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´╗┐Title: Fish Stories
Author: Abbott, Henry, 1850-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Fish Stories" ***




Copyright 1919


AN ALLEGED humorist once proposed the query, "Are all fishermen
liars, or do only liars go fishing?" This does not seem to me to be
funny. It is doubtless true that a cynical attitude of suspicion and
doubt is often exhibited on the recital of a fishing exploit. I
believe the joke editors of magazines and newspapers are responsible
for the spread of the propaganda of ridicule, skepticism and distrust
of all fish yarns, regardless of their source. The same fellows have
a day of reckoning ahead, for the circulation of that ancient but
still overworked mother-in-law joke.

It is quite possible that some amateur fishermen, wishing to pose as
experts, are guilty of expanding the size or number of their catch,
upon reporting the same. But I cannot conceive of a motive sufficient
to induce one skilled in handling the rod to lie about his fish. The
truth always sounds better and in the case of a fish story, truth is
often stranger than any fish fiction.

In my own experience and observation I have found that the more
improbable a fish story sounds the more likely it is to be true. The
incredulous attitude of the average auditor, also, is discouraging,
and often reacts against himself, as thus some of the very best fish
stories are never told. To me, it seems a pity that through these
Huns of history many charming and instructive tales of adventure
should be lost to literature and to the unoffending part of the

The fellows whose exploits are here set down, seldom mention their
fishing experiences. They are not boastful, and never exaggerate.
They do not speak our language. I have, therefore, undertaken to tell
their fish stories for them.

  H. A.

Fish Stories
Henry Abbott

BIGE had the oars and was gently and without a splash dipping them
into the water, while the boat slowly glided along parallel to the
shore of the lake. We had been up around the big island and were
crossing the bay at the mouth of Bald Mountain Brook, which is the
outlet of the pond of that name, located in a bowl shaped pocket on
the shoulder of Bald Mountain three miles away. I was in the stern
seat of the boat with a rod and was casting toward the shore, hoping
to lure the wily bass from his hiding place under rocky ledge or lily
pad, when I discovered another and a rival fisherman.

  [Illustration: The Osprey]

He was operating with an aeroplane directly over our heads and about
two hundred feet above the lake. Slowly sailing in circles, with an
occasional lazy flap of wings to maintain his altitude, and at
intervals uttering his sharp, piercing, hunting cry, the osprey had a
distinct advantage over us, as with his telescopic eye he could
penetrate the lake to its bottom and could distinctly see everything
animate and inanimate in the water within his hunting circle. He
could thus, accurately, locate his prey, while we could not see
deeply into the water and were always guessing. We might make a
hundred casts in as many places, where no bass had been for hours. So
I reeled in my line, laid the rod down in the boat and gave my entire
attention to watching the operations of the fish hawk.

For about ten minutes the aeroplane fisher continued to rotate
overhead; then I observed that the circles were smaller in diameter,
and were descending in corkscrew curves, until from a height of about
fifty feet the body of the bird shot straight down and struck the
water about twenty-five yards from our boat with the blow of a spile
driver's hammer, throwing a fountain of spray high into the air. For
a few seconds nothing was visible but troubled waters; then appeared
flapping wings and the floundering shining body of a big fish,
lashing the water into a foam, through which it was difficult to see
whether bird or fish was on top. Suddenly, both disappeared under
water. Bige excitedly yelled, "He's got his hooks into a whale of a
fish! He'll never let go! He'll be drowned! Gosh!!" Then he rowed the
boat nearer to the place of battle. A few heart beats later, and the
fight was again on the surface. Wings flapped mightily, fish wriggled
and twisted and again the water was churned into foam. We now plainly
saw the two pairs of ice-tongs-talons of the bird, firmly clamped on
the body of the pickerel, which exceeded in length (from head to
tail) about six inches, the spread of wings from tip to tip. Wings
continued to pound air and water but the big fish could not be lifted
above the surface. One more desperate pull on the pickerel's
fin-shaped oars and the bird went under water for the third time, but
with his wicked claws as firmly clamped into the quivering body as
ever. Coming to the surface more quickly the next time, the osprey
swung his head far back, and with his ugly hook shaped beak struck
the fish a mighty blow on the back of the head. The pickerel
shivered, stiffened, and lay still.

The fight was over, but the panting hawk still hung on to his victim.

Recovering his breath in a few minutes, the bird spread his wings and
with much flapping, laboriously towed the dead fish along on the
water across the lake, where he dragged it up on a sand beach. Here
he sat for a long time, resting. Then with his hooked beak he carved
up that pickerel for his strenuously acquired meal. I have many times
seen hawks catch fish, but on all other occasions they have been able
to pick up the struggling fish and fly away with it. This fellow
hooked onto a fish so big he could not lift it.

FOUR miles up the river and about five miles eastward over Bear
Mountain, brought Bige and me to "Hotel Palmer" on the shore of
Sargent Pond. One room and bath were available and we took both, the
latter in the pond.

We had just enough time to finish supper before dark. The dishes had
to be washed by lantern light. In the middle of the night we heard a
"Porky" crawling over the roof, dragging his heavy spine covered tail
over the boards. It sounded like the scraping of a stiff wire scratch
brush. We heard him sniff and knew that he was seeking the food in
our pack basket, which his sensitive nose told him was somewhere
near. We hoped he would become discouraged and go away, but he
continued his explorations over our heads a long time, interfering
with our efforts to sleep; so a lantern was lighted and we went out
and threw sticks of wood and stones at him.

The porcupine came down that roof in the same manner that he comes
down a tree trunk, tail first, but the roof boards were steep and
slippery and his toe nails would not stick as they do in the rough
bark of a tree, so he came down hurriedly, landing with a thud on a
rotten log at the back of the cabin. In the morning we discovered
that a lot of porcupine quills were sticking vertically in the log so
that a section of it resembled an inverted scrubbing brush.

  [Illustration: Hotel Palmer]

Hotel Palmer was built several years ago, by George, Dave and Leslie.
When the law respecting camps on State lands became effective, it was
torn down. But on the occasion of the porcupine incident, it was open
for the reception of guests by permission.

After breakfast, we found Dave's boat hidden in the bushes in the
specified place. During the day we hunted and got several partridges
which we proposed to roast later. That evening after supper, while
Bige was cutting some firewood, I took the boat and my rod and went
out on the pond to get some trout for breakfast.

It was just as the sun was dropping below the western hills, and
there was a gorgeous golden glow in the sky. The breeze had dropped
to a gentle zephyr that hardly caused a ripple on the surface of the
water, so I allowed the boat to slowly drift while I was casting. A
tree had fallen into the pond, and sitting in its branches near the
tree top, close to the water and about fifty feet from the shore, I
discovered a coon. He, also, was fishing, and I was curious to learn
just how he operated.

I soon found that the coon was not without curiosity since he, just
as eagerly, was watching my operations. As the boat slowly approached
the treetop his sharp, beady eyes followed the movement of my flies
as the rod whipped back and forth. It occurred to me that he might be
seriously considering the advisability of adopting a fly rod for use
in his fishing business.

  [Illustration: The Coon]

Just as the boat passed the treetop and but a few feet from it, a
good sized trout appeared at the surface and with a swirl and slap of
his tail grabbed one of my flies and made off with it toward the
bottom. Instantly the coon became very excited. His body appeared
tense; his ring-banded tail swished from side to side; his feet
nervously stepped up and down on the tree branch, like a crouching
cat who sees a mouse approaching, and his snapping eyes followed the
movement of my line as it sawed through the water while the fish
rushed about, up and down, under the boat and back again. And when
the trout made a jump above the surface and shook himself, the coon
seemed to fairly dance with joy. Presently, the fish, now completely
exhausted, appeared at the surface lying on his side, while I was
reeling in the line; when the coon slipped into the water, grabbed
the fish in his mouth and swam ashore. Climbing up the bank he
turned, grinned at me and went into the bushes with my trout, now his
trout, in his mouth and about three feet of leader trailing behind.

BILL stood four feet three inches in his stockings, and if Bill had
ever been on a scale, he would have tipped it at seven pounds and six
ounces. Bill's body was about the size of a white leghorn hen. He was
mostly legs and neck.

Abe Lincoln once expressed the opinion that "a man's legs should be
long enough to reach the ground." Bill was a wader by inclination and
of necessity. Long legs were, therefore, required in his business,
and having begun life with a pair of long legs, Bill's body was
mounted, so to speak, on stilts, high in the air, and he found it
necessary to grow a long neck so that when he presented his bill it
might reach to the ground. This long neck was ordinarily carried
gracefully looped back above his body in the form of a letter S. On
the rare occasions when Bill straightened this crooked neck of his,
it shot out with the speed of an electric spark, and he never was
known to miss the object aimed at.

At the upper end of Bill's long neck his small head was secured, and
from it drooped an eight inch beak, which opened and closed like a
pair of tailor's shears.

Bill wore a coat of the same color as a French soldier's uniform and
his family name was Heron--Blue Heron. Bill had cousins named Crane
and he was distantly related to a fellow who, with queer family
traditions, paraded under the name of Stork.

  [Illustration: Bill]

Bill did not belong to the union; he worked eighteen hours a day. His
operations, chiefly, were conducted in a shallow bay where a brook
emptied into the lake, directly opposite our cottage. There, Bill
might be seen during the season, in sunshine and in rain, from long
before sunrise until late at night, standing in the shallow water
near shore in an attitude which he copied from a Japanese fire
screen; or with Edwin Booth's majestic, tragedian stage tread, slowly
wading among the pond lily pads and pickerel grass; lifting high and
projecting forward in long deliberate strides, one foot after
another; each step being carefully placed before his weight was

Though an awkward appearing person by himself, in a landscape Bill
made a picture of symmetry and beauty and his march was the very
poetry of motion.

Bill had very definite opinions concerning boats. He knew that they
were generally occupied by human animals, of whose intentions he was
always suspicious. Either through experience or inherited instinct,
he seemed to know exactly how far a shot-gun would carry. Bige and I
never had used one on him and we seldom had a gun up our sleeve while
in a boat, but Bill never allowed us to approach beyond the safety

Day after day through many seasons Bill has stood and observed our
boat cross the lake. Without moving an eyelash he would watch our
approach until the boat reached a certain definite spot in the lake,
when with slow flap of wide spread wings he lifted his long legs,
trailing them far behind, while he flew up the lake behind the
island. As soon as we had passed about our business, Bill always
returned and resumed his job of fishing at the same old stand, where
he "watchfully waited" for something to turn up.

Bill was the most patient fisherman I ever knew. Neither Mr. Job nor
Woodrow Wilson had anything on Bill. His motto seemed to be, "all
things come to him who can afford to wait."

Early in the season Mrs. Bill was busy with household duties. With
coarse sticks, brush, mud and moss, in the dead branches of a tall
pine, she built the family nest and laid the family eggs. She also
sat upon those eggs, with her long, spindly legs hanging straight
downward, one on either side of the nest, as one might sit upon a
saddle suspended in mid-air. When the brood of young herons were
hatched and could be left alone, the mother also went fishing with
Bill, and toward the end of the season the young birds were on the
job with mother and dad.

One day early in the season, Bige and I were crossing the lake. It
was about ten o'clock. Bill had been watchfully waiting at his old
stand since 3:30 A. M. One eye was now turned on the approaching
boat, but the other eye continued its search of the waters for the
long delayed morning meal. About this time, a yellow perch who also
was hunting a breakfast, discovered a minnow who had strayed into
deep water far from his home. Perchy immediately gave chase, while
the alarmed minnow swiftly darted toward safety in his birthplace
under a clump of pickerel grass near the shore. As they passed our
boat, the race was headed straight for a pair of yellow legs a few
rods away.

Ten seconds later, a snake like neck uncoiled and straightened while
an opened pair of shears, with lightning speed descended into the
water. When they lifted, the shears were closed across the body of a
half pound yellow perch. Bill thus held his fish an instant, then
tossed it in the air and it descended head first into his wide open
mouth. A swelling slowly moving downward marked the passage through a
long gullet into his crop, of a breakfast that six and a half hours
Bill had been patiently fishing for.

"Sufferin' Maria!" exclaimed Bige, "What a lot of pleasure Bill had
swallowing that kicking, wriggling morsel of food down half a yard of

BIGE and I had been spending the day at Moose Pond. Going over early
in the morning, we went up the river about five miles, then followed
the tote-road around the western side of the mountain to an abandoned
lumber camp near the pond. This road had not been used for lumber
operations for ten years or more, but it still made a good foot path,
though to reach our destination it led us a long way around.

Returning late in the afternoon to Buck Mountain Camp, where we were
then staying, we decided to go directly over Moose Mountain, by a
shorter route, though the walking through the lumbered section of the
woods would be more difficult. In the bottom of the valley between
the two mountains, we crossed West Bay Brook. This brook we had
fished three or four miles below, near where it emptied into Cedar
Lake, but in this section where the stream was small, overgrown with
alders and covered with "slash" from the lumber operations, we had
not thought it worth the effort.

  [Illustration: Dinner at Buck Mountain Camp]

There was an elbow in the brook at the place where we crossed it, and
a large tree lying across the stream had collected driftwood and
formed a dam above which was a deep pool about thirty feet in
diameter. Looking down from the bridge which the west wind had made
for us to cross upon, we saw that the pool was alive with trout. The
bottom seemed black with a solid army formation of fish, lying close
together, sides touching, heads up stream; while schools of smaller
trout, disturbed by our presence, swiftly swam around the pool
reflecting the bright sunshine in brilliant rainbow hues. The scene
was one to arrest the attention of the most casual observer, and Bige
and I lingered long upon the bridge watching the movements of the
hundreds of inhabitants of this natural aquarium.

On the way back to camp we discussed the possibilities of fishing
this pool, deciding upon the best place of approach, where one could
be partially concealed by bushes while casting. We spent all of the
following day marking a trail down the mountain and across the
valley, about three miles, from camp to the pool, cutting brush and
clearing out a path; then one day when the weather conditions were
favorable, Bige went out to headquarters to bring in some food
supplies and I, with a fly rod, went down over our new trail to catch
a few trout in a pool that had never been fished.

Cautiously approaching, when near the brook, I heard sounds of
splashing in the water. Creeping on hands and knees, then slowly on
stomach, I reached a position where, through the bushes, the surface
of the pool came into view, when, crawling up the opposite bank, I
saw a long, slender, shiny, water soaked, fur coated body which was
surmounted with a cat-like head; the legs were so short they were
invisible and the body appeared to drag upon the ground, while a
tapering tail about a foot long followed in the rear. The Otter,
including tail, was about three feet long and he had a trout in his
mouth which he deposited on the ground and immediately slid down the
bank and disappeared under the water. In less than a minute he
crawled up the bank again with another fish in his mouth, which was
dropped by the first one and the operation was repeated.

I do not know how long the otter had been fishing when I arrived, but
I watched him work fully fifteen minutes, when he came to the surface
without a fish. He then deliberately surveyed his catch, appearing to
gloat over it, after which he started down stream, tumbling in and
climbing out of the water as far as he could be seen and I heard him
several minutes after he had gone out of view.

Coming out of my cramped position of concealment, I crossed over on
the fallen tree and saw scattered over the opposite bank literally
scores of trout, large and small; some had their heads bitten off,
others were cut in half, all were mutilated. Obviously, the otter had
eaten his fill and then had continued to fish just for the joy of
killing, like some other trout-hogs in human form, such as we all
have met.

  [Illustration: The Otter]

I went back to camp that night without fish. We visited the pool
later, several times, but never got a rise and never saw another
trout in that hole. The otter had made a perfect and complete job of
it. There was not left even a pair of trout for seed.

A TWENTY inch pickerel of my acquaintance, one day swallowed his
grandson. This was an exhibition of bad judgment on the part of
Grandad Pickerel. The mere fact of killing his near relative was not
in itself reprehensible, since, if all pickerel were not cannibals
they would soon exterminate from streams, ponds, and lakes, fishes of
all other species. But this particular "pick" was a husky youngster,
and while he might very properly have been bitten in half, or have
been chewed up into small pieces, the older fish got himself into
trouble when he swallowed the kid whole.

A few hours after the occurrence mentioned above, the elder pickerel,
at one end of a trolling line, climbed into our boat; Bige, who had
the other end of the line, assisting him aboard.

"Sufferin' Mackerel! Well by Gosh!! He's got a rudder on both ends;
he can swim both ways without turning around, like a ferry boat,"
commented Bige, as we examined the floundering big fish, which had
the tail end of a smaller fish protruding three inches beyond his
snout, while the head of the younger was in the pit of the stomach of
the elder pickerel.

  [Illustration: The Pickerel with two rudders]

I have heard and read many tales, illustrating the voracious appetite
of pickerel. Boardman in his book, "Lovers of the Woods," tells how
his guide, George, while fishing in Long Lake, lost his Waterbury
watch overboard. Several days later, he caught a big pickerel and in
dressing it found his watch inside, still running. It seems that a
leather thong attached to the watch was wrapped around the winding
crown and the other end of the thong was looped over the fish's lower
jaw and hooked onto his teeth, so that whenever the pickerel opened
and closed his mouth the watch was wound half a turn, and thus was
kept running.

Not being an eye-witness, my testimony regarding this incident would
not be accepted in a court of law. However, I have known pickerel to
swallow frogs, crawfish, mice, sunfish and yellow perch with their
prickly dorsal fins, young shell-drakes and gulls, and even
bull-heads having three rigid horns with needle points projecting at
right angles to the body, any one of which horns, it would seem,
might pierce the anatomy of the pickerel. Somehow, they appear to get
away with all these things, and more.

The pickerel has a large mouth and a multitude of teeth on both upper
and lower jaws, in the roof of his mouth, also on tongue and palate.
These teeth are long and sharp and they slope inward; some of them
also bend down to allow objects to pass into the throat, but they
effectually prevent ejecting anything that has been swallowed. So,
Grandad Pickerel, if he had regrets after swallowing a member of his
own family, found it impossible to throw him up, as the Good Book
says the whale cast up Jonah.

Bige and I found we could not separate the two fishes without first
performing a surgical operation. In doing so, we also released a
shiner which had been swallowed with Bige's trolling hook and was
wedged in the throat alongside the smaller pickerel. This was the
most amazing part of the incident, and proves the gluttonous
character of the pickerel and his complete inability to appreciate
the limits of his own capacity.

We found upon examination that the process of digestion was
operating, and that the head of the smaller pickerel was nearly
dissolved in the stomach of the larger fish. Another hour, and
grandson would have slipped down an inch and the process of digestion
would have been repeated upon another section.

A white man cuts his fire wood the proper length to use in his
fireplace. An Indian puts one end of a long branch or sapling into
his fire, and when it has burned off, he moves the stick in and burns
off another section, thus conserving labor.

Our pickerel was digesting his food Indian fashion, or, so to speak,
on the installment plan.

BIGE and I were hunting. I was placed on a "runway" on the bank of a
small stream which was the outlet of Minnow Pond. Bige had gone
around to the opposite side of the mountain and planned to come up
over the top and follow the deer path which ran down the mountain
side, into and through an old log-road which had not been used for
lumber operations for fifteen years, and which was now overgrown with
bushes and young spruce and balsam trees. This log-road followed the
windings of the brook down the valley to where it emptied into the
lake, and where the logs were dumped into the water and floated down
to the mill.

Many years ago, when it was the practice to hunt with dogs, the deer
acquired the habit of running to the nearest water, where, by wading
or swimming they could throw the dogs off the scent. Thus all deer
trails or runways lead, sooner or later, to a stream, a pond or lake,
where the deer has a chance of evading pursuit of his natural enemy.
Now, while the game laws forbid hunting deer with dogs, and while
dogs are not allowed to enter forests inhabited by deer, yet the
inherited instinct of self-preservation of the latter persists, and
whenever alarmed by the appearance of man, who in the mind of a deer
is still associated with his other enemy--the dog, he immediately
starts down his trail to the nearest water.

It was Bige's hope to "scare up" a deer on the other side of the
mountain and drive him down the runway past my watch ground, while it
was my job to shoot him as he passed by.

The fallen tree on which I sat was on the bank of the brook and about
ten feet above the water, while in the opposite direction, through an
open space in the bushes, I had a clear view of the runway about
twenty yards distant.

Time passes slowly in the woods, when one is waiting for something to
turn up. Also, it is essential that one sit quietly and make very few
false motions when watching for a deer to approach. I had been
sitting, with rifle across knees, what seemed a long time. The noises
of the woods which suddenly cease when one walks through the forest,
gradually returned. A wood-pecker started up his electric hammer and
resumed the operation of drilling a deep hole into a pine stub a few
rods away. A blue-jay made some sarcastic remarks about "Caleb" and
then began swinging on his gate and creaking its rusty hinges. A red
squirrel overhead, made unintelligible, but evidently derisive
remarks about the intrusion of strangers, and then proceeded to cut
off spruce cones and tried to drop them on my head. A kingfisher flew
up the brook and shook a baby's tin rattle at me as he passed. An old
hen partridge down the log-road was advising her children to "Quit!
Quit! Quit!" but her chicks, who were now more than half grown, paid
not the slightest attention to her warning but continued picking
blue-berries just as if there were no enemies within a hundred miles.
An owl on the limb of a tall birch demanded, in stentorian voice, to
know "Who? Who? Who in ----" Another fellow, way down the valley
responded that he "could!", that he had a chip on his shoulder and
that if any blanked owl knocked it off he "Would Who? Who in ---- are
you anyhow?" Thus the belligerents fought their battle at long range
with language, like many other pugilists. A rabbit, who in another
month would throw off his brown vest and put on his white winter
overcoat, went loping past, stopping occasionally to nip off a
wintergreen leaf. These, and other sounds indicating various
activities of wood folk, continued to divert attention while two
hours passed.

The "Yap, Yap," of a red fox sounded down the brook. A few minutes
later his voice was heard again, nearer; presently he came into view.
He was wading in the shallow water of the brook, eyes intently fixed
upon the water, following a school of minnows. Stepping high and
cautiously, he, from time to time, suddenly jabbed his muzzle into
the water and brought up a fish from two to three inches long, which
he chewed and swallowed with seeming satisfaction. When he missed,
which happened often, he repeated his impatient "Yap, Yap" and moved
up stream where was another bunch of minnows.

This was the first time I had ever seen a fox fishing and I was
intensely interested in his operations. About this time, I heard a
commotion in the bushes behind me, and turned in time to see the
horns and white tail of a deer over the tops of the bushes as he
bounded along down the runway. I heard him for a full minute, still
going strong down toward the lake.

Five minutes later Bige appeared, coming down the path gently
demanding, "Why in time didn't you shoot that deer? I've been
following him for an hour. Fresh tracks all the way. Heard him twice.
He went right by here, kicked up the dirt at every jump. You won't
get a better shot in ten years. What in tunket were you doing

"Who, me? Why-I-I was fishing."

"BUTTERMILK FALLS" is one of the show places in our neck of the
woods. The guide books make mention of it, and the tourist and "one
week boarder" see it first. Also, when one tires of fishing, of
mountain climbing, of tramping, and is in need of some new form of
diversion, there is always "somethin' doin' at the falls." In the
presence of their majestic beauty, and in the roar of their falling,
tumbling, foaming waters, deer seem to lose their natural timidity
and often, in mid-day, show themselves in the open to drink of the
waters at the foot of the falls and to drink in the beauty of the
picture. In the course of my wanderings in the forests, I have often
observed, in spots that are particularly wild or picturesque, or that
have an extensive outlook, evidences that deer have stood there,
perhaps stamping or pawing the ground for hours at a time, while they
enjoyed the view. Such evidence points to the theory that wild deer
not only have an eye for the beautiful in nature, but that they
manifest good taste in their choice of a picture.

One day two black bears were seen feeding on the bank of the river
just above the falls. A family of beavers have built a house about a
hundred yards below the falls and have made several unsuccessful
attempts to dam the rapids, in which operations about an acre of
alder bushes have been cut and dragged into position, only to be
carried down stream by the swift waters. This is the only family of
beavers I ever met who are not good engineers.

There is also the typical tale of the "_big trout_--a perfect monster
of a fish," that lives in the deep pool under the falls. Scores of
people have "seen him;" every guide and every fisherman who has
visited this region has tried to catch the "wise old moss-back."
Several times he has been hooked, but the stories of lost leaders and
broken tackle that have been told would fill a volume, and he still

Also, the falls are not without their romance. Tradition, dating back
to the Indian occupation, perhaps a hundred and fifty years ago,
tells of a beautiful Indian maiden who was wont to meet her lover at
midnight when the moon was full, at a spot just above the falls.
Coming down the river in her birch-bark canoe, the maiden would await
the arrival of the young warrior, who was of another and a hostile
tribe, living the other side of the mountain. When the moonlight
shadow of the tall pine fell upon a particular spot on the big rock,
the ardent lover arrived, guided through the dark and trackless
forest by the roar of the falls, which could be heard beyond the
mountain top.

Of course the chief, the girl's father, objected to the attentions of
this enemy lover, as also did other and rival admirers of her own

On a mid-summer night the lovers parted, he to go on a mission to
Montreal, which then involved a long, difficult and dangerous tramp
through the wilderness. Both were pledged to meet again at the falls
at midnight of the harvest-moon. As the shadow of the September moon
fell upon the midnight mark on the big rock, the Indian maid arrived
in her canoe, but the lover came not. Instead, appeared one of the
rival warriors of her own tribe, who told of an ambush, of a poisoned
arrow and of a dead lover.

  [Illustration: Buttermilk Falls]

The heart-broken maid then drifted out into midstream and with her
canoe passed over the falls and was killed on the rocks below.
Tradition goes on to relate how, at midnight of every harvest moon
since that tragic event, the ghost of the beautiful Indian maiden
appears in her birch bark canoe and sails over Buttermilk Falls,
disappearing in the foaming waters at their foot.

For many years I have tried to persuade Bige to join me in keeping
the date with this ghost, but up to the present writing it has never
been convenient.

Sitting, one day, at the foot of the falls, I was studying the
high-water marks on the adjacent rocks, indicating the immense volume
of waters that pass over the falls and down the rapids during the
freshets caused by melting snows and spring rains, trying to imagine
how it might look on such occasions, when a million logs, the cut of
the lumbermen during the previous winter, were let loose and came
crowding, climbing, jamming, tumbling over one another down through
the ravine and over the brink with the mighty rushing waters.

The ground about where I sat was strewn with rocks, boulders and
smaller stones, all worn by the ceaseless action of the waters, many
of them smooth, others seamed with strata of quartz, granite or
sandstone, some curiously marked and grotesque in shape.

As I sat thus, meditating, one of these curiously marked stones,
about the size and shape of one of those steel trench hats worn by
the "doughboys" in the late war, which had been lying close to the
edge of the water and partly in it, suddenly jumped up and appeared
to stand on four legs about six inches higher than it had been lying.
The legs seemed to be stiff and the movement was like the rising of a
disappearing cannon behind the walls of a fort. Instantly there
appeared a fifth leg or brace at the back which pushed the rear edge
of the trench hat upward and tilted it toward the water, when a
telescopic gun shot out from under this curious fighting machine and
plunged into the water. An instant later this telescopic gun lifted a
small trout out of the water, bit it in half, and with two snaps
swallowed it. The telescope then collapsed, the gun-carriage slowly
settled back, the tail brace curled up under the rear, the head was
drawn under the front of the shell, and the turtle's eyes closed to a
narrow slit. Again he looked like the stones among which he lay, but
his trap was set for another fish.

  [Illustration: The Turtle with his trench hat]

In a few minutes another young trout strayed too close to the shore
and the operation was repeated. The maneuver, though awkward, was
swift and every time a fish was landed.

The turtle is a good swimmer and he remains under water a long time.
He doubtless also catches fish while swimming. This, however, was the
first time I saw him fishing from the shore.

SALMON RIVER is a swift flowing stream having an average width of
fifty feet, narrowing as it passes through gorges and having a number
of wide, deep pools in which the larger trout collect.

I have made diligent inquiry as to the reason for this name, and have
arrived at the conclusion that it was called Salmon River because
there were never any salmon in it, but there should be.

About three miles up stream, the beavers have built a dam across it,
backing the water up through a swampy section about a quarter of a
mile, flooding both banks of the river through the woods, thus
creating a fair sized artificial pond.

Bige and I decided that this would be a good place to fish, but that
it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach the deep water of
the channel without a boat. So it was arranged that Bige should take
the basket containing food and cooking utensils up over the
tote-road, leave it at the beaver dam, then go on to Wolf Pond where
we had left one of our boats, and carry the boat back through the
woods to the dam where I should meet him about three hours later.

In order to make use of the time on my hands, I put on my wading
pants and hob-nailed shoes and proceeded to wade up stream, making a
cast occasionally where a likely spot appeared. It was a wonderful
morning. The weather conditions were exactly right for such an
expedition. I passed many spots that would have delighted the soul of
an artist. He, probably, would have taken a week to cover the
distance I expected to travel in three hours.

I had gone more than half way to the dam, had a few fish in my creel,
and was approaching an elbow in the stream. A high point of land
covered with bushes shut off my view of a deep pool just around the
corner, in which I had many times caught trout. As I came near this
bend in the river a most extraordinary thing occurred. I distinctly
saw a fish flying through the air over the top of the clump of bushes
on the point. A flying fish is not an unheard of thing, indeed I have
seen them several times, but not in the mountains, not in these
woods, where there are fresh waters only. Flying fish of the kind I
know about are met in the Sound and in bays near the ocean. Also, the
fish I just then had seen flying above the bushes, did not have the
extended wing-like fins of the orthodox flyer. This fish was a trout.
I had seen enough of them to feel sure of that. True, I had seen
trout jump out of the water, for a fly or to get up over a waterfall;
but I never before saw a trout climb fifteen or twenty feet into the
air, over the tops of bushes and young trees and land on the bank.

  [Illustration: Wading Salmon River]

This was surely a matter that required explanation. An investigation
was necessary, and without hesitation I assumed the role of sleuth.
Carefully stepping out of the water, I sat on a rock and took off my
wading togs, then on stockinged feet and on hands and knees crept up
the bank. Peering through the bushes, I saw that since my last visit
a large birch tree had fallen across the pool and that the trunk of
this tree was partly submerged. Sitting on this fallen tree over the
center of the pool was a large black bear. Her back was toward me,
and she was in a stooping posture, holding one fore paw down in the
water. I was just in time to see a sudden movement of the submerged
paw and to see another trout, about twelve inches long, go sailing
through the air and fall behind some bushes just beyond where I was
in hiding. Rustling and squealing sounds coming from the direction in
which the fish had gone, indicated that a pair of cubs were behind
the bushes, and that they were scrapping over possession of the fish
their mother had tossed up to them. It was, perhaps, ten minutes
later I saw a third trout fly over the bushes toward the cubs. About
this time the bear turned her head, sniffed the air in my direction,
and with a low growl and a "Whoof," started briskly for shore,
climbed the bank, collected the two cubs and made off into the woods,
smashing brush and fallen limbs of trees, occasionally pausing to
send back, in her own language, a remark indicating her disapproval
of the party who had interrupted her fishing operations.

The mystery of the flying trout was now solved, but a new conundrum
was presented to my enquiring mind; namely, how did the old lady
catch them? With what did the bear bait her hooks?

I have told the story to many guides and woodsmen of my acquaintance,
and from them have sought an answer to the question. Bige expressed
the opinion that the bear dug worms, wedged them in between her
toe-nails, and when the fish nibbled the worms the bear grabbed him.
Frank referred to the well known pungent odor of the bear, especially
of his feet, the tracks made by which a dog can smell hours, or even
days after the bear has passed. He said that fish are attracted by
the odor.

Also that many years ago, he had caught fish by putting oil of
rhodium on the bait, and that "fish could smell it clear across the
pond." Frank admitted that this method of fishing was not
sportsman-like and that he had discontinued the practice. George said
he had many times watched trout in a pool rub their sides against
moss covered stones and often settle down upon the moss and rest
there. He opined that they mistook the fur on the bear's paw for a
particularly desirable variety of moss, and so were caught.

At this point in my investigations, I was reminded that a few years
ago there was conducted, in the columns of several fishing and
hunting magazines, a very serious discussion of the question, "Can
fish be caught by tickling?" Many contributors took part in this
discussion. There were advocates of both positive and negative side
of the question. My old friend Hubbard, an expert fisherman, of wide
experience, assured me that he, many years ago, had discarded the
landing net; that when he hooked a lake trout, a bass or a "musky,"
and had played his fish until it was so exhausted that it could be
reeled in and led up alongside the boat, it was his practice to
"gently insert his hand in the water under the fish and tickle it on
the stomach, when the fish would settle down in his hand and go
to sleep, then he would lift it into the boat."

  [Illustration: An Expert Trout Fisher]

This testimony took me back in memory to a time, many years ago, at a
little red school house on the hill, in a New England country school
district, where my young ideas took their first lessons in shooting.
"Us fellers" then looked upon boys of twelve and thirteen years as
the "big boys" of the school. We still believed in Santa Claus, and
we knew that a bird could not be caught without first "putting salt
on its tail." A brook crossed the road at the foot of the hill and
ran down through farmer Barnum's pasture. In this brook, during the
noon recess and after school had closed for the day, with trousers
rolled up and with bare feet, we waded and fished. We caught them
with our hands, and we kept them alive. Each boy had his "spring
hole," scooped out of the sand near the edge of the stream, in which
he kept the fish caught. Of course, whenever it rained, and the water
rose in the brook, these spring holes were washed away and the fish
escaped. But when the waters subsided, they had to be caught again.
Sometimes, we caught a chub as much as four inches long; and on rare
occasions, when a "horned dace, a five incher" was secured, the boy
who got him was a hero. It was the firm conviction of every boy in
our gang, that, no matter how securely a fish was cornered between
the two hands and behind and under a sod or stone, he could not
safely be lifted out of the water without first "tickling him on the

Reverting to the suggestion made by Bige. There would be no doubt as
to the bear's ability to dig worms. She is an expert digger, carries
her garden tools with her. She has been known to dig a hole under a
stump or rock, six or eight feet deep, in which she sleeps all
winter. I have, myself, seen a bear dig wild turnips and have seen
rotten stumps and logs torn to bits by their claws; which was done in
a hunt for grubs. I therefore felt certain that if the bear dug any
worms she would not use them for fish bait, but would herself eat

With a judicial attitude of mind, considering all the evidence
submitted, including my own early experience, I have arrived at the
conclusion that the trout was first attracted by the odor of the
bear's paw, then rubbed against the soft fur, when the bear wiggled
her toes and tickled the fish on his belly, whereupon the trout
settled down in the bear's paw, went to sleep and was tossed up on
the shore to the waiting cubs.


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Fish Stories" ***

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