The Don, in Aberdeenshire, is in a slightly unsettled condition; but the outlook is bright. Seventy-eight miles long, and of good flow, it was a first-class river once, and may be so again. Lord Kintore writes, quite hopefully :-
"Adverse circumstances-obstruction by dam dykes, improper enlargement of leads, and pollution near the mouth-have engaged the close attention of the Fishery Board; and riparian owners, acting with me, have so far been uniformly successful in the Court of Session in an action against the Messrs. Pirie for taking so much more water to their mills than they are entitled to. The judgments in the Court of Session are appealed against, and the appeals should be heard in a few months. I am sanguine that the judgments will stand; and, if I am right, then, instead of 29,000 gallons a minute being taken into the mill, the amount will be restricted to 7000 gallons. The pollution also is being attended to. Thus I can confidently say that the prospects for improved fishing on the Don are very bright. The same I can say for my river farther south, the North Esk. Efforts to improve all the passes for salmon are likely to take definite shape immediately; and a good pass is to be made by Lord Dalhousie at the Gannochy Loups, which will open quite fourteen miles of grand spawning ground to the fish, enabling them to go up into Loch Lee and beyond. There is a chance that an association may later be formed to get rid of the nets altogether." Further particulars of the design as to the North Esk will be found in Chapter xi.
The Deveron, flowing through the counties of Aberdeen and Banff, began to fall off, as a salmon river, about fifteen years ago. As will be perceived from the following note, its ups and downs have a peculiar interest. If the theory is correct, trout and salmon, like crabb'd age and youth, cannot live together. Mr. Henry Goschen writes:-
"While the Deveron still maintains its high reputation for trout, the removal of the cribs near the mouth does not seem to have improved the salmon fishing in the measure expected. Only a few fresh fish are caught in the spring, although kelts are so plentiful as to be a nuisance when you are trout fishing in April or in May. Some salmon are taken in the autumn; but it would seem that there is truth in the notion that a river cannot be good for salmon and for trout at the same time. It has been said that in years past, when trout fishing was practically free, there were many salmon; but, now that trout fishing is strictly preserved, it may be that the number of large trout has much increased, and that there is a consequent increase in destruction of salmon spawn."
The Ugie, in Aberdeenshire, does not show any serious symptoms. Writing in behalf of Colonel Ferguson of Pitfour, who was abroad, Mr. William Ainslie gave a cheerful account. " There appears," he said, " to be a slight falling-off. Perhaps that is due to the fish on the coast having been less plentiful than usual. Besides, for two years the river has been low during the angling season. There has, however, not been any falling-off in sport. We had a specially brisk 'finnock' season, and there was a very good run of sea-trout in the autumn. Smolts in large numbers have gone seawards every spring for three years. The river is entirely free from pollution, and the protection afforded to fish by law is effective. It is generally believed here, among anglers, that early spring salmon do not take this river. I am informed by the watcher that this is a mistake. In the cruives he has taken four or five fish, varying from 5 lbs. to 12 lbs., with sea lice on them."
The Nairn, a beautiful little river, rises in an " outlier" of the Monadh Liadh, " grey mountains," a range of hills between Strathdearn and Strath-nairn, in which the Findhorn also has its source. After a course of some 27 miles down the picturesque strath of its name, it flows through the harbour of Nairn into the Moray Firth. Once the mouth was farther east of Nairn; but, about eighty years ago, the town authorities, thinking that the stream would tend to wash away the constant silting-up of the harbour, made a charter of agreement with the proprietor of the embouchure, whereby, in consideration of certain fishing rights granted to him, they were permitted to divert the course of the river. Like all short swift-running rivers, the Nairn requires plentiful, periodical, and opportune rainfalls to render it good for angling. Though I have fished on the Cawdor Castle stretch, which has excellent pools, my own acquaintance with the stream is slight. Brodie of Brodie informs me that the number of fish caught has not varied much for many years. When the river is low the sea-trout and the salmon lie in the estuary waiting for a flood. When that comes opportunely sport with both fish is good. Major Rose of Kilravock favours me with interesting notes. In the opinion of the water-bailiff, a man of many years'1 experience in the watching of the river and the habits of salmon and sea-trout, there is about the same stock as there was twenty years ago; but the fish seem smaller. The bailiff has observed that the season immediately after a severe winter, when the river was ice-bound for some time, has always been exceptionally good. He thinks that the ice tends to keep the fry warm, and protects them from their natural enemies, such as certain birds. There are, however, hostile influences on the stream. Every May the Nairn fishing boats drop down to the mouth of the harbour on the way to the west coast. At the end of June they return, and refit for the east-coast fishing, for which they sail in the early days of July. While the boats block up the mouth of the harbour the salmon, unable to run, are caught in the sea nets. The sea netting extends for seven miles and a half along the coast. There are close on fifty nets to be evaded by fish seeking the river. The outrigger bag nets, which float far off the coast, are a great evil from the anglers' point of view. Then, there are otters up about Draggie and Brin; while gulls, herons, and other birds, it is believed, destroy very large quantities of ova, fry, and smolts. The running of fish would be much facilitated were the three or four weirs on the river provided with sensible passes. On the other hand there have been improvements. The sewage of the town and the refuse from a distillery are now carried far out to sea in a large pipe, and this year the sea nets, in compliance with an Act, have to be lifted at 12 noon instead of at 6 p.m. on Saturdays.