The next day is hard, clear, exhilarating. The snow has spread out rather than melted, and encroached still farther down the hillsides, but the sun waxes strong as we drive to the upper water, and the bolder mountains up at the lake are in dazzling splendour, and apparently close. There is a wire across the stream, an easy means of crossing for the ladies and gentlemen who inhabit the handsome fishing lodge built by an English gentleman on the very edge of a grand salmon pool. The stalwart Norsk gillie who attends him found it a trifle too easy yesterday, for it gave way and let him into the river. The house-party were making ready to leave, however, and the young ladies, who had been doing well with the salmon, had the concluding excitement of their favourite henchman floundering in the water to take on board the steamer as a final remembrance of their visit. The toss by which the lake water escapes is a magnificent commotion of white roaring water, tossing at first sheer over huge rocks, then tumbling headlong down a broken slope. Just below is a deep hole, always, however, in a state of froth, upheaval, thunder, and spray. Away races the water in a turbulent pool about fifty yards long, rough and uproarious on either side, but more reasonable in the middle. Below are the rapids again. The game is to kill a salmon in this pool. There is not much difficulty in finding him, for there are always fish there, and they take well when the humour is on them. By every right, human and otherwise, Hooper should take first toll of this ticklish maelstrom; it is called by his name, but, as usual, he insists upon his guest making or marring the chance, and leaves me for other pools bearing the names of brother anglers, members of that Anglo-Norwegian band of sportsmen whose names have been welcome household words in these parts for many a year. I confess I like not this pool. To command it you have to wade out in a very rough shallow, amongst bushel-sized boulders, each more slippery than its fellow. The din of the foss is deafening; the rush of the water as you stand with uncertain foothold over the deep dark swirl bewildering.
Before leaving me my friend finishes his brief explanation of the conditions with the application of the whole. "Hold on"; that is the ABC, the Alpha and Omega of it. So mote it be. Still, saying it is one thing, doing it another. My steel-centred Hardy I know pretty well, and have no fear, though it is small by comparison with the full-sized greenhearts to which my attendant is accustomed, and I can see that he distrusts it. Of the line and twisted gut collar I am reasonably sure; the hook, of course, is what it may be. But I test the tackle all along, and fish down the pool with a large Butcher. It does not take long, with this express speed of water, and, I think rather to my relief, nothing happens. Then I flounder out, sit on a rock, fill a full pipe, and look through my flies. Here is a Wilkinson that brought me a big fish on bonny Tweed last autumn; for auld lang syne I meet the blue-eyed gaffsman's shake of the head with a confident smile, and put up the Kelso fly. I know the hang of the pool now, and get back again to my precarious ledge, feeling much more master of the position.
What is that feeling you get in salmon fishing that tells you so surely that the fly is doing its work well? Certain it is that such an inward assurance helps you amazingly. Thus at the fourth cast there is a thrilling pull under water, a momentary, but shrill, complaint from the winch, and a quivering arched rod. "Hold on," of course, means shutting the mouth of that reel. The House of Commons gag was never better applied. Not five yards of line, in fact, go out after the first rush, stopped with a firmness that amazes myself. But I have to follow down, in stumbling cautiousness for another ten yards, which bring me perilously near the torrent of the pool's tail. Now it is the salmon or the angler. And the fish responds to the insidious sideway slanting of the rod, and is good enough to head, ever so gingerly, up into the heavier water. Never no more, Salmo Salar, unless something smashes—not an inch, be you of gold instead of silver. How the good man gaffs the fish in the rough edge stream I know not; only he does it masterly, and with back and knees trembling, and breath puffing hard and short, I drop upon the moss in an ecstasy of silence.
Yet it is only a salmon of 15 lb.; but that quarter of an hour of "hold on" is the most intense thing, so far, of my experience with salmon, not forgetting that surprise, many a year back, when I killed my first salmon with a No. 1 trout fly by the dorsal in the Galway river. The split-cane rod comes out of the fray as straight and happy as when new, and I notice that, as I am recovering my equanimity, the gaffer examines it closely, handles it fondly, and pronounces it correct, in warm English words. The rod indeed seems to have entered into the fun, and to say, "Get up; don't waste time." We therefore move off to another pool, and in the course of a couple of hours, after trying two or three different patterns in a bright sun, I get a 12-lb. salmon on a Carlisle Bulldog, medium size; this, however, in a pool where we all have fair play.
On either side of a foss below that above mentioned is one of the salmon traps peculiar to the country, built in the slopes which form a natural salmon pass. It is a grating of massive timber and stone blocks, roughly fashioned like an inverted V; and, on the principle of the Solway stake nets, when a salmon swims into it he cannot return. He is trapped in a narrow chamber at the end of the open entrance. The old timbers of these particular traps remained, an irregular line of upstanding palisadings, at the top of the foss nearest the roadside, protruding a yard or so, jagged and weather-stained, out of water. Hereby hangs a tale worth telling. My friend was fishing the short swift pool above, on his favourite "hold on" principle, but there was no checking the salmon. "Do they ever go over?" he asked his man, in the midst of the battle. "No, sir," was the reply. "Well, there's one over now," said my friend, as the fish shot over into the churning foam. At the foot of the foss the little road curved round with the stream, making a sharp bend at the tail of the rapid. Altogether it was an ugly situation at the best; as the line had become entangled in those weather-worn palisades it was hopeless. There was a hang-up. The angler looked at his winch, which was nearly empty: he could see the barrel between the few coils of line left—left of 120 yards. The gillie was (and is) one of the smartest, now that he has had a few years with the Englishman. At the suggestion of his master he departed to reconnoitre, got round the bend of the road, and was lost to view, the master remaining rod in hand above the foss, as well hung up as angler could desire. The man, it seems, saw the fish in the tail of the rapid, tied a stone to a piece of cord, threw it over the line, hauled in hand over hand, and gaffed the salmon, a beautiful fish of 25 lb. Then he went up and told the angler, who was still holding on to the tight line, for it was jammed and would not answer to a pull. A consultation followed, and the man went back round the corner, and discovered that the line would slip from below. The angler thereupon cut it at the winch and the line was recovered. This is the kind of adventure, demanding resource upon the spot, and experience in every move on the board, that so piquantly spices angling in Norwegian rivers of this kind, where the ordinary methods of fishing with the fly are practised.
On the morning when the breechloaders are cracking amongst the coveys there is incipient frost, followed by a blazing sun, which finishes off the remnant of new snow which did not melt yesterday; and there is a violet hue upon the shallower water which ought to look brown. Beautiful to look at, but fatal, they tell me, is this reflected tint. The shade of the alders and the velvet pile of the mosses induce a fit of idleness; it is only the flycatchers, in great numbers, that are busy in the heat and glare, twittering as they hawk for insects, in notes that suggest robin redbreast on a winter day. By and by the clouds obscure the sun and we tackle our pools, with the result, for myself, of sea trout of 7 1/2 lb. and 3 1/2 lb., and a miscellaneous lot of a dozen and a half of brown trout whipped out on a small cast in the evening hour. Before this happens, however, I sit me down for a spell, and, in pursuance of a determination to make these notes as practical as can be consistently done, jot down the following sketches of pool types as they present themselves to my friendly vision. They will answer, I dare believe, for many a river in Scandinavia.
i. This is a true boiler, a torrential pool never at rest. It charges down amongst huge masses of rock, and just where the descent is comparatively easy the inevitable salmon trap is fixed. Sometimes the salmon takes in the very boil, if you cast fly right into the milky tossings, and believe me you need not strike. Hooking is quite an automatic affair if the fish comes. Downward it goes at speed, and your man will have to steady you maybe as you follow amongst the stones, at least until the rapid has become something like a stream.
ii. Here you have a very strong stream, making a ridge of wavy upheaval in the middle. The fishable water is on either side in an average height of river. Wading is the plan, and you can fish every inch of likely ground. I know the fish lie in this central disturbance, for I saw one dart out amongst the waves, and follow the fly for some fifteen yards, by which time the line was at the proper angle for sport if the salmon had inclined that way. Pity that it was not so, for I have always found turbulent water likely to send a turbulent customer. I love a pool of this kind, if only for the bright life and music of it.
iii. Now we have a totally different type. The pool is at least 200 yards long, is, in fact, a broad straight section of the river, with two distinct streams, and an oily passage between, in which the salmon lie. A favourite method here is to be let down slowly in the boat. The Norwegians are extremely clever in this work, and it is a treat to see one of them tow the boat up with one line attached to the bow and another to the centre thwart. They steer it between boulders and round spits with the certainty of driving a horse with reins. By letting you down, the boat never disturbs the pool proper, and you command every portion. On hooking a fish you get out and play it from the bank, a practice, of course, followed also on the necessary occasions when the boat must be rowed.
iv. A stately sweep of dark deep water, with a high-wooded bank of rock on the farther side, and ample wading ground on your own, with pleasantly shingled bottom perhaps, and a current where you may work breast-deep in safety. Yet it is strong and even enough to make very tolerable a notion quite new to me, though, no doubt, well known to many. I learned it in this very pool. When you are wading about to the fork, just sit down on the water, lean back upon it, and you find delightful support and help from the buoyant easy chair of running water. There will be the inevitable rapid by and by, and the salmon have a great fancy for taking you at about the last cast at the end of the glide. This is a capricious sort of pool, but when the fish do take they are worth the having, and are not given to fooling. A cock salmon of 40 lb. was killed here this summer.
v. This is a swift and massive stream that is ever troubled and seething rather than rough, patched with smooth areas that look much more innocent than they are. Your line will get drowned somewhat until you know the tricks of the under-currents and eddies. From the boat you often have a chance of casting right and left as you drop ever so slowly down, and it must be a good man who knows how to keep on rowing without advancing faster than the stream.
It is in such a pool that I make my last cast for salmon in this delectable valley, and it fully satisfies my chief ambition of this ten days' fishing; humble enough in all conscience, being nothing higher than to finish up knowing that I have not once returned at night with an empty bag. Even that is something, and it is something done. In the last two hours I get a 12-lb. salmon, a 2-lb. sea trout, and a leash of 1/2-lb. brown trout, all on the same No. 3 Jock Scott.
On one of our days we see a procession of carioles proceeding up the valley, and all the natives are in a state of agitation, if such sober-minded people ever are agitated. The Midnight Sun is in the fiord, and these ladies and gentlemen are ashore for the day bound for the glacier. We dine on board at night with the captain, who is a brother angler, and who makes light of a sea trout of 10 lb., which he has caught in the afternoon. Well; I have met many anglers in Norway who feel disgusted at such game; they want salmon, and think themselves hardly used if sea trout intrude. But I thank the gods (when I suppose I ought to sit in sackcloth for perverted taste) that up to this present Salmo trutta, great or small, evokes my fervent gratitude, and I can only say that, while I paid my five gaffed salmon the highest respect, I recall with no less satisfaction my seventeen sea trout; and, while serving this week on the grand jury at the Old Bailey, sketched the best of them one after another on the margin of the prisoners' calendar, and found a true bill for at least the fine fellows of 11 lb., 9 lb., 8 lb., and 7 1/2 lb., which headed the list. They are good enough prisoners for me, anyhow. However, I really believe our captain was after all secretly proud of his ten-pounder, as he sat at the head of the table in the palatial saloon of the magnificent steam yacht of oceanic size. The passengers seemed entranced with their luxurious life and the charms of the fiords they were visiting, and we heard a concert on board that was really first-rate. A fortnight of this sort of yachting for twelve or fifteen guineas is, verily, one of the privileges of this age of enterprise.
On my way south I broke the journey to spend a couple of days upon another river, but only added a few sea trout to my achievements. The salmon were plentiful enough, but they were waiting, sullenly yet restlessly, for a rise of water, and I left the two anglers, owners of the river, who were living in a snug Norwegian home of their own, waiting, too, with patient resignation. There they were amongst the fishing tackle, guns, cartridge cases, dogs, and miscellaneous paraphernalia essential to noble sportsmen who, poor fellows, in these hard times, can only spend a few months every year with a lovely fiord under their noses, and a few hundredweights of salmon, and odds and ends of reindeer, blackcock, and ryper now and then to engage their attention. I wonder no more that English sportsmen go a little mad about their beloved Norway; and that hard-working judges, bishops, university dons, and professional men of all sorts and conditions, find their best balm of Gilead amongst its picturesque valleys and hills. Of course the sportsmen are not always happy. If in the smoking-room on our homeward passage A. was able to remark that he had finished up, two days previously, with a 30-lb. salmon, and B. stated the heavy totals on a few favoured rivers, there were C. and D. to bemoan deplorable blanks, and tell of anglers who had gone home disgusted before their term of tenure expired; indeed, one fellow passenger whispered me near the smoke stack that a gentleman of his acquaintance had paid close upon 400 pounds for a river that yielded him just thirty fish for the entire season.
GLIMPSES OF CANADA, ETC.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say that my visits to both Canada and the States were on journalistic work which gave little time for play of any sort, and I half fear that I only introduce these scraps of fishing matter to get an excuse for re-telling my own story of how I caught a big "'lunge" in Canada, in the early autumn of 1897. In the Natural History books of the Province of Ontario the designation is Maskinonge. The word is often made mascalonge, or muscalunge, and, it being less labour to pronounce one than four syllables, people in many districts where the fish is caught, for short call it "'lunge." As offering a minimum strain upon the pen, in this form I will refer to it in the course of my chronicle of how I caught my sample. The fish is, in a word, the great pike (Esox nobilior), and it is to all intents and purposes possessed of the general characteristics of the Esocidae family. Our old friend E. lucius occurs in Ontario waters, and the Indians call it kenosha. The French having, in old days, rendered this kinonge, we can easily understand why the name, as adopted by Ontario, was given. While, however, the pike proper is common to both sides of the Atlantic, the 'lunge is confined to the basin of the St. Lawrence.
My angling friends in the club at Toronto could lay before me a bewildering choice of places where I should have a fair chance of that one 'lunge and one bass with which I professed I would be content. But to do them justice it would require a week of time, and much travel by night and day. After contriving and scheming I discovered that three days would be the utmost I could spare for fishing, and on the advice of friends, Lake Scugog, at Port Perry, was decided upon as a tolerable ground, not more than forty miles from the city. We were set down on the permanent way of the Grand Trunk line about nine o'clock, and were met by a couple of local gentlemen, anglers good and true, who had been advised of our approach, who had kindly come down to guide our footsteps aright, and who welcomed us in the true spirit of sportsmen. First came breakfast in the hotel opposite, or to be exact, first came inquiries of the boatman and all and sundry as to possibilities of sport. The lake was most fair to look upon from the veranda, the water curled by a nice breeze, the sun shining over it, and the abundant woods of an island about two miles from our landing-place.
But the fish had not been biting well for a week. It was incomprehensible, but true, that the boats had never returned so empty of fish as latterly. One shrewd boatman, who fell to our lot for the day, said that the Indians, of whom the small remnant of a tame tribe lived as agriculturists on the island, had a tradition that in August and part of September the 'lunge shed their teeth, and that during this period they never take the bait, or feed in any shape or form. What fish did Scugog contain? Well, there were shiners, suckers, eels—— Oh! sporting fish! Ah, well, there were no trout, but there were 'lunge, perch, and any number of green, or large-mouthed, bass. This was Ben's information, elicited by cross-examination as we sat on the veranda before unpacking our effects.
As to what he considered a reasonable bag, he had often, from a four or five hours' outing, returned with a dozen and a half of 'lunge or bass, the former averaging 9 lb. or 12 lb., the latter 2 lb. or 3 lb. The opening day was June 15, and at daylight the lake, so he said, was alive with boats, each containing its fisherman. He had known a ton of 'lunge and bass landed every day for the first week. I am not to be held responsible for these statements, but everything I subsequently heard from gentlemen who weigh their words and know what they are talking about, confirmed the assertions of the Port Perry professional. 'Lunge of 40 lb. had been taken moreover, but not often. These were the encouragements which dropped like the dew of Hermon; refreshing us into temporary forgetfulness of the undoubted fact that the visitors who had been angling on the lake had met, even on the previous day, with bitter disappointment. The boats had not been able to account for more than perhaps a brace each of four or five pound fish.
Skipper Ben stared in amaze at the preposterous tackle with which I proposed to try and catch my first 'lunge. I had much better take the rig-out provided with the boat. If, however, he disapproved of my equipment, how shall I describe my feelings with regard to the vessel for which (man and tackle included) we were to pay two dollars per diem. It was a canoe of the smallest, built to hold one person besides the man at the small oars. It was impossible to stand up in such a cranky craft, and your seat was about 6 in. from the bottom boards. No wonder all the fishing was done by hand-lines. The local method was simplicity itself. To fifty yards of line of the thickness of sash-cord was attached a large Colorado spoon, armed with one big triangle, and mounted on an eighth of an inch brass wire. The canoe was slowly rowed about, up and down and across the lake, the spoon revolving behind at the end of from ten to fifteen yards of line. All that the angler had to do was to sit tight on his tiny seat in the stern of the cockle-shell, holding the line in his hand, and dodging the inevitable cramp as best he could by uneasily shifting his position from time to time.
This, of course, is trailing in its most primitive form, and it is the method adopted by the majority of fishing folks on Canadian inland waters. Even the grand lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush really) are taken in this way in the spring and fall when they come in upon the shallows. The fish hook themselves, and are generally hauled neck and crop into the boat; but the careful boatman will have a gaff on board for the emergency of a ten-pounder or over. Many, however, do not affect this luxury, but treat great and small alike on the pulley-hauley principle. They say, nevertheless, that few fish are lost. The hooks are so big and strong that there is no reason why they should be lost when once they are securely hooked, as they will almost invariably be by this easy style. The boatman is always maintaining his steady two mile an hour pace, just sufficient in fact to keep the spoon on the spin, and the lightly hooked fish of course quickly find freedom by honest and abrupt tearage. The coarse triangle fairly within the bony jaws would be instantly struck into solid holding ground, and with tackle fit for sharks, there would be no more to be said. Something, however, there would be to be done, and the same simplicity which characterises the style of angling is carried on to the process of dealing with a hooked fish.
"Yank him in," is the order for medium sizes, and I had the opportunity very early of seeing how it was done. We were nearing a canoe in which a gentleman was seated, holding his hand-line over the gunwale, and slightly jerking it to and fro; suddenly he struck with might and main. The effort should, as one would suppose, have wrenched the head off an ordinary fish, and I should say this event often happens with 2-lb. or 3-lb. victims. In this instance there was no harm done. Out of the water, like a trout, ten yards or so astern of the canoe, came a yellow-hued, long, narrow-bodied fish, and presently, hand over hand, it was dragged up to the side and lifted in by sheer might. It was a 'lunge of apparently 7 lb., and the only one taken by the fisher, though he had been out three or four hours.
We had not been long afloat before I began to see that Ben was not far wrong in preferring his rude tackle to mine, though he was all abroad in his reasons for ruling me out of court. His belief, expressed in the vigorous language of the born colonial, was that it was darn'd nonsense to suppose that my line would hold a fish, or that my rod was other than a toy. The difficulty, of course, was with the boat. For the sort of spinning to which we are accustomed in England the thing was useless. The discomfort was vast and continuous, and as the hooks were everlastingly fouling in loose weeds, and the progress of the boat converted the hauling in of the line into not inconsiderable manual labour, the outlook became barren in the extreme. My companion A. in the stern was furnished with the orthodox hand-line, and I sat on the second thwart facing him. The rod rendered this necessary, and A. told me afterwards that Ben spent most of his time winking and contemptuously gesticulating over my shoulder. Probably this accounted for the number of times he pummelled the small of my back with the clumsily advanced handles of his oars.
My rod, I might explain, was the trolling or sea fishing version of a capital greenheart portmanteau rod, to which I had treated myself in hopes of use in Canadian waters, and was a stiff little pole (in this form) of a trifle over 9 ft. The medium dressed silk trout-line on a grilse winch was about a hundred yards in length, and quite sound, and on a twisted gut trace I had attached a 3-in. blue phantom. Ben impartially, not to say profanely, objected to the lot. We had ample opportunity to admire the very pretty scenery of the lake shores, and the charmingly timbered island which for ten miles diversified the blue water. The depth was seldom over 6 ft. or 8 ft., there were subaqueous forests of weeds in all directions, but there was a kind of channel known to Ben where one had the chance of intervals of peace—spells of clear spinning for A.'s great spoon to starboard and my delicate phantom to port. In those times of tranquil leisure we learned much as to the splendid duck-shooting of the fall and the wonderful stores of fish in the lake.
Scugog is not a show place, but it is beautiful in its quiet way; the surroundings are quite English, and Port Perry is a pleasant type of the small, prosperous Canadian town where nobody perhaps is very rich and nobody very poor. The aforesaid island in the centre makes the lake appear quite narrow, and, indeed, its length of fourteen miles is double its widest breadth with island included. And it is one of a chain of Ontarian waterways so vast that, had we been so minded and properly prepared, we might have passed through close upon 200 miles of lakes and connecting channels. Two hours of incessant hauling in of weed bunches, and no sign of a run of any other kind, were enough; you could not be always admiring the green slopes and woodlands of maple and pine; discussions of local topography cannot be indefinitely prolonged.
Thank the gods my good shipmate and travelling companion A. was cheery to the backbone, as, in truth, a good-looking fellow of fourteen stone, and with nothing to do but travel about the world and enjoy himself, ought to be. Being no angler, it was all the same to him whether fish sulked or frolicked; his patience was as inexhaustible as his amiability, and when my questioning of Ben about fish and fishing ceased by force of self-exhaustion, A. would quietly cut in with reminiscences of his recent run out to Colorado, former campings in the Rockies, adventures in Japan and all parts of Europe, and personal acquaintance with the States and the Dominion. The trouble that dear A. saved me in looking after baggage and tickets, the reliance I felt in his fighting weight and well set-up body, the placid smile with which he took life whatever it might be, were invaluable to me; and, though he accepted the ill-luck of our forenoon as only what he expected, as being, indeed, the ordinary outcome of most fishing expeditions, my chief desire was that he should have the bliss of landing a good fish. For myself I was not hopeful, and we went fishless ashore in the hot sun at mid-day, glad to release ourselves from the cramped positions in which we had been enduring the discomforts of that wretched skiff.
In the afternoon we went out again. What would I not have given for a boat really fit for the work—a steady, square-sterned craft, on the floor of which one might have stood firm, casting right and left, and able to take every advantage of those weeds which now made trailing a positive nuisance? Ben's theory was that twelve yards of line were enough for his style of business; that though a fish might be temporarily scared aside by the passage of the cockle-shell, it would be just about restored to quiet when the spoon came along, and more likely to dash at it than with a greater length of line. Of course, I stuck to our English ways, and kept my phantom engaged at a distance, when possible, of never less than thirty yards. In course of time Ben's objections and protests were once for all silenced; he gave me up as an opinionated ass, whom it was waste of time to trouble about any more.
"Smack, smack," at last—a momentary sensation at the rod-top. How the fish could have struck at my phantom, doubled up the soleskin body, without, however, touching a single hook of the deadly trio of triangles, was as much a marvel as ever it has been from the beginning. In the course of half an hour I had three such abortive runs at the phantom, and one small fellow of 1 1/2 lb., lightly hooked, bounded into the air and fell back free. Under these circumstances there was little thought of discomfort. Who cared for cramp now? The fish were assuredly on the move, and that one 'lunge of my modest desire was not so remote a possibility as it had been in the forenoon. The chances of friend A. were of course held by Master Ben to be the best of the two, and, in truth, why not? For reasons hinted at above it would have delighted me if it was left for him to prove how unnecessary were all the finer precautions of scientific sport. Such things have happened in salt water, and, it may be, in fresh.
Musingly, as the canoe was proceeding midway between island and mainland, I was thinking of examples of the caprices of piscatorial fortune and of the positive instances when art and skill had been practically put to shame by the rudest methods. From the reverie, and a crouching position on the low seat of the miserable canoe, I was roused as by an electric shock. The rod was jerked downwards almost to the water, the winch flew, and the line, run out at express speed, cut into my forefinger. A., facing me, saw from my expression that something had happened, and, with the instinct of a sportsman, began to pull in his sash-cord and coil it neatly out of the scene of action.
"I have him," I said by way of assurance, and Ben realised that the whirring scream of the winch was not a mere private rehearsal. Growing excited he began to give me directions how to behave under the circumstances, taking it for granted that the rod and line would fulfil all his prophecies of disaster and failure. By the backing of small line, which was now for the first time being rushed off the reel, I knew that my game had in the preliminary dash not stopped under eighty yards, and it seemed therefore as if the great fish that plunged on the surface away in the wake, and leaped 5 ft. or 6 ft. into the air, could have no connection whatever with us. I had seen that kind of thing before, however, with salmon and sea trout, and tingled with joy at the evidence I presently had that the tumble back into the lake had not parted me from my game. Ben noticed as quickly as I did that the line presently slacked, and called Heaven to witness that the darned fish was off, and that he had been predicting such a result all along; the fact was the 'lunge was racing in towards us. I am one of those anglers who hate being pestered by advice when playing a fish, and never pretend to choose my words to the interrupter.
Moreover, Ben had continued pulling, so that, besides the wind behind us and the weight of the fish, whatever it was, against me, I had the way of the boat to assist the enemy; furthermore, he announced his intention of pulling ashore, as he was in the habit of doing with the hand-line operation, and the nearest land was not a yard less than a mile off. Then I opened my mouth and spake with my tongue, and Ben, finding that I could shout bad language as well as he, proved himself after all a fine fellow amenable to orders, and a veritable sport when once he comprehended that here was a fish that must be humoured and not lugged in by brute force. He not only ceased rowing, but quickly tumbled to the trick in other respects. He backed water, and, shortly, was most intelligently taking care that the canoe should follow the fish. We all knew it was worth catching, and from its appearance during its flashing somersault in the air I had estimated it at about 15 lb.
It was a new experience to play a lively fish of respectable dimensions, sitting low and cramped, and fearing to move, in a cockle-shell canoe. If one could have stood up square and fair to the fight the course would have been clear; it would have been something to have knelt, but there was no opportunity for even that modest sort of compromise. And the fish did fight most gamely; certainly, too, with the odds immensely in its favour. Wrist, arms, shoulders, back, and legs of the angler were strained and pained by the efforts necessary to keep the taut line free of the boat, but A. ducked his head deftly once when the fish shot to the left of me at right angles, and lay low until I had it back in line of communication again. Twice the fish tried the expediency of running in towards me, and alarming Ben with the slack line, delighting him in proportionate degree when the winching-in found all taut and safe. So far as we could make out afterwards the fight with my 'lunge lasted half an hour, and it was fighting, too, all the while in the gamest fashion.
Little by little the line was shortened, and the battle, so far as the rod and line went, was virtually won. Aching by this time in every limb, I welcomed the yellow-brown back when it came to the surface a few yards from the canoe. But here was another difficulty. How was the fish to be got into the boat? I could see now that it was certainly twenty pounds, and A. confessed that he had never used the gaff. Ben was out of the question, having his oars to look after, and even if he had been free the position would not allow me to bring the fish up to him. The gaff was strong and big, and it was furnished with a rank barb, generally a detestable implement in my estimation.
Yet it proved our salvation. The gaff handle, I should state, was tapered the wrong way—that is to say, it was smaller at the end where it should have afforded some sort of grip to the hand. A. slipped the barbed affair into the body with great adroitness, but he had no experience of the strength of such customers, and at the mighty plunge it made the gaff slipped out of his hands, and I had my fish (with the added weight of wood and steel) once more on my conscience.
Fortunately the tension on the line had not been relaxed. A. remained cool; Ben ordered him to seize my line. "I'll knock him out of the boat if he does," was the shout of another of the party, with a dulcet aside, "Lay hold of the gaff, old chap; we'll have him yet." And we did have him; A. leaned over, grasped the stick, hoisted the fish, kicking furiously, out of the water, and deposited it amongst our feet, where, in the confined space, there was for awhile an amusing confusion. Ben had a "priest" under his thwart, and by and by I found a chance for a straight smite at the back of the neck. The 'lunge received his coup de grace, and we cooled down to sum up. Truth to tell, the three of us had for the last five minutes been as excited as schoolboys; the odds had been so much against us that the tussle was not what is termed a "gilt-edged security" until the fish lay still in the bottom of the canoe. He had been well hooked far down the throat by one triangle; the phantom with the other two came out of its own accord at the application of the priest, and the double gut of the triangle that remained inside was cut through.
Ben was profuse in his apologies for attempting to interfere and for making light of my rod and line, and frankly explained that he had never seen the like before in 'lunge fishing. The absent triangle lost me two fish in succession, and we went ashore to repair the damages and to weigh the fish. It was absolutely empty, was 4 ft. long, yet it only weighed 24 1/2 lb. For the length it was the narrowest fish I had ever seen. The head was 11 3/4 in. long from outer edge of gill cover to tip of lower snout. Ben showed it in triumph as we walked in procession from the landing-stage to the hotel, and when it became known that it had been caught on a small rod and trout line there was a popular sensation in the nice little town of Port Perry.
Men left their horses and buggies, workpeople threw down their tools and hurried to the scene, mothers caught their children in their arms and held them up to see. Later in the afternoon I killed another 'lunge of about 6 lb., and that too had an empty stomach. A party of American visitors returned at night with four or five of similar size, and every fish presented the same emaciated appearance. There was not a vestige of food in their stomachs. Had my good one been feeding well for a few days previously he would have been many pounds heavier. As it was, I ought to have preserved the skin and brought it home as a specimen, so long and gaunt was it, so different from our deep-bodied English pike, to which it otherwise bore, of course, a close family resemblance. This conclusion I arrived at by the aid of a suggestion from A. when it was too late; and some day I must try and catch a still finer specimen.
Captain Campbell, of the Lake Ontario (Beaver Line), informs me that he once brought over in a whisky cask the head of a maskinonge from the St. Lawrence that was said to weigh 140 lb., and it would really seem that these fish do occasionally run to weights far into the fifties and sixties. I never heard of anyone trying for 'lunge with live baits, or spinning with dead fish and the flights such as we use at home for pike. The use of the big spoon is universal. And I may add that a month later (say October) those fish would not have been quite so much like herrings in their insides.
Green bass and speckled trout are Canadian names, signifying the large-mouthed variety of the black bass for the one part, and our old friend fontinalis for the other. It will be remembered that under the circumstances of brief opportunity and far-distant waters which I have duly explained, my expectations were modest, and hope would have been satisfied with a simple sample each of the black bass, immortalised by Dr. Henshall, and the maskinonge of the lakes. How I caught my first 'lunge has been already told, and the story was, like the fish itself, a pretty long one. I may confess at once, with deep regret, that I have no excuse for length as to black bass, since I did not get even one. I had been warned that only in the early part of the season—the month of June—is there any chance with the fly in lakes, and very little in the rivers. They were, however, to be obtained by bait fishing, and on the day when I killed the 'lunge Ben took me out in the evening equipped with the correct tackle for bass. It consisted of a single piece of bamboo, about 15 ft. long, a strong line a few inches longer, a bung as float, and a hook with 2-in. shank, and gape of about 3/4 in. You will remember this kind of rig-out, only with hook of moderate size, as often used by Midland yokels in bream fishing. It is delightfully primitive. Heavily leaded, you swing out the line to its full extent, and, hooking a fish, haul him in without the assistance of such a superfluous luxury as a winch. There was a kind of bait-can in the bow of the canoe, but I asked no questions, contenting myself with trailing with a 2-in. phantom.
The fishing ground was along the water-grasses and reeds that extended hundreds of yards from the shore into the lake, and very shallow it was. The wind had completely died away, and the sun by six o'clock was well down in the west. Ben by and by told me to wind up, and urged the canoe into the heart of the weeds, in and in, until we were apparently in the midst of a verdant field of high coarse grass. Here he threw out the killick and unwound the line from his fishing pole. Then from the bait-can he took out a half-grown frog and impaled it upon the huge hook, which I now perceived was of the size and blue colour of the eel hooks of our boyhood. Looking around as he made his preparations I began to understand things. There was a uniform depth of 3 ft., and here and there were clearances—small pools, free of vegetation, and of varying dimensions. They might have an area of a couple or a couple of dozen yards. The frog was swished out into these open spaces, and if a bass was there, well and good. The fish was not allowed more than five minutes to make up his mind, and if nothing happened the bait was withdrawn and hurled elsewhere. If the bass mean feeding they let you know it pretty quickly, and in this simple way a fisherman often, in a couple of hours, gets a quarter of a hundredweight or so of them, ranging from 2 lb. to 5 lb.
But after a quarter of an hour with the frog, Ben pronounced the absolute uselessness of remaining any longer. While he was operating I had fixed up my most useful portmanteau-rod with its fly-fishing tops, and with a sea-trout collar, and a small, silver-bodied salmon fly cast over the open spaces. This was no more successful than the frog, and we, as a matter of fact, caught nothing at all that evening. These green bass take the bait voraciously ("like so-and-so bull-dogs," Ben assured me) when they are sporting, and haunt these reedy coppices in incredible numbers. As with the 'lunge so with the bass. I should say that with proper appliances and some approach to a skilful method, the arm, on a favourable day, would ache with the slaughter. One of the canoes next morning at breakfast time brought in a couple of these fish of about a pound weight. They were dark green in colour, fitted up with a big mouth and a spiny dorsal fin, and had all the burly proportions of a perch, minus the hog-shaped shoulders.
That same day two Port Perry gentlemen, keen and good anglers both, left their homes and businesses to drive me and friend A. in a pair horse buggy some nine miles across country to a fishing house belonging to a club of which they were members. Indeed, they were part proprietors, for more and more in Canada every bit of water that is worth the acquisition is taken up for preservation. The club consists principally of professional and business men from Toronto, and the doctors are a large proportion. For the sake of a couple of ponds, and the facilities for damming others out of a picturesque valley, these sportsmen had formed themselves into a company, and bought up some hundreds of acres of land. Their house was a wooden one-storied building in the middle of a fine orchard and garden, and outside the front veranda, where you sat in squatter chairs to smoke the pipe of peace away from the noise of civilisation, there stood a discarded punt converted into a bed of gloriously blooming petunias. It was an ideal spot for week-end outings. The pond nearest the clubhouse had once served the business of a mill long abandoned, and it was full of sunken logs and of fontinalis—always spoken of in Canada as speckled trout, and the same, of course, as the "brook trout" of the States. They were said never to rise to a fly, and they are fished for with live minnows or worms, with float tackle. There was a lower lake less encumbered with snags and submerged timber, made by the club by building a workmanlike dam at the lower end of the property, and the clear little stream which once worked the mill keeps it clear and sweet, after, on the way down the valley, between the two ponds, doing good service at the club hatchery hidden in a lovely thicket of sylvan wildness, and looked after for their brother members by the intelligent farmer, who with his mother and wife takes charge of the clubhouse and fishery. The fun we all had at eventide, sitting in the punts and catching or missing the trout that dragged our floats under, was certainly uproarious, and I am ashamed, now that I am writing in cold blood, to say that I enjoyed it as much as any of the party.
But this was a bad example to friend A., who, as I have previously stated, was "no fisherman." He blandly smiled as I begged him to understand that it was nothing short of high treason to catch such lovely trout with anything other than artificial fly. Just then his float went off like a flash almost close to the punt, and as he fought his fish with bended rod he murmured that, meanwhile, minnow or worm was quite good enough for him. The way in which a fifth member of the party, a youth who had brought us a bucket of minnows (so-called), hurled out half-pounders high in the air, and sent them spinning behind him, was provocative of screams of laughter. In the morning I was anxious to try this lower lake with the fly rod, though warned by the farmer that it was of little use. For the good of A.'s piscatorial soul I, nevertheless, insisted, and the capture of two quarter-pounders with a red palmer, and several short rises, rewarded my efforts in his interests. If he has not received my counsel, and laid it to heart, it will not be because he did not have ocular demonstration of the virtues of fly-fishing. I was not surprised to hear that these club fish were not free risers at the fly, for both ponds were swarming with half-inch and one-inch fry, as tempting as our own minnows, and the trout simply lived in an atmosphere of them. Our Canadian brother anglers here, as elsewhere, are of the real good stamp, sportsmen to the core, pisciculturists, botanists, naturalists, racy conversationalists, and big-hearted to a man. Please fortune I shall shake hands with them another day.
HASTY VISITS TO AMERICA
The untravelled English angler has, pardonably enough, vague notions as to the sport to be had with the rod of a mere visitor in the United States. He fancies generally that he has only to come, see, and conquer; and this is partly because he confuses Canada with the country south of the great chain of lakes. No doubt there is an abundant variety of angling in the States; but here, as at home, you must go far afield. Do not forget that even the best American streams are as easily fished out as our own. Pending the completion of the Exhibition at Chicago, I had been gathering, from reliable sources, some facts that may be of use to those readers who are always craving knowledge in the columns of the fishing papers; and I endeavoured to discover what the casual visitor, finding himself at the best-known cities, may expect without travelling too far from his base of operations. The result of my inquiries, however, is at best only an outline sketch, and it may be that time has brought changes.
Let us suppose that you are in New York. At the termination of the voyage, when you were not engaged in admiring the pretty residences on the wooded slopes of Staten Island, you would look occasionally to the right upon Long Island, one of the lungs of New York, though the city has in itself so clear an atmosphere that people are able to build marble houses with impunity. Still, in the heat of summer the citizens—and small blame to them—make it a rule of flying nearer the ocean, and Long Island is one of their handiest and most appreciated resorts. There are upon it many trout preserves; "ponds" they are called, but we should give them the higher title of lakes with a clear conscience. They are generally maintained by clubs of wealthy members, and each has its comfortable house.
The earliest trout fishing to be found in this country is here. April 1 is the opening day, and the season opened well, though a snap of rough weather during the last fortnight interfered with sport. There are numbers of lady anglers, members of the Long Island colony, and two of them to my knowledge made capital baskets during the Easter week. A New Yorker gets through his business in the city before luncheon, and then, in a couple of hours, he is at the Long Island clubhouse getting into his fishing suit. Fly-fishing only is practised, and the fish are principally fontinalis. Unless otherwise stated, this species is always intended in any reference to trout.
Our brother anglers here are, as a rule, keen sportsmen and honest men, meaning that they are glad whenever they can assist another in securing the recreation which makes fishermen kin all the world over. My chief trouble was that I could make no manner of use of a tantalising list of kindly invitations to cast a fly in Long Island. Then there is another and smaller island at a greater distance, Martha's Vineyard, beloved of old whalers, where there are well stocked trout streams; but it goes quite without saying that all the water near New York City is preserved. Outside, in New York State, the trout fishing opens on April 15, and the favourite country is in the Adirondacks, where the wood-built veranda'd clubhouses are pitched here and there over a vast tract of woods, beside lakes and streams. To reach the Adirondacks you have a fifteen hours' journey by rail, and waggon tracks over hilly, and not macadamised roads, that will account for from two to fifteen hours more, according to the retreat chosen. You are here quite out of the world, and for the nearest fishing grounds you may leave New York by the evening train to-day, and be at work at even-tide to-morrow.
From Boston, the quiet city of studious men and women, who regard their old town still as the "hub of the universe," there are endless possibilities, more or less inland. Connecticut, Vermont, and mountainous New Hampshire, abound in charming minor streams and picturesque scenery. The delights of this New England fishing and camping have been faithfully immortalised in that incomparable prose idyll "I Go a Fishing," by Prime. Maine, however, is the United States angler's paradise. This involves at least a twenty-four hours' journey by rail and steamer, if you would reach the famous lake region of that sporting state. The trout run large, and I have seen the skin of a handsome 9-lb. fontinalis killed there with the fly. There are declared to be even bigger fish than this; but 4-lb. and 5-lb. fish are considered really good specimens. The average is not lower than 2 lb., and 3-lb. fish may be taken as "good." The flies used are never smaller than our sea-trout size, and they are more often larger; but the best anglers catalogue you as a lubber if you wield anything heavier than a boy's rod. I have looked over some fly books in active service, and when some day I find myself in that log-house in the Maine woods which I have in my notebook, I will back my selected half-dozen of our English, Irish, and Scotch sea-trout and lake flies against the best of the Orvis favourites.
Philadelphia, which, from my all too passing and superficial view of it, has the most English-looking suburbs of any city I have seen, does not count for much with the angler. There are some streams in Pennsylvania which yield plenty of small trout, and if you know the proper places, at the head waters and elsewhere, the Delaware and Susquehannah rivers, which, in crossing them, I was assured contained no game fish at all, have very fair black bass streams, while there are what we should rank as burn trout in most of the tributaries tumbling down through the woods and the mountains and hills. As for salmon, I may here remark that I could only hear of one pool in the United States where Salmo salar can be caught. There are heaps of salmon on the Pacific slope, but they are not salar, and not sportive in the rivers to the fly. This pool is the watery fretwork of a dam where the tidal portion of a fifty-mile length of river is ended, and the salmon are therefore caught in brackish water always with the fly. Seventy were taken there the previous year.
Washington—the city still of magnificent distances, though it is gradually filling in the blanks, and is looked forward to as the coming city of the leisure and pleasure classes, who shall live unpolluted by the rank snobbery of New York fashion, the chicanery of Wall Street, and the genius of the almighty dollar, which rules in other cities—Washington, I regret to find, is no better for the angler than Philadelphia. But you get bass fishing in the historic Potomac, and small trout in the hill country of Maryland and Virginia.
On the face of it, Chicago, with its surroundings of prairie and lake, would not tempt the angler. Yet it is in this respect most fortunately placed, and I made the acquaintance of many anglers of the right sort, and enthusiastic enough for anything. It is a marvellous city, of really magical growth and extent, and the energy of the people is appalling. But it is nonsense to call it magnificent in anything but its enterprise and the size of its buildings towering to the sky, and not beautiful. Moreover, it is smoky. Hence the anglers are numerous; they have many incentives to flee from it. The lake yields no angling for the skilled rod. The boys and loafers get, however, plenty of 1/2-lb. perch. The nearest respectable sport for the fly or minnow man is with black bass, in the smaller lakes and connecting rivers within two or three hours' railway journey; and there are six or eight other percoid forms such as striped, calico, and rock bass, and several of the sunfishes, all of which take a fly. The game is not of high repute all the same, and they are somewhat slightingly spoken of as "only pan fish." But they run from 1/2 lb. to 3 lb., and rise voraciously. The next best sport with black bass, which is the game fish most sworn by in this district, is in Northern Illinois and Indiana, fifty miles and more by train from Chicago. Farther afield still are the streams and lakes of Wisconsin, which may be brought into a day's work by starting early. In Northern Wisconsin there are trout in the streams, and muskalonge galore in the lakes. Altogether it is a very fly-fishing state, and heavy creels can be made from the streams falling into Lake Superior. The Michigan and Montana streams enjoy the distinction of holding the indigenous grayling, which take the fly freely, and have their enthusiastic admirers, who protect and cherish them. They are, however, decreasing in numbers and their establishment in other states was still problematical. A 2-lb. Michigan grayling is the maximum, so far as the experience of native observers can fix it. A pound is an honest sample for the creel.
The black bass, as I have said, are prime favourites in the angling resorts of the interior. They spawn any time, according to locality, between April and July; but there is a brief spell of smart fishing before they get on the shallows. This happens during what is called the "spring run"; that is to say, when they are moving from the deep waters of their winter quarters (some think that they hibernate) to the sandy shallows (if they can get sand) of the streams and lakes. Before this, however, the pike-fishers have been having sport, if the waters allow it, in March. The winters here are often open, that of which I saw something, with a snow tempest of three days, being the exceptional season of ten years at least. Sometimes the enthusiasts are piking even in February, getting fish from 2 lb. to 20 lb., which Dr. Henshall, the well-known author and naturalist, pronounces true Esox lucius. This is the fish we often read of as the pickerel, and it is taken with a local minnow some 3 in. long, or one of the spoons, of which America is the cradle.
The black bass, it may be premised, has been transplanted to many states where it did not previously occur, and has taken most kindly to the waters of middle and eastern states, where the croakers predicted it would and could never thrive. The fly-fishers prefer wading, and use a fly large as a small salmon pattern, gut of Mayfly strength, line of corresponding size, and the light ten-feet built-up cane rods, which were first brought into general action in this country. The custom is either to cast across, with a tendency downwards, and to work the fly slightly as it swings round, or to cast down and work back. Three or two flies are used. Minnow fishers are in a minority, and fly-fishing is reckoned the correct method by the angler. Dr. Henshall had had so many "records" that he could not remember offhand his best with fly; but his heaviest bag—and he did not confess it with any pride—was, spinning with the minnow, seventy black bass, averaging 2 lb., in a day. The biggest fish are in the lakes; but a 4-lb. specimen is large anywhere, save in the Gulf States, where all fish seem to reach abnormal dimensions. June and July are the best months for sport in these North-Western States; August, as in England, is a depressing month for the angler; but fishing becomes merry in September and October, and is pursued with zest in the cool evenings, at which time the gorgeous tints of the American fall are deepening. Altogether the autumn fishing is the most enjoyable; for, while the conditions just indicated are to be considered, the water has become thoroughly settled, and there are no fears of flood and disturbance. After spawning, the bass is quickly in condition; as a matter of fact, it is seldom out of it.
There was some rare fun one day with a brace of alligators sent by express from Florida. They were the patriarchs of a considerable consignment, and arrived pretty miserable five days back in wooden boxes. They were put into a lagoon in the open grounds. Then we had bitter wintry gales with snow flurries, and a blizzard which, had the season been earlier and the ground frozen, would have given us a foot of snow. Anyhow, it made the temperature of the lagoon a very unsuitable figure for the alligators, and they had to be looked promptly after. They were driven at length into a bay with poles, and pretty furious they were, lashing round with their tails and snapping viciously. As these fellows were 10 ft. long, the men told off to the duty had to proceed warily, and after an hour's exciting sport succeeded in lassoing them one after the other round the neck, yanking them ashore, and bustling them into wooden cases made expressly for their accommodation. They were at once taken to the warm interior of the horticultural building, and I saw them spending their Sabbath in some degree of comfort in the tepid water of the basin, without even guessing that in the old country it was Shakespeare's day.
Some of the queer fish swimming about in the big aquarium tanks naturally drew my attention. Carriers from Florida and elsewhere were arriving every day with new specimens, and I could see, in a quarter of an hour's stroll round the circular annexe, more live fish than I had ever seen in three of the largest aquariums known in England, had they been combined into one. There were some large fellows, something like pollack, cruising around, and these are called buffaloes. Insinuating their slow course through the crowd were fresh-water gar-fish with long spike noses. The catfish, with its greasy chubby body, portmanteau mouth, and prominent wattles, were precisely like those we used to catch (and eat sometimes) in Australia. Carp were present in numbers, including the mirror and leather varieties, but carp culture was not so fashionable as it was in the States. My eyes were gladdened with a grand lot of tench, in the primest colouring of bright bronze; they were raised from some of our British Stock. A whole tank was filled with two-year-old fontinalis; another with young lake trout, handsome 12-in. examples at two years old, and not easy at a glance to distinguish from fontinalis. Then came a tank of young sturgeon; and, in a general assembly next door, were a few wall-eyed pike; this is really a pike-perch, differing in the markings, however, from the zander of Central Europe.
A most droll-looking customer is the paddle fish. With body suggesting a compromise between sturgeon and catfish, he has a long, perfectly straight duck bill, and so seems to be always shoving ahead of him a good broad paper knife nine or ten inches long. This weapon is used for digging up the bed of the river, but if it could be insinuated out of the water into a drowsy angler's leg it would probably make him sit up. As the paddle is as long as the fish the creature presents a really farcical appearance. The species runs to a hundredweight, I believe, in the Mississippi.
There was a river form that seemed particularly anxious to come to the front that is called the sea trout, from its rough-and-ready resemblance to that species, but its real name is the weak-fish—a sad come-down for any creature. There was a puffed-out beast, with velvet jacket, zebra markings, and turquoise eye, which was a perfect monster of ugliness, but I did not catch its name. Its head was as much a caricature as a pantomime mask.
On another page I mentioned the killing of a fontinalis trout of over 9 lb., and I begged the captor to tell me the story of his prize. "Why, certainly," said Mr. Osgood; "I caught that fish with the rod, and the place was a typical anglers' paradise. You'll experience that for yourself when you keep that promise you have made me. You see, when I made my first cast—— Oh! I beg your pardon. Begin at the beginning must I? I understand; you want to give your English brother anglers—and my brother anglers too, I suppose?—an idea of what a fishing expedition is like out here, do you? Then I begin first at New York.
"You take the evening boat at 5.30 for Boston, fare four dollars. There is beautiful sleeping accommodation, the Sound is smooth water all the time, and you get to Boston at half-past seven next morning. Better get your breakfast on board before you land, and then take the 8.30 Boston and Maine line train, reaching Portland at noon. Then you switch on to the Grand Trunk system for Bryant's Pond, reached at 4.20. Here you take the stage coach with a team of six horses, runners and fliers all. The road is pretty hilly, however, and your twenty-mile drive brings you to Andover for early supper, having on the road crossed—coach team, and everything—a wide river (the Androsciggin) by a float, hauled over by a rope. You stay at Andover for the night, and next morning continue the journey in a birchboard waggon with a pair of horses. This is a delightful drive through winding woods along the side of a hill, crossing numbers of small streams.
"Eventually you enter the Narrows, from which you emerge into Mollechuncamunk, a small Indian name that takes practice to pronounce. It is necessary to mention it nevertheless, because, in the river between it and Mooseluckmegunquic, you find the largest trout. Indian name too? Why cert'nly. It tells its own story pretty well also, but no Indian chief gets any moose, or calls for his gun there, any more. Now then we are on the spot. It is in this stream, between the two lakes, in a pool 500 ft. and 400 ft. below the dam, that the trick was done.
"The pool is magnificent, alive and streaming all over, and varying from 2 ft. to 20 ft. You can see the trout in the clear water lying on the bottom in any number; lovely fish, ranging from 1/2 lb. to 7 lb. or 8 lb. About 200 ft. from the shore, and practically facing this pool, is our wood-built hotel, one and half stories, with wide veranda covered with woodbine, green lawn, and flower beds in front, blooming with geraniums and pansies. This is the anglers' camp, and the happiest hours of my life have been spent there. We have twenty-seven rooms, and they are all lined with native pine, and varnished and kept as clean as a tea saucer. The roar of that pool is so musical that if it ever stops you cannot sleep. The people of the house are excellent people, good sportsmen, and men and women alike just devote themselves to making the angling boys happy and comfortable. You pay your two dollars a day for board and lodging, and live like fighting cocks—plenty of fruit and vegetables, and any variety of butcher's meat and side dishes. You can fish from the shore if you like, but a boat is best. You can hire one for two dollars a week, and if you want a competent guide to manage it, that will cost you two and a half dollars a day, for labour is not cheap here, and these guides are most skilful and experienced. If you have them you have forty miles of lake to fish, as well as the dam pool. However, let us suppose you go out in your own boat. One peculiarity of the pool is, that wherever you anchor you will have a down-stream wind, and that is what you want here. Out with your 40-lb. weight, and there you are at anchor.
"And now we come to September 18 last year. It was Sunday, a day upon which I seldom fish. At the bottom of the pool, however, a large trout had been seen rising, and lots of men had been trying for it. So I went out at the most favourable hour—five in the afternoon, with my 10-ft. Kosmie rod, weighing exactly 6 1/4 ounces. I like myself to fish with a single fly, and I anchored my boat about 30 ft. from the head of the outfall sluice. The fly was the B. Pond, so called because it is a favourite on a lake of that name, and, as you will see, it was a 2 per cent. Sproat hook. These big fish have a habit of showing on the top, and I had marked where it rolled. It had been in the same place for quite a week, and we all knew about it, and had even decided that it was a female fish, as, indeed, it turned out to be. So we got to speak of her as the Queen of the Pool; and it was because I had been challenged to catch her by the score of fellows who had been trying for her that I went out on this particular day. I took boat an hour before I intended to fish, and dropped quietly down, bit by bit, at intervals, to the spot I had marked in my eye. It was not far from the head of the sluice, and, therefore, a most critical position. I had worn the B. Pond stuck in my hat for days, so that it should be quite dry. I only allowed myself line 2 ft. longer than my rod. After a few flicks with my left hand I delivered a business cast with my right, and in an instant she came up with a roll, and I struck and hooked.
"There was no need to shout. The Queen of the Pool leaped two feet out of water and then made straight for the sluice. This was the dilemma I had feared all along, and my plan of action had been well thought out beforehand. I raised and held firm my rod, and let the fish and it settle the whole business on a tight line. She often brought the top curving right down to the water, but I never departed from my plan. I kept the rod at an angle of about forty-five degrees throughout, and risked all the consequences. The men from the bank, of course, shouted 'Give her line,' but I knew what my rod could do, and knew that all the rigging was to be trusted.
"This went on for an hour and five minutes. Sometimes the fish made for the boat, sometimes for the sluice, and the rod was never still, but she had to give in. At last another boat came and fastened to mine, and the guide in it after three unsuccessful shots dipped her out in the net. I need not tell of the excitement there was when we got ashore. The fish was there and then weighed and measured, and there and then entered on the records. Weight 9 lb. 2 oz., length 27 1/2 in., girth 17 in. She was a most handsome fontinalis, and we counted ninety-three vermilion spots on one of her sides."
After this story from an experienced angler, whose word is never doubted, I was very anxious to see that small rod. The fish, as described, was before my eyes; I handled the fly (what at least was left of it), and can describe it. B. Pond was really a fair-sized salmon fly—turkey wing, orange body, and claret hackles, with the gold tip of the Professor. The collar was of picked medium gut stained black, many of the American anglers contending that this is the colour least obtrusive to fish. The line was strong, but not large. The rod was just as small as described, and certainly a masterpiece of work.
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On returning to New York, after my visit to Chicago, and delightful day at Niagara Falls, it was not until I arrived at Albany that I saw anything in the shape of scenery which could be compared to England; and very sorry was I not to be able to go across the river and ramble about the town, that seemed to be environed with pleasant meadows and abundant foliage—the type of scenery one loves in the old country.
The run down the Hudson river, even in the railway train, was a continued delight; for the scenery, where it is not magnificent, is always picturesque. In the summer there is a service of steamers from New York to Albany, up and down; but just as I was too soon for the fishing, so was I too soon for the summer excursions. The knowledge that the boats would begin to run in three or four days' time was no consolation to me. Had it been otherwise I should have left the train at Albany and taken the Hudson steamer. Still, I had 150 miles of ever varying scenery, with the noble Hudson on my right hand nearly the entire distance. You soon get accustomed to the great white buildings, that at first remind one of a covered ship-building yard, but which you soon discover are the ice-houses in which is stored the cooling material for the cunning summer drinks which the American loves. By and by mountain masses appear in the distance, and the broad meadow land narrows, until you are confronted by bold headlands rising often uprightly from the water.
Of course, the Catskill Mountains are the piece de resistance of this trip, and amongst the places where one would like to stop is Fishkill, a few miles below Poughkeepsie, the points of beauty being the city of Newburgh, over the water, and the widening of the river known as Newburgh Bay. Then come the fine Highlands of the Hudson, with massive granite precipices, and Storm King towering boldly 1,529 ft. above the level. West Point succeeds; and there is more beautiful scenery at Peekskill. After the State prison of Sing Sing we run past the Sleepy Hollow country, with associations of Knickerbocker, Rip Van Winkle, and the romantic Dutch citizens of old New Amsterdam. The Palisades (twenty miles of lofty, rugged natural wall) are a fine finish to the run.
There seemed to be enough nets and fishing apparatus along the Hudson to depopulate the stream, but there is some very good angling of a common sort to be obtained there. Striped bass, white perch, pickerel, sun-fish, frost-fish, and catfish are amongst the game, and trout are to be found in many of the tributary brooks. The New Yorkers, I found, also fish the Mohawk, where there are plenty of pike, pickerel, and perch, pike being most abundant. The baits are crabs, crickets, and minnows. Expensive as many things were in America, boats, at any rate on waters of this kind, could be had much cheaper than in England, 50 to 75 cents per day being a usual charge.
Mr. Osgood, the slayer of the big fontinalis, had been round the country, and I found him amongst his fishing tackle in New York, showing rods and flies to an admiring trio of anglers, who, with the near approach of June, were making ready their outfit. I spoke in terms of bitter disappointment at my fate in having to leave the country without even seeing a trout stream. I had three days to spare before the boat sailed, and when Mr. Osgood was free he began to think what could be done. The result was that he took me over and introduced me to Mr. Harris, the editor of the American Angler, an illustrated magazine of fish, fishing, and fish culture, issued monthly. When he learned my troubles he made a suggestion, which suggestion being jumped at by me, he sat him down, with the business-like promptitude by which our Trans-atlantic cousins save a good deal of time in the course of the day, wrote a letter, and the thing was done. The letter was an injunction to someone to take care of me and show me the best that was to be seen. Mr. Osgood kindly allowed his business to slide for a day or so, and in an hour we were crossing to New Jersey, and were soon on board a train bound for Rockland County. The scenery here also was quite English, of the pleasantest pastoral type; for we were passing through highly cultivated farms, in conditions of agriculture that had not yet brought the owner and cultivator of the soil under such a cloud of dismal distress as we had experienced at home. A buggy was waiting for us at the station, and we had a couple of miles' drive, finished by turning out of the high road and galloping down a sandy track, across a rustic bridge, and through a charming plantation.
On a knoll, surrounded by thickets just showing leaf, stood a neat wooden structure with a veranda running around it. A couple of setters and a pointer in a kennel welcomed us by frantic barking, but for the time that was the only sign or sound of life. We were in a sylvan solitude, and somewhere near was heard the musical flow of water through the tangled copse. The good lady who had charge of the clubhouse eventually came forward and read the letter which made me free of the house. It was not, however, till dusk that her husband, the bailiff, appeared, and we therefore had no opportunity, as we had hoped to do, of any evening fishing, but we had a hearty dinner, beautifully cooked and prepared in one of the cosiest sportsman's retreats I have ever entered. The woodwork of the interior was beautifully finished and polished; the furnishing was just enough for comfort; and the bracing air and wafted murmurs that came to us, as we smoked our pipes on the veranda, were most grateful. Mr. Harris had kindly put into my hands a copy of his American Angler, describing the birth of the club, which may be taken to be a representative angling club for city gentlemen in America. It was called the Quaspeake Club, and the house was pitched close to the Demorest brook. This was the water the music of which we had heard, and from our elevated position on the veranda we could see it; a little to the west, and down below, it broke into a miniature cascade and was then lost among the low-lying alders which hid the course of the stream. This clubhouse was about ninety minutes by rail from New York; and in the season the members escaped from the city by the four o'clock train, got a couple of hours' trout fishing before night, and were back to business again by nine o'clock next morning.
A DEVASTATED ARCADIA
Thirteen years ago it was my happiness to spend two or three days at an angler's paradise, a veritable Arcadia then, in one of the districts the earliest to be ploughed red by the hoofs of a lawless and brutal invader in the recent war. In the course of a short month this fruitful land of peace and plenty, ready for the ingathering of a bounteous harvest, was devastated by the unspeakable savagery of a soldiery whose name will henceforth be a byword amongst all civilised peoples. It must surely be so, for the records of murders, robberies, and outrages unspeakable suffered without warning, without provocation by a prosperous and inoffensive people, will be a textbook of inhumanity and wrong for generations to come.
The passing of wounded Belgian soldiers in English streets sadly reminded us of what had happened in their unhappy country; of cities, towns, and villages looted and left in ashes; and of the devil let loose in Arcady. Only to think of it! In the summer of 1914 you might, as it were to-night, dine in London, travel luxuriously by the Harwich express, cross the North Sea, survey promising scenes of industry and agriculture from the railway carriage, glance at Brussels and Namur on the way, see the Mayflies dancing over a lovely trout stream, have driven over miles of sweet woodland road, gone out in the boat and caught your first fish, and slept in the absolute repose of a charming rural retreat. Just in such a fashion did my old friend Sir W. Treloar and I in a bygone June gain the Chalet du Lac, on the skirts of the Belgian Ardennes, to enjoy the hospitality of our English host, Mr. F. Walton, of lincustrian fame. All this was suddenly cut off from the outer world and overrun by barbarian hordes, who feared not God, neither regarded the rights of man. The Arcady had become a stricken land of desolation. It is close on twenty years since we visited that beautiful spot, but the memory of it abides. Here are impressions set down at the time:
"Soon after leaving Namur the train passes through beautiful forest scenery. You are nearing the Ardennes, and for miles you follow the course of a typical trout stream, ever rushing and gliding from cool woods to greet you. There were on that seventh day of June Mayflies in the air, but the glaring sun and clear water revealed no sign of a rising trout in any of the pools that came under observation. Something after five o'clock of the afternoon on this particular week-end outing the railway was done with, and right pleasant was the change to an open carriage and the shaded five miles woodland drive to the Chalet du Lac, built by my host on a lake of some fifty acres. The supports of the veranda were, in fact, piles driven into the bed of the lake, and the house was not only charmingly situated, but, having been designed by its owner, a practical man of great artistic taste, was charming in itself. The eye in every direction rested upon and roamed over splendid masses of forest trees; they flourished down to the water's edge and fell away and around in receding tiers, becoming grand dark masses of pine on the distant horizon of mountain range. So absolutely out of the world was this tranquil spot that I saw a deer come out of the thicket and drink of the lake while I was playing a fish."
With my memory of that holiday quickened by the news from Belgium, I called upon Mr. Walton in Berkeley Square to learn what had happened to his delightful fishing quarters. He was in his eighty-first year then, but hale and hearty, and on the look-out for some trout water that should replace what he feared was now a ruined home. He had had no word from Les Epioux since the war, but we knew that the enemy had been all around. The chalet is but a quarter of a mile off the main route from Sedan to Libramont, which is the junction station for Brussels. It being an altogether undefended district, the enemy would be at ease there, and perhaps have taken toll of the deer and fish which might be secured by some of the sneak methods of warfare at which they were adepts. The pictures and books of the chalet would be portable loot to anyone who valued them more than clocks and cooking utensils, but the books would certainly reveal a hated Englishman as the owner, and on the whole we really could not expect to find the chalet above ground, unless some admiring enemy had earmarked it as his private property, on the chance of Belgium becoming a German province.
All that Mr. Walton had gathered from the war news was that there had been a cavalry engagement at or near Florenville, five miles distant. There was just the chance that the invaders had to be hustled off on the quick march before discovering those lakes, for about that phase of the operations the tide of battle was setting hotly to the west, and, as we know, according to the enemy's time-table, there was to be in a week or so a grand victorious entry into Paris, previous to a glorious descent upon English shores. There was a chance, therefore, that the Chalet du Lac remained serenely whole by the lakeside. I tried to cheer Mr. Walton by these surmises, but he shook his head, remarking, "I am afraid I shall never see my dear little chalet again, or, if so, everything dreadfully mutilated." So we turned the conversation, and I beguiled him into telling me once more the history of his connection with the Epioux lakes. Being a good, all-round sportsman, having been raised on a Yorkshire country estate, where there was abundant work for both rod and gun, he made, of course, the Field his weekly study, and found the advertisement columns as interesting to read as any other.
There, when settled in the world of London, he saw the fishing advertised as an eligible resort, where you might get your angling for a few shillings per day. He went over, and found that the lakes were occupied by two English pisciculturists, and that the water was in a measure stocked. Mr. Walton was so pleased with his fishing, especially in the upper lake, that he at once took a fancy to the place, and arranged for due warning should the tenancy become vacant, as seemed to be likely before long. In about eighteen months the result was that the lease was secured.
Materials were sent from England by Mr. Walton, and the chalet built as described above. There was one German name at any rate mentioned by him with affectionate regard, namely, the late Herr Jaffe, who was called in to assist in stocking. This was thoroughly done. Rainbow trout were in the fashion then, and 300 pounds worth of them were promptly introduced. They took most kindly to the water, and as they were 6,000 strong to begin with, the fishing soon became good indeed. That it was so when the alderman and I visited the chalet, quotation from the article already tapped for present use may testify:
"The sport was so good that the details would become monotonous. I say nothing about the baskets made by the two friends who also fished, save that my host and myself were, at the end, close within touch of one another's totals. We went afloat after breakfast and fished till luncheon; went out again when the sun was declining, fishing from about seven till nine. As I have stated, my first evening (which was particularly interesting, because there I was at the other end of Belgium catching fish at the hour corresponding with that of the previous day when I was taking my seat in the Great Eastern express for Harwich at Liverpool Street) accounted for twelve trout; the next day's bag was forty-eight (twenty-six in the forenoon and twenty-two in the evening); the following day's was fifty (twenty-two in the forenoon, twenty-eight in the evening); and on the last day, which was rough as to wind till the afternoon, my record was fourteen in the forenoon and thirty-one in the evening quiet.
"My host had a good deal of correspondence to attend to, and I was often out alone, but his gillie reported that he had placed in the great floating well moored off the veranda 273 fish, the produce of our two rods during the period specified. These figures must not be accepted as evidence of greedy fishing or anything of that kind, nor are they written down in boastfulness. They are given simply because they record the story of the stocking, and because the sport, which, on the face of it, looks not unlike slaughter, was part of the necessary work of keeping down the head of fish in the lake. 'Kill as many as you can; there are far too many,' was the sort of order one need never hesitate to obey. The majority of these rainbow trout were apparently in the condition best described as well-mended. The biggest fish I took was a golden-brown fario of 1 1/4 lb., probably an old inhabitant; and there were pounders amongst the few fontinalis taken.
"The point to which I trust to have brought the reader is that here was a lake which in the matter of sport may be regarded as an angler's paradise, and I may add that the success I enjoyed is the common experience. The young ladies often caught their two dozen trout in a two or three hours' paddle on a lovely sheet of water set in glorious surroundings of forest in which the wild boar lurks and the deer hides. Nobody was sent empty away. Just as a change from the chalk streams or other rivers at home, a day or two of such boat fishing is a real restful treat. Every loch fisher knows what I mean, and we need not talk about skill. In my boat during this visit I had one day the company of the worthy city knight who had caught his first trout on the day of my arrival. His worship genially allowed me to lecture him as to the simple rules for casting a fly, and when he would swish a three-quarter pound fish aloft in the air as if it were an ounce perch, to use language for which he would have fined me at the Mansion House. After losing two rainbows in this wild work he got well into the practice of casting and playing, and so, quite in workmanlike style, he caught seven good fish, besides breakages."
In later years there was a considerable change in the character of the fishing. The rainbows from Herr Jaffe had been installed something over two years when they and we foregathered in this pleasant manner, and the fish caught would average as near 3/4 lb. as one could guess. As time went on it was evident that they did not flourish in the style usual to Salmo irideus. Mr. Walton was puzzled, and, in truth, so was Herr Jaffe. Amongst the stock planted in the principal lake there must have been an odd fontinalis or two, and by and by these brilliant fish were taken, of 1-lb. and 1 1/2-lb. size, freely rising at a fly. In a word, the fontinalis seemed in a brief space to take possession and the rainbows to decrease correspondingly. The first specimen Mr. Walton caught he put back as a rarity, but in a year or so they were not by any means strangers to be coddled. On the contrary they bred well, as indeed did the rainbows. The latter, however, after five or six years gradually deteriorated, while the fontinalis flourished and held their own for a while. Latterly they, too, had gone the way of all fontinalis, had become scarcer and scarcer, and it was a rare thing to catch one where they formerly abounded.
The story of Mr. Walton's tenancy of sixteen years is thus an interesting chapter in fish culture. That must be my excuse for apparently labouring this matter of stocking, more especially as there is still a curious development to unfold. It should be stated that the lake with which we are now concerned had, previous to the introduction of rainbows, been emptied and restocked, leaving probably a few of the original brown trout behind. Mr. Walton thought that there were some Loch Levens, and that these in recent years asserted themselves, and, as he put it, "came to their own." But he went on to add that a few years ago he had put some minnows into the lake by the chalet, and that they had multiplied like the Hebrews of old till they literally swarmed. As a natural consequence the trout had become bad risers, and the growing scarcity of natural flies suggested that the minnows, by preying upon larvae, have had a share in this decline. The trout meanwhile had grown big and fat, as they naturally would do, fellows of 3 lb. and upwards being not uncommon. Mr. Walton fished with nothing but the fly, and had specimens of 3 lb. to 5 lb. so taken traced on cardboard and adorning the chalet walls, if haply they escaped the marauders.