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How we did it


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By this time we have left the station - followed the footpath by the dykeside - threaded the planting - passed the ruinous tower on our left - crossed the farm-yard - and stand gazing awhile on The Almond as here it lazily creeps along.

The Almond, as an angling river, ought to stand high in the scale of trouting streams. Many look upon it, however, with the purest contempt; and would consider a day spent there so much lost time. But we appeal to those who value the contents of a basket less by its weight than by the amount of skill requisite to fill one - if it does not do so in their estimation? Its vicinity to the capital lays it open to practice of every kind - good, bad, and indifferent. From March till October its banks are lined with parties who have each their own private self-estimate, who have done great things somewhere - where trout are always hungry and are little molested - expecting to do the same here. Those are sure of disappointment: the various little arts that are necessary to conceal their object are not at all consulted, and their non-success but leads to greater carelessness. Others again, by their utter ignorance of the art they profess, and their bungling proceedings, have endowed the Almond trout with an amount of caution that is not to be found, perhaps, in any other stream. Yet is the Almond river as well stocked with fish as any other non-preserved rivulet in Scotland: partly looked after too, it is, as those who go too far up or too far down will soon discover.

Keeping the footpath till we reach Boathouse- bridge, we there cross, and find the water, not that "porter" colour which is so much a favourite among anglers, but more approaching the hue of "strong ale" - full but not foul. Resting ourselves till our weapons of war are put into fighting order, we hazard a few conjectures as to our fortune.

Your true angler knows at once, when on the banks of a stream, whether he will have a good basketful or no. Whether it be in the temperature of the atmosphere, or in that of the water; whether it is a conviction - an impression that all the concurrent circumstances - invisible to others, and almost so to himself - are there which witnessed his success on a former occasion - we cannot tell: nor he. The feeling perhaps is somewhat akin to that which comes upon us when we hear some particular song or tune, or gaze on some particular spot that resembles one which may have yielded us pleasure, long, long years ago - what time and whom with we cannot now remember; but we feel it creeping round and softening our hearts: and for the moment that glimpse of the past throws a cheering ray o'er the troubles of the present, and partially dispels the deepest gloom of the future: and it is with a feeling of regret that we hear the close of the song or forsake the inspiring scene!

A few casts to soften the gut and bring those rebellious curls under legitimate authority, and we approach cautiously the scene of former exploits - a pebbly beach beneath us, and at the opposite side a depth of water that can only be guessed at. The bank there is strengthened by stakes, between which ever and anon a sullen plunge announces that feeding-time is at its height. A slight breeze is behind us, and our line is easily brought in the vicinity of the stakes, slightly up stream. Again - and a slight noise in the neighbourhood of its termination gives zest to our endeavours. Once more, and our three flies lie high and dry on the margin beyond! Lightly and one by one they slowly reach the water - ah! he has seized the tail- fly, and after a few unavailing struggles, we bring him unwillingly to our feet. Small - not over four ounces - still we gladly welcome him as an instalment of what is to follow. In the same manner we proceed upwards, sometimes landing on the opposite sward the two more distant flies, and suffering the first dropper to hang for an instant in air - a ruse frequently successful. By the time we have done with this spot, which does not exceed fifty yards of the stream, five goodly fellows, from a quarter to three-quarters of a pound in weight, keep us somewhat noisy company.

Roger, like a quiet sensible fellow as he is, has gone some hundred yards up the river; and we should like to know how he succeeds, or rather we would like to tell him our success. We must defer that pleasure, however, as the ground we are now approaching cannot be passed. Here are a succession of inviting streams that cannot fail to yield considerable sport, and cannot be overlooked; but the intervening pools are too unruffled to be worth much. In twenty minutes more other three mingle, in our basket, their sorrows and their slime together.

We are now more anxious than ever to know how Roger gets along - the more so because he is approaching a spot we have a particular reverence for, and as the ground between us consists of a long sleepy shallow pool, it is not favourable at present Little or nothing can be clone in pools on the Almond - indeed anywhere else - unless a good breeze is stirring; in fact, your railway fare may be saved, and as much sport secured, by remaining at home, filling with water the largest tub you can command, and proceeding as directed in the " Completest Angler" - Lond. 1880. We proceed upwards accordingly, and come upon our friend Roger in time to see him land - -just at the head of this long pool, where, when the water is lower, can be seen some large boulders which, as Roger knew, affords shelter to the laziest and largest fish in the water, and who, at such times as the present, when the stream is heavy, cannot be troubled to stem the current - a big fellow of at least a pound and-a-half!

" How many?"
"That makes No. 6."
" Hope they're all like this?"
"All about it and peeping into his basket, we see such trout as would really do one good to look at.
" Why, Roger, here's more in number, but sadly small compared with these. What size of fly are you using?"
" None at all."
"What! Worm?"
"Ay! worm!" Sly dog was Roger!
"All here?"
" All hereabouts."

We expect, however, to do great things where we are going, and are not at all envious; so we pass on for some hundred yards, where the river is much contracted, and the water rushes down like a racehorse, and where no fly - real or artificial - could for a moment hold ground - or water either. It gradually settles into a pool, however, and bears on its surface divers circles, ripples, and a generally dissatisfied appearance in itself, but far otherwise to the angler. It is necessary we should get across somehow, and here some kind Samaritan has placed the means - a thin plank, it is true; but sufficient for us.

The side we have left is thickly fringed with bushes, and some care is requisite in order to get the flies where they ought to be, as they have a strange affinity for everything in the shape of vegetation. Beginning at the foot of the stream as usual, and reaching it by a somewhat circuitous route, that our prey be disturbed as little as possible, we touch up the shallows, and begin in earnest.

The fall of our flies cannot be surpassed by any thing out of nature, and our success is beyond our expectations: but a third of this stream has been passed, and three fine fish are added to our ---- Ha! that was a determined tug, thought we. Here is weight at last! Our line straightened suddenly, and was borne up towards the race, beneath the trees, and almost beneath our friendly plank! Thank goodness he stops, and turns downward - willingly! Down - down - down. Ho! ho! is the water too hot for you? He leaps some feet in the air, and then side-to-side, then goes to the bottom -

no rest, however - no relief is found there. Slowly and gradually we wear him ashore. Our person looming in the distance, gives him fresh energy, and with terrible rapidity he again darts up stream! A sudden slackness in our line - "All [the fish, flies, and casting line] is lost!" We feel ill-used, and convinced no more good can be done here, avail ourselves of the plank, and find ourselves once more on the other side. Winding through the planting, we reach the neighbourhood of the stepping-stones, below which is formed a likely stream. We mount a new cast, and meet with some success. Taking advantage of the stepping-stones, we reach that glorious stream, which, commencing beneath the shadow of Kirkliston, terminates in a deep pool. From bottom to top we took thirteen here - mostly small. We now thought of a pleasant seat and chat with Roger, and proceeded in search of him. We met him on his way up; and stretching ourselves on the green bank, proceeded to compare notes. We found we had considerably the advantage in number, but thought Roger had it in weight.

"AH with the worm?"
"All with the worm. But," says Roger, "I have caught more than fish - a capital fly cast - line and all!" And taking off his felt, he shewed us our own lost line.
" How?"
" In the shoulder of one of these," pointing to two of the smallest.
"Nonsense!"
"Why?" We told how we had lost our fish and line together after such play, and identified our property to his satisfaction.
"Ah! that was in consequence of his being hooked in the shoulder - they have always more strength in that case."
" How hungry he must have been, or how soon he forgot his fright!"
" Well," replied Roger, " it does not follow that he was either very hungry or very forgetful. It's likely he had made up his piscatory mind to eschew flies for some time to come; but that he seized the worm with confidence in its genuineness, I have not the least doubt. Had he been younger or older it might have been different. As the water is falling considerably, and is much clearer, I think T will put on a fly cast." We said we would try worm.
" Too late to do much good," he said. It was about noon. " I intend going up a mile or two; but propose previously an adjournment to Kirkliston."
Half-an-hour afterwards found us on our way up stream. We looked with a wistful eye at the stream below the dam-head, but seeing a party on the ground, did not disturb him, and strode on beyond Newbridge, and beneath the railway and canal viaducts.

What a varied panorama is the pathway of a stream! In itself how interesting and instructive! Far up yon brown, heath-covered hill, nigh the summit, in that quiet, cool, and almost dismal corner - clear as the finest crystal, and cold as the essence of ice itself, stagnant and motionless as the rock which shades it from the sun, is a handful of water and its parent spring - the beginning of that mighty end which teems with the messengers of commerce!

Follow that strip of verdure of a brighter greenness than that which borders it. 'Tis the spring-water feeling its way blindly. Suddenly a chasm appears; and, if we look closely, we will see the infant stream tripping from its dark tunnel into light, and from light again into darkness, like a bright spot in the child-life of man. These chasms become frequent, and as the tunnels become shorter, so the openings become longer. In some the spring-water seems languid and sorrowful; in others gay, sparkling, and glad. It has passed the unconsciousness of infancy, and in the dawn of impressive childhood, is fretful at restraint, and gay and happy in its career of short-lived freedom. Now it has quitted the shelter of the upper soil. It basks in the sun, and joyously pursues its way. The lilies salute it, bending their fair heads as to a youthful hero going forth to fight the battle of the world - that has passed the Rubicon of life. It is proud, too; for the birds drink from it, and wanton in its waters, and the minnow-swarm make it their abode; but still is it not free from sorrow. Large boulders have chosen its channel as their resting- place, and the stream, foaming and fretting with impatience, is turned and twisted aside. Onward - ever onward - slowly, swiftly, laughing, languid, rushing, resting. The boulders increase; it meets sudden stoppages; high rocks intercept the sun's warmth; its youthful companions have forsaken it, the green grass and lilies have disappeared; it is thrown down frightful declivities; is beaten on rocks; is hurried through the narrowest crevices; thrust into pitchy darkness; emerges softly to the sunlight, and is beginning to feel a return of former pleasures, when it is again plunged down a steep precipice, rock-ribbed and dark. Then, stunned awhile - or, it may be, like opening manhood, spurred on by memory, vainly striving to realise and return to the peaceful scenes of younger days - it turns round and round, a tiny whirlpool, till, finding its wishes vain and endeavours futile, it slowly, reluctantly, and regretfully, creeps on its unwilling way. Fresh scenes, fresh company, reconcile it to its fate, and now it meanders, like a straggling, winding thread of silver, through the valley, and disappears amidst the foliage of the neighbouring wood.

Towering on each side of us run two distinct chains of hills, which stretch for miles and miles, till they become pale-blue in the distance. The startled hare, with frighted haste, dashes up the slope; and the blackcock, with his mate the greyhen, feigning themselves wounded or unable to fly, lure the intruder from their tender young.

Entering the finest, with the sun occasionally peering through the thick foliage, we still follow the course of the stream. Winding slowly and silently between the trees, lingering longingly in the subdued light by the roots of ancient oaks, mingling playfully with the grassy sward, sporting gaily among the lilies, and ever and anon forming tiny cataracts - its motion breaks but little on the noiselessness that reigneth here! In its monotonous yet changeful warbling, we fancy we hear familiar utterances - the voices of our dearest friends; they call on us by name; they come nearer; we expect each moment they will burst upon our gaze! With what startling distinctness does the note of the chaffinch strike our ears! How audible the fallen leaf! What solitude - what peace is here! Yon sleek steed, the only visible denizen of the glade, seems to witness our departure with regret, and would fain follow to more lively haunts. Now are the trees covered with ivy; and the ruined tower, ivy-o'ergrown too, brings to our mind visions of ancient times, when "Might was right, and freedom but a name!"

Once more in the bright sunshine! How cheerful and how changed is the face of Nature! For those towering mountains are substituted waving cornfields, rich meadows, and level pasture-lands dotted with herds and flocks; and that noisy farm yard is strangely inconsistent with the recent solitude.

The tiny stream is now a rivulet, and in it the angler plies his craft with success; huge bridges cast their dark shadows across it; lesser streams mingle their waters and their fortunes in its course; villages rise and flourish on its borders; and obstructions of vast strength are laid in its channel, that its current may be rendered still more useful to practical and all-absorbing man. Onwards still, and large buildings hang gloomily over its now stone-bound banks; and by it the vast city holds a place among the marts of industry, and the citizens name its name with pride. Broadly and darkly roll its waters now, mingling with the salt spray of the ocean; and vessels from every clime are borne gently on its bosom, freighted with the treasures of far countries, and the produce of its own.

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