About then I realized who he was. "A resident gillie [guide] is employed at the Fishery and his services are free to anglers." So I had read in the Central Fisheries Board brochure.
"If it slows up at all, come back and knock on me door," Small shouted as I made my way back on the river after leaving my catch in the larder.
He must have known, because that's exactly what the fishing did. The sun came up big and brassy, absurdly bright for western Ireland in May, and the salmon turned off. Through my sunglasses I could see the fish roll up and inspect my fly time after time, only to roll away again in boredom. Clearly this was not going to be one of the 60-fish days. After a time I made my way up to Small's place again.
"I thought I'd see you," he said. He rummaged in a corner and came up with a jar that had once held marmalade. "Beautiful," he said, pointing at the contents. "Caught fresh in the bay this morning."
Galway Bay shrimp, salted and dyed purple, orange, vermilion. Deadly salmon bait, traditional salmon bait, but nonpurist enough to cause several strokes should it be mentioned in a fly-fisherman's club anywhere in the world.
Small hopped like the leprechaun whose descendant I suspected he was. "Follow me," he said. We hustled down a path to a corner of a garden that abutted the white water at the base of the weir itself, an almost invisible nook.
He clipped a red cork bobber to the line and impaled a shrimp on a rig he'd attached. "Just drop it out on this side of the foam," he said. I did as told. And the float went under with a pop like a champagne cork leaving the bottle.
The salmon that engulfed the shrimp turned out to be a 17-pounder, a twin, nearly, of the one that followed. "It's legal, but only up to four fish," said Small. "Just don't let the others see. Some of them are a tad hidebound. Besides, you're in good company. This is how I put the president of Finland on to his first salmon. We caught only two, though, because then we went up to the Great Southern Hotel, and we sang and drank whiskey, we had lunch on the lawn, and I didn't get home for me own lunch until five o'clock."
I wasn't listening too carefully, because at the time I was dealing with another salmon. Small was not bothered by my inattention. He just began to speak louder. "The president had a good drop of what I call the holy water," he said, even as he picked up the landing net to secure my latest fish. "He said it was very like the stuff they made in Finland themselves. We had three officers from the special branch of the Guards escorting the president, and their faces turned to stone when they saw the poteen. But they daren't say a word. I tell you, that was some lunch we had."
I could take a hint. Besides, who could tell if Small didn't have some say in the matter when applications for permits came in for the following year?