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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

VI. The Ristigouche from a Horse-Yacht

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Suppose the fish is not caught by an angler, what is his alternative fate? He will either perish miserably in the struggles of the crowded net, or die of old age and starvation like the long, lean stragglers which are sometimes found in the shallow pools, or be devoured by a larger fish, or torn to pieces by a seal or an otter. Compared with any of these miserable deaths, the fate of a salmon who is hooked in a clear stream and after a glorious fight receives the happy despatch at the moment when he touches the shore, is a sort of euthanasia. And, since the fish was made to be man's food, the angler who brings him to the table of destiny in the cleanest, quickest, kindest way is, in fact, his benefactor.

There were some days, however, when our benevolent intentions toward the salmon were frustrated; mornings when they refused to rise, and evenings when they escaped even the skilful endeavours of Favonius. In vain did he try every fly in his book, from the smallest "Silver Doctor" to the largest "Golden Eagle." The "Black Dose" would not move them. The "Durham Ranger" covered the pool in vain. On days like this, if a stray fish rose, it was hard to land him, for he was usually but slightly hooked.

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I remember one of these shy creatures which led me a pretty dance at the mouth of Patapedia. He came to the fly just at dusk, rising very softly and quietly, as if he did not really care for it but only wanted to see what it was like. He went down at once into deep water, and began the most dangerous and exasperating of all salmon-tactics, moving around in slow circles and shaking his head from side to side, with sullen pertinacity. This is called "jigging," and unless it can be stopped, the result is fatal.

I could not stop it. That salmon was determined to jig. He knew more than I did.

The canoe followed him down the pool. He jigged away past all three of the inlets of the Patapedia, and at last, in the still, deep water below, after we had laboured with him for half an hour, and brought him near enough to see that he was immense, he calmly opened his mouth and the fly came back to me void. That was a sad evening, in which all the consolations of philosophy were needed.

Sunday was a very peaceful day in our camp. In the Dominion of Canada, the question "to fish or not to fish" on the first day of the week is not left to the frailty of the individual conscience. The law on the subject is quite explicit, and says that between six o'clock on Saturday evening and six o'clock on Monday morning all nets shall be taken up and no one shall wet a line. The Ristigouche Salmon Club has its guardians stationed all along the river, and they are quite as inflexible in seeing that their employers keep this law as the famous sentinel was in refusing to let Napoleon pass without the countersign. But I do not think that these keen sportsmen regard it as a hardship; they are quite willing that the fish should have "an off day" in every week, and only grumble because some of the net-owners down at the mouth of the river have brought political influence to bear in their favour and obtained exemption from the rule. For our part, we were nothing loath to hang up our rods, and make the day different from other days.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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