Charles W. (Charles Woodbury) Stevens.

Fly-fishing in Maine lakes; or, Camp-life in the wilderness online

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stantly increase with the increasing love for the

To return, however, to our little family in the
woods. For the first few days our sport had been
excellent, and we had quite a goodly family of
trout in our several cars to feast the eyes and the
palates of our friends at home. But the past day
or two had been hot and cloudless, and no allure-
ments, in the way of diversified casts, would tempt
the sportive beauties from their cool retreats ; so
we idled away the time, enjoying nature and each
other's company. As I- was leaning over the rail
of the bridge that crosses the dam, enjoying the
play of the waters as they dashed and foamed at
my feet, I saw a black object drop from where I
was standing into the rushing stream below. It
did not take me but a moment to recognize my fly-
book, which, opening as it fell, scattered a well-
selected assortment of McBride's best flies upon


the rushing tide. I have discarded the old meth-
od of carrying flies in a book in which you are
obliged to .wind the snell and place it in a space
in the leaf prepared for the purpose. I always
keep the snell perfectly straight, for obvious rea-
sons ; and my flies were thus lying loosely in my
new style of book, which resembles an old-fash-
ioned long leather wallet. I am particular in this
description, proposing to draw slightly upon your
imagination in what follows. I knew very well
what Charlie would say when I told him of my
misfortune : u It's a great wonder that you did not
tumble over with them," or some such encouraging
remark, so that I was in no particular hurry to make
known my loss, but stood gazing at the white-
crested waves over which they were being borne
to the somewhat more quiet waters farther on. As
I lingered I imagined a dozen or two fine, hand-
some trout lying in the unfished stream, tempted
by the unwonted attraction, rising for their prey
and hooking themselves ; and how they would look
to each other as they went around, comparing notes
with six inches of snell hanging from their mouths :
they might tickle each other's noses perhaps. I
had really begun to pity the poor fellows, when the
thought of it brought an anecdote to my mind
which I had come across somewhere, and I laughed


outright. Let me tell it, and, if my readers fail to
see the connecting-link, study Darwin, for my little
incident relates to a " tale." A superintendent of
a certain Sunday' school, in the vicinity of the
" Hub," was speaking to the scholars, at the close
of the exercises, of the lesson for the day, which
was the story of the Israelites' making brick with
straw. As he came to the oppression of Pharaoh,
in demanding the same tale of bricks when no
straw was supplied as before, he asked the question
of the scholars, "What is meant by the tale of
bricks? " At once a bright little fellow held up his
hand, and answered, "A piece of straw sticking
out of the end of a brick."

Returning to camp, I told the story of my loss ;
as was expected, only smiles and ridicule for my
carelessness from those to whom I naturally should
have looked for sympathy. Our guides only,
showed sorrow for my misfortune, and would have
swam the stream in undress-uniform had there
been a forlorn hope of a recovery. Later, however,
Charlie came round, and compromised the matter
by offering me the use of his fly-book. Not hav-
ing had any luck himself during the day, he de-
clined going to Trout Cove in the afternoon ; but
as towards sundown a little breeze sprang up, I de-
termined to try it again, as the time for our leaving
camp was fast approaching.


"What do you think of the prospect?" I asked
my guide, as we trudged along over the familiar

" It's my notion that they'll rise to-night : the
wind's got round to the south'ard, and there'll be

just a good ripple. I'm thinking Mr. B will

wish't he'd come along."

" Don't you think you had better whistle to keep
my courage up ? Still the trout are there, and they
must be getting hungry."

''Well, it won't take us long to find out, Mr.
Stevens : " this last remark was made as he pushed
the boat off from her moorings, and sprang into

Our fishing-grounds were but a few minutes' pull
from the shore, and we were soon at anchor and
ready to receive visitors.

I had changed my casts several times during the
day, and now had a casting-line with a couple of
nondescript flies, which I had found in my old
book as it was left from the year before.

"There's a swirl," said Cutting, as he points over
my left shoulder : "and there's another, and no
fool of a fish."

" Hadn't we better get to work? "

Things looked a little encouraging, to say the
least. " AJi, there's another ! " " Yes, and we'll


send him an invitation." I cast quite near to
where he rose, and -he responded immediately : I
struck and hooked him, and in a few minutes he
was safely netted. The next cast, and two rose,
one of which was lost, the other weighed quite two

We had not been on the grounds more than ten
minutes before the cove all around us was literally
alive with trout, and in twenty minutes I had half
as many trout, alive, in the well-room of the boat.

" Well, this keeps us pretty busy : what a pity Mr.
B didn't come along ! "

" That's so, but we haven't got time to go for
him : the sun's not more than half an hour high."
This slight conversation occurred while I was put-
ting on a couple of fresh flies, for by this time the
old ones had got to looking a little frayed. Not
more than twenty-five feet of line had I got out
before a parting of the waters, a rush, and a most
noble fish broke the water, taking my tail-fly as he
went down. He hooked himself firmly, down
went the butt, and down went Sir Trout to the bot-
tom, taking but a few yards of line from my reel.

" What do you think of that? " said I, turning to
my guide, who sat complacently smoking his pipe.

" I think you have got all you want to attend to
for the next half- hour : that fish will weigh six
pounds if he weighs an ounce."


I knew he was an old hero, but I hardly thought
him so large as that. After calmly surveying the
situation I tapped the butt of my rod with my finger,
and he quickly responded with a whirl of the reel ;
at least seventy feet of line did he take before com-
ing to a halt ; then he turned, and came towards us,
I gathering in the slack as fast as possible ; fortu-
nately he was so well hooked that I felt safe : now
he took several swift turns around the boat within
twenty feet of us, then off again with at least
eighty before I dared check him. This amiisement
on his part was kept up, as my guide suggested it
might be, for just about half an hour ; when as the
sun had sunk behind the hills, and darkness was
coming on, I began to feel slightly nervous, and a
strong desire to see my fish safely landed ; and to
this intent I cautioned my guide to be ready with
the net, as he seemed now disposed to come to
terms, and indeed allowed me to reel him in in a
very quiet and sensible manner. " Now, then, stand
ready with your net," and the sure-handed, quick-
sighted one who scarce ever lost me a fish stood
ready for his work when, with a plunge and a
rush, my anticipated trophy broke the water, turned
over on its surface, snapped the casting-line, and
disappeared beneath the calm waters of Trout Cove.
I sat down upon the thwart of the boat, and my


guide did the same, facing each other. For nearly
five minutes no? well, say three not a word
was spoken. The first to break the silence was
Cutting, and in these words : " Mr. Stevens, I'd
given three days' pay rather than had you lose
that trout : he was over six pounds "

" Charles, I would have doubled your pay rather
than to have lost him. So much for using a last-
year's leader."

Don't do it, my young friends, or old friends.
You may never have the occasion to regret doing
so, as I did that evening, and you may save a six-
pounder by not doing so. It might, you say, have
been something else if not that : true, but I doubt
it, for my fish was well hooked, and my guide cool
and collected, and nothing but a weak casting-line
cost me that fish. I purchase my flies and leaders
nowadays almost exclusively, the latter always, of
McBride, before mentioned. I like to write the
old gentleman's name (he is gone now, and his
daughter succeeds him in the business) : I never
saw him, but I know he was an honest man, and I
believe he loved the work he was engaged in ; at all
events, he did it well, and when once he had pro-
vided you with an outfit of these articles, to use a
vulgar expression, you will never "go back" on
him any more than they in some trying situation


will go back on you. (A little digression induced
by the remembrance of after-reflection and blasted

" Well, Cutting, that's the end of to-night's sport.
Up anchor, and let's go home."

Not much conversation on the road that night.
Oh, laugh if you will, stoic ! call it silly to mourn
over the loss of a single fish, were he the very levi-
athan of the deep. But discard for a few years
your city pleasures, and go a-fishing, pit your lightest
tackle and your best intelligence against this wary,
gamy fish ; and when, after becoming a lover of
this healthful sport, you lose the largest trout you
ever saw, you may perhaps indulge in the feelings
we shared on our homeward tramp.

The smell of Joe's cooking, the welcome of the
waiting ones, and the rehearsal of the exciting
strife, soon restored the accustomed frame of mind,
a happy one ; and by the time that supper was ready
the disappointment of the day was nearly forgotten
in the anticipations of the morrow, the morrow
which was to be our last day in camp, and on the
result of which high hopes were builded.

" Don't you wish you had gone along, Charlie? "
" Yes, stupid : why didn't you drag me? "
" Oh, yes ! keep on stuffing at this rate, and you
will want ' Old Brownie ' and the buggy to take
you over to the cove."



"Do you think he would weigh six pounds,

"Do I? If you don't believe me, ask Cutting."
And he did, and Cutting said, " Yes, more."


' 4 ^^fe - '^'fe : ' : '"



UR 'last day in camp, and we had
returned the preceding night with
ardent hopes of a good day's sport,
so much so, that for a wonder four
o'clock in the morning found the
three Charlies and the one " Frank "
young man on their way to Trout Cove, one of
the Charlies already lamenting his share of the
morning walk, and with all his love of the sport,
which is great, wishing himself back again between
his blankets.

" I tell you it's no use, Stevens : trout ain't such
fools as to get up before breakfast."

" Oh ! then you think they take their early food
as Hood says Thomson wrote about early rising,
lying in their beds."

" Well, what's the use encouraging them in such


bad habits? You know the old story about the
worm : if he hadn't been out, he wouldn't have
been caught."

" True enough, nor the bird have had his break-

" Did it ever occur to you, Charlie, that Nature
in the abundant disposal of her gifts, and in her
ample provisions for the lower orders, had so organ-
ized and perfected her plans as to as to to "

" No, I never did ; that is, hardly. Ask me an
easier one ; reserve, my boy, such an abundant flow
of natural eloquence till after breakfast, do : a
vacancy exists here, which even that half a cracker
failed to fill, and I fear to dwell long upon so ab-
struse a subject. Pass the tar, please : the flies are
up early, at all events."

"The flies, Charlie, these, now, are another
illustration, and show the wisdom of"

" Bringing along the tar? "

And thus did the disturbed elements in the
young man's frame show themselves as we trudged
along over the well-trod road to the cove.

"There, that's the last time I ever cast a fly
before breakfast," was the next remark I heard from
those amiable lips, as about an hour afterwards,
after superhuman efforts to get a rise, he reeled up
his line, and thus gave vent to his feelings in a


somewhat tragic manner: "I knew just how it
would be, and why didn't I know enough to lie

" Pity we hadn't ; but we have gained some
experience," said I, as I reeled up for a start.

And so after all the success of the evening
before, on the same spot, an hour's faithful fishing
had failed to reward us with a single rise. Truly
the ways of the trout are past finding out, but the
faot is potent to every sportsman that sometimes
you can and sometimes you can't. But we had a
good appetite for Joe's " fried feesh " and griddle-
cakes ; and, always determining to make the best of
every thing, we exploded a little in vain ejacula-
tions, and then went to breakfast.

Now, to prove the truth of the foregoing classic
and sage remark, that " sometimes you can," etc.
After satisfying the demands of hunger, and chatting
for awhile over our pipes, we again set out for Trout
Cove ; and this time we did not return until about
forty beautiful fish, after having given us all the
sport that heart could wish, had joined a large
number of their captured companions, and were
listening in the confines of our cars to their tale of

It was on the last day of our camp-life that poor
Joe was destined to receive a surprise that almost


overcame his natural serenity, and threw him into
the depths of profound amazement. In looking
over our remaining stores, which we had taken to
camp, Mrs. S. found a couple of cans of corn,
which somehow had been overlooked, and sent
them in to Joe, by one of the guides, with the re-
quest to have them for dinner, ^ow, Joe, although
a good cook, and, as we already know, possessed
of other valuable characteristics, had in youth re-
ceived no book-education, and could neither read
nor write ; and though he knew the contents of a
can of tomatoes, by the picture of the fruit on the
outside, he was in profound ignorance of the con-
tents of these. So .in he came to madam to ask
for an explanation : but somehow the poor fellow's
brain was muddled, and we couldn't make him
understand the contents; so we appealed to one
of his remaining senses, his eyesight, and opened
the cans for him. The consternation depicted on
his countenance must have been seen to be appre-
ciated ; he drew himself up to his full height,
and this exclamation burst from his lips : " Mrs.
Steven, my God, it is corn ! " Corn on the
ear, and corn in a can, were, to his uneducated
mind, as widely separated as a com on the foot
from acorn on the oak.

I have just learned that Joe has left the camp,


gone forever, unless he goes back as a visitor to the
secluded spot where he has spent so many years
of his life. And though many, perhaps, who peruse
these pages, may only have known him in these
simple sketches, those who have will look back
upon his stewardship with a partial feeling of re-
gret that in futiye his gray hairs will be missed,
and his peculiar speech heard no more. Good-by,
Joe ! may your declining years be made happy ; if
not in the companionship of loved ones, at least in
the thought that you have made others happy, and
done the best, in your simple way, to improve the
few talents committed to your care.

It was a hot day, this last in camp, for even in
the far-off mountain regions does the sun proclaim
his mastery ; and so after dinner we had no dispo-
sition to interview his sunship's burning glances,
but preferred the shadow of the camp, with its cool-
ing draughts, to the shining surface of the cove or
stream. Mrs. S. was lazily perusing the last pages
of "Put Yourself in his Place," too immensely
satisfied, however, with her easy rocking-chair, to
think of doing so. Charlie was lying at full length,
upon the lounge, his hands clasped above his head,
his eyes gazing from his tarry countenance into the
starry realms above. I was making myself as com-
fortable as three chairs, a sofa-pillow, and a bowl


of natural leaf, with a cherry -stem attachment,
could make me : when suddenly my reveries were
slightly disturbed, and the book fell from the mad-
am's hands, as Charlie repeated the question, which
he at first pronounced as if thinking aloud,

" Do you expect to die a natural death? "

Now, of all subjects in the range 9f my thoughts,
this was about the farthest removed ; and, though
in some situations this was a question which might
very naturally have been asked, it fell like a thun-
derbolt in our midst ; and I, recovering my wan-
dering senses, Yankee-like, answered his question
by asking another : " Why ? "

" I was only thinking : travelling as much as you
do, and tumbling about as you are in the habit of
doing, that it would be a wonder if you should not
some day break your neck, run off the track, or
drown yourself."

"Thank you for such interesting reflections in
regard to my earthly exit. As for the latter, I don't
believe that fate is ordained for me, as three times
I have been overboard, and once remained so long
in the water that those most interested in my fu-
ture existence had about given me up. The old
adage, ' A man that's born to be,' &c., you know ;
and, as for a sudden death not being a natural
death, in a great many cases of course it is, and


much more to be desired, according to my way of
thinking, than a lingering, hopeless decay."

" Well, I agree with you fully as to that ; but seri-
ously, in all your travels have you not been in some
trying situation, where you felt for a longer or
shorter time your life was actually in danger? "

" Oh, yes ! several times."

" What was the most fearful, the one where you
suffered the most in the shortest time? "

"As to that, I don't think I feared or suffered
much in either case, certainly no physical suffer-
ing, and scarcely any mental; but I have often
looked back to one rash incident of my life as
being, as well as perhaps very foolish, very danger-
ous, and in which for a few minutes I felt my life
hung in the balances."

"What was that?"

"You have been to Quebec?"


"And the Falls of Montmorency? "

"I have. I believe they are a hundred feet
higher than Niagara."

" Nearly."

"You didn't imitate the illustrious Sam Patch,
and jump.them, did you? "

" Not exactly, but I slid down them in winter."

"That's a cool statement : explain yourself."


" You have heard of the famous ice-cone that is
formed at the foot of the fall in winter, by the
spray freezing upon the rocks, until it reaches nearly
the base of the cataract, and forms almost a sugar-
loaf in appearance, and about two hundred feet in

" Yes, I saw a picture of it at the Russell House,
last summer."

" Well, I slid down that cone once on an Indian
'tarbogan,' a sort of double-ended sled; and I
think, for rapid locomotion and dangerous situa-
tions, that you could give points to the most daring
aeronaut that ever sought the eastern current
through the boundless immensity of space."

" How did you get to the top? "

" By steps cut in the solid ice, and I think now
that I should go up a good many times rather than
slide down once. There were several in our party ;
and we were bantering each other in regard to tak-
ing the slide, when, being younger and rather more
reckless than the rest of the party, I determined to
make the descent.

" Seating myself behind the Indian, and grasping
him about the middle, my legs clasping his firmly,
we started. Yes, I am quite sure we started, and
I am just as sure that a moment afterward I wished
we hadn't. I said we slid, better, that we flew, for


we dashed down at the rate of seventy miles an
hour ; breathing was out of the question, and think-
ing almost. But once started, nothing was to be
done, but, Davy Crockett like, ' go ahead ; ' and go
ahead we did till, in a much less time than I have
been describing it, we were far out upon the icy
surface of the St. Lawrence."

" And you didn't try it again, I imagine."

" Not much. It was dangerous sport. As one
of the party, said, 'I wouldn't mind sliding down
the roof of a house, but from the eaves to the
ground excuse me.' "

" So you think that was the most dangerous
incident of your life ? "

" So far as I am able to be the judge, I most cer-
tainly do ; for the slightest break or mismanagement
on the part of the guide would have certainly cost
a limb, most likely a life."

"Well, from my recollection of the picture, I
should class such ah undertaking 'extra hazard-
ous.' "

" Positively, I never have looked at that picture
since, without a shudder, and a wonder that I
should have done what so few attempt."

"Really, old fellow, I didn't think my abrupt
remark would have drawn out so long a story."

" No : I suppose, if you had, you scarce would
have made it? "


" Perhaps."

" Charlie, did you ever see a spook? "

"A what?"

" A spook, ghost."

"Oh, certainly ! a ghost of a chance."

" No ; but sincerely, did you ever see a bona-fide

" Not much."

" I have : shall I tell you about it ?

" No, excuse me : I ^fear I should only detect
symptoms of a disordered stomach."

" You may laugh : a poor argument that, against
ten senses."

"Ten? I thought we had but five."

" True enough, but she saw it too. Fact, Char-

" Well, I don't quite see the ten yet. You didn't
smell or taste his ghostship, did you? "

" No, we did not : you have me there ; but we
both heard, saw, and felt it ; and you could no
more convince either of us that it was not a verit-
able spirit than that we are not now at Upper
Dam Camp."

"Well, let's have <it."

" No, not to-day : perhaps some time we'll tell
you all about it, when that time comes, as it some
time will, when more will believe that there are


such sights to be seen ; when all will be more ready
to admit that there are more things in heaven and
earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy."

" Shakspeare, hem ! as Dr. Pangloss would say."

" Yes, the immortal bard, as I think I once heard
him called. By the way, Charlie, what character of
his resembles a cart-rut? "

" Give it up."

" Pericles."


" Because he's the Prince of Tyre."

"Oh ! take something, won't you?"

" No, I thank you."

" I have a conundrum, boys," said Mrs. S., who
had been, up to this time, a very patient listener,
having put " Put Yourself in his Place " in a safe
place, and devoted herself to the present company.
"Shall I ask it?"

" Certainly ! " from both of us.

"It's original."

" Oh, then it must be good ! " again from both
of us.

"Why was Jeff Davis, when he was captured,
like Bunker-hill Monument?"

"When did you originate that?"

" Never mind : can you guess ? "

"Jeff Davis like Bunker-hill Monument"


"Yes, when he was captured."

" Because he no, he wasn't, that's a fact. Why
was Jeff Davis Oh, let's give it up, Charlie ! "

" I'm willing."

" Well, we give it up."

" That's as far as I have got : I haven't made an
answer yet. So far, I think it's pretty good ; don't

"Y-e-s, r-a-t-h-e-r. Charles, isn't it about time
to try the pool?"

"I was just thinking so, myself. Excuse me,
Mrs. Stevens: 'Why was Jeff ? ' 'Walker '"
and we left the madam to her august reflections.

The pool, or rather the trout which were sup-
posed to be in it, were as lazy as we had been, and
refused all endeavors on our part to come to the
surface. After a variety of flies Charlie proposed
a yeast-cake, thought that might make them rise.
I responded by suggesting a volume of " Young's
Night Thoughts," thinking that might possibly turn
their thoughts upwards : but suggesting and acting
were all to no purpose ; like a lazy schoolboy they
were determined not to rise, and they didn't.

It wasn't just pleasant to be obliged to give it up
so on the last day, but there was no alternative ; so it
was reel up, and leave them to the next comers. I
do think, for a moment, that Charlie felt like going


back to first principles, and worming out a few from
his once (for this pot-hunting performance) favorite

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Woodbury) StevensFly-fishing in Maine lakes; or, Camp-life in the wilderness → online text (page 3 of 11)