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FIELD SPORTS AND NATURAL HISTORY.*
The author of “Stray Notes on Fishing and Natural History" endeavours to make out a case in defence of the association thus established, illustrative of the greater affinity of natural history with fishing than with hunting or shooting. The argument is, to a certain extent, sound. Both hunting and shooting, as understood in this country, are attended with a degree of noise and bustle which are incompatible with the pursuit of any science of observation ; they are also carried on at a season when the leaf is withering, and Nature herself retires like a coy maiden from a blustering and swaggering invasion of her privacy. But this is not the case in other countries: the sportsman in India or Africa is generally an accomplished practical naturalist, if he is not a scientific methodist ; and the hunter in Canada and High Asia is as wary and cautious an observer as can be well met with. His success and, in many cases, his safety depend upon his knowledge of the habits of living things.
Mr. Cornwall Simeon appeals in evidence of the accuracy of his conclusions, as between hunting, shooting, and fishing, to the standard works on each, thus forming an estimate of the regard in which nature and the study of natural history are held by their respective votaries. With this view, he compares Beckford's “Thoughts on Hunting” and Hawker's “ Instructions to Young Sportsmen” with Walton's “Complete Angler.” The works will not bear comparison in such a point of view. Few, if any, have done more to promote a genial and healthy love of nature than dear old Izaak; but suppose the comparison had been made with Audubon, Wilson, Palliser, Anderson, and many others that might be mentioned, the sportsman would come out in a very different light. Still, we are quite ready to concede that not only is the angler's case niost in his favour, but what is more, that the angler can scarcely avoid becoming a lover and an observer of nature ; whereas with the sportsman such love and affection are rather accidental than otherwise :
But how different is the angler's case! Not only is an accurate knowledge of some branches of natural history essential to him who would excel in his art, but all the circumstances attending it—the genial character of the season which peculiarly calls him forth—the beauty of the scenery into which he is naturally led, with all its sweet accompaniments,
Rivers to whose shallow falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals; the soothing and thought-awakening influence of the water itself, “Nature's storehouse, in which she locks up her wonders”—the numberless and varied
Stray Notes on Fishing and Natural History. By Cornwall Simeon. Cambridge: Macmillan and Co.
Salmon Fishing in Canada. By a Resident. Edited by Colonel Sir James Edward Alexander, Knt., &c. Longman and Co.
The Thames Angler. By Arthur Smith. Chapman and Hall.
Curiosities of Natural History. Second Series. By Francis T. Buckland, M.A., &c. Richard Bentley.
Hunting in the Himalaya; with Notices of Customs and Countries from the Elephant Haunts of the Dehra Doon to the Bunchowr Tracks in Eternal Snow. By R. H. W. Dunlop, C.B., &c. Richard Bentley.
forms of animal and vegetable life, which can hardly fail to arrest his attention and excite his interest, many of them, by reason of the silence and quiet necessary for his sport, being seen to especial advantage ; all these things combine not only to present the works of Nature before him in their most attractive form, but at the same time peculiarly dispose his mind to meditate on the impressions they can scarcely fail to make on it. The book of Nature is in fact opened before his eyes--nay, obtruded on his notice-written in such distinct and inviting characters, that he must indeed be blind of eye, and dull of apprehension, if he do not, to some extent at any rate, attain to a knowledge and a love of her language.
It is scarcely to be wondered then, that, springing from all these associations, there should insensibly arise in the angler's mind a cordial sympathy with and appreciation of the delights and wonders of Nature, such as I'am persuaded no other class of men (taken collectively) possesses.
Yarrell says, that few have expressed their admiration of the nightingale's song in more fervent or more natural terms than “honest Izaak Walton, who loved birds almost as well as he loved fish,”, quoting from him that graphic eulogy of the bird: “But the nightingale, another of my airy creatures, breathes such sweet loud music out of her little instrumental throat, that it might make mankind to think that miracles are not ceased. He that at midnight, when the very labourer sleeps securely, should hear, as I have very often, the clear airs, the sweet descants, the natural rising and falling, the doubling and redoubling of her voice, might well be lifted up above earth, and say,
Lord, what music hast thou provided for the saints in heaven, when thou affordest bad men such music
earth.'» That fishing has, by leading up to the study of natural history, acquired a right to be associated with the latter, is a question which none would dispute, but its prescriptive right is only held in common with other field sports. Let us take as an example the lochs on the west coast of Scotland: the angler naturally looks to them as so many reservoirs for fish, but he is almost involuntarily led to inquire into the general features of the animal life by which they are frequented, and thus we have first fish and shell-fish :
The way in which some of the sea-lochs on the west coast of Scotland teem with animal life is truly marvellous. The shores are in many places literally covered with shell-fish, which are exposed at low-water, while the lochs seem to abound with fish almost to an equal extent. The shell-fish mostly consist of mussels, cockles, winkles, and oysters, and, when I say that the shores are in parts covered with them, I am not in the least exaggerating the actual fact. I well remember, when I first made acquaintance with that part of the country, my surprise at being shown in Loch Creran a dark-blue bank, forming at lowwater a peninsula perhaps a hundred yards long by some fifty wide, and being told that the colour of this proceeded from mussels. I half thought my informant was joking, but, on landing, found that he was not only in earnest, but perfectly correct, the whole of it being one mass of mussels (mostly small), lying edgeways, and so densely packed that it would have been apparently a matter of difficulty to insert a pin's point between any two of them. It seemed difficult to comprehend how, under the eircumstances, they could manage to open their shells sufficiently for the necessary functions of life. Oysters too were numerous, but in consequence of the increasing demand for them they are more sought after than they used to be, and it would not be perhaps now quite so easy to gather a sackful as it was a few years ago. Vessels also come round occasionally for winkles, and take away cargoes of them to Glasgow, but there are apparently enough to withstand such inroads for many a long year to come.
On the mussels it would seem that nothing can make the least impression, so vast are their numbers.
Of all the fish which inhabit the Scotch lochs, cuddies are by far the most numerous. They seem perfectly ubiquitous there, and occasionally swarm to an astonishing degree; so much so sometimes as positively to discolour the water in places where abundance of food has induced them to congregate. Next to these, cod and codlings, flounders, and lythe are generally the most plentiful. They are, however, varied by many others, among which I may particularly notice, as very familiar, those sea-pike, the hake, brutes for whom it is the fashion to fish with a hook apparently large enough for a shark, affixed to a chain nearly as large as a jack-chain, but which-however little one might suspect it from their formidable rows of teeth, and (occasionally) voracious appetites-seem to nibble as gently and delicately as a roach, and, when they are not inclined to bite, are often felt rubbing against your plummet, and actually raising it up, as if they were scratching their backs against it-as I dare say they are ; gurnet, who when they are hoisted on board, and at intervals, as long as they have power to express their feelings, grunt out their disapprobation of your proceedings; the beautiful little golden-opal-tinted power-cod, there called
king-fish” (I am sorry to use so many epithets, but he deserves them all); sillocks (stenlocks or stedlocks) and saithe (coal-fish of more advanced ages) ; the sea-bream (Scoticè, on west coast, "silver haddie"), strong in the water, brilliant of eye, and hard to handle; the skate, whose face when turned on his back presents a most ludicrous resemblance to that of a crying child; and the hideous sea devil, all mouth and fins, looking like a cross between a toad and a night-jar. Specimens of rarer fishes are too occasionally met with. Last year, for instance, I took out of a lobster-trap a three-bearded rockling, and this year (1859)—on a long line-one of that remarkable and fantastic-looking species, the gemmous dragonet, seven inches in length.
As you leave the shelter of the lochs, and stand out farther into the open sea, the varieties of fish which you will bring up become more largely increased, and commonly embrace haddock, tusk, ling, conger-eels, and nurse ("small spotted dog-fish,“ Yarrell) (though the three latter also often find their way far up into the larger lochs), with several other species, “ quos nunc describere longum est.” Nurse are not generally considered very good for the table, but I met last year a gentleman who told me “in confidence," that he considered them, as a foundation for soup, better than any other fish, adding that from their being held in slight estimation by others, he generally managed to get on easy terms those which were caught in his neighbourhood. I hope he won't be angry with me for “ blowing on" his secret.
A useful hint presents itself in the application of the system adopted by gipsies-possibly from a combination of motives, such as to save trouble, experience of the efficacy of the proceeding, absence of cooking parapherDalia, and even from tradition, but generally supposed to be done to avoid detection, and which consists in wrapping goose, duck, or barn-door fowl in clay, so baking it in the ashes, and then burying the clay, feathers, and skin, which all come off together, in a heap-to piscatory purposes :
There is a way of dressing fish, which may be resorted to by the side of the water with pleasure and not without advantage should your stock of provisions run short) during the middle of the day, when fish do not generally feed so freely as at other times, and when your sport is often improved by giving them, as well as yourself, a rest. It is managed as follows: first collect a lot of small dry wood and set it on fire; when a sufficient quantity of ashes has been thus obtained, which will be soon done, take a sheet of paper (an old newspaper will do) and wet it thoroughly: shake the drops off it, and then, filling the mouth of your fish with salt, wrap him up in in it just as he is, uncleaned," simples immunditiis," and digging a grave for him in your ash-heap, put him bodily into it, covering him well up afterwards with the hot ashes. When you think he ought to be done, allowing from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour according to his size, partially uncover him and tear off a small piece of his windingsheet. If his skin comes off with it, he is sufficiently done, and out with him. Should however the paper come off minus the skin, cover him up again, and give him a little more law, until this test shows him to be perfectly done. On being turned out of his envelope, the whole of the skin should adhere to it. As for his inside, you may disregard it altogether, or opening him, turn it out, which you will find there is not the slightest difficulty in doing en masse. Pepper and salt him, if you have such condiments by you, and you will only be sorry that your own kitchen does not afford you the means of dressing your fish thus at home.
This mode of extemporising a fish dinner, it is to observed, has already been described by Mr. Stoddart, in his Angler's Companion. It cannot, however, be too widely familiarised, for it may be of more use to the traveller and explorer than to the mere angler. It is a curious fact that eels, so highly prized by southrons, are regarded by the Scotch, generally, with the greatest possible aversion, amounting to a loathing quite as great as they would feel towards snakes. The fact is, that the taste for certain malacopterygous fish (amongst which, however, salmon, herrings, pike, barbel, and other excellent fish are met with), whether belonging to the family of the siluridæ, or to the apodal malacopterygii
, as eels, gymnotus, &c., appears to be acquired. We know an instance where not one of a party of British seamen could be induced to eat the so-called black fish (Macropteronotus niger), so common in the rivers of North Syria, and which was considered as one of the greatest delicacies at the table of the Romans, who sent for it all the way to Antioch and to Seleucia. So Captain Burton, in his recently published work on Eastern Africa, denounces a species of silurus (?) found there as "animal mud”—possibly a very nice fish " ember-cooked."
The main experiences of Mr. Cornwall Simeon, as our angling natu. ralist pleases to call himself, are manifestly connected with the Isle of Wight, where he has, with others, fished whiting in perfection (not to mention the pouters off Cowes), catching twenty-five dozen and eight in one tide, equal by one to what he caught in the Linnhe Loch, off Ardsheal. He also gives some interesting notices of the feathered tribes, including the rarer birds that visit that beautiful and favoured region.
If there is sport to be found in catching whiting off the Brambles, spearing flat-fish off Ryde, and fly-fishing in the Scotch lochs, what sport must the innumerable feeders of the great river St. Lawrence and its gulf, and the streams of New Brunswick, with their pools and rapids, their beds of rock and gravel and silt, and their canopy of dark firs and pines afford ? Turn to Colonel Sir James Alexander, Knight, and he will tell you all about it. Nay, he will give you a map of the salmon rivers of Canada, and picturesque views of falls and pools and leaps, with very eccentric letter-heads, in opposition to Bewick's dear little tail-pieces, which make one's mouth open, like & salmon out of its element.
Any one who doubts that there is salmon fishing in Canada is mistaken : there is ; and the author believes as good as in any other part of the world, and better, much better, than in a great many highly vaunted countries. “Then where is it to be bad? Into what part of Canada are we to go for it?” asks the impatient angler, if there can exist such a paradoxical animal.
Both questions may be answered by one reply: Take a map of Canada, find out Quebec; then run your eye eastwards along the left hand or northern side of the river and Gulf of Št. Lawrence; you will see many streams marked there ; almost every one of them is a salmon river, and in every one of them that has been fished, excellent sport has been had, and heavy fish killed.
With the exception of one single stream, a most beautiful one-the Jacques Cartier—there is not anything which can be called salmon fishing to the westward of Quebec. It is true that the salmon ascends the St. Lawrence, and enters the St. Francis, the Credit, the Humber, and other streams beyond Toronto, and are there speared and taken in nets; but they have not, that I can ascertain, been ever taken in any of them with the fly. The fact is, I suppose, that they become wearied and spent by the long voyage, over a thousand miles, which they perform in the fresh water, and are not on their arrival in these waters in condition to rise with the same vigour and recklessness which they do when recently arrived from the depths of the sea. After such an expedition, for the purposes of perpetuating their species, it is but reasonable that they should set about that business at once, and give up the folly of rollicking after grasshoppers and butterflies.
It further appears that in every stream where the author found salmon, except the Jacques Cartier, sea trout are to be met with in extraordinary abundance, and they rise freely at the usual salmon flies, provided they are made of a small size.
The avidity with which these fish take, their great size, beautiful shape, and exquisite flavour, must all be experienced before any account of them can be implicitly believed. Sometimes they become a source of annoyance to the nervous and excited fisherman, who, having prepared a seductive fly, is about to fish a favourite pool, and sees, at his very first throw, five or six of these rush at it furiously-in which case there is no alternative but to change the fly and kill them all off-then you may fish in peace for your salmon, but not till then. I confess that I have never found this to be any very great panishment. I am fond of all sorts of fishing, and never could consider it to be any great misfortune to have to hook and play eight or ten beautiful fish, vying with molten silver in their brightness, and varying in size from one pound to seven pounds in weight, to say nothing of their flavour when broiled for breakfast, all the time having the conviction on my mind, that, as soon as I had done so, I should in all probability kill two or three noble salmon in the same pool.
It is necessary to have a vessel of some kind or other to fish the Canadian waters, and if the angler has not a yacht, he can hire a schooner for that purpose for one pound sterling per day, which covers all expenses of wages and provisions for the crew. As for choice, that is sufficiently intimated by the fact that, out of about thirty-five magnificent streams which flow into the Gulf of St. Lawrence from its northern shore alone, and in all of which salmon are known to abound, only nine or ten of them have ever had a fly thrown upon their unexplored waters !
Think of this, ye anglers, who have been all your lives pacing the margin of some over-fished river in England !-think of this, ye persevering labourers on the well-beaten waters of the Tweed, the Tay, the Esk, the Don, the Spey, the Ness, and the Beuly—think of this, ye tired thrashers of the well-netted streams of Erne, Moy, and Shannon !—think that within less than a fortnight's steaming from your hall doors, there are as yet twenty-five virgin rivers in one small portion of Canada, and that of the ten which have been tried, they have all, with one single exception, been found not only to abound in salmon, but to afford ample facilities for taking that noble fish with the rod and the fly.
To give an idea of the accompanying scenery, we will just take the Chute-en-haut: