed by a narrative, suggesting the possibility, which, nearly two years ago, was published in The Field. The writer told how he had fished a certain salmon pool for hours, and that in vain-not a fish would rise. Then a man came to say that there was to be blasting by dynamite in a quarry close to the other side of the stream; would the angler kindly move away until the rocks were riven? He went apart to a safe distance; the explosion sounded and resounded; a large fragment of the rock dropped with a great splash into the pool. At the very place where the stone fell, and almost before the ripples of the disturbance had died away, the angler raised and hooked a salmon! This set him thinking; and he came to the conclusion that the fish had risen because of the fall of the large stone, not in spite of it. His theory is that the salmon are sometimes languid, or indolent, disinclined either to rise at a fly or to seize a minnow, and that a shock of astonishment may wake them up. At first I suspected him to be joking; but I have since come upon a responsible statement that seems remarkably like corroboration. In Almond of Loretto, a very attractive biography of a singularly shrewd genius, Mr. Robert Jameson Mackenzie writes: " One of the Alstons was a good caricaturist, and our master's eccentricities furnished him with many a subject. In one of these sketches, as I happen to remember, the Head was represented as holding up his trousers with one hand, and stoning a salmon pool with the other. His gillie-John Macleod, or the humorous old water-bailiff, John Macdonald-stood beside him with the rod. The practice of stoning pools, like many other original devices, was suggested by an accident. He had been fishing a pool in the Kirkaig one day when a blast from a neighbouring quarry threw some stones into the water. Soon afterwards he caught a fish. Acting on the hint, he made further experiments, and came to the conclusion that the method of stoning was among the resources of the complete salmon angler." That, apparently, was in 1877, fully a generation before The Field chronicled an exactly similar incident. If we may accept the conjecture entertained independently by the writer in that journal and by Mr. Hely Hutchinson Almond, there is an obvious explanation of a salmon coming at a minnow trailed in the wake of a boat. It may be that the fish had been dozing, and was excited to curiosity by the passage of the craft and the plash of the oars. I myself am not prepared to endorse this view; but among the familiar phenomena of the sport there is a fact by which it may possibly be regarded as encouraged. Salmon, like trout, almost invariably come into sportful humour when the normal condition of a river has been disturbed by a flood. May this be because the increased volume of water, flowing at a rate greater than is usual in the stream, buffets them, or teases them, or stimulates them, and revives the predatory instinct ? There is, I know, another theory to account for the improvement in sport that is brought by a flood; but it is only fair to the writer in The Field, and to the memory of Mr. Almond, to mention a possibility tending to show that their conjecture is not so absurd as it may have seemed to many readers.
In the third place, it may be that the salmon which takes a lure trailed in the wake of a boat has not been lying in the path of the boat. He may have dashed at the minnow laterally. That is my own surmise. It should be remembered that, as we have seen, the eyesight of the fish is mainly lateral. It should be remembered, too, that an artificial minnow is a very conspicuous object. Not only is it, as a rule, flagrant in colour: also it spins, and, should it be tinselled, flashes. It can be seen from afar on either side of the course in which it whirls along. After thinking over the possibilities, I am strongly of opinion that every fish that takes it has been lying aside from the track of the boat.
Why any fish should take it at all is a question equally entertaining. It would be wrong to repeat in an affirming sense the commonplace statement that all artificial minnows are unlike any creatures of nature. Some of them, though exaggerated in size and less delicate in hues, are modelled after living things. The action of the artificial minnows, however, is quite unlike that of the real ones. Real minnows may dart about at a quick rate; but they do not keep up the pace. They do not travel three miles in an hour. Sometimes they catch and reflect the sunlight, and so seem quiveringly active; but they are not for ever spinning. They do not spin. Artificial minnows do all these things. They travel for miles, and never, when in the water, rest; and as they cleave through the deep they rotate as busily as a kite that has lost its tail. Why are the salmon attracted by such singular apparitions ? My own belief is that the fish take the things to be living creatures in distress, and rush at them in obedience to the instinct which impels the strong of any class to kill or to persecute the weak.
This conjecture will fall in either with the understanding that salmon, like trout, feed all the year round, or with the theory that they feed only when in the sea. The fish may be meaning to make a meal of the strange thing that has swum into his ken, or he may be meaning only to make an end of it. In relation to the practical purposes of the sportsman, that is a side issue. If only the fish rush at his lures freely, he is not, for the moment, concerned as to why they do so.
For every loch there is a particular minnow recommended by the gillies of the place; in some cases there are two or three that they consider worthy of trial. Many a river, in the same way, has its special lures. It is probably rash to suppose that the local traditions are superstitious. One cannot but think that there must be experience behind them. Still, there are first-class salmon anglers who will have none of the traditions. Instead of adopting the precepts of the gillies, they follow their own fancies; and sometimes they are justified by results. Experiments on the Tweed, where local preferences are particularly definite, have strengthened the sceptical notions. The sceptical notions, however, are themselves empirical. They prove no more than that certain local traditions do not contain the whole truth. They are not in themselves the whole truth. In as far as they would lead us to believe that it does not matter what fly, or what minnow, or what other lure, one uses, they are probably, indeed, a negation of the truth. Salmon must have definite instincts in their choice of things to seize. Clues to some of these instincts readily yield themselves to well-informed scrutiny. A friend on whose loch I sometimes fish told me, when first I went thither, that there were only two minnows which were very successful. One was all brown; the other was brown on the back and red in the belly. " Do you use them indifferently ?" I asked, " or do you put on one at one time of the year and one at the other ? " " O," he answered, " when I go out I just try one, and then, if it doesn't do, I try the other." My friend did not know that there is a minnow, common to many streams and lakes, which, almost altogether brown at ordinary times, becomes red in the belly, with a tinge of gold, when it is about to spawn. This information, which was confirmed by a study of the minnows native to the place, systematised the lures for that particular water.