"So we fixed the water at four feet by getting some gates shut at the weir and sure enough they came that night, their noses just out of the water, breathing through straws. The trouble was, though, that the owner was an Englishman, and he was afraid of the difficulties he'd get in prosecuting the poachers. For years we'd had trouble with burnings at the Fishery, and it was put down to the IRA. So, says Barbour to me, 'Try to arrange that the police do the arresting.'
"I did—and would you not know it?—two of the six fellas robbing the traps were our own employees. And the pair of them had the audacity to show up for work the morning after they were caught! They got sacked for that. Later we worked out that they'd been stealing about a third of the catch for six years."
The next morning, promptly at six, gravely, courteously, we five permit holders for the day fixed the order of fishing, the rule of the Fishery being that you work your way slowly downstream, in line astern, as they say in the Royal Navy. At the very most, you are expected to stay less than an hour in a particular spot. When you are in the lowermost position, you come under the critical gaze of the Salmon Weir Bridge gallery.
Years ago I caught a 25-pounder in the River Tana, on the boundary between Finland and Norway, close to a road on the Norwegian side. That, too, was a fish that stopped the traffic. But there was a notable difference in how the Scandinavian audience expressed its appreciation from how it went in Galway when I hooked up with a modest grilse just short of the bridge.
The Norwegians had been content merely to cheer and flash headlights in celebration. Here in the west of Ireland every man seemed obliged to play the fish himself. Advice, warnings and threats tumbled down: "Mind, now, he'll have you round the rocks," or "Give him slack when he jumps," or "Nah, lad, keep the line tight!" and so forth. Since this was Ireland, it was a sure bet that one could find amateur odds-makers out working the crowd, too.
Good luck to my backers, I thought, as I tailed my fish, all 11 pounds of him, brought him ashore and carried him back to the lodge to put him in the cool larder. But the larder was locked. "You'll find the key where it always is," said a voice behind me, "under the loaf of bread in me little hut."
The voice issued from a bright-eyed man, less than five feet tall and almost assuredly in his 60's, whose improbably accurate name turned out to be Jimmy Small. I learned his name as he conducted me to his small house only a few yards from the river. Once inside, he produced a bottle of poteen—the Celtic version of moonshine—from a gutted kerosene heater that he used as a cocktail cabinet.
"You'll take a glass, won't you?" said Small. "In celebration of your first Corrib salmon."
I looked at my watch. It was 6:45 a.m. "Uh," I said.
"Or two glasses, maybe?" Small asked. He sounded concerned that I might think him cheap, and he was disappointed when I made my excuses.