Spring and autumn, which as a rule are the seasons, are not so often disturbed by subtle complexities of weather as are the months of summer. It is only now and then that they witness the conditions which precede, those which accompany, and those which follow thunder. When we try for a salmon, that is to say, we usually have whatever advantage there may be in weather such as is known to favour us when we try for trout.
Where shall we seek the salmon ? Here again, on an unfamiliar river, the most experienced fisherman will find himself uncertain. It is not always possible to tell by the aspect of things where fish will be lying. They may be in very unattractive places. Pools the most inspiring to gaze upon may know them not. In others, which you might pass by as hopeless, they may be abounding. Usually they prefer deep lively pools, and, especially in summer, the full force of the currents there; but in a few streams flat and damlike sluggish parts are the favourite places. Then, although there are fine pools within easy reach, occasionally, if the bottom is dark, the salmon lie in stretches of water little more than two feet deep.
What is the best time o' day ? On this question we have slightly more assurance. Especially in spring, " the heat of the day " is good. At all times the hour or hours of the gloamin, are very often so. To these general rules there are incalculable exceptions. Salmon are much more whimsical than their smaller kinsmen. When trout are rising you can almost always refer their behaviour to some state of the weather with which the rising of trout is in some well-understood association; but salmon often act without regard to precedent. It is never needful to despair. Now and then they come on quite unexpectedly. Let it be noted that here we speak of salmon in the plural. The strangest aspect of their whimsicality is that, as a rule, the mood to take a lure seizes many of them, if not all, at the same moment. Evidence of this assertion is not easily found on a river, where each fisherman is likely to be out of the other's sight; but many a time it has been comically manifest on a lake, where it is possible for the vision to range far and wide. Are you fast in a fish after hours of fruitless trolling? Look round. Every rod on the water is bent and twitching under a similar strain !
In the chapter on lake-fishing we shall be concerned mainly with the spring. That, like every other, is a joyous period. It has delights peculiarly its own. I like to think of them now, not many days before I shall hear the loch a-calling; but even at this moment, in mid-winter, with snow deep upon the mountains, and beginning to whirl into the vale, I find my thoughts wandering to the months of autumn. Spring issues from winter by imperceptible gradations, and merges into summer in the same way. You cannot tell exactly when she begins or when she ends. She is shy, gentle, evolutional. Autumn is different. He is dramatic. His announcement of himself is sudden. He comes with a rush or with a snap. For a long time the atmosphere has been close, languorous, comforting only to the indolent; but with the Lammas Flood there arises a sudden change, which brings joy to the active. The Flood has the habit of punctuality. It is not like the frost and the snow that are traditionally associated with Christmas. These are so infrequent as to be practically obsolete outside certain cherished literature; but the Lammas Flood is in most years unfailing. However wet or dry May and June and July may have been, there will be a flood between the first and the thirteenth of August. The thirteenth is Lammas Old Style, and the first is Lammas New Style. The Flood, in its time of arrival, favours now one calendar and now the other. Last year it began on Thursday, the third, and was at its height on Saturday. Then summer gave way a little. The wind, which had been from the southeast when the rain came on, was from the north-west, and high and cool. It brought a feeling that had been unknown for three months. That was the touch of autumn. Summer would advance again, and again, and again, withdrawing between-times, until October was well on the way into the past; but with that north-west wind, following upon the storm of rain, we perceptibly entered upon the third period of the year. After it, more rain and more chill breezes were to be expected at any time. One was agreeably wakened up. The earth had become fresher and fairer. The grass and the trees by all the waysides had been washed free of dust, and had become rich-green. The atmosphere, which had ceased to be stagnant, had in it a joyous tune. So had the river. It was three feet higher than it had been for many weeks. Islands of sand and gravel that had been familiar all that time were no longer seen. The water was over them. It was over meadows and a few fields also. Dark, gurgling, gushing, sparkling in the sun, what a spectacle the river was!
It was really a river now. We had said no word against it throughout the summer, knowing that it could not help itself, and that the fish, though extremely difficult to find, must be somewhere; but in truth it had been a secret sorrow. One of the largest in the kingdom, it had dwindled so much that it seemed little more than a burn. Now it was itself again, large and lusty, in fitting proportion to the rugged land through which it flows; no longer dwarfed by the spaciousness of its own bed; brawling in the narrow passes, lingering impatient in the pools. It was the right thing in the right place. It had restored order and harmony. It carried to all the land along its course a sense of animation. The very cereals of the fields looked livelier because the river had risen in its might. Humanity also was quick in response to the vivifying touch of autumn. From castle and cot it went eagerly forth with rods and lines and lures. It was not disappointed. The fish had been expecting the flood. They had long been exiled, and sulky, in the recesses of their domain ; and they exulted in the freedom which the freshet brought. They quitted the deep pools, to which they had been confined for months, and roamed about over places which a few days before you could have crossed dry-shod. These are the very places into which the shrewd fisherman first casts his line. The fish run to them during a flood as instinctively as they seek the gravelly shallows in the spawning season. It is not natural that at any time of the year there should be great stretches of dry sand or dry gravel in the bed of any river. How these have come to be common will be shown in another chapter. In a state of nature the whole of the bed, or nearly the whole, would be under water. Migrating to unwonted places, the fish are merely reverting to the habits of their ancestors. We are sometimes told that salmon do not begin to "take" until the flood is falling. That is true of certain streams, those which, having towns or many villages in their watersheds, bring down much foreign refuse in the first gush of a flood; but it does not hold good on rivers in regions, such as the Highlands, where the rain finds uncontaminated ways down the hillsides. There, very often, the salmon rush at lures whenever it becomes clear to them that a flood is really coming. They are not particular as to lures, and are ready to show sport on very casual provocation. There are many of them in the lee of every peninsula and on the gravel-beds or sand-banks which the river has submerged.