Charles W. (Charles Woodbury) Stevens.

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

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rent, and, in less time than it has taken me to
write these few lines, Joe has pulled to the shore,
and is awaiting our commands.

From the pool below the' dam, for a distance of
half a mile, the stream is one continuous rapid, its
dark and seething waters boiling and foaming as
they rush forward on their down-hill course.

Here and there, in its wild track, the waters leap
up to embrace a rocky boulder, and scatter their
flecks of foam high in air. A wild, turbulent, and
tortuous pathway to the comparatively smoother
water below.

A few of the older guides often descend these
rapids alone, in their birches ; but rarely do they
take any one with them, as a slight error in judg-
ment, a change of current, or the breaking of a


paddle, would shatter their frail craft, and place the
occupants in a decidedly unpleasant, if not danger-
ous position.

This morning we were lions in nerve : our breakfast
had tamed our appetites, but not our spirits, and we
were ready for adventure, thirsting for it.

" Barest thou leap into yonder birch, and tempt
the roaring flood?" Thus, or in words of similar
import, I addressed madam. And she, with spar-
kling eye, though looking somewhat askant at the
miniature Niagara, replied,

"Where thou goest, I will go."

Beckoning to Joe, I gave him a sign, by trans-
forming myself for a moment into an Italian image-
peddler, which he, understanding the imagery,
answered by making a head-dress of his canoe,
and marching towards us.

"Joe," said I, as he gently deposited his grace-
ful burden at our feet, "do you dare to run us
through in the birch?"

A thoughtful look overshadowed his face, and
his hand went to his chin ; he turned toward the
stream, casting his eyes in the direction of the
rapids, whose roar he could hear, but whose rush-
ing current he could not see ; then, turning to us,
he replied,

"Yes; I think it's safe, but you mustn't be
afraid of a wetting."


" Not a bit. But did you ever know a lady to
go over this rapid ? "

" No ; but there's no danger if you only sit

" Very well : there's got to be a first one, and
we'll try it. Are you agreed, madam?"

"Yes, if you say so."

Seating ourselves in the canoe, Joe spreads the
rubber clothing over us, and we are ready. It is
an anxious moment ; and I begin to wish that a
little of our adventurous spirit had been quenched
with our breakfast, but we had gone too far to
retreat. I knew Joe's heart was in his work ; and,
proud of his skill and our pluck, it would have been
a feather from his plume and ours had we " paused
upon the brink."

And, besides, a few observant fishermen noticing
our movements caught the inspiration of the mo-
ment, and, divining our intentions, took positions
where they could be observers of our exciting

I doubt if any adventurer that left his native
shore in search of the country whose possessors
were Tomah's ancestors e'er felt a greater pride
when his foot first touched its soil than did Joe
when, all being in readiness, he surveyed his pre-
cious freight, and "pushed his shallop from the


No retreat, now : a few sharp strokes of the pad-
dle, and a graceful turn brings us face to face with
the boiling, rushing flood, a pent-up lake, which,
caught and confined by the hand of man, is seek-
ing its outlet between two wooden walls not twenty
feet apart.

On we are driven ; and now Joe guides our boat
of bark into the narrow opening. For an instant
the water beneath us is like burnished glass, and
but for an instant, for now we take a flying leap
into the caldron of yeasty foam. Our frail craft
shivers for a moment, as if stunned by the shock,
then rises buoyantly, uplifted by the swelling, rush-
ing, maddened waters, shoots out of the foam and
mist, and floats once more, with airy lightness, on
the pool below.

u Well done, Joseph ! " went up from the shore ;
and, as soon as we are able to breathe freely, we
mingle our plaudits with those about us.

" That's the easy part, Mr. Stevens : the work has
got to come. Shall we go ahead? "

" By all means ! " said I ; for we were now in
for it, and nothing could stop us.

" Then, don't either of you move an inch unless
the birch goes out from under you ; don't look
ashore, look straight ahead, and don't speak to me
till we get into smooth water."


"All right ! that's business, fire away ! " And I
knew he meant business ; for he had taken off his
hat and coat, and stood bareheaded and erect, with
his eyes sparkling with unwonted fire.

Well, we started ; a few strokes of the paddle
brought us to the edge of the first fall, and again
we plunge into the roaring waters ; away we flew,
Joe steering for the wildest water, knowing it to be
the safest : now we pass close by a heavy boulder
just rising to the top of the stream ; and now we
take a bucket of water over the bow, and feel it
trickling down our cheeks, but we move not;
another bucketful. " Look out, old boy ! don't
swamp us " (this in thought, for not a word was
spoken) .

On, on we dash ; thump, thump, resistless as
death, the waves strike the bottom of the birch ;
now the wild water seems to be rolling towards us,
and now dashing on ahead with the speed of a
race-horse ; the air about us is flecked with foam,
and we seem vying to outrun the flying waters
themselves. We pass beneath the bridge, and the
lookers-on cheer us as we dart into sight again : we
are in rough water, we are in rougher water, we are
in white water, and we are in foam. And now we
round a bend in the stream, and in an instant strike
out upon the smoother water below.


"Well, Mr. Stevens, we're here."

I turned about slightly in my seat : Mrs. S ,

who had hardly dared to wink, was now shaking
the "dew-drops from her mane," and Joe actively
engaged in mopping his brow with his shirt-sleeve.

" Yes, we are here, Joe ; and my impression is,
we haven't been a very long time getting here.
Don't you think it was a little hubbly in some

" Well, a trifle so ; but your wife has got some-
thing to talk about when she gets home."

" Yes, Joe ; but you will have to come to Boston
and tell the story : I fear our friends would hardly
believe us when we tell of it."

" Never mind : we know all about it, and they
can't take away the grandness of that trip by doubt-
ing us."

"That's so."

"And now, Joe, for a salmon."

Drawing in to the shore, to give Tomah a little
rest, I let my line float out upon the stream to
straighten the leader and be prepared for action.
I pass my rod to the madam, while I fill my pipe,
and take a survey of the stream. The outlook is a
good one : the water is at a proper height, but ne
canoe is in sight, a gentle breeze is blowing, and
the sky is slightly overcast.


Suddenly the madam starts, quickly passes me
the rod, with the remark that " something's on the

Sure enough ; the whiz of the reel, that ever-
musical sound, tells the story : he has hooked him-
self, firmly let us hope, but most likely otherwise.

I am ready for him, and it is a fair fight now.
Oh ! there's a leap for you, fully four feet clear from
the water, another and another ; the reel whizzes,
and the line lengthens. And now, my boy, walk
this way, please : no ? well, have your own way,
then, for a while.

And he had it till at last tired, quite tired out
with his rushing and leaping, he submits to his fate,
allows himself to be reeled to the canoe's side, the
net is deftly slipped beneath him, and he is safely

Not so ; for when, taking him from the net, I told
Joe to hold him up for the madam's inspection,
which he did, when the reviving fish made one
more successful leap over the side of the birch into
his native element.

He was a handsome fish, fully two pounds in
weight, and Joe felt a bit ashamed at his loss ; but
we didn't care, for we were assured of plenty of
sport, and we had it.

After a few moments' casting I struck a pair, and


at the end of a hard-fought battle had the satisfac-
tion of saving them both, two beautiful fish fresh
run from the lake.

And now let me pause here, and tell you why I
prefer this fishing to that of the salmon-trout ; and
while I would not detract from the latter sport, and
can appreciate the shake of the head from those
who have enjoyed year after year only trout-fishing,
I am free to say, having had many years' experience
in both, the land-locked salmon is my preference
now and forever.

Catching a little inspiration from the immortal
bard, and parodying one of his lines, I state it


The leap, the leap's the thing
Wherein I call the land-locked salmon, king.

I once took a fish above the dam in smooth
water, weighing about two pounds, that made nine
successive leaps varying from three to six feet clear
from the water, and all within five minutes' time.

This was witnessed by my wife, who was in the
canoe with me, and who counted the leaps, and by
others who were fishing near us.

No salmon-trout ever did that, nor ever will. It
is seldom that the trout goes out of water after
coming out to take the fly (Mr. Murray to the con-
trary notwithstanding) : his tendency is toward the


bottom, and he rarely goes out of the water till
netted, while the salmon rushes with such velocity,
nose upward, that he is in the air before he knows

In taking the fly, I award the palm to the trout,
as he usually throws himself out of water to do so.
The salmon does not, he scarcely more than shows
himself; but after being hooked the sport com-
mences, and it is all activity to the death, rarely any

As regards beauty, while the palm must be
awarded to the trout, yet the salmon is a very
handsome fish. I think his form is better moulded
than that of the trout, and he has a much finer
head, which is beautifully spotted. The young fish
has bright red spots upon the body, which dis-
appear as he matures ; the only spots then being
small crosses of black, which form a pleasing con-
trast with the silvery lustre of the skin. When
first taken from the water, they are a most beau-
tiful specimen of the finny tribe.

And now, having painted this lord of the stream
from my mind's palette, perhaps you may ask,
" How does he affect another palate ? "

And I answer you : Decidedly he is equal, if
not superior, to my taste, to the trout ; such is my
decision after a fair test, and it is also that of many


of my friends who were quite surprised that they
should arrive at such conclusions.

Last year while "on the stream," a friend of
many years, an ardent fisherman, who had for
nearly twenty seasons made the Rangeley Lakes his
camping-ground, dropped down upon us quite
unexpectedly. He had heard a good deal of land-
locked salmon and their gamesome qualities. Be-
fore he had been three days among us, he was the
most enthusiastic individual I ever saw ; early and
late he was " up and at 'em."

Poor Gabrielle, his guide, had no rest for the sole
of his foot, or the muscles of his arm ; and it was
not much wonder that the cry of, " Good by,
Umbagog," became a byword in camp.

And so with my good friend, and fellow-fisher-
man, Walter B. McAtee of Baltimore, whose ac-
quaintance I made at the stream, and who I know
will pardon me for putting him in print.

It was one of those happy accidents, as they are
called, which led him into the regions of the
salmon, and away from his accustomed haunts, the

And now, should you ask him which fishing he
prefers, he would say,

" I tell you it's no use talking : it just lays over
any fishing I know of, and I don't want any better."


Next June we hope to renew some of the pleas-
ant scenes through which we have passed, one . or
two of which I may allude to in these pages.

It just occurs to me, that I have digressed to an
alarming extent, and left the madam to entertain
Joseph, while I have been cramming you, my gen-
tle reader, with my individual opinion and that of
a few friends, on a subject whereon even doctors
disagree, and you yourself may believe, excuse me,
in your ignorance, t(f)out au contraire.

So, if you please, we will attend to our fishing.

" How many have we now, Joseph? "

" Nine, and all good fish."

"Did you count the one you dropped over-


" Well, that makes ten, and that's enough for our
forenoon sport. I reckon we will reel up, and go

Being obliged to kill the fish that are taken upon
the stream, we never take more than can be used
to advantage.

A true sportsman intends that every fish caught
shall be eaten by some one. And many of our
friends hundreds of miles away have tasted the
fruits of our enjoyment.

I. once kept two fish, weighing four pounds each,


two days upon the ice ; took them to Boston, and,
when served, they were pronounced equal to the
true salmon.

A walk of about half an hour, the same distance
by water on our downward trip, occupying, say,
five minutes, brought us to our tents on the hill,
and we make preparations for dinner.

It is very amusing to see Joe get ready : first, he
goes down the hill for an armful of wood ; when he
gets that, he finds that he needed a little bark for
kindling ; back he goes after that ; then he discov-
ers that a bucket of water is wanting, and down he
goes after that ; making three trips when one would
have answered as well.

Finally, after all the little drawbacks attendant to
cooking an out-of-door dinner are overcome, we
are enabled to say, "Thank heaven, the table is
set ! " and with keen appetites, such as are only
attainable in the woods, we sit down to partake ;
and rise only when both fish and flesh, like the
grasshopper, "becometh a burden."

Cast not your line when the sun casts no

A maxim which it were wise for a fisherman to
follow. May I say, no less to be remembered
because not in quotation-marks?

In the " foolishness of (so much) preaching,"


there should certainly be a few words of wisdom ;
therefore do not, my ardent angler, fancy for a mo-
ment that all your daylight hours should be spent in
eating and fishing, but accept the preacher's advice :
when the sun is at its meridian, and for one hour
before and at least two after, wet not your line.

After dinner, take your pipe, select some shady
spot, and as you sit having nothing

" To fret your soul with crosses or with cares,"

indulge in a retrospect of your anti-meridian suc-
cesses. Question your guide as to whether any
one could have saved the fish you lost, the " noblest
Roman" of them all (?). Anticipate your after-
noon sport, select a few flies in which you have
confidence, knock the ashes from your dudheen,
then seek your tent, lie down upon your bed of
boughs, draw your mosquito-net around you, and
woo the drowsy god.

Such is my custom, and it is best honored in its
observance ; so if you please, my friend, imagine
me lying quietly upon my couch of green, while 'you
turn over.



IAYS in camp are all alike, in this
respect at least, that all are enjoy-
able ; and though that gives the
most zest which recounts at night
a famous catch, or some desperate
fight for victory under adverse cir-
cumstances, yet all are happy ; and, as twilight
gathers, we sit where the eye can rest upon lake
and mountain, rehearse our triumphs, or perchance
our failures, and form plans for the morrow.

One afternoon Joe and I decided to leave our
birch at Little r Falls, about a mile or so down
stream, and go down on foot the next morning, to
get the first fishing at that favorite spot.

Following out our plan, we were on hand in good
season ; but no canoe was to be found. Its ab-


sence caused Joe to stroke his chin, and remain for
a moment lost in thought.

"What does it mean, Tomah?"

" Ugh ! look there," pointing to the spot where
we left the canoe.

" Well, I see nothing there but a pile of chips."

" Don't you see ? Somebody make paddle ; and
see here, moccasin-track : that's Gabrielle (Joe's
brother) ; only he round here now wear mocca-

"Well, what do you think?"

" Gabrielle, his birch up 'bove dam ; I think he
and Mr. Clark, they take walk down stream ; fish
Big Falls, then walk down here to fish from bank ;
see our canoe, make paddle, catch our fish."

And, sure enough, the to-be legislator was right ;
for just at that moment the birch appeared round
a bend in the stream, glided up to the shore, and
the " two thieves," our friend from Umbagog and
Gabrielle, stepped out upon the bank with half a
dozen salmon which I had arranged for.

Candor compels me to say that we hardly en-
joyed the joke as much as they : our feelings were

more of

"That stern joy which warriors feel
In foemen worthy of their steel."

After some little pleasant sparring between Mr.


Clark and myself, and one or two good spanks
upon Gabrielle's back inflicted by Joe with the im-
provised paddle, the latter shouldered his birch, and
we carried around the falls to unvisited fishing-
grounds below We had, however, not much luck,
and, after whipping the stream nearly down to the
outlet, getting a little faint w drew in to the shore
to partake of our lunch. While we were enjoying
our crackers, cheese, and olives, and discussing
what should be our next move, Joe reached out
from the canoe, and took from some debris that
was floating upon the stream what appeared to me
to be a large but deserted cocoon. Replying in
the negative to his question, Did I know what it
was ? he passed it over to me for inspection, when
I saw that possibly there might still be an embryo
life within it.

"That," said Joe, " is a dragon-fly, what we call a
'Devil's darning-needle,'" all the while examining
it critically : " I will put it here on the basket-cover,
and in twenty minutes by your watch you will see
him crawl out and fly away."

I felt a little inclined to say " Shoo fly ! " but
knowing well Joe's experience in woodcraft and
natural history, gained from an intimate acquaint-
ance with nature, I refrained from doubting ; and it
was well I did, for in just eighteen minutes (Joe


insisted upon my consulting my watch) , within two
of the appointed time, one of those huge insects
emerged from the shell, and stood before us in all
the beauty of his variegated colors.

He looked about him for a moment, gave his nose
a rub first with one foot, then with another, stroked
his wings with a couple more as if to satisfy himself
that he was himself, and, before I was well over my
amazement, spread his wings, and sailed off into the
air as if he had been up to that sort of thing for a
very much longer life than he could claim.

No babyhood there, except what was passed in his
darkened cell, no creeping before he could walk,
no fluttering of the wings, but with the strength of
full growth to which he seemed at once to have
arrived he was ready to take his part in the battle
of life.

" Joseph, you have proved yourself a true proph-
et for once, now see if you can find some salmon."

But Joe's eyes are now scanning the heavens,
over which a few white clouds were rapidly passing,
and he looks a little anxious.

" We're going to have a thunder-shower, and a
heavy blow, Mr. Stevens ; and I'm afraid Mrs.

S will have a hard time with those tents on the


" Nonsense, Joe : I don't see any signs of a


" Well, I do ; and my advice is, go home. 1 tell
you, I'm anxious about your wife."

" But we must not go home without a few more
fish, Tomah."

" Very well, just as you say ; but you'll wish you
had taken my advice."

In half an hour the storm burst upon us, with all
its fury. The tall trees upon either bank bent
before the blast ; the red lightning leaped along the
sky, and peal upon peal of thunder rent the dark-
ened air. T^he rain fell in torrents, and our rubber
clothing afforded us but poor protection. Pushing
our birch to the shore, we lay under the branches
of an overhanging tree, which protected us some-
what from the raging elements ; Joe all the while
insisting that there would be trouble in camp. I
confess, I somewhat shared his fears, but would not
admit it to him. At last, during a lull in the storm,
Joe says,

" Mr. Stevens, we are going home."

We were then about two miles from camp, and
most of the way we were obliged to go on foot.
We started at once, Joe with the birch on his head,
and I following on behind, pretty well loaded down
with my fishing-implements. Before we had gone
half a mile, the rain had ceased, and the sun was
bursting through the clouds ; still the wind blew


heavily, and Joe said another shower was coming.
In this, however, he was mistaken.

After half an hour's tedious walking, I got a view
of the hill ; but alas ! the white tents that were wont
to greet our coming were not to be seen, not a
yard of canvas was visible.

Joe's head was enveloped in birch-bark, and I
felt a bit ashamed to tell him the state of affairs ;
but, feeling the need of haste, I suggested that he
take a look.

" Just as I expected : now I leave canoe here,
and we get there pretty quick."

We were soon standing amid the wreck : every
thing was flat, gone by the board.

Like the blossoming fruit, when summer is green,
Our tents on the hill-tops at sunrise were seen ;
Like the leaves of the forest, when autumn had blown,
That camp in the noontime dismantled was strown.

And there lay the stove, with its door opened wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of its pride.
And the smoke of its embers fell faint on the hill,
And the pipe but once puffed, and forever was still.

And there stood the hostess, not caring a groat,

With a pie in her hand, and the rain on her coat,

As she said, with glad gesture, " The storm have I braved,

The bedding's all dry, and the larder is saved."


The parody has very well described the situation.-
Though the appearance of the camp was rather a
disheartening one, there was scarcely any damage

done. Mrs. S had shown herself fully equal to

the emergency ; alone and unaided had brought
order out of chaos, had sheltered every thing perish-
able from the rain, and we found her as calm and
collected as though nought but sunshine had crossed
her path during our absence.

The disaster entailed but one loss : our ther-
mometer was fastened to one of the tent-poles, and
both went down together ; the latter to rise again
like a famous insurance emblem, the former to do
so no more, though Arabia's sun should shine upon

Joe, having determined in his mind that the
tents would go down, was now as fully determined
that they should as quickly go up. It was not long,
therefore, before we had the satisfaction of seeing
our camp restored, par excellence, hitherto un-

We had brought with us some Chinese lanterns
and fire-balloons, with which to astonish the natives ;
and we decided to celebrate our rebuilded city by
a grand ascension in the evening.

It was highly successful, doubly so in itself and
its effect upon Joseph. It is rarely that the stoical


nature of an Indian can be aroused sufficiently to
manifest any outward show of surprise or admira-

Joe had feasted his eyes upon the gayly colored
lanterns that hung upon ropes encircling our camp,
had watched my preparations for the aerial flight
with mute wonder and astonishment ; but when the
ball of cotton, which he had seen saturated with
alcohol, was set on fire, and the upheld balloon,
swelling out. to its full capacity, was let loose to
seek its pathway among the stars, for once Joe for-
got his stoicism, and became almost frantic with
delight, dancing about, and cutting the wildest
, capers, fairly rivalling the clown in a pantomime.

We found it necessary to send up three more
before bringing Joe down to his normal state ; and
by the time they had followed each other, in the
trackless space, we were quite ready to seek repose,
and dream, perchance, of those unknown worlds,
that were showering down upon us their sparkling



Magalloway River is one of the

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Woodbury) StevensFly-fishing in Maine lakes; or, Camp-life in the wilderness → online text (page 8 of 11)