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You have got to be a very good fisherman to count on always catching fish, especially when the stakes are as high as they are in salmon fishing. Pierre did count on himself, and well he might. In other years he had sometimes returned from Scotland to Paris with so many fish that, after selling them to the specialty foodshops in the Rue du Faubourg-St. Honor�, he not only paid for his trip, but he also made a good profit. Even in the worst years he had always managed to catch enough salmon to defray a large percentage of his expenses. That was how to be a salmon fisherman without being either a gentleman or an industrialist. To do it you had to fish hard and well. Pierre fished well always, and he liked nothing better than to fish hard. This year, after two weeks, one on the Spey and one here on the Tweed, fishing as well as ever and even harder, he had two small fish.
I had watched him grow grimmer daily. As soon as he was up each morning he looked outside, then made a face. Another bad day: sunny, warm, still. This was supposed to be Scotland! Where was the rain, the wind, the cold—salmon-fishing weather? He had remained polite, but in his eagerness to be always on the water he had grown impatient with the time I took eating and drinking. The food in our hotel was excellent—not to mention the single-malt whiskey. The difference in our ages Pierre could not accept. We must be on the river even before the gillie got there and long after he left. What need had we for a gillie? If I was uncertain which fly to use or where to fish, I had only to ask him. In fact, we had now fished with every fly in our many boxes. Which ones we used seemed not to matter.
Despite all this bad luck, and despite his constant burden of knowledge of the salmon's worsening plight, Pierre remained undaunted, finding always in a new day, in fresh, unfished water, a spring of hope. "There is always tomorrow, Bill," he would say. Or, "There is still the Tay. A whole week on the Tay! Let us not be discouraged." Then, his trust betrayed, he would say, "No fish are here." It takes a very self-confident fisherman to say that of a body of water, sure that if there were fish he would catch them. Had it been any but Pierre, I would have said a fatuously self-complacent fisherman.
"Then let's not waste our time. Let's take the day off. Go sightseeing. Catch up on some sleep."
"No! Never! We try again."
Pierre was like the inveterate gambler who says he knows a crap game is crooked, but that it's the only game in town.
Not only was the fishing different, many things in Scotland were changed, just in the year since Pierre was last there, and many of the changes were traceable to the same cause. The narrow Scottish roads, all built years ago, were clogged with tractor-trailers, including the huge tandem rigs from the Continent. Scotland was now a rapidly expanding market for Britain's partners in the EEC. To remedy the congestion, new roads were under construction everywhere and old ones were getting lanes added to them. Ancient narrow-arched stone bridges were being bypassed for new ones, with scant consideration being given to the well-being of the river. To me, who grew up in Texas in the '30s, a time of both boom and bust, there was something familiar in the air: overlaying the smell of a poverty so old and so pervasive it had become the way of life was the heady new smell of crude oil. Scotland, which had been for so long to England what the American South had been to the North—neglected, exploited—was now spending the money from its North Sea oil without waiting to count it.
Every tourist is a Tory, it has been said. But in his opposition to the changes taking place in Scotland, Pierre was no tourist, he was an adopted son. To Scotland he turned as surely as its salmon return there to complete their life cycle. The Scots are a very patriotic people, but none among them, not even those in the kilts of their clans, loves the country more than Pierre. The advent of progress and prosperity, which they so uncritically welcomed, could not but worry him. Scotland had been one of the salmon's last remaining European retreats. Spain had sacrificed hers to the demand for more kilowatts, hydroelectric dams blocking the fish from their spawning grounds. The Irish Anglers' Association had petitioned its government to desist from the hypocrisy, indeed, the outright deception, of advertising the country's fishing as a tourist attraction. Irish fishing, once so fine, was a victim of that long impoverished and backward country's rush to industrialize. People have always been eager to change fishes into loaves.
North Sea oil now. One more enemy to add to Pierre's already long list. The dams, the Danes, the diseases, the seals, the offshore trawlers, the inshore netters, the poachers, the polluters: the salmon has many enemies. As an authority on the subject, Pierre knows them all; as a fisherman, he feels them all. The salmon's enemies are his enemies. To have so many is disheartening. They disperse a man's anger without diminishing it; they dissipate his energies. Too many fronts to have to fight on all at once. This very week in West Berlin, smoked salmon was selling in the shops at $26 a pound. Much as he would like to have some himself to sell to that market, Pierre knows that such prices are the most serious threat of all to his beloved salmon. When a commodity becomes that precious, it is nearly impossible to enforce laws regulating its harvest. Patrolmen and wardens who try to do so are sometimes killed.
Add to the ominous signs of progress in Scotland the worrisome number of Common Market anglers, especially French, we encountered. Knowing them well, Pierre did not trust them. Few fly-fishermen among them, few gentlemen. They do not take it in sporting spirit when they do not catch fish, lots offish.