Salmon Fishing in Ireland, by James A. Froude

from A Fortnight in Kerry

The pool has been cut through a peat bog, [Footnote: Peat-bog. Peat is a kind of turf that is used for fuel.] and the greater part of it is twenty feet deep. A broad fringe of water-lilies lines the banks, leaving, however, an available space for throwing a fly upon between them. This is the great resting-place of the fish on their way to the lake and the upper river. The water is high, and almost flowing over the bog. The wind catches it fairly, tearing along the surface and sweeping up the crisp waves in white clouds of spray. The party of strangers who had cards to fish were before us, but they are on the wrong side, trying vainly to send their flies in the face of the southwester, which whirls their casting-lines back over their heads. They have caught a peal [Footnote: Peal: a small salmon.] or two, and one of them reports that he was broken by a tremendous fish at the end of the round-pool. Jack directs them to a bend higher up, where they will find a second pool as good as this one, with a more favorable slant of wind, while I put my rod together and turn over the leaves of my fly-book. Among the marvels of art and nature I know nothing equal to a salmon-fly. It resembles no insect, winged or unwinged, which the fish can have seen. A shrimp, perhaps, is the most like it, if there are degrees to utter dissimilarity. Yet every river is supposed to have its favorite flies. Size, color, shape, all are peculiar. Here vain tastes prevail for golden pheasant and blue and crimson paroquet. There the salmon are as sober as Quakers, and will look at nothing but drabs and browns. Nine parts of this are fancy, but there is still a portion of truth in it. Bold hungry fish will take anything in any river; shy fish will undoubtedly rise and splash at a stranger's fly, while they will swallow what is offered them by any one who knows their ways. It may be something in the color of the water: it may be something in the color of the banks: experience is too uniform to allow the fact itself to be questioned. Under Jack's direction, I select small flies about the size of green drakes: one a sombre gray, with a silver twist about him, a claret hackle, [Footnote: Claret hackle. A hackle is an artificial fly made of feathers.] a mallard wing, [Footnote: Mallard wing. A mallard is the drake of the wild duck. The artificial fly imitates its wing.] streaked faintly on the lower side with red and blue. The drop fly is still darker, with purple legs and olive green wings and body.

We move to the head of the pool and begin to cast in the gravelly shallows, on which the fish lie to feed in a flood, a few yards above the deep water. A white trout or two rise, and presently I am fast in something which excites momentary hopes. The heavy rod bends to the butt. A yard or two of line runs out, but a few seconds show that it is only a large trout which has struck at the fly with his tail, and has been hooked foul. He cannot break me, and I do not care if he escapes, so I bear hard upon him and drag him by main force to the side, where Harper slips the net under his head, and the next moment he is on the bank. Two pounds within an ounce or so, but clean run from the sea, brought up by last night's flood, and without a stain of the bog-water on the pure silver of his scales. He has disturbed the shallow, so we move a few steps down.

There is an alder bush on the opposite side, where the strength of the river is running. It is a long cast. The wind is blowing so hard that I can scarcely keep my footing, and the gusts whirl so unsteadily that I cannot hit the exact spot where, if there is a salmon in the neighborhood, he is lying.

The line flies out straight at last, but I have now thrown a few inches too far; my tail fly is in the bush, dangling across an overhanging bough. An impatient movement, a jerk, or a straight pull, and I am "hung up," as is the phrase, and delayed for half an hour at least. Happily there is a lull in the storm. I shake the point of the rod. The vibration runs along the line; the fly drops softly like a leaf upon the water—and as it floats away something turns heavily, and a huge brown back is visible for an instant through a rift in the surface. But the line comes home. He was an old stager, as we could see by his color, no longer ravenous as when fresh from the salt-water. He was either lazy and missed the fly, or it was not entirely to his mind. He was not touched, and we drew back to consider. "Over him again while he is angry," is the saying in some rivers, and I have known it to answer where the fish feed greedily. But it will not do here; we must give him time; and we turn again to the fly-book. When a salmon rises at a small fly as if he meant business, yet fails to take it, the rule is to try another of the same pattern a size larger. This too, however, just now Jack thinks unfavorably of. The salmon is evidently a very large one, and will give us enough to do if we hook him. He therefore, as one precaution, takes off the drop fly lest it catch in the water-lilies. He next puts the knots of the casting-line through a severe trial; replaces an unsound joint with a fresh link of gut, and finally produces out of his hat a "hook"—he will not call it a fly—of his own dressing. It is a particolored father-long-legs, a thing which only some frantic specimen of orchid ever seriously approached, a creature whose wings were two strips of the fringe of a peacock's tail, whose legs descended from blue jay through red to brown, and terminated in a pair of pink trailers two inches long. Jack had found it do, and he believed it would do for me. And so it did. I began to throw again six feet above the bush, for a salmon often shifts his ground after rising. One cast—a second—another trout rises which we receive with an anathema, [Footnote: Anathema: a curse.] and drag the fly out of his reach. The fourth throw there is a swirl like the wave which arises under the blade of an oar, a sharp sense of hard resistance, a pause, and then a rush for dear life. The wheel shrieks, the line hisses through the rings, and thirty yards down the pool the great fish springs madly six feet into the air. The hook is firm in his upper jaw; he had not shaken its hold, for the hook had gone into the bone—pretty subject of delight for a reasonable man, an editor of a magazine, and a would-be philosopher, turned fifty! The enjoyments of the unreasoning part of us cannot be defended on grounds of reason, and experience shows that men who are all logic and morals, and have nothing of the animal left in them, are poor creatures after all.

Any way, I defy philosophy with a twenty-pound salmon fast hooked, and a pool right ahead four hundred yards long and half full of water-lilies. "Keep him up the strame," shrieked a Paddy, who, on the screaming of the wheel, had flung down his spade in the turf bog and rushed up to see the sport. "Keep him up the strame, your honor—bloody wars! you'll lost him else." We were at fault, Jack and I. We did not understand why down stream was particularly dangerous, and Pat was too eager and too busy swearing to explain himself. Alas, his meaning became soon but too intelligible. I had overtaken the fish on the bank and had wheeled in the line again, but he was only collecting himself for a fresh rush, and the next minute it seemed as if the bottom had been knocked out of the pool and an opening made into infinity. Round flew the wheel again; fifty yards were gone in as many seconds, the rod was bending double, and the line pointed straight down; straight as if there was a lead at the end of it and unlimited space in which to sink. "Ah, didn't I tell ye so?" said Pat; "what will we do now?" Too late Jack remembered that fourteen feet down at the bottom of that pool lay the stem of a fallen oak, below which the water had made a clear channel. The fish had turned under it, and whether he was now up the river or down, or where he was who could tell? He stopped at last. "Hold him hard," said Jack, hurling off his clothes, and while I was speculating whether it would be possible to drag him back the way that he had gone, a pink body flashed from behind me, bounded off the bank with a splendid header, and disappeared. He was under for a quarter of a minute; when he rose he had the line in his hand between the fish and the tree.

"All right," he sputtered, swimming with the other hand to the bank and scrambling up. "Run the rest of the line off the reel and out through the rings." He had divined by a brilliant instinct the only remedy for our situation. The thing was done, fast as Pat and I could ply our fingers. The loose end was drawn round the log, and while Jack was humoring the fish with his hand, and dancing up and down the bank regardless of proprieties, we had carried it back down the rings, replaced it on the reel, wound in the slack, and had again command of the situation.

The salmon had played his best stroke. It had failed him, and he now surrendered like a gentleman. A mean-spirited fish will go to the bottom, bury himself in the weed, and sulk. Ours set his head towards the sea, and sailed down the length of the pool in the open water without attempting any more plunges. As his strength failed, he turned heavily on his back, and allowed himself to be drawn to the shore. The gaff [Footnote: Gaff: a large hook fixed on the end of a pole or handle.] was in his side and he was ours. He was larger than we had guessed him. Clean run he would have weighed twenty-five pounds. The fresh water had reduced him to twenty-two, but without softening his muscle or touching his strength.

—JAMES FROUDE (adapted).

[Footnote: Is the first part of the narrative a typical story of "fisherman's luck"? Show how the story illustrates that a real lover of fishing is enthusiastic over every detail of his experience. Is the story technical at the expense of the reader's interest? How does the element of suspense add to the interest? Is the account more interesting by being told in the first person? Why?]

Louise de la Ramee