"I am not a
gentleman," says Pierre with a very French, very republican, wicked little
Already I had
felt pity for a man with many years ahead of him, incapable of self-deception
because he was an authority on the subject, falling in love with that
desperately endangered species, the salmon. If his sport was dependent upon the
survival of the genus Gentleman, then I felt even sorrier for him. What
pollution and hydroelectric dams have done for the salmon, inflation, taxes and
death duties have done for the salmon's traditional enemy and friend. It is a
toss-up, which is more threatened with extinction.
Pierre went back to school, to the Pasteur Institute, to study epidemiology.
Weekends he spent in the field trapping wild ducks to determine their role, if
any, in spreading human influenza. Very interesting, very unremunerative work.
When spring came, Pierre had even fewer money than usual.
His studies over,
Pierre went to work. Weekends he put in 96-hour, round-the-clock stints at an
animal hospital. He telephoned an estate agent in London. Available, owing to
late cancellations, were a week on the River Spey, a week on the Tweed and a
week on the Tay, all in Scotland, all notable for harboring salmon. He had
fished the Tweed but never the other two, both of them among the world's most
famous salmon streams. The price was, as such things are reckoned, reasonable,
for the spring run of fish would be about over, the fall run not yet begun.
Eternal question for the salmon fisherman who has to ask what it costs: whether
to go when it is less expensive, knowing you will catch fewer fish, maybe none,
or to gamble on an expensive stay with better chances of a good catch. Pierre
believes that the best time to go fishing is, as somebody once said, when you
can get away. He rented all three beats. I went along. A young Frenchman and an
aging American, both out of the peasantry, both politically progressive, both
drawn to a snobbish, anachronistic, upper-class British blood sport....
Floors" is the beat of the River Tweed just upstream from the ancient town
of Kelso. Along with a great deal more of the river, it is the hereditary
property of the Duke of Roxburgh. It takes its name from nearby Floors Castle,
the Duke's seat. Floors Castle is said to have exactly as many windows as there
are days of the year. That is, architecturally, its one distinction.
On this Saturday
afternoon in June, the Duke's herds and the Duke's flocks were seeking shade
beneath the Duke's oaks in the Duke's meadows from—I almost said, so extensive
are His Grace's holdings—the Duke's sun. The one thing in which he was wanting
was salmon in the water we were renting from him.
We had fished
since daybreak, pausing only briefly for a picnic lunch on the riverbank.
Rather, Pierre had paused only then; I had stopped frequently to rest. Wading
the rock-strewn river tired me. So did casting my long rod. Long for me, that
is to say. It was of graphite, the lightest of all rod-making materials, a
one-handed rod of 10 feet, weighing just over four ounces. To the gillies this
was small, and they were sure it would barely kill a trout, never a salmon. Yet
it was by far the biggest fly rod I had ever fished with. The gillies were
wrong; with enough line on the reel, it would have killed a whale. What it
could not do was cast as far as the long two-handed rods common on the salmon
rivers of Scotland.
Pierre's was one
of those rods, 14� feet long and so heavy I could hardly heft it. Pierre is
even slighter of build than I. yet while I often tired from casting my light
rod. he cast his big stick daylong, from dawn until deep into the night,
stopping only occasionally to change flies. Pierre kept in training to retain
Never cautious in
wading the river, Pierre had grown totally heedless in pursuit of the fish that
continued to elude him. Though he offered as little resistance to the current
as I did, what a contrast the two of us were! To steady myself and feel ahead
of me for pockets and holes in the riverbed, I carried a staff. I inched along.
I always waded upstream, never downstream, where the current could so easily
buckle your knees, sweep you off balance. Pierre, without a staff, bounded in
every direction, as though jogging on a track.
Now in midstream,
almost up to his armpits in water, he was casting all the way to shore. First
to one shore and then to the other, switching the rod from hand to hand, as
powerful and as dextrous with either. He was casting the full length of his
line and doing it with a regular rhythm, as though he were spring-wound. No
metronome could have been more methodical. When his cast was fished out and he
raised his rod to commence a new one, the length of line drawn from the water
seemed unending. As he took a step downstream to his new position, the line
straightened behind him and hung momentarily upon the air. At precisely the
instant when the maximum power had been flexed into the rod by the rearward
pull of the line, it was brought forward. Out rolled the new cast to that
length which no amount of seeing it could lessen my amazement, my awe. Pierre
was proof that size, strength, had nothing to do with casting. It was timing,
mastery of the rod's own rhythms and inherent power, as a tiny jockey masters a
huge horse. Watching him, I understood the value of what Charles Ritz had tried
to impart to me—the satisfaction one might take in casting well even when the
fishing was poor.