The salmon behaves in no such intelligible manner. His is a stand-off disposition. Although we may have played with him by the half-hour in autumn, and that on more than one occasion, he does not recognise us when he has taken up quarters beyond the estuary. He is proud. He ignores advances. We, he seems to say, are puny creatures of the petty land, and he is a freeman of the sea. He will have nothing to do with us. He feasts so lustily that his weight is increasing a pound a month; yet anything we submit to his consideration, be it lurid minnow, or ruddy prawn, or sea-mouse of the most delicate fabric, he passes in disdain. He is as it were a cosmopolitan personage ; and we are country cousins, to be shown the cold shoulder. When he goes back to the rural regions, which, if he be conventional, is in good time for The Twelfth, his behaviour is hardly less arbitrary. He resumes what may be called friendly relations, it is true ; but why ? If we are to accept the testimony of those who have studied him scientifically, he does so because his temper, or some other questionable impulse, gets the better of him. It is not, we are told, from honest hunger that he takes any of the dainties we put before him. He is, it seems, in no need of food. He will require none until he has discharged the duty that called him into the stream. During the season in the gay ocean he has been such a riotous liver that he can hold no more. He is too fat to feed. His stomach, we are assured, has struck. He takes what we offer because he is irritated, or curious, or playful. Is not this strange ? The salmon ignores our offerings when he is ravenous, and they attract him when he can eat no more!
That is the practically unanimous teaching of our scientific naturalists. Is it to be accepted without question ?
The subject is entertaining. If in taking a lure the salmon is moved by anger, and not by appetite, our understanding of the sport needs revision. We can no longer regard ourselves as contemplative men engaged in a placid recreation. We are more like toreadors. Our lure acts upon the salmon exactly as the red cloth acts upon the bull. It is a challenge. It puts us on terms with him by enraging. This doctrine must have caused grave misgiving in the Elysian Fields. Dwells there the spirit of a peace-loving statesman, alluded to in " Maud,1' who, while reproving sports generally, fished for salmon. He was wont to justify himself as sportsman by an argument embodying the Don't-worry-Me emotion which crystallised into the principle of the Manchester School. " When I put a fly or an artificial minnow into the river, I am not," he said, " taking any action against any living creature. If a fish interferes with it, that is his affair."
Thus, we have two reasons for going into the problem. It seems dutiful to report the latest discoveries to the ancestral spirits. Such of them as had relations with salmon on the lines of Negative Liberalism must be very unquiet at the thought that they were no better than papistical heroes of the bullring. Then, the subject is important to those of us who are not given to probings of conscience about the intractable question as to how sport stands in relation to ethics. If the thing at the end of the line is not an appeal to appetite, but a challenge to a frolic or a fight, we shall have to consider whether its shapes and hues might not be made more piquant.