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water, to keep it alive and fresh for sale the following day. To his amazement next morning, the creature had managed to cast up the eight-hook tackle, which was lying in the tub.
The two following instances of the pike's voracity are almost incredible, but both I can also certify. In the spring of 1841, two pike of twelve pounds weight were cast upon Loch Vennacher shore, each with a hold of the other's jaws, and quite dead. The second instance happened in Suffolk. A jack of only two pounds was found choked in attempting to swallow another of a pound and a half. The gentleman who saw them taken out, only a short time before, told me the fact.
But even these instances are equalled by the solemn toothless cod. A friend of mine was trolling in Loch Long, and hooked a seithe. An enormous cod seized the seithe, and paid the penalty by being brought into the boat himself. His girth seemed unnaturally large, and, upon opening him, a brown paper packet of sandwiches, enough for luncheon to a pretty large party, was taken out. They could not have been less injured, mustard and all, had the cod's stomach been a sandwich box.
Our pike has led me to digress. Having no more tackle, we contented ourselves, before joining the carriage which was to convey us to Inverary, with a view of the old castle, now very tottery and dangerous to ascend. Numerous daws were rejoicing in the holes and cavities. The osprey's nest formerly graced a high pinnacle, the owners having an abundant supply of food wherever they chose to seek it. Sea trout of a large size I have several times seen in the water eagle's nest; but seldom pike, and never flesh of any kind.
A gamekeeper wantonly shot the last of these beautiful birds that tenanted Kilchurn's turrets, and none have replaced them. The otter now has the whole of it to himself since the death of his rival; and, although seldom seen or hunted, except when the Urchay is frozen over, there are few places where such numbers abound.
This eccentric creature is so much hidden from notice, partly owing to its resources for concealment lying both in land and water, that its habits are not much observed, although so generally distributed throughout the three kingdoms. It excites greater attention on the rocky coasts from being occasionally hunted there. In the West Highlands, especially, many of the resident proprietors pique themselves on the excellence of their otter-terriers. Some few keep hounds for the purpose, but the terrier is a very good substitute in these wild districts, and of course far more easily procured.
A good otter hunt is a very curious sight, and from being able for the most part to see the dogs, and keep up with them, the interest seldom flags. In the lowlands and border counties of England, where otters are not so numerous, the fowmarte is often hunted instead with otter hounds. I was told by a subscriber to a Cumberland otter pack, that they had once run a polecat twelve miles from the place where they found his cold drag, and that a six or seven miles' chase is nothing uncommon. It must have taken the fowmarte nearly the whole night to have travelled this distance, and he is generally snug in his retreat many hours before the hounds are even laid on his track. A true otter hound will, however, catch the
scent immediately, if his game has been on the ground or in the river the previous night. The real breed, supposed to be a cross between the old English hound and a rough terrier, is very rare. They have shaggy coats of coarse wiry hair, but smooth heads and ears; in fact, a hound's head with a rough coat fit for the water. Most that we see now are either altogether rough or smooth. There is no dog more takes my fancy than one of these ancient thorough-bred otter hounds. His wierd look of hoar antiquity always associates him with “grisly eld;" and his characteristic method of working his amphibious quarry adds to the interest his appearance creates.
Terriers are best in rocky cavernous places, and seldom fail to make the otter bolt if they can get near him. From the abundance of prey, these sea-haunting otters grow to a great size; inland ones frequenting heavy dead water, where fish abound, are often large also. I never saw a finer specimen than an old male trapped the winter before last on the Thames. He was taken above Henley by a keeper, who sold him to me for a trifle.
Otters are always pretty plentiful on Loch Lomond, and some heathery rocks full of treacherous hollows, close to the water, on Inch Connachan, are called “the otter rocks," from the otters rearing their young among them every year. One of the island game watchers, a few summers ago, saw an old female, followed by two young cubs, swim from these rocks to Inch Fad, a distance of two miles. The day was very calm, and the dam swam slowly to accommodate her young. In an old channel of the Finlass Burn, a pair were often to be seen in summer disporting in the pool, nearly tepid from the heat of the sun. They seemed to be enjoying a warm bath.
The otters seldom frequented Rossdhu Bay till the autumn floods, when their sputtering blow was heard in the moonshine. Thomas Aothing, from marks of his own discovery, always knew when they were there, and the odds were that he secured them and sold their jackets before the week was out. I recollect a very large one that carried his trap into the deep, for Thomas, like a knowing otter trapper, never fastened it. A heavy rain all that night, and next day, raised the loch, and
prevented him from looking for it. When the weather cleared he found his trap gone, and no float in the water to mark where it was. Phlegmatic Thomas immediately knew that the string was too short, from the loch being so high, so he “consulted his raison," settled where the trap should be, kept his secret till the loch grew less, then returned and found the float within ten yards of the spot he had calculated, and the otter fast in the trap at the bottom, of course drowned.
One day in July, when going to fish, I perceived an otter perfectly still on the top of the water in Loch Vennacher. It was a good way from the shore, and just opposite some steep rocks, where the black deep water was much frequented by salmon. It seemed on the watch like a cat, and it occurred to me that possibly it might be looking out for the rise of a fish, after the manner of seals. The renter of a stake-net fishery told me, that once, when watching the gambols of a large salmon, a seal put up its head at the distance of a mile, swam up in an incredibly short time, and caught the salmon. The seal has this advantage over the otter, that it can seize fish with its paws, and also break nets with them.
Great numbers of otters frequent the lochs of Lubnaig