Salar the Salmon: Ii. Spring Spate


BY noon Salar had traveled under two railway bridges and one road bridge and come to a deep and wide pool above an elongated islet on which trees were growing. This was the Junction Pool. Its width and depth were carved by a small river flowing into the main river at right angles.

The varying movements and weights of flowing water maintained various movements and weights of fish. Slower, heavier salmon, which had been in the estuary for weeks, a coppery tinge on their scales of dull silver, lay in slower, deeper water. Salar was among them. With other large spring salmon he was lying over weed-waving stones on the edge of rapid water, just clear of the eddy tail, above the islet.

Gralaks and six grilse, forerunners of the main shoals of grilse which would enter the river at midsummer, swam near the surface. Sometimes one rose easily and half-lobbed itself out of the water and sank down to its place in the formation.

A school of small spring fish lay beside the heavier salmon, but in the quick water gliding past the islet. These fish weighed about nine pounds each. They had left the river two years before as smolts, weighing about two and a half ounces each. Now, assured and confident, they had come direct from the ocean, finding the water of their parent river immediately in the Island Race. In the estuary they had encountered neither seal nor net; they had run straight through on the tide. These salmon lay in swift water because its swiftness was their own.

Trutta the sea trout had pushed himself under some alder roots growing matted along the left bank, one of his homes, and there he lay, asleep, oblivious of all river life, even his own, yet automatically ready to move alive should the retina of his eye, or the nerve cells of his lateral line, be affected by alien movement.

Small brown trout, each having its hiding hole under bank or root or stone, were lying everywhere on the gravel except in the fastest runs. They were watching for food, displaced nymphs and stone-fly creepers, to move near them.

A shoal of resident dace, pink-finned, lay in characterless water near the old sea trout, idly waiting for drowned worms and insects to drift into the pit.

The Kelt, long-headed and lean, ravaged of spirit and consumed of body, its gills hung with maggots and its scales broken-edged, roved round the Junction Pool, unable to rest, gigantic disillusioned smolt. It lay awhile behind Salar, imitating his complacency; then wriggled upwards to Gralaks and her companion grilse, and sinuated quickly with the movement of young fish. Gralaks swam up slowly and leapt in a low curve. The Kelt leapt and fell back formlessly with a furrowed splash. From on high as they straggled over the hill on their way to known ploughlands, a flock of herring gulls saw the splash, and swung round, wheeling with petulant cries.

The splash was also seen by a boy as he was walking hurriedly across the meadow, carrying rod in one hand and tailer in the other. At the sight he began to run. When near the bank, he bent down, and approached more slowly, lest his footfalls be felt by the fish.

Kneeling, and giving repeated glances at the tail of the run, he drew a box of Devon minnows from a pocket and selected one. It was a two-inch length of phosphor bronze, a dull yellow. This he threaded on a trace of thin steel wire set with swivels. The rod was four feet long, made of steel, thinner than a rapier. It belonged to the boy’s father, who had used it when fishing for black bass in Florida. He crept to the roots of an alder recently cut, found and tested foothold, stood upright cautiously, secured balance, gripped the rod in his right hand with thumb on beveled side of reel drum and index finger crooked round the special hold, and then, with a sweep and jerk of the little rod as he had often seen his father do, sent the minnow three-quarters way across the river. As it fell with a slight splash he slowed the reel, and, changing hands on the rod, began to wind in slowly, feeling the spinning drag of the lure under water. He quivered with excitement as a fish launched itself half out of the water behind the line, showing pointed dark gray head and white throat above its own wave.

The boy wound in the minnow, and tried to cast it in the same place, but it fell farther across the run, in front of Salar, who saw with his right eye a whir of light moving away in the water before him. It wobbled in the faster surface water, sometimes scattering behind it small bubbles. Salar had a desire to take it. He swam up and was turning under it with open mouth when something flashed hugely beside him and seized it.

The Kelt’s bony jaws clashed on metal with sharp pain. He opened his jaws to take in water and so to expel it; but it remained hard in his mouth. He could not close his jaws. He was not frightened, because in his past sea life he had occasionally taken food which hurt his mouth by its hardness and gave pain by its poison when crushed. He turned down to the bed of the pool to find a stone against which to rub it off.

To the Kelt’s surprise and alarm he could not get to the bed of the pool. He could not swim freely as hitherto in his life. He shook his head violently; the thing in his mouth stabbed him, and tugged at him strongly. A shock of fear jagged through his body, stimulating him to violent action. Desperately he shook his head again, and leapt quickly from the water three times without knowing what he was doing until it had happened. The aerial scene was a tilted blur of blue and green and white. In his open gills the air was harsh and choking. When in water again he turned with the flow and swam away with all his strength, causing the hovering grilse to scatter and instantly to sink to the bottom. The terrified Kelt turned in the rough water which had been pressing his gills open, and lay behind a boulder, curling his tail against a stone that was not there.

Eighty yards away on the bank the boy held the rod with both hands, one thumb pressed tightly against the drum, and wondered what he should do. He put a steady strain on the steel until his wrists were aching, and he feared the line would snap. At last in fatigue he eased the strain on his trembling arms.

Behind the stone the Kelt lay in distressed bewilderment. He could not understand this enemy that prevented him from breathing and held him although it never pursued him. Indeed the Kelt did not yet define an enemy, although he was hiding in fear from the wire trace that extended taut in front of him, which vibrated its menace through his head and body.

He lay there, feeling weak and gulping jerkily until the trace slackened, and, feeling free, he moved sideways to rub his jaw against the edge of the stone. Since the trace did nothing to him, his strength returned and he swam hard against the stone, striking it with his head. The hooks drove deeper, and levered one against the other as he strove to wrench the thing from its hold in his mouth. The wounds, enlarged by the barbs, began to bleed. In pain and fury the Kelt dashed the trace on the stone, with such force that the minnow was impelled up the trace, and the barb pierced the main artery of his body, which lay under the tongue.

As he bled he weakened. He began to swim up into the pool again, away from the slight drag of the water on the trace behind him; but when the pull came from before him he swung round again and in desperation of life swam down the river to the sea, imagined refuge.

He could not breathe, swimming downstream less fast than the stream. He had to turn, and in a frenzy of fear he swam back into the Junction Pool with jaggered strength and leapt to shake off the wounding hardness in his mouth. Falling back, he felt the water too strong for him; it swept him away; he lost sense and power of direction, his body heavy with fatigue. The drift rested him, and he recovered, to swim feebly the way he was being drawn, sometimes trying to swim aside, but in vain. He was exhausted. Drawn near the bank, into slower water, he saw his enemy and the shock stimulated his wasted muscles. He struggled to reach the run, and in his effort to bore down into deeper water the river became strange and unfamiliar.

Exultingly the boy drew in the salmon to the bank, where it turned on its side, and lay still. Holding rod in one hand, with the other he passed the loop of the tailer over the fish’s tail. It was like a short-handled whip with a loop of twisted steel wire for thong, and, when lifted up with a jerk, the spring loop slid small, noosing the tail.

The Kelt struggled as it was being lifted; it flapped feebly on the grass; but three blows of the priest on its head killed it.

Its captor was trembling with pride and joy, and with these feelings was a slightness of regret that it was no longer alive and free in the river. Later, when he reached home, the stannic lustre of the Kelt was gone, its skin had shrunken, and its head looked too big for its body. To the boy’s mortification, his father said it was a kelt. But, declared the boy, it was so bright that surely it was a clean-run fish, although there were no sea lice on it. Then his father showed him the fresh-water maggots on the gill rakers — a sure sign, he said; and, for confirmation, there was the spawning mark on the point of balance by the paired fins — where scales and skin had been worn away by the act of digging gravel, he said.

When cut, the flesh was seen to be pale and infirm, and the carcass was buried under an apple tree in the orchard.


Salar came to a bend in the river where, on the edge of white rapid water, a circular pool was in motion. Many fish were waiting in the pool, which was caused to revolve by a great bubble-churning rush of white water surging down the face of a sloping weir. The sill of the weir had been built with a cut or nick in its centre for the passage of fish. Here, therefore, the water was most violent in its descent , flinging itself in white surges against the edge of the deeper water below, making it to turn.

The farther edge of the water lapped a bank of shillets, which had been dug out of the pool and left there by spates after the building of the weir. The bank of loose flat fragments of rock shelved deeply. Sometimes the tail fin of a waiting fish showed a yard or less from the edge, to sink again casually. Nearer the pool’s centre, dorsal fins lifted above the ruffled surface. A heron flying overhead saw a blotch of dark blue in the water, where fish were massed.

Other eyes too were watching, from behind a hurdle of sticks and weeds left by the receding spate against the trunk of an alder tree on the bank a score of yards below the pool.

One of the fish resting there shook its tail and swam down slowly, rolling on its side and turning up again in another direction, began to cruise round the pool, against the circular current. It was a fish which had been in the low reaches of the river since the New Year. It was about to make its fourth attempt to ascend the weir. At three points on the rim of the pool it rolled out of the water, showing dorsal and tail fins as it gathered its will within itself; then, heading resolutely into the secondary rush of bubbled water alongside the white, it moved resolutely along the rocky bottom, and resolutely swam up, accelerating with all its strength.

The winter salmon, flanks of tarnished silver and rust, leapt just beside, and clear of, the white thrust of water. It fell on the lower edge of the weir’s apron, entering the thick cord of water descending from the gap in the sill above. The apron or face of the weir sloped at an angle of about twenty degrees. Slowly the salmon, swimming with all its power, ascended the cord, and, when halfway up, its strength grew less and it ceased to advance; it stayed during the time of a double wing-beat of the heron wheeling overhead; desperately it turned aside in the hope of finding easier water, and was swept down on its side, tossed from wave to wave of the white surge to which it abandoned itself, and, reaching the end of the water’s thrust, with a slow sweep of the tail entered the circular pool and took place among the other fish which had failed to get over the weir.

On the farther side of the weir stood a pine tree. The heron alighted on the topmost branch, and perched there swaying, holding its head up as anxiously it watched for its only enemy — man. The grassy bank below the tree ended in a masoned wall under which the broken water surged over steps made to help fish over the obstruction of the weir. It had not occurred to the designer of the weir that a series of ledges, one below the other, would be avoided by salmon, since they had been built specially for them; the plan had seemed perfect. But running water usually does the opposite of what is expected of it by those not water-minded. The spate pouring over the sill down the steps made a white turbulence feared by every fish which ventured into it.

One of the men squatting behind the stick heap was binding with string the shank of a gaff to a six-foot length of ash plant cut lower down by the river. The gaff was forged of iron, large barbless hook. The shank was eight inches long, convenient size for concealing in the pocket.

The poachers were hiding because they had heard that one of the water bailiffs was in the neighborhood and might be about by the weir. They kept still, knowing that the heron’s eye would detect the least movement.

Up in the dark green branches, tipped with the brown of new growth, the heron flapped to shift position, and then looked around anxiously, lest the flapping might have attracted attention from its enemies. Like most of the herons fishing the valleys of the Two Rivers and their feeder streams, the bird had often heard a loud crack followed by the whistle and rattle of shot when surprised by man. Quite half the bird’s working hours were passed in waiting and watching lest one of its enemies appear suddenly to surprise it.

When one of the men waiting below had whipped the gaff to the ash handle, he took a small file from a torn pocket of his coat and began to stroke the point to needle sharpness.

The January-run fish tried again. It leapt from the deep water at the lower edge of the apron and splashed down on the slope, flapping sideways at the rate of nearly two hundred flaps a minute, appearing to plough its way upwards, a plume of water over its head. Making no progress, it altered direction and traveled aslant the glide, until it was within a foot of the edge of the grass, when it felt itself heavy with fatigue, and ceased to swim, lying there, a crescent fish, for a moment before turning its nose down and slipping back into the white churn several yards distant from where it had leapt.

Its long green toes gripping scaly boughs with excitement, the heron, giving a final hasty twist of its long neck as it glanced around, prepared to jump up and glide down to the top of the weir.

As the lanky gray bird paused, Trutta, the old sea trout, big-blackspotted and dark stain of bruise three inches deep on his shoulders, lobbed himself vertically out beside the central white thrust and was swept over on his back immediately.

The sight of the large white belly and red of open gills made the heron launch itself from the tree and glide steeply down over the river, to alight with counter beat of wings on the grass above the sill of the weir.

Its hunger overcoming anxiety, the heron stalked stiltedly down the grassy slope and stepped on the edge of the concrete at the base of the sill, by a crack where a dock root and a thistle root were about to unfurl their first leaves of the year. It assured itself of a good hold for its long green feet and peered over the water, holding beak down to strike should any sizable fish appear. Then it gave a jump and gape and squark and beat up violently, seeing two men rising out of the gravel bank near it. With long legs trailing, it flapped down the river, swerving as it saw the figure of a man looking over the road bridge.

This was the water bailiff, who wondered what had disturbed the heron, for he knew it had been startled by the quick way it was beating its wings when it had first come into view. The weir was hidden by a bend and trees from the bridge. He decided to go to the weir.

Crouching by the edge where the heron had been standing, the man with the gaff waited for a fish to show. His mate kept a lookout on the bank above.

The poacher was waiting, stiller than a heron but not so well clad, gaff in hand ready to snatch the first fish to come in reach, staring at the water when his mate turned casually towards him and shouted out, ‘Bailiff!’ while pretending to crouch from an imaginary wind in order to light a cigarette. Without turning his head or shifting his position, but with an instant movement of the lower parts of his arms, he lanced the gaff into the white strakes of the surge. It was taken and turned up in the water before disappearing. Putting hands in the pockets of his torn jacket, the man stood there, looking at the water until, a couple of minutes later, he turned his head slowly to the voice of the bailiff saying, ‘Ha, caught you this time, have I, Shiner?’

The poacher, known as ‘Shiner’ from the moonlit nights during which he worked, replied, ‘Have ’ee got a fag in your pocket, midear?’

‘Aiy,’ said the bailiff. ‘And have ’ee got a gaff in yours, by any chance, Shiner?’

‘Aw, I ban’t no water-whipping rodand-line gentry; you should know that, midear. What be the like o’ me wanting a gaff for? You’ll be asking me for a gennulman’s license next, or the loan of a maskell’s guts and kid’s-colored fishing fly. Search me if ’ee fancies it, midear.’

‘You know I ban’t allowed by law to search you,’ retorted the water bailiff, disconcerted by the poacher’s good humor. ‘Got a gaff hidden under they bushes, have ’ee?’

‘I ban’t stopping you from searching, midear.’

‘Well, then, will ’ee answer why you’m waiting yurr?’

‘ Elvers be running, midear. They’m poaching your fish too, I fancy. Why don’t ’ee summon they, midear?’

He pointed to the water turning back under the bank, where the diseased and dying salmon had turned up slowly on its side, in a dark mass of midget eels round it like iron filings on a magnet. Its gills were clustered with wriggles. The fish swam away, slowly, doomed.

‘There ban’t no law against a poor man taking a dish of elvers for his tea, be there?’ inquired the old man. Taking off his stained felt hat and kneeling down, he dipped it in the water. A dozen elvers swam around inside. He threw them back, and banged the hat on the grass to knock off the water. ‘ Well, midear, us must n’t keep th’ old crane from his dinner, must us? Else they Cruelty to Hanimals chaps will be after us, won’t ’n?’

He pointed to the heron passing over high, flying slowly, legs straight out behind and neck tucked in. He walked away, laughing loudly.


The elvers were running. They darkened the green shallows of the river, and the eddies were thick tangles of them. They had come into the estuary on the flood tide, and in a gelatinous mass had moved into the still water of the tidehead. All fish in the river sped from them, for elvers were gill-twisting torture and death.

For nearly three years as thin glassy threads the young eels had been crossing the Atlantic, drifting in warm currents of the Gulf Stream from the Sargasso Sea. Here in deep water, far under floating beds of clotted marine wreckage, all the mature eels of the Northern Hemisphere, patient travelers from inland ponds and ditches, brooks and rivers, came together to shed themselves of life for immortal reasons.

Salar lay in fast water between Pine Tree weir and the road bridge. He lay in front of a large stone, in the swift flume rising to pass over it. The flume streamed by his head and gills and shoulders without local eddy. No elver could reach his gill without violent wriggling, which he would feel. He was swift with the swiftness of the water. There was the least friction between fish and river, for his skin exuded a mucus or lubricant by which the water slipped. The sweep of strong water guarded his life. Other salmon were lying in like lodges in the stony surges. Salar lodged there until dusk, when he moved forward again. Gralaks moved beside him. They recognized and knew each other without greeting.

Many fish were at Pine Tree weir before them, waiting beside the lessening weight of white water, in the swarming bubbles of the eddy. They lay close to one another. As soon as one fish waggled tail and dipped and rose to get a grip of the water, to test its own pulse of power, another fish took its place, ready for the take-off. Salar idled, alert, apprehensive, seventeenth in line. Sometimes two or three fish left the phalanx at the same time, and after nervous ranging set themselves to swim up through the heavy water.

At the edge of the turning pool, where Shiner the poacher had waited and watched during the day, stood Old Nog the heron. The bird was picking up elvers as fast as he could snick them. His throat and neck ached. A continuous loose rope of elvers wove itself on the very edge of the water, where frillets sliding down the concrete apron edge scarcely washed into the grass. Old Nog had eaten his first thousand elvers too quickly, gulping with head downheld until his tongue refused to work. After a return to the treetop heronry where three hernets had craked and fought to thrust their beaks down his throat to take what he had, Old Nog flew back to the weir and picked and swallowed slowly, his excitement gone. All afternoon he flew back and forth. At dusk he rested, sleeping for three hours. By the light of the full moon rising he returned with his mate to the weir. They crammed their crops and necks and flew back to their filthy nest, where by midnight the three hernets were crouching, huddled and dour with overmuch feeding. Old Nog then flew back to the weir, to feed himself. Most of the elvers were now gone, but he managed to satisfy his hunger. On the way home, however, an elver wriggled down his windpipe, causing him to choke and sputter and disgorge; the mass fell beside a badger below rubbing against its scratching thorn, causing it to start and grunt with alarm. After cautiously snuffing for some minutes, from various angles, the badger dared to taste; after which it ate all up and looked round for more. For the next few nights it returned specially to rub itself against the thorn, in the hope of finding such food there again. As for Old Nog, not an elver that year reached his long pot, as countrymen do call the guts.

During the time of the moon’s high tides, more than two hundred salmon passed over the weir. Salar swam up on his second attempt; at first he had been unsure of himself, and dropped back almost as soon as he had got a grip on the central cord or spine of water. Swimming again with all his power, he moved slowly into the glissade of water above the white surge; stayed a third of the way up, as though motionless, vibrating; then had gained over the water and swam stronger in jubilation, and suddenly found the sill moving away under him, release of weight from his sides, and calm deep water before him. He flung himself out for joy, and a young dog-otter, who was rolling on its back on grass at the pool’s edge, where a bitch-otter had touched earlier in the night, instantly lifted its head, slipped to the edge, put its head under, and slid tail-last into the water.

Salar saw the otter swimming above him. The pool took the dull blows of his acceleration, and in three seconds, when the otter had swum nine yards against the current, Salar had gone twenty yards upstream into the mill pool, swerved from a sunken tree trunk lodged in the silt, zigzagged forward to the farther bank, startling other salmon resting there, and hidden himself under a ledge of rock. The otter, which was not hunting salmon, since in deep water it could never catch any unless a fish were injured, crawled out on the bank again to enjoy through its nose what it imagined visually.

An elver wriggled against Salar, and he swam on. The pool was long and deep and slow. He swam on easily, restfully, now slower than the otter had pretended to chase him. The wound in his side began to ache dully, and he rested near the surface, near water swilling over a branch of alder. At dawn he was three miles above Pine Tree weir, lying under a ledge of rock hollow curving above him, and therefore protecting him from behind, with an immediate way of escape from danger into deep water. The salmon slept, only the white-gray tip of the kyp — hooked end of lower jaw — showing as the mouth slightly opened. Fifteen times a minute water passed the gills, which opened imperceptibly.

Salar slept. The water lightened with sunrise. He lay in shadow. His eyes were fixed, passively susceptible to all movement. The sun rose up. Leaves and stalks of loose weed and water moss passing were seen but unnoticed by the automatic stimulus of each eye’s retina. The eyes worked together with the unconscious brain, while the nerves, centres of direct feeling, rested themselves. One eye noticed a trout hovering in the water above, but Salar did not see it.

The sun rose higher, and shone down on the river, and slowly the shadow of the ledge shrunk into its base. Light revealed Salar, a graygreen uncertain dimness behind a small pale spot appearing and disappearing regularly.

Down there Salar’s right eye was filled with the sun’s blazing fog. His left eye saw the wall of rock and the water above. The trout right forward of him swam up, inspected that which had attracted it, and swam down again; but Salar’s eye perceived no movement. The shadow of the trout in movement did not fall on the salmon’s right eye.

A few moments later there was a slight splash left forward of Salar. Something swung over, casting the thinnest shadow; but it was seen by the eye, which awakened the conscious brain. Salar was immediately alert.

The thing vanished. A few moments later, it appeared nearer to him.

With his left eye Salar watched the thing moving overhead. It swam in small jerks, across the current and just under the surface, opening and shutting, gleaming, glinting, something trying to get away. Salar, curious and alert, watched it until it was disappearing and then he swam up and around to take it ahead of its arc of movement. The surface water, however, was flowing faster than the river at midstream, and he misjudged the opening of his mouth, and the thing, which recalled sea feeding, escaped.

On the bank upriver fifteen yards away, a fisherman with fourteen-foot split-cane rod said to himself, excitedly, ‘Rising short’; and, pulling loops of line between reel and lowest ring of the rod, he took a small pair of scissors from a pocket and snipped off the thing which had attracted Salar.

No wonder Salar had felt curious about it, for human thought had ranged the entire world to imagine that lure. It was called a fly; but no fly like it ever swam in air or flew through water. Its tag, which had glinted, was of silver from Nevada and silk of a moth from Formosa; its tail, from the feather of an Indian crow; its butt, black herl, of African ostrich; its body, yellow floss silk veiled with orange breast feathers of the South American toucan, and black Macclesfield silk ribbed with silver tinsel. This fly was given the additional attraction of wings for watcr flight, made of strips of feathers from many birds. Invented after a bout of seasickness by a Celt as he sailed the German Ocean between England and Norway, for nearly a hundred years this fly had borne his name, Jock Scott.

While the fisherman was tying a smaller pattern of the same fly to the end of the gut cast, dark-stained by nitrate of silver against underwater glint, Salar rose to midwater and hovered there. He opened his mouth and sucked in a nymph as it was swimming to the surface. The fisherman saw a swirl on the water, and threw his fly, with swish of double-handed rod, above and to the right of the swirl. Then, lowering the rod point until it was almost parallel to the water, he let the current take the fly slowly across the stream, lifting the rod tip and lowering it slightly and regularly to make it appear to be swimming.

Salar saw the fly and slowly swam up to look at it. He saw it clear in the bright water and sank away again, uninterested in the lifelessness of its bright colors. Again it reappeared, well within his skylight window. He ignored it, and it moved out of sight. Then it fell directly over him, jigging about in the water, and with it a dark thin thing which he regarded cautiously. This was the gut cast. Once more it passed over, and then again, but he saw only the dark thinness moving there. It was harmless. He ignored it. Two other salmon below Salar, one in a cleft of rock and the other beside a sodden oak log wedged under the bank, also saw the too-bright thing, and found no vital interest in it.

The fisherman pulled in the line through the rod rings. It was of plaited silk, tapered and enameled for ease of casting. The line fell over his boot. Standing still, he cut off the fly, and began a search for another in a metal box, wherein scores of mixed feathers were ranged on rows of metal clasps. First he moved one with his forefinger, then another, staring at this one and frowning at that one, recalling in its connection past occasions of comparative temperatures of air and river, of height and clearness of water, of sun and shade, while the angler’s familiar feeling, of obscurity mingled with hope and frustration, came over him. While from the air he tried to conjure certainty for a choice of fly, Salar, who had taken several nymphs of the olive dun during the time the angler had been cogitating, leapt and fell back with a splash that made the old fellow take a small Black Doctor and tie the gut to the loop of the steel hook with a single Cairnton-jam knot.

Salar saw this lure and fixed one eye on it as it approached and then ignored it, a thing without life. As it was being withdrawn from the water a smolt which had seen it only then leapt openmouthed at a sudden glint and fell back, having missed it.

On the bank the fisherman sat down and perplexedly reëxamined his rows and rows of flies. He had tried all recommended for the water, and several others as well; and, after one short rise, no fish had come to the fly. Mar Lodge and Silver Gray, Dunkeld and Black Fairy, Beauly Snow Fly, Fiery Brown, Silver Wilkinson, Thunder and Lightning, Butcher, Green Highlander, Blue Charm, Candlestick Maker, Bumbee, Little Inky Boy, all were no good. Then in one corner of the case he saw an old fly of which most of the mixed plumage was gone: a Black Dog which had belonged to his grandfather. Grubs of moths had fretted away hackle, wing, and topping. It was thin and bedraggled. Feeling that it did not matter much what fly was used, he sharpened the point with a slip of stone, tied it on, and carelessly flipped it into the water. He was no longer fishing; he was no longer intent, he was about to go home; the cast did not fall straight, but crooked; the line also was crooked. Without splash the fly moved down a little less fast than the current, coming thus into Salar’s skylight. It was like the nymphs he had been taking, only larger; and with a leisurely sweep he rose and turned across the current, and took it, holding it between tongue and vomer as he went down to his lie again, where he would crush and taste it. The sudden resistance of the line to his movement caused the point of the hook to prick the corner of his mouth. He shook his head to rid himself of it, and this action drove the point into the gristle, as far as the barb.

A moment later the fisherman, feeling a weight on the line, lifted the rod point and tightened the line, and had hardly thought to himself, ‘Salmon,’ when the blue-gray tail of a fish broke half out of water and its descending weight bended the rod.

Salar knew of neither fisherman nor rod nor line. He swam down to the ledge of rock and tried to rub the painful thing in the corner of his mouth against it. But his head was pulled away from the rock. He saw the line, and was fearful of it. He bored down to his lodge at the base of the rock, to get away from the line, while the small brown trout swam behind his tail, curious to know what was happening.

Salar could not reach his lodge. He shook his head violently, and, failing to get free, turned downstream and swam away strongly, pursued by the line and a curious buzzing vibration just outside his jaw.

Below the pool the shallow water jabbled before surging in broken white crests over a succession of rocky ledges. Salar had gone about sixty yards from his lodge, swimming hard against the backward pull of line, when the pull slackened, and he turned round head into current, and lay close to a stone, to hide from his enemy.

When the salmon had almost reached the jabble, the fisherman, fearing it would break away in the rough water, had started to run down the bank, pulling line from the reel as he did so. By thus releasing direct pull on the fish, he had turned it. Then, by letting the current drag line in a loop below it, he made Salar believe that the enemy was behind him. Feeling the small pull of the line from behind, Salar swam up into deeper water, to get away from it. The fisherman was now behind the salmon, in a position to make it tire itself by swimming upstream against the current.

Salar, returning to his lodge, saw it occupied by another fish, which his rush, and the humming line cutting the water, had disturbed from the lie by the sodden log. This was Gralaks the grilse. Again Salar tried to rub the thing against the rock, again the pull, sideways and upwards, was too strong for him. He swam downwards, but could make no progress towards the rock. This terrified him and he turned upwards and swam with all his strength, to shake it from his mouth. He leapt clear of the water and fell back on his side, still shaking his head.

On the top of the leap the fisherman had lowered his rod, lest the fly be torn away as the salmon struck the water.

Unable to get free by leaping, Salar sank down again and settled himself to swim away from the enemy. Drawing the line after him, and beset again by the buzzing vibration, he traveled a hundred yards to the throat of the pool, where water quickened over gravel. He lay in the riffle spreading away from a large stone, making himself heavy, his swim-bladder shrunken, trying to press himself into the gravel which was his first hiding place in life. The backward pull on his head nearly lifted him into the fast water, but he held himself down, for nearly five minutes, until his body ached and he weakened and he found himself being taken down sideways by the force of shallow water. He recalled the sunken tree and it became a refuge, and he swam down fast, and the pull ceased with the buzz against his jaw. Feeling relief, he swam less fast over his lodge, from which Gralaks sped away, alarmed by the line following Salar.

But before he could reach the tree the weight was pulling him back, and he turned and bored down to bottom, scattering a drove of little gray shadows which were startled trout. Again the pull was too much for him, and he felt the ache of his body spreading back to his tail. He tried to turn on his side to rub the corner of his mouth on something lying on the bed of the pool — an old cartwheel — again and again — but he could not reach it.

Fatigued and aching, Salar turned downstream once more, to swim away with the river, to escape the enemy which seemed so much bigger because he could not close his mouth. As he grew heavier, slower, uncertain, he desired above all to be in the deeps of the sea, to lie on ribbed sand and rest and rest and rest. He came to rough water, and let it take him down, too tired to swim. He bumped into a rock, and was carried by the current around it, on his side, while the gut cast, tautened by the dragging weight, twanged and jerked his head upstream, and he breathed again, gulping water quickly and irregularly. Still the pull was trying to take him forward, so with a renewal of fear he turned and reëntered fast water and went down and down, until he was in another deep pool at a bend of the river. Here he remembered a hole under the roots of a tree, and tried to hide there, but had not strength enough to reach the refuge of darkness.

Again he felt release, and swam forward slowly, seeking the deepest part of the pool, to lie on the bottom with his mouth open. Then he was on his side, dazed and weary, and the brokenquicksilvery surface of the pool was becoming whiter. He tried to swim away, but the water was too thick-heavy; and after a dozen sinuations it became solid. His head was out of water. A shock passed through him as he tried to breathe. He lay there, held by line taut over fisherman’s shoulder. He felt himself being drawn along just under the surface, and only then did he see his enemy — flattened, tremulant-spreading image of the fisherman. A new power of fear broke in the darkness of his lost self. When it saw the tailer coming down to it, the surface of the water was lashed by the desperately scattered self. The weight of the body falling over backwards struck the taut line; the tail fin was split. The gut broke just above the hook, where it had been frayed on the rock. Salar saw himself sinking down into the pool, and he lay there, scattered about himself and unable to move away, his tail curved round a stone, feeling only a distorted head joined to the immovable river bed.


All day Salar lay dully in the pool, under the roots of an alder, never moving. After the sun had set and other salmon were leaving their lies and lodges he swam forward slowly, painfully. The wind had veered to the northwest, bringing hard-edged clouds towering in blackness above the moor. Down in the estuary at midnight fishermen hauled on nets which held, draft after draft, only seaweed and crabs; they said nothing at all — they had been wet in empty sea labor most of their lives. Salmon from the sea jumped in the wide spate water of the fairway and passed up one or other of the Two Rivers. Some of them, fast travelers, moved beside Salar when next evening’s sun was spreading rubicund on the hilltops.

Salar followed these new keen fish, his weariness eased, and by sunrise was lying with them in a pool called Denzil’s, wide and deep, above another gristmill weir and the joining place of a third river. In this pool, which was deep because a ledge of rock crossed the river bed, the clay below having been scooped out by the centuries’ spates, lay thirty salmon.

Many of these fish moved on at nightfall, and new fish came in, with Trutta the sea trout, but Salar remained there. He was apprehensive, and deep water gave serenity. Many times he turned on his side and tried to rub off the iron lacerating the corner of his mouth. Soon most of the skin was rubbed off his jawbone. Body movement was no longer painful, but all his muscles ached.

Every day Salar, resting at the edge of deepening water, saw lines and lures, which he now recognized as enemies, moving, flickering, spinning at varying speeds over him. For a week the wind continued from the northwest, and nymphs delayed their hatching; and no salmon were taken from the pool, except one foul-hooked by a spinner which caught it in the gill, causing it to bleed to exhaustion in the water.

Salar had been waiting there nearly a fortnight when towards the end of a night, as the hollow ruin of the moon was rising through trees, two fish sped past him, turned in shelving water, and sank beside him. All the fish shared an alertness of fear. A light darted in the water, moved about, and went out. Another light shone behind them. Salar swam into the deepest water, where he could see most — forward, above, and behind. Fish swung and thudded about in alarm. A strange smell came to him in the water, and he accelerated to the farther side of the pool.

Two men were wading above the pool, on the edge of the transverse reef. They carried armfuls of net, which they let down into deep water. A third man held the end of the rope under the bank. Sixty yards away two other men were taking a trammel across the river, in shallowing water below the pool. A sixth man stood on the bank, waiting silent and listening in the last darkness of night. A heap of old potato sacks lay near him, the temporary bed of a lean hairy dog with long thin legs, head, and tail. This was a lurcher, shivering curled as though to sleep, but flairnosed, wide-eyed, cock-eared. It never barked or growled. It knew the smell of every water bailiff in the catchment area of the Two Rivers. The dog and its master shared a soundless language, of attitude, glance, and movement.

The six men belonged to a gang which worked pools of the Two Rivers only at night. The leader, who owned dog and nets, was a mild-mannered and bespectacled cabinetmaker by day. The lenses of his spectacles were of plain glass: he wore them to protect his eyes from wood dust, and also, by their absence at night, as a disguise. Four of the men had been fined by the magistrates of the local town for poaching. The fining had occurred before they had formed themselves into a gang, under the leadership of the cabinetmaker, since when none had been caught. Its members blackened their faces before leaving the old and unlicensed car in which they traveled on their planned raids. One man, however, knew why the car was used only at night; and that man was Shiner.

Shiner had made and used the trammel net until he had been surprised one night by the bailiffs, who had confiscated it. Shiner had been summoned, convicted, sentenced to imprisonment; and the Court made an order for the destruction of the trammel net which had been produced as evidence against him. The trammel, however, had been stolen from the courtroom, during the second prosecution by the Clerk to the Board of Conservators.

The trammel net was never missed, because the local police authorities thought the water bailiffs had carried it away, and the bailiffs thought the police had removed it. When he had served ten days in prison, Shiner, who had watched the net being taken, said nothing, although he knew who had it. He disliked the gang, because they sometimes worked with methods he considered dirty — they poisoned whole stretches of river by the use of chloride of lime, and blew the pits with gelignite, which destroyed all life in them. Shiner was awaiting an opportunity to get his own back.

The gang did not know, when they left their car behind a haystack in a field by the road a quarter of a mile away, that Shiner was watching in the next field. His tool cart — he was an odd-day gardener to various houses — was hidden behind another haystack. When the gang had left for the river, Shiner climbed through the hedge and, opening the bonnet of their car, unscrewed all the leads to the spark plugs, fixing them again in wrong order; and then, to make sure the engine would not start, he emptied a small bag of sugar into the petrol tank. After this, struck by a sudden thought, he climbed through the hedge again and removed his tool cart to the other end of the field, concealing it in a dip in the ground.

Some minutes later he crossed the lane and listened. Then he wetted a forefinger to reassure himself that the breeze was moving from the pool in his direction. Afterwards he hid behind an oak tree on the bank above, and waited.

While he was standing there, the drift net was spread across the river. Its lead-weighted heel rope sank into deep water, its line of corks was bellied out by the surface current. Two men, one under each bank and holding an end of rope, began to work their way down the sides of the pool, wading sometimes to their armpits, and gripping branches which overhung the water.

As the drift net slowly moved upon them, the salmon became agitated, and moved at great speed up and down the pool. One shot through the wide netting of the trammel, turned immediately from the closer netting beyond, and was caught by the gills. The poachers heard the threshing of broken water, and began to work faster with the drift net. ‘ Go easy,’ said the leader, standing on the bank above, a dim silhouette against the resolving twilight of dawn. Another fish began to splash.

In the centre of the pool lay Trutta, and near him were Salar and Gralaks. Trutta had known netting in Denzil’s Pool two years before. Now, as the drift net came down, he swam aside to the alder whose roots in the water were like a thousand lobsters pressed together, and pushed under them. Because they recognized Trutta in the stimulation of fear which started old actions in memory, both Salar and Gralaks followed him now and thrust themselves under the mat of alder roots. They stayed there even when the noise and movement of legs were very near. As the disturbance went away another fish pushed in between Salar and Trutta, a terrified brown trout with a black and irregular underjaw, immense head, sharp teeth, and lean body. This was Garroo the cannibal trout. In a fury of fear at finding his retreat occupied, Garroo bit the tail of Gralaks, and received a slap on the side of his black horny head that caused him to lie limply, for several minutes, diagonally across the parallel bodies of Trutta and Salar.

While the four fish were hidden under the root clump, the drift net was approaching the trammel. ‘Go easy,’ said the leader. The area between the two nets was slashed with gleams as fish turned and re-turned. Up to their middle in water, the men who had dragged the drift net were now hauling in the twin ropes of heel and head, only a few yards away from the trammel. The net ends met on shelving gravel. Gradually the other end of the trammel was brought over, outside the drift net. Within the rocking corks more than a dozen salmon were struggling, torn of gill and tail, scales scraped off skin. The mass of fish was dragged to where the bank was broken by drinking cattle, and one by one they were hauled out on a gaff, and beaten on the nose by the cabinetmaker with a short club of yew wood weighted with an inlaid spiral of brass.

Nine fish were laid out on the grass, the largest twenty-eight pounds, the smallest seven pounds — one of the grilse of the school led by Gralaks. Quickly nets were stowed into sacks, and the gang, jubilant and now smoking fags, set off across the fields to the lane. It was half an hour to sunlight; the shine was already gone from the moon in the great azure glow spreading up the eastern sky. Clouds, hedges, haystacks to the west, were black. Their feet rustled frosty grasses. Bullocks which had been crowding and snuffling, black-massed, into the corner by the gate cantered away, ignored by the lurcher dog, which lifted one ear, and glanced at its master, as a cock in the farmyard half a mile away crowed to the morning star.

For nearly an hour they tried to get the car started. First one, then another, swung the handle, falling away and cursing in exhaustion.

The cabinetmaker took down the carburetor, and saw a dark sticky liquid, like crude petroleum, in the float chamber. Peering in the tank with the aid of an electric torch, he saw more of it lying at the bottom. He was bitter and blasphemous. It was run off; carburetor reassembled; handle swung again, many times, desperately. The eastern hill line was a haze of shining; soon the sun would rise and laborers be about. They began to quarrel. Some wanted to divide the fish, and make off homewards across the fields: others, supporting the leader, argued that they should best be hid in the stack, and fetched at night. At last the others agreed; but one said, would n’t the car give away the hiding place? So the salmon, wrapped in sacks, were carried to the adjoining haystack, cut down one side, and concealed on the loose top of it. The nets were hidden in the hedge some distance away, and then, having washed the black from their faces in the ditch, the gang separated and went home across the fields.

A couple of hours later Shiner was wheeling his tool cart, apparently laden with horse dung, across the market square of the small town. ‘Do you reckon it be time to till early tetties, midear? ’ he asked the police sergeant, who every year won prizes, for his potatoes, in the local Flower Show. ‘Wait until the ground’s in temper; ’tis no use mucketing,’ replied the sergeant, with amiable importance.

‘ You’m right,’ said Shiner, promptly. With a grin he added, ‘ You ’d like what I’ve got in this cart, I dare say? Tes proper stuff for growing big tetties.’

The sergeant, who had had a kind thought for Shiner since he had been in prison for merely taking salmon, replied, ‘You keep it for yourself, Shiner; you worked hard enough for it, I reckon.’

‘You ’m right, midear,’ agreed Shiner, as he went on his way.

That night many of the leading citizens of the town, including several magistrates, dined on salmon which had been bought, surreptitiously, at their kitchen doors.

The old car was abandoned.

(To be continued)