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After having satisfied my craving for traditions, true or false, we re-entered the boat, and coasted Fruich-land, or the Heather Island. The castle of Fruich-land is a
picturesque ruin. Sir James McNaughton was once governor of it, and, when Ben Cruachan was a deerforest, Alexander the Third sojourned in the castle to enjoy forest sport. Its shore, however, afforded none to me. We now coasted the mainland, to the head of the loch, where I hooked a small fellow, only one pound and three quarters-came round the opposite side, and entered the estuary of the Awe, a fine black deep creek, but I never hooked a large fish in it. To-day we only got a small thing, rather more than a pound. To make up, Sandy was profuse in story. Pointing to the dark threatening mountain, with the white streak of the winter drift upon its summit, "It was on the side o' Ben Cruachan here, that the Irish chief, McFaydon, was beat by Sir William Wallace, and chased into a cave yonder (showing a crag opposite). Sir William fand him oot, however, an' stuck his head on a spear on the tap o' the craig, by order o' Sir Neil Campbell, Black Knight o' Loch Ow."
I was pondering over the rock, where the Irish chief's knowledge-box had, no doubt, afforded a resting-place for the sage owls of the neighbouring dells, when Sandy again called my attention to a brook, fringed with oak copse, which trickled over the heathery brow of Ben Cruachan. From his solemn air, I expected an improvement on the Black Knight's cruelty to poor McFaydon. "Yon 's an awfu' place for wild cats. I heard them answering 'ither wi' sic screighs, ae nicht whan I passed late, I thoucht I wad hae been frichtened oot o'
ma joodgment." "And what did you do, Sandy?" "I jist falded my arms across ma throat, an' ran past the burn as hard as I could split. Catch me gang past that place again after the gloamin'."
There is something very imposing in this outlet of the Awe. The rocks on each side so rugged and steep. The narrow deep water so dark from their shadow. If you drop a pebble into it, the sound is so vivid and hollow, you shudder at the distance it must sink before finding its bed. I rather think the sudden and great depth of the water is one reason why so few fish frequent this creek. We now emerged from the bay, and coasted the stony cheerful shore of new Inverawe. When skirting this shallow, and gliding slowly past the little isles which lie beyond, Sandy is always in expectation "o' a rug." He was not gratified by one to-day.
May 4th. Up at four o'clock, intending to troll down to the Ford at the foot of the Loch, a distance of nineteen miles. It was a dead calm when we rowed off, but, from certain appearances in the sky the evening before, we were pretty sure of at least as much wind as we wanted before breakfasttime. So it proved. By ten o'clock we had a north-wester which effectually barred our progress farther down than Castle Connal. Put about, and drifted back with the wind, trolling the best bays and shores on each side of the loch. Hooked a very fine trout off a rocky point three miles below Port Sonachan. It was tenderly hooked, and slipped off, to our chagrin. Crossed to the Sonachan side, and hooked another with a salmon-smelt. Landed him, after a tough struggle of three quarters of an hour, on BalaMenach shore; ten pounds, and in the finest condition. No more runs till we passed Cladich burn, and began to
pull along the inhabited island, I then hooked a fish which soon came to the top of the water, and I saw he was a pike. Sandy assured me it was ane o' they new beasts that cam' doon the Urchay frae Loch-Tulla, that my Lord Breadalbane pat in." We made small bones of him, as he was only four pounds' weight. Got two more trout, rather above a pound, on our way home.
May 5th. I had now only one more day to spare, and was disappointed at being unable to devote it to the North end of the loch, at "the foord," decidedly the best trolling ground for the large fish. It was a squally showery morning, so I waited to see if the afternoon would clear up. There was no change, but as the wind was westerly I ordered out the boat about four o'clock. Trolled down three miles, when I had "a rug." Landed the trout in a few minutes-only two pounds. Crossed over and searched the Inistrinich shore on our return. Unsuccessful, till we reached a very weedy creek nearly opposite Cladich, which Sandy was anxious to avoid. But to me it looked so tempting that I made him turn in, although he cast many a rueful look at his great enemies, the weeds. About half way down the little bay, a strong lively fish seized the bait; we got clear of the confined water with some difficulty, landed, and played him from shore. Although he only weighed six pounds, I have seldom taken out a more high-mettled trout. The evening was bitterly cold, so we did not bait again, but pulled straight for the harbour of Cladich, and next day drove over the hill to Inverary for a short sojourn there. Caution:-Always weigh the large fish yourself, or see them weighed, when at a fishing inn, otherwise they will probably weigh two pounds heavier down stairs than up.
There are a number of little mountain tarns in the neighbourhood of Inverary, most of them well stocked. A chain of lochans, about eight miles over the hills, are well worth the fly-fisher's attention. I climbed to them, one balmy day, with my fly-trouting rod, and a few casts round my hat. The scenery from the tops of the hills did not much hit my fancy, although the views of Loch Fine and the opposite glens no doubt are pleasing. It was a long dreary walk, with few objects of interest to shorten it, except the instinctive wiles of a moss-cheeper (meadow-pipit) and a sparrow-hawk to decoy me from their respective nests. The pipit really deceived me at first, so completely did it sham a broken leg and wing. As for the little hawk, although I marked the very spot she rose from, all my ingenuity could not discover her young. She flew about, appearing quite unconcerned so long as I kept near this place; but when I walked away, she always pitched down, making a great fuss, as much as to say, "Keep off my nest, here it is." Giving me a false direction as plainly as a bird could speak.
The first lochan of the chain, named Camisdown, lies much lower than the others, and is a good deal the largest. Some of the trout in it are eight or ten pounds' weight. I only got one rise, and secured a fish of about a pound. There are few days in the year that they rise well in this loch, and bait is more acceptable than fly. The other little tarns are upon the tops of the hills. Two of them contain no fish, and look as if they were dead, when contrasted with the others, all alive from the continual rising of trout. In a few hours I filled my kreel, (a pretty large one), and might easily have stocked it again, as the day was good for the fly, and the fish keen.
A fisherman in the neighbourhood gave me a strange account of a moss-hole-for it deserves no more dignified name-which breeds trout of twelve pounds' weight. As the "weedy loch" was only half an hour's walk from Inverary, I took advantage of the first favourable day to give it a trial, both with fly and bait, for one of these monsters. I thought my guide was joking when he pointed to a shallow hole, no bigger than an English duck-pond, and so overgrown with water plants, that there was scarcely three square yards clear. After watching for a little time, a great break of the water, but slow and heavy, in the midst of the weeds, betokened the kind of customers I should have to deal with. The trolling-rod was quickly baited, but there was some difficulty to find opening enough for the hook to sink. After shifting several times, for the great bubbles at top of the water were still seen at distant intervals, I put on the most approved fly for the "weedy loch," viz., a red wing from the landrail's feather, (a partridge tail feather will do as well,) and a green body. It was the strangest fishing I ever attempted, to pitch the fly at every open space, however small, and twitch back again without playing it an inch. Even thus you were almost sure of a weed at each endeavour. I did hook a fish, however, and, thanks to the goodness of my tackle, landed him in spite of them. It was the shortest, thickest, and most silvery yellow trout I ever brought to the bank of loch or river. Weight, two pounds and a half. Angus, my guide, told me that all the very large ones were caught with worm, but a dull, windy, showery day was indispensable, so none would look at mine.
I gave them an hour's rest, and during this interval,