2. 12 And 25 Lbs. Salmon Caught By Mr. J. B. Taylor In The Helmsdale.
The tenants sought to induce a run from the sea, and hoped that the salmon would be distributed throughout the waters of the district. Before the dams were built the only fishing on the Helmsdale was early in the spring. Generally it was over between the middle and the end of April, by which time the river had run so low that sport was impossible. The design towards improvement has been abundantly successful. The season of 1905 was one of the driest experienced in Sutherland for some years, the Brora and other streams dwindling away to mere trickles; but the Helmsdale, regulated by the dam, afforded good sport until the middle of August. The Torrish rod alone had nearly fifty salmon during the shooting season.
There are on the Helmsdale two hatcheries built on modern principles; and these now provide for the river about a million salmon fry every year. Fish for service of the hatcheries are netted in the autumn, and kept in pens, whence they are taken at the right season. The men in charge are particularly careful to distribute the fry over as wide an area as possible in the head waters near the lochs.
The gratifying results of artificial storage on the Helmsdale give absolute assurance that the system will be successful on the Thurso. Already there are indications that it will be applied to many rivers. Lord Dalhousie and Mr. Malloch are establishing it at Loch Lee in connection with the North Esk. There, though the principles are the same as on the Helmsdale and on the Thurso, the plan is different in detail. Loch Lee is not only to be fitted with a dam that will, when required, raise it a few feet: it is also to be fitted with a mechanism by means of which the level may be lowered five feet from the summer level. The reason for this is that the lake is so deep all round the shore that a reduction, besides making the works less costly than they would otherwise be, will improve the trout fishing. If the expectations of Lord Dalhousie and Mr. Malloch are fulfilled, the North Esk, hitherto one of the worst-managed rivers in Scotland, will become one of the best.
Many rivers require something more than storage at the source, or near the source, to set them right. They have falls which salmon, when heavy with spawn, find it impossible or difficult to surmount. An instance of this trouble, on the Don, is touched upon by Lord Kintore in Chapter vii. When a river is wholly the property of one person, as in the case of the Helmsdale, or as in that of the Thurso, the task of restoring it is easy; but when it is a divided property there are conflicting interests, ill to reconcile. On the North Esk, happily, they have been reconciled. All the falls are to be made passable. Elsewhere, unfortunately, as Lord Breadalbane has remarked, "when it comes to a question of paying, nobody seems willing to do so." Each of the interested persons has his own point of view. The lower proprietors, who have netting rights, do not see why they should not be exercised. To the distiller, the miller, the manufacturer, the river was manifestly designed to facilitate distilling, milling, manufacturing. It is to be polluted or congested exactly as the exigencies of the occupation may require. What are the interests of sport when compared with the interests of trade? This view of the subject has until now been generally accepted as inevitable. It has been a depressing state of public opinion. Besides being rather sordid, it showed a woful lack of natural knowledge. If salmon are prevented from reaching the recesses of the upper waters when Nature prompts them thither the stock is bound to decline. The lower proprietors who use their netting rights excessively are destroying their own interests, besides acting unjustly towards the interests of others. Distillers and manufacturers have in many cases been equally lacking in perception. There is practically no waste product that cannot be turned to commercial profit. Nevertheless, as will have been gathered from our detailed survey of rivers in the United Kingdom, the ruthless conflict of interests has been going placidly on. Each has been impoverishing itself as well as the others. Although commercial instincts have been the root of the evil, it does not seem to have been realised that the rivers of our islands, which are capable of making the country so pleasant to a sporting people, are, by the same token, potentially a considerable source of national wealth. Only of the miller, among those who have contributed to the derangement, is it possible to think without sorrow. His side stream sometimes reduces the main river so much that salmon which ought to be high up are arrested and fretful in the pool below the dam; but that is hardly his affair. Others should have seen to it. The riparian proprietors, upper and lower, should have built a pass in the dam dyke.
" Built a pass!" I can hear some one echoing, in irritation. "Who could do that? Don't you know that nearly all the passes have been failures ? "
I do know this; and a very interesting point it is. Until a comparatively recent time, only a languid intelligence was devoted to the design and construction of passes. It was, indeed, by mere chance that one of the principles of the art was discovered. Reporting on a "pass" that had cost fully ,£1000, Mr. Frank Buckland, Inspector of Fisheries, said: " The space of about ten feet nearest certain flood-gates was lowered about thirteen inches, with the idea of deepening the water for the passage of the fish. It was soon found that no fish could stem the current for more than about one-third of its distance; and the accident of an observer placing stones in the current, on which he might stand to watch the fish, gave the hint of creating resting-places for the fish." The hint would not have been needed had any competent man applied to the management of a salmon river, deranged by artificial drainage, half the thought that thousands of men apply to the mechanism of a bicycle or a motor-car.