The comradeship of sport.
Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell

Chapter III. Sport.
Boatsmanship and Fishing.

So long ago as 1570 Roger Ascham recommended as a necessary adjunct to education the practice of riding and swimming and outdoor sports.

Team games, such as football, hockey, polo, and the like, promote discipline in obedience to rules and to the captain, fair play, backing up and playing all out for one’s side and not for one’s self and one’s own glory.

Of course, you know all this already, but what I am driving at is that it applies not only for football, etc., but equally for the greater game of life, for playing in his place as a citizen in the team of his fellow subjects.


In the first chapter I have said how much I have owed to my early training in boatmanship. One of the great merits of boatmanship is that it gives a lad the chance of facing danger and getting accustomed to it, so that when a crisis of occurs, or he is nearly "for it," the proximity of death leaves him unpanicked.

Save the Boat-hook!
Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell

One found this in Canada, where so much of your travelling and sport in the backwoods has to be done by canoe.

In the larger vessel, too, at home, of which we brothers formed the crew, we faced more risks than are usually involved in yachting, partly because our eldest, a sailor and our skipper, had the wild notion that if we could one day manage to find a ship in distress and help to save her we should not only be doing a good deed but incidentally might win a fortune in salvage money. A great idea!

We younger brothers prayed that there might be no poor ship in distress, though we were not thinking entirely of the ship.

One day the call came, when we were lying at anchor in Harwich Harbour. Harwich is a charming place except in an easterly gale, when it is beastly.

On this occasion a pretty bad easterly gale was blowing. The lifeboat went out in response to signals of distress and we, getting under storm canvas as quickly as possible, hustled out to sea too by a different channel through the sands into a very hideous, yellow tumbling sea. Once outside the scud was flying so thick and the sea was so big that we soon lost sight of the lifeboat, and had a perfectly vile time of it.

Still we went on—indeed we had to—threshing through it tooth and nail, hour after hour, without seeing anything.

Our skipper was in his glory all the time and only remarked as night came on: "Ah, that’s good! With darkness we shall be able all the better to locate her by the flares."

But in this we were unsuccessful and when we eventually got in we found that the lifeboat also had failed to locate the distressed vessel which had, meantime, been picked up by a tug and was already safely in harbour.

So although we had lost the salvage we had gained the experience. And we had much more of a like kind in the several years we were at it. Though we gained practice in roughing it and risking it we never got our salvage!

A bad time we had on another occasion when beating down Channel against a rising gale from the south west We tried to make Dartmouth, but tide and sea were too much for us, bursting our bob-stay, springing our bow. sprit, and smashing in our skylight.

We had to wear ship and run before it; a ticklish moment that, when turning round in a heavy sea, with every chance of the whole ship rolling over with you! Ugh!

Then an awful run all night, a real nightmare with big black seas towering behind and trying to overtake and poop us. Hour after hour lashed to our posts like monkeys with sufficient length of line to enable each to get to the work required of him in his immediate neighbourhood with steel-hard wet ropes to haul upon with blistered, saltwatered, half-frozen hands.

We were not far off being done for more than once before we eventually succeeded in rounding up under the lee of Portland Bill.

But it was a healthy lesson after all.

It taught us ready discipline and handiness, keeping one’s head in danger, and team work, each using his wits and best endeavour towards ensuring the safety of the whole.


Talking of Canada and canoes brings back memories of trout and bass fishing in those lovely lakes and rivers among the spruce forests of Canada.

Oh, it was good!

I had a French Canadian voyageur as guide. He was a perfect artist with his axe, from slicing down a tree to sharpening a pencil, a great heavy fellow with enormous hands, who boasted he could carry a load of three hundred pounds, and yet he was light as a feather in jumping into a canoe, and able to tie a delicate little fly with which to catch a fish.

In his quaint broken English he was full of interesting stories of the backwoods and their mysteries.

He told me how one moonlight night he woke up in his cat to see a shadow cast on it from outside. It had the exact form of his comrade who had not returned that day from fishing.

He thought the man was there with arms spread out on the canvas, and that he was trying to look through into the tent. He called to him to come in, but there was no response.

A sudden horror seized him. He could stick it no longer. He sprang up out of his blankets and the shadow disappeared.

He went out, and far down the river next morning he found his friend—dead—crushed in a timber jam, with arms spread out and face pressed forward just as he had seen him: on the tent-side.

In South Africa I had glorious fishing amid glorious scenery in those lovely trout streams which run down from the Drakensburg, and the rainbow trout which they contain gave glorious sport.

New Zealand with its huge trout is now rivalled by Australia, and, more especially, Tasmania. I only arrived in Launceston on the last day of the fishing season but I rushed up seventy miles by car and reached the Great Lake about sundown in a fierce and bitter gale and driving rain. But I went out and just as darkness came on I got into a big trout. Never was there such a lively, determined devil It was a great fight and I got him in the end. But he has put into me the longing to get back to Tasmania once more before I die.

Which is the better, salmon or trout fishing? I don’t know.

They are so different and for myself I can only say that I love them both Salmon fishing is the hearer, harder and more exasperating business, but when, after hours and day of blank effort, you suddenly get a tug on your line, and you feel that you are "into him" (and there are no other word that express it) it is well not to have a weak heart, for that organ certainly gets a bang and a thrill which is hard to beat.

She piloted me after our fish as he dashed up the river.
Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell

Trout fishing, on the other hand, demands greater skill and cunning and is the more delicate art, and if less exciting is greater fun.

A few years ago I was asked what return I should like for paying a visit of inspection to some Scouts in Wales, and, knowing the tastes of my host (the late Lord Glanusk), I said that my fee was a day’s fishing. To this he readily acceded and asked me down to his charming bungalow on the Wye.

The morning after my arrival, which happened to be a Sunday, his daughter took me down to look at the river before going to church. The temptation was too great. I took a rod from the rack just to try a cast in that lovely looking pool. Just one cast. Well, one more. But—oh I was into a fish and he a big one too. For a few minutes he swam gently round the pool, hauling steadily at me, then away he went with a rush upstream, my reel screaming its alarum.

I had to follow him, but the bank grew rocky and it was evident that I must wade in, though unprepared for it. My gallant young hostess pointed out the danger of wading, since among the rocks were holes twenty feet deep; so using the gaff as a wading staff she plunged in herself up to her waist, and, telling me to hang on to her with one hand when I could spare it from the rod, she piloted me after our fish as he dashed on up the river.

The salmon towed me downstream.
Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell

For a long distance we followed him until he got into a long open deep stretch where it was impossible for us to go farther, and he had got all my line out. The time had come when I must either hold him or he must break me.

I held on like grim death, expecting the line to go at any minute, but it held. Suddenly he turned and then came speeding down the river towards us again. Reeling in as fast as ever I could I had a slack line for an ominously long time. I thought he was off but to my ultimate relief I got the strain on him again. Then he dragged us away downstream, over the rocks, and back to his original pool, where at length we killed him; a glorious fresh-run fish of twenty-five pounds.

As we landed him great cheers burst out behind us, and to our astonishment we found that quite a concourse of people had gathered from the main road which ran close by, and were rejoiced to see the successful end of the tussle.

But this was not the last I was to hear about it, for from these people the news spread and got into the local papers.

A week later I received a document in Welsh and English from a religious conference in which it was decreed that no boy or girl of their congregations was to join the Boy Scouts or the Girl Guides because I was guilty of having fished on the Sabbath.

The Jock Scott is the great salmon fishing fly. It derived its name from the fishing ghillie at Makerstoun in old days, and he made up this particular pattern of fly for then Duchess of Roxburgh for her to take with her to Norway, after which it became one of the most popular flies known.

Another famous ghillie at Makerstoun was Rob o’ the Trows. He was apparently a quaint character if the story of him be true which relates that he was acting as ghillie to a certain peer one day when this gentleman caught and landed a salmon. The peer proceeded to take a drop of refreshment out of his flask, which he then put back in his pocket.

Rob had looked at that flask with some hope that the usual custom would be carried out of offering the ghillie a drink too.

Presently my lord caught another salmon and again he sipped, and again Rob hoped in vain.

A third time this happened, and Rob sprang into the boat and started to row away for his home.

The fisherman called after him: "Where are you off to?" And Rob simply growled: "Them as drinks alone can fish alone," and went home.

As an education in patience fishing is par excellence, the very best school. It grips men of every kind.

How can all those fellows go and sit all day in a punt on the Thames, or six hundred of them line the bank of the Trent in competition for hours ? But they do it in absolute content. Ask any one of them if he has had good sport. "Yes, rather," he will reply, though as yet his creel is empty.

They go to fish, not to catch fish.

Still more do you learn patience when fly-fishing in a wind and your delicate gut cast ties itself up into an intricate tangle for you to unravel. That is bad enough in England, but it is ten times worse when you get it, as I did once in Australia with a kukkaburra ("laughing jackass") chortling at you from a neighbouring tree every time you get tangled or caught in a bush.

Somehow the absence of civilisation in your surroundings adds a zest to your fishing, whether it be among the ragged moorlands of Galway, or the mountains of Natal, or the forests of Canada or Tasmania; the wild has its charms.

The wild has its charms.
Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell

At the same time there is a sweet attraction in the waters nearer home where, in the lush meadows of Hampshire, with the cattle knee deep among the buttercups, and the snipe drumming overhead, the rooks cawing drowsily among the stately elms, you wander slowly, stalking your trout in infinite quiet and solitude, far from the madding crowd and away from the noise and rush of modern life in towns, a comrade among the birds and water-voles.

Trout fishing is the best rest-cure in the world.

On these occasions a ghillie spoils the show. A man who cannot land his own fish is not a fisherman.

Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Boatsmanship and Fishing
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Shooting, Fox-Hunting and Polo
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Big Game, Hippos and Lions
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport.

Pets, Stalking, Mountaineering and the School of the Jungle
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Contents and Introduction

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