[from Harry Druidale, Fisherman ..., 1898]
It is an easy thing to scoff at any art or recreation.-Piscator.
MEMORY carries me back to the time when, as a boy, I lived on the banks of the river Neb, one of the pure streams of Mona, dear little Ellan Vannin, with its green hills by the sea. From being a mere child it was my delight to wander on the banks of the river and watch the trout dart about; and I used to wonder whether I could ever succeed in catching them. I date my commencement as a fisherman from the following circumstance. When about seven years old, one fine summer day in the forties, in company with some other boys, I wandered along the bank of the river. A bathe was suggested and we all went in ; I believe it was my first bathe. I was standing up to my knees in the water, afraid to dip my head, when a horrid boy threw me down and ducked me. This over, I felt brave. I spied something, which appeared to have life, in shallow water near the shelving shore. I approached cautiously, and with both hands chucked it on the shore; and oh, joy! it was a magnificent trout of two ounces my first trout. Shortly afterwards I made the acquaintance of a boy called Tommy, who was an adept in tickling and loobing (Anylice snickling) trout, and he initiated me into the mysteries of both those arts, and I soon became a proficient. The modus operandi of loobing was thus. An ash wand about twelve feet in length was procured, and a double horsehair noose or loob attached to the end.
RIVER NEB AND SLIEU WHALLIN.
A hot sunny day was chosen, When the trout lay basking in the sun. A trout is espied lying against a stone; the point of the rod is gently lowered, and the noose drawn over the head of the trout to about the middle of the body, and then the trout is yanked out on to the bank. If veterans think the operation easy, try it; throwing the fly is nothing to it. It requires the very best of sight, and the nerves must be in excellent order, otherwise the operator may bob the point of the rod against the trout, and he is off like a flash to seek shelter under the bank. In those happy days there was no one to find fault; the streams were unpreserved, and were fished but little. There was then no daily service between Liverpool and the island; visitors did not flock to Mona's shores in the thousands they do now. All visitors were called by the boys, "Cotton Balls," "Manchester Weavers," in derision; in fact, the boys appeared to despise them, the why and the wherefore I cannot tell, but they were not above running after the cars and begging coppers.
I in due time discovered that loobing and tickling were not the best modes of catching trout; when somewhat over ten or eleven years of age I became initiated into the mystery of capturing trout with the worm in clear water. I well remember my first day with rod and line-and such a rod it was too, an ash wand about eleven feet long; a piece of thin wood .ran through the rod near the foot, on which the line was wrapped and thence passed through a ring at the top. I sauntered down the river to a well-known dub called Quayle's Dub, which lay near the road to Kirkpatrick. The weather was hot and bright, and the water like crystal. I was on the low shore, and opposite there was a high bank; I threw my worm into water about five feet deep, and as it descended I saw a trout seize the worm; a mighty pull and the trout is lying jumping on the shore. This is repeated three times more and I have four trout. I was too much delighted to fish any more that day. I must get some one to share the joy of my sport, so I hastened home and displayed my spoils. From that time I became an enthusiast in fishing, and I began to look down on loobing and tickling as beneath me. The true sportsman soon begins to appreciate the difference between taking fish by force and luring them to their own destruction by false pretences, for is not what is called fair fishing a system of the grossest fraud? and does not fishing with the net and similar modes savour of honesty?
Shortly after my first success with the worm I commenced to catch trout by the dozen, and I always had the best sport when the weather was bright and hot and the water clear. One did not think of scoured worms in those days. The thing desired was to obtain plenty of them, which was sometimes no easy matter in dry weather. The Peel river, the Neb, was the usual scene of our operations; alas! the Neb, that once beautiful river, teeming with yellow trout, and the salmon and sea-trout in their season, the latter called by the Manx the white trout, but alas ! what now-a lead-mine sewer; instead of water like crystal, the colour of milk ; water instead of teeming with life being under the shadow of death; all the pools which formerly formed a refuge for the large trout and salmon being silted up with the deposits from the lead-washings ; but so long as the dividends are good what do the Foxdale Mining Company care? But away with sad thoughts, let us think of the river when it was pure and I was young.
The river Neb falls into the sea at Peel. Commencing at Peel we will wander up the river, as we wandered forty years ago; I write in the past, not in the miserable present. In about half a mile we get to Glenfaba Mill, and in that length there are charming pools and runs famous for sea-trout in spring and autumn. The top pool of the length is the far-famed Ling Hole, overhung by steep sides, studded with trees, and supposed by the natives to have no bottom. Just above the Ling Hole, past the picturesque bridge which spans the river, is a fine pool where the water flows from the mill-wheel, famous for fine trout.
A few hundred yards above the mill the stream is dammed up to form a mill-dam, and in this dam are goodly fish which can be captured with the fly in a breeze; then for about two miles there is a succession of pools and streams to the junction of two streams which form the Neb proper. A short distance below the junction a small stream called Halsall's Glen joins the river. At this point there is a rather shallow pool in which, from the road above, which for some little distance runs parallel with the river, can be seen shoals of trout, such shoals indeed as live in one's memory, alas, only. A short distance above, a rustic bridge spans the river.
The stream on the right trends to Foxdale, about three miles, and passes under steep Slieu Whallin covered with gorse; and legend says that in the good old times of fairies, ghosts, and witches, when an old woman was suspected of witchcraft, she was closed up in a barrel and rolled from the top of the hill to the bottom, and if she were dead when she got to the bottom she was an honest woman, if not, she was a witch and duly burnt to death, and this in view of Tynwald Hill, the Hill of Justice, whence the laws to this day are promulgated. The stream to the left trends up Glen Mooar, which is singularly beautiful, the sides of the valley being steep, and clothed partly with plantations, and partly with the gorse and bramble, wild roses and honeysuckle intermixed. The Glen owes a considerable portion of its beauty to a Mr. Threlfall, who emigrated from across the water and took up his abode at Cronkykilly, which he extensively planted. At the end of Glen Mooar the main stream diverges to the right, and Swiss Cottage, the summer residence of a Mr. Marsden, another emigrant, is reached, and a lovely valley with steep sides planted by Mr. Marsden is traversed to Rhenass Waterfall. Here again is a junction of two streams, the waterfall stream going to Little London. Above the waterfall some of the trout are remarkable for their beauty, reminding one of the colours of the rainbow.
We generally confined our operations to the main river, that is, below the junction which was free from trees and afforded free, open fishing. I did not make any record of my captures until my last year, 1856, when I was fifteen.
The following extract from my diary in that year may be interesting at the present time, as showing what the river was capable of in those happy days, when the river was pure, and the sandpipers flitted about with their cheery piping note, and the cattle drank out of the river; and it must be borne in mind that the tackle was of the most primitive description, common unstained gut, about three lengths to a cast, to which was attached one hook. I had not then heard the name of Mr. Stewart, and I did not know whether it was better to fish up or down, but, so far as my memory goes, I fished either way :-" 16th February, 31 trout; 1st March, 20; 22nd March, 28; 28th May, 28; 15th July, 57; 20th August, 48."
I well remember the red-letter day when I captured 57 trout. The water was low and clear, and the weather bright and hot. I walked a mile or so down the river and fished up. I caught trout after trout until I had exhausted my stock of worms, and then endeavoured to find more worms; but they were harder to find than the trout were to catch, and I wound up early in the afternoon, more than satisfied, and hasted home to exhibit my spoils.
We sometimes met the Vicar of Peel's son when fishing, and always compared notes; the vicar's son used artificial fly only, and I always found that my worm-caught trout ran a better average than his. Mr. Quane of Ballaspet was a good hand with the fly during the earlier days of my fishing career, and many big baskets he took ; he confined himself to fly, and one day he gave me a red spider and with it I caught two trout. I came to the conclusion that the fly was too slow for me, and I was not, at any rate at that time, prepared to admit that the art of worm-fishing in low and clear water was less difficult than fly-fishing or less sportsmanlike.
When I was about eleven years of age, I had my first experience of the weakness of some anglers, which produces the crop known as "anglers' yarns." I was wending my way home along the river-side, after catching only four trout. I met two anglers evidently from across the water; I was accosted thus:-"Have you caught any trout, my boy?"
" Yes, but only four; they are not taking." "May we look at them?" The gentlemen gazed at my trout with longing eyes.
"Will you sell them?" one of them said. I said I did not mind. So after some bargaining the trout were deposited in their capacious basket, and fourpence passed into a pocket which was generally void of money. "Now, my boy," one of the gentlemen said on parting, "you will meet two gentlemen fishing down the river; don't tell them you have sold us your trout." I promised them I would not. Presently I spied the two gentlemen alluded to, so to avoid awkward questions I cleared over a hedge out of sight. This reminds me of the story of a lady who asked her husband whether it was usual for anglers to cut off the fins and tails of fish after their capture.
How delighted we were when we caught a real whopper; One such caused a disaster more than once. I must premise that in those early days I had no idea of playing a trout, but fortunately our tackle was good enough for a two pounder. I cast into a stream at the head of a good pool, there was a tug, and I pulled without regard to my tackle or the strength of my rod. Just when I had hauled the fish on the verge of the gravel, the rod broke in two places. I rushed to the margin of the river, went down to the ground and embraced my prize in my arms, but at the expense of a ducking. That trout remains an unknown weight.
In addition to trout, there were many eels in the river. One day whilst I was walking by the river, I saw an eel seize a small trout and give it a shake. As I moved to the edge of the water, the eel dropped its prey, and I managed to get the trout out: It was dead.
In those days there was no railway in the island ; the telegraph cable had not been laid. The old King Orry managed to do the passage from Liverpool to Douglas in about eight hours in fair weather. In a gale, it was a prolonged agony of twelve hours and upwards. The trout licence had not been invented, neither had the gun licence. The boys might roam about with a gun at their own sweet will, without molestation, and might bring to bag a woodcock or a snipe, if they could only hit it, and the chances were in favour of the bird. The blackbirds and thrushes, though, often came to grief, as they afforded easy sitting shots; and the question as to whether to hit a bird perched on a tree or on the ground constituted the greater marksmanship, was a source of much discussion and never satisfactorily settled by the disputants.
Limited liability companies had not formed tea-gardens and dancing-platforms in the secluded glens, to the destruction of their natural beauty. The contemplative man was not disturbed in his reveries by the derisive shouts of those tourists who rejoice in being vulgar. The solitary angler was almost the only person who invaded the wooded glens, sacred to trout and woodcock. After all, there are still some places sacred to the angler and other real lovers of nature the man who likes to be alone with nature to which I propose to conduct the reader in subsequent chapters which treat of fishing in the Isle of Man.
I must, however, before I conclude this chapter, mention that the Rhenass, otherwise the Glen Helen river, is still unpolluted and abounds with trout. The Foxdale stream is, and is likely to remain a mining sewer for years, and thus it pollutes the whole of the main river Neb. About the year 1855, trout had become scarce in the Foxdale stream owing to the pollutions, and I frequently observed that portions of the tails of trout were wanting. They appeared as if they had gradually come off, no doubt owing to the poisonous state of the water; and as I never captured a trout minus the whole tail, I concluded that death put an end to their sufferings before the tailless stage was reached. At this stage I was torn from my first love, but soon learned to find other loves in fresh woods and pastures new (Amateur Angler), as will appear in the next chapter.