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SIR WALTER SCOTT.
On leaving Edinburgh, in the month of July, 1803, my friend Dr. Collins and myself spent six weeks at the romantic little village of Clovenford on the Tweed, near where that noble stream receives the tribute of the Ettrick and the Yarrow.
The Cottage-Inn, at which we put up, may have been far inferior to some now open for the reception of travellers in the fascinating regions over which the Star of the North has since thrown such magic light, yet we had no complaint to make of our quarters. One parlour, and a good double-bedded room over it, amply sufficed for two bachelors, just emerging from their academic labours of nine months, and who, strangers as yet to the cares of life, were more ready to luxuriate in the freshness and wild magnificence of the scenes around them, and to eat, drink, fish, and sleep soundly, than to meditate deeply on the maxims of wisdom, which have gained for the University they had quitted the appellation of the "Modern Athens."
Our pursuit was fishing; and it is here that every wish of the true lover of the angle may be gratified, in a country of such romantic beauty and classic solitude, that whilst the heart can commune with itself in pure contentment, the spirits are lightened by the mountain-breeze, and cheered by the associated strains of border minstrelsy.
The summer of 1803 was generally fine, and, for six weeks together, there was scarcely a single day, when, either at early dawn, or at the evening hour, we could not pursue, with pleasure and success, our favourite diversion. The greatest interruption we experienced was occasioned, for awhile, by the shepherds, who annually, at shearing time, wash their flocks in the Tweed, in consequence of which, the fish, for some reason which I could not exactly ascertain, cease to afford the usual sport; and my chief amusement was then to fish in the evening, with a small moth-like fly for Par, which, I have since learned from Yarrell, must have been salmon-fry of the second year, with which the Tweed abounded.* Experienced anglers have said that, upon an average, there are not more than from twenty to thirty perfectly good fishing days in a year; which may be true, in as far as any one manner of fishing, especially for trout, is concerned; but the real Waltonian is prepared at all points, and with a minnow, a par-tail, or an earth worm, will do great execution, and get healthful exercise and much amusement, when the flyfisher might be whipping the refractory current for hours, or whole days, to little or no purpose.
* Mr. Yarrell,in his History of British Fishes (under the headli Salmonidse,") informs us, that it is not until the third spring " that the fry of the salmon leave their native rivers for the sea.
"The first spring, they are almost imperceptibly minute.
"The second spring, when twelve months old, they measure, in the month of May, from three to four inches, and are then (after the second week, or thereabouts,) the only par remaining; their congeners of the former years having, at that period, migrated. Prior to their migration, their fins first exhibit a dusky margin, and the whole fish rapidly assumes a silvery exterior, and increased elegance of form. While thus prepared for travelling, they congregate into a shoal, and proceed to sea, where their growth is so rapid, that, on their return in autumn, they weigh as many pounds (namely, from two to six,) as they had previously done ounces."
Much more information—very much more—may be gained by a reference to the interesting volumes themselves, of Mr. Yarrell. He clearly distinguishes between salmon, salmon trout, and gray or bull trout, all of which migrate; and the experienced fisherman will find many circumstances connected with these objects of his pursuit, which cannot fail to have puzzled him, cleared up greatly to his satisfaction.
The following note, by the Earl of Home, is derived from Mr. Yarrell likewise:—
"After mentioning that, in June, 1795, he had taken, with his rod, no fewer than eighty-two clean salmon, from Monday morning to Saturday night, his
Earlier in the year, I went with my friend Collins and another fellow-student a very expert young Irish fisherman, for a few days to the Tweed; and so confident was the latter in his own skill, that he thought he could adapt his fly to almost any condition of the water. He accordingly led C. away to the Tweed, on a day when I felt sure that there was too great a body of water, owing to a heavy fall of rain the preceding night, for successful angling; but I determined on taking a separate course, and proceeded to a neighbouring brook, up which there was no
Lordship exclaims, Alas! those halcyon days in Tweed are ended, or reduced to a few days in spring, and a few in autumn. This change has been brought about by draining the sheep-farms on the hills. A little summer flood, that used to take a fortnight or three weeks to run off, prior to 1795, is now out in eight hours.
"Sir H. Davy compares the Tweed now, and what it once was, to two houses covered with thatch or with slate.
"Trout fishing, his Lordship much regrets, is likewise at an end.
"Last year, 1836, we had not one single opportunity, and, in 1335, much the same; the draining has affected the smaller streams much the same as the Tweed itself."
- I am unable to suppose, notwithstanding the strength of the above testimony, that many a good day's trout fishing may not yet be had in the Tweed, as well as in its tributary streams, at the proper season.
mistake in supposing that the trout might have retreated from the superior torrent. Here I had, with a worm, such excellent success, that, in a few hours, I returned to Clovenford with trout enough to fill three large dishes, which I exhibited in succession to my friends, when they made their appearances with long faces, indicative of their very different reception at the Tweed—where, in fact, they had been able to do nothing.
No one worthy of the name of angler wantonly inflicts pain on the lowest creature in existence; but this is quite another thing from that morbid sensibility which made an infidel Lord call Isaak Walton "asentimental savage,"* and which invests the earth-worm, the daily and hourly victim of the spade and plough, with human capacity for suffering. If this is not to arraign the tender mercies of our kind and provident Creator, I know not what is; and I could more readily exclaim with Wordsworth, in a fanciful mood, that—
"T is my belief that every leaf Enjoys the air it breathes," than agree with Shakspeare, that—
"The beetle which we tread upon, In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great As when a giant dies."
* Another "Sentimental Savage," the pious and venerable "Rector of Barham," speaking of earth-worms, remarks, that they "afford a delicious morsel to birds of every wing. The fisherman also baits his hook with them, and the ground-beetles often make a meal of them; so that, had they no other use, still they would be a very important part of creation."—Kirby's Bridgewater Treatise, i. 341.
At all events my friend C. and myself were anglers not to be satisfied with a rise or a nibble; we liked to fill our baskets, and we seldom failed of doing so. Many a morning, in the hottest part of summer, might we have been seen, at sun-rise, ascending Tweed's silver stream, and casting from the middle of the river our ground-bait before us, with success never to be forgotten. Our amusement lasted till about eight or nine o'clock, when the water either became too illumined for our sport, or the trout, having finished their breakfast, gave us a hint to think of our own. The best fly-fishing in the Tweed is about the middle or the latter end of May, when, on favourable days and hours, the water seems alive with the finny multitude, and the experienced fly-fisher may amuse himself to his heart's content. Earlier than this the tributary streams will not have poured in their full supplies. Not but that Father Tweed has a progeny of his own; for Mr. Fenwick, my very skilful and intelligent preceptor in the art of Tweed-fishing, informed me that, at an earlier season of the year, trouling with a par-tail, the inferior half, that is, of the little fish of which I have already spoken, is an admirable mode of fishing, sure sport and large fish; and although I was too late to enjoy it in perfection, I had experience enough of this spirited mode of angling to credit all he said in its praise. I had no opportunity of trying minnows as a bait, never having been able to procure them when wanted, which is when the water, subsiding after heavy rain, is getting to be of a porter colour. We had always, however, a supply of tough earth