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Fishing and
Shooting Sketches


Illustrated by


COPYRIGHT, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, BY THE INDEPENDENT.

Entered at Stationers' Hall, London, England.

_All Rights Reserved._


[Illustration: From Copyright Photo, by Pach.
Yours truly
Grover Cleveland]




The Mission of Sport and Outdoor Life

I am sure that it is not necessary for me, at this late day, to dwell
upon the fact that I am an enthusiast in my devotion to hunting and
fishing, as well as every other kind of outdoor recreation. I am so
proud of this devotion that, although my sporting proclivities have at
times subjected me to criticism and petty forms of persecution, I make
no claim that my steadfastness should be looked upon as manifesting the
courage of martyrdom. On the contrary, I regard these criticisms and
persecutions as nothing more serious than gnat stings suffered on the
bank of a stream - vexations to be borne with patience and afterward
easily submerged in the memory of abundant delightful accompaniments.
Thus, when short fishing excursions, in which I have sought relief
from the wearing labors and perplexities of official duty, have been
denounced in a mendacious newspaper as dishonest devices to cover
scandalous revelry, I have been able to enjoy a sort of pleasurable
contempt for the author of this accusation, while congratulating myself
on the mental and physical restoration I had derived from these
excursions. So, also, when people, more mistaken than malicious, have
wagged their heads in pitying fashion and deprecated my indulgence
in hunting and fishing frivolity, which, in high public service, I
have found it easy to lament the neglect of these amiable persons
to accumulate for their delectation a fund of charming sporting
reminiscence; while, at the same time, I sadly reflected how their
dispositions might have been sweetened and their lives made happier if
they had yielded something to the particular type of frivolity which
they deplored.

I hope it may not be amiss for me to supplement these personal
observations by the direct confession that, so far as my attachment to
outdoor sports may be considered a fault, I am, as related to this
especial predicament of guilt, utterly incorrigible and shameless. Not
many years ago, while residing in a non-sporting but delightfully
cultured and refined community, I found that considerable indignation
had been aroused among certain good neighbors and friends, because it
had been said of me that I was willing to associate in the field with
any loafer who was the owner of a dog and gun. I am sure that I did not
in the least undervalue the extreme friendliness of those inclined to
intervene in my defense; and yet, at the risk of doing an apparently
ungracious thing, I felt inexorably constrained to check their kindly
efforts by promptly conceding that the charge was too nearly true to be

There can be no doubt that certain men are endowed with a sort of
inherent and spontaneous instinct which leads them to hunting and
fishing indulgence as the most alluring and satisfying of all
recreations. In this view, I believe it may be safely said that the true
hunter or fisherman is born, not made. I believe, too, that those who
thus by instinct and birthright belong to the sporting fraternity and
are actuated by a genuine sporting spirit, are neither cruel, nor greedy
and wasteful of the game and fish they pursue; and I am convinced that
there can be no better conservators of the sensible and provident
protection of game and fish than those who are enthusiastic in their
pursuit, but who, at the same time, are regulated and restrained by the
sort of chivalric fairness and generosity, felt and recognized by every
true sportsman.

While it is most agreeable thus to consider hunting and fishing as
constituting, for those especially endowed for their enjoyment, the
most tempting of outdoor sports, it is easily apparent that there
is a practical value to these sports as well as all other outdoor
recreations, which rests upon a broader foundation. Though the
delightful and passionate love for outdoor sports and recreation is not
bestowed upon every one as a natural gift, they are so palpably related
to health and vigor, and so inseparably connected with the work of life
and comfort of existence, that it is happily ordained that a desire
or a willingness for their enjoyment may be cultivated to an extent
sufficient to meet the requirements of health and self-care. In other
words, all but the absolutely indifferent can be made to realize that
outdoor air and activity, intimacy with nature and acquaintanceship with
birds and animals and fish, are essential to physical and mental
strength, under the exactions of an unescapable decree.

Men may accumulate wealth in neglect of the law of recreation; but how
infinitely much they will forfeit, in the deprivation of wholesome
vigor, in the loss of the placid fitness for the quiet joys and
comforts of advancing years, and in the displacement of contented age by
the demon of querulous and premature decrepitude!

"For the good God who loveth us
He made and loveth all."

A Law not to Be Disobeyed

Men, in disobedience of this law, may achieve triumph in the world of
science, education and art; but how unsatisfying are the rewards thus
gained if they hasten the night when no man can work, and if the later
hours of life are haunted by futile regrets for what is still left
undone, that might have been done if there had been closer communion
with nature's visible forms!

In addition to the delight which outdoor recreations afford to those
instinctively in harmony with their enjoyment, and after a recognition
of the fact that a knowledge of their nerve- and muscle-saving
ministrations may be sensibly cultivated, there still remains another
large item that should be placed to their credit. Every individual, as a
unit in the scheme of civilized social life, owes to every man, woman
and child within such relationship an uninterrupted contribution to the
fund of enlivening and pleasurable social intercourse. None of us can
deny this obligation; and none of us can discharge it as we ought, if
our contributions are made in the questionable coin of sordidness and
nature's perversion. Our experience and observation supply abundant
proof that those who contribute most generously to the exhilaration and
charm of social intercourse will be found among the disciples of outdoor
recreation, who are in touch with nature and have thus kept fresh and
unperverted a simple love of humanity's best environment.

A Chance in the Open for All

It seems to me that thoughtful men should not be accused of exaggerated
fears when they deprecate the wealth-mad rush and struggle of American
life and the consequent neglect of outdoor recreation, with the
impairment of that mental and physical vigor absolutely essential to our
national welfare, and so abundantly promised to those who gratefully
recognize, in nature's adjustment to the wants of man, the care of "the
good God" who "made and loveth all."

Manifestly, if outdoor recreations are important to the individual and
to the nation, and if there is danger of their neglect, every
instrumentality should be heartily encouraged which aims to create and
stimulate their indulgence in every form.

Fortunately, the field is broad and furnishes a choice for all except
those wilfully at fault. The sky and sun above the head, the soil
beneath the feet, and outdoor air on every side are the indispensable

A Defense of Fishermen

By way of introduction and explanation, it should be said that there is
no intention at this time to deal with those who fish for a livelihood.
Those sturdy and hard-working people need no vindication or defense.
Our concern is with those who fish because they have an occult and
mysterious instinct which leads them to love it, because they court the
healthful, invigorating exertion it invites, and because its indulgence
brings them in close contact and communion with Nature's best and most
elevating manifestations. This sort of fishing is pleasure and not
work - sport and not money-grabbing. Therefore it is contemptuously
regarded in certain quarters as no better than a waste of time.

Generous fishermen cannot fail to look with pity upon the benighted
persons who have no better conception than this of the uses and
beneficent objects of rational diversion. In these sad and ominous days
of mad fortune-chasing, every patriotic, thoughtful citizen, whether he
fishes or not, should lament that we have not among our countrymen more
fishermen. There can be no doubt that the promise of industrial peace,
of contented labor and of healthful moderation in the pursuit of
wealth, in this democratic country of ours, would be infinitely improved
if a large share of the time which has been devoted to the concoction of
trust and business combinations, had been spent in fishing.

The narrow and ill-conditioned people who snarlingly count all fishermen
as belonging to the lazy and good-for-nothing class, and who take
satisfaction in describing an angler's outfit as a contrivance with a
hook at one end and a fool at the other, have been so thoroughly
discredited that no one could wish for their more irredeemable
submersion. Statesmen, judges, clergymen, lawyers and doctors, as well
as thousands of other outspoken members of the fishing fraternity, have
so effectively given the lie to these revilers of an honest and
conscientious brotherhood that a large majority have been glad to find
refuge in ignominious silence.

Notwithstanding this, weak, piping voices are still occasionally heard
accusing fishermen of certain shortcomings and faults. These are so
unsubstantial and unimportant that, as against the high place in the
world's esteem claimed by those who love to fish, they might well be
regarded as non-essentials, or, in a phrase of the day, as mere matters
of detail. But, although it may be true that these charges are on the
merits unworthy of notice, it cannot be expected that fishermen, proud
of the name, will be amiably willing to permit those making such
accusations the satisfaction of remaining unchallenged.

The Hangers-on of the Fraternity

At the outset, the fact should be recognized that the community of
fishermen constitute a separate class or a sub-race among the
inhabitants of the earth. It has sometimes been said that fishermen
cannot be manufactured. This is true to the extent that nothing can
supply the lack of certain inherent, constitutional and inborn qualities
or traits which are absolutely necessary to a fisherman's make-up. Of
course there are many who call themselves fishermen and who insist upon
their membership in the fraternity who have not in their veins a drop of
legitimate fisherman blood. Their self-asserted relationship is
nevertheless sometimes seized upon by malicious or ignorant critics as
permitting the assumption that the weaknesses and sins of these
pretenders are the weaknesses and sins of genuine fishermen; but in
truth these pretenders are only interlopers who have learned a little
fish language, who love to fish only "when they bite," who whine at bad
luck, who betray incredulity when they hear a rousing fish story, and
who do or leave undone many other things fatal to good and regular
standing. They are like certain whites called squaw-men, who hang about
Indian reservations, and gain certain advantages in the tribes by
marrying full-blooded Indian women. Surely no just person would for a
moment suppose that genuine Indians could be treated fairly by measuring
them according to a squaw-man standard. Neither can genuine fishermen be
fairly treated by judging them according to the standards presented by

In point of fact, full-blooded fishermen whose title is clear, and whose
natural qualifications are undisputed, have ideas, habits of thought and
mental tendencies so peculiarly and especially their own, and their
beliefs and code of ethics are so exclusively fitted to their needs and
surroundings, that an attempt on the part of strangers to speak or write
concerning the character or conduct of its approved membership savors of
impudent presumption. None but fishermen can properly deal with these
delicate matters.

What sense is there in the charge of laziness sometimes made against
true fishermen? Laziness has no place in the constitution of a man who
starts at sunrise and tramps all day with only a sandwich to eat,
floundering through bushes and briers and stumbling over rocks or wading
streams in pursuit of the elusive trout. Neither can a fisherman who,
with rod in hand, sits in a boat or on a bank all day be called
lazy - provided he attends to his fishing and is physically and mentally
alert in his occupation. This charge may perhaps be truthfully made
against squaw-fishermen who become easily discouraged, who "tire and
faint" early, and lie down under the shade to sleep, or go in swimming,
or who gaze about or read a book while their hooks rest baitless on the
bottom; but how false and unfair it is to accuse regular, full-blooded
fishermen of laziness, based on such performances as these! And yet this
is absurdly done by those who cannot tell a reel from a compass, and who
by way of familiarizing themselves with their topic leave their beds at
eight o'clock in the morning, ride to an office at ten, sit at a desk
until three or perhaps five, with an hour's interval for a hearty
luncheon, and go home in the proud belief that they have done an active,
hard day's work. Fishermen find no fault with what they do in their own
affairs, nor with their conception of work; but they do insist that
such people have no right to impute laziness to those who fish.

Why Fish Stories Should Be Believed

It is sometimes said that there is such close relationship between
mendacity and fishing, that in matters connected with their craft all
fishermen are untruthful. It must, of course, be admitted that large
stories of fishing adventure are sometimes told by fishermen - and why
should this not be so? Beyond all question there is no sphere of human
activity so full of strange and wonderful incidents as theirs. Fish are
constantly doing the most mysterious and startling things; and no one
has yet been wise enough to explain their ways or account for their
conduct. The best fishermen do not attempt it; they move and strive in
the atmosphere of mystery and uncertainty, constantly aiming to reach
results without a clue, and through the cultivation of faculties,
non-existent or inoperative in the common mind.

In these circumstances fishermen necessarily see and do wonderful
things. If those not members of the brotherhood are unable to assimilate
the recital of these wonders, it is because their believing apparatus
has not been properly regulated and stimulated. Such disability falls
very far short of justifying doubt as to the truth of the narration. The
things narrated have been seen and experienced with a fisherman's eyes
and perceptions. This is perfectly understood by listening fishermen;
and they, to their enjoyment and edification, are permitted by a
properly adjusted mental equipment to believe what they hear.

This faculty is one of the safest signs of full-blooded right to
membership. If incredulity is intimated by a professional member no
injustice will be done if he is at once put under suspicion as a
squaw-fisherman. As to non-members who accuse true fishermen of
falsehood, it is perfectly clear that they are utterly unfitted to deal
with the subject. The only theory fitting the condition leads to the
statement that any story of personal experience told by a fisherman is
to the fishing apprehension indubitably true; and that since disbelief
in other quarters is owing to the lack of this apprehension, the folly
of accusing fishermen of habitual untruthfulness is quite apparent.

The Taking of the Leviathan

The position thus taken by the brotherhood requires that they stand
solidly together in all circumstances. Tarpon fishing has added greatly
to our responsibilities. Even larger fish than these may, with the
extension of American possessions, fall within the treatment of American
fishermen. As in all past emergencies, we shall be found sufficient in
such future exigencies. All will go well if, without a pretense of
benevolent assimilation, we still fish as is our wont, and continue our
belief in all that our brethren declare they have done or can do. A few
thousand years ago the question was impressively asked, "Canst thou draw
out leviathan with a hook?" We must not falter, if, upon its repetition
in the future, a brother replies: "Yes, with a ten-ounce rod;" nor must
we be staggered even if another declares he has already landed one of
these monsters. If American institutions are found adequate to the new
tasks which Destiny has put upon them in the extension of our lands, the
American Chapter of the world's fishermen must not fail by their
time-honored methods and practices, and by such truthfulness as belongs
to the fraternity in the narration of fishing adventure, to subdue any
new difficulties presented by the extension of our waters.

Why the Biggest Fish Are Always Lost

Before leaving this branch of our subject, especial reference should be
made to one item more conspicuous, perhaps, than any other, among those
comprised in the general charge of fishermen's mendacity. It is
constantly said that they greatly exaggerate the size of the fish that
are lost. This accusation, though most frequently and flippantly made,
is in point of fact based upon the most absurd arrogance and a love of
slanderous assertion that passes understanding. These are harsh words;
but they are abundantly justified.

In the first place, all the presumptions are with the fisherman's
contention. It is perfectly plain that large fish are more apt to escape
than small ones. Of course their weight and activity, combined with the
increased trickiness and resourcefulness of age and experience, greatly
increase their ability to tear out the hook, and enhance the danger that
their antics will expose a fatal weakness in hook, leader, line or rod.
Another presumption which must be regretfully mentioned, arises from the
fact that in many cases the encounter with a large fish causes such
excitement, and such distraction or perversion of judgment, on the part
of the fisherman as leads him to do the wrong thing or fail to do the
right thing at the critical instant - thus actually and effectively
contributing to an escape which could not and would not have occurred
except in favor of a large fish.

Beyond these presumptions we have the deliberate and simple story of the
fisherman himself, giving with the utmost sincerity all the details of
his misfortune, and indicating the length of the fish he has lost, or
giving in pounds his exact weight. Now, why should this statement be
discredited? It is made by one who struggled with the escaped fish.
Perhaps he saw it. This, however, is not important, for he certainly
felt it on his rod, and he knows precisely how his rod behaves in the
emergency of every conceivable strain.

The Finny Hypnotist

All true fishermen who listen to his plain, unvarnished tale accept with
absolute faith the declared length and weight of the fish that was
almost caught; but with every presumption, besides positive statement,
against them, carping outsiders who cannot fish, and who love to accuse
fishermen of lying, are exposed in an attempt to originate or perpetuate
an envious and malicious libel.

The case of our fraternity on this point of absolute and exact
truthfulness is capable of such irrefragable demonstration that anything
in the way of confession and avoidance ought to be considered
inadmissible. And yet, simply for the sake of argument, or by way of
curious speculation, it may be interesting to intimate how a variation
of a few inches in the exact length or a few ounces in the exact weight
of a lost fish, as given by the loser, may be accounted for, without
meanly attributing to him intentional falsehood. The theory has been
recently started, that a trained hunting dog points a bird in the field
solely because the bird's scent creates a hypnotic influence on the dog,
which impels him by a sort of suggestion to direct his nose toward the
spot from which such scent emanates. If there is anything worth
considering in this theory, why may not a struggling fish at the end of
a line exert such a hypnotic influence on the intensely excited and
receptive nature at the other extremity of the fishing outfit, as to
suggest an arbitrary and independent statement of the dimensions of the

With the accusations already mentioned it would certainly seem that
the enmity of those who take pleasure in reviling fishermen and their
ways should be satisfied. They have not been content, however, in
the demonstration of their evil-mindedness without adding to their
indictment against the brotherhood the charge of profanity. Of course,
they have not the hardihood to allege that our profanity is of that
habitual and low sort which characterizes the coarse and ill-bred, who
offend all decent people by constantly interlarding their speech with
fearful and irrelevant oaths. They, nevertheless, find sufficient
excuse for their accusation in the sudden ejaculations, outwardly
resembling profanity, which are occasionally wrung from fishermen in
trying crises and in moments of soul-straining unkindness of Fate.

Now, this question of profanity is largely one of intention and
deliberation. The man who, intending what he says, coolly indulges in
imprecation, is guilty of an offense that admits of no excuse or
extenuation; but a fisherman can hardly be called profane who, when
overtaken without warning by disaster, and abruptly hurled from the
exhilarating heights of delightful anticipation to the depths of dire
disappointment, impulsively gives vent to his pent-up emotion by the
use of a word which, though found in the list of oaths, is spoken
without intentional imprecation, and because nothing else seems to
suit the occasion. It is by no means to be admitted that fishing tends
even to this semblance of profanity. On the contrary, it imposes a
self-restraint and patient forbearance upon its advanced devotees which
tend to prevent sudden outbursts of feeling.

It must in frankness be admitted, however, by fishermen of every degree,
that when the largest trout of the day, after a long struggle, winds
the leader about a snag and escapes, or when a large salmon or bass,
apparently fatigued to the point of non-resistance, suddenly, by an
unexpected and vicious leap, frees himself from the hook, the
fisherman's code of morals will not condemn beyond forgiveness the
holder of the straightened rod if he impulsively, but with all the
gentility at his command, exclaims: "Damn that fish!" It is probably
better not to speak at all; but if strong words are to be used, perhaps
these will serve as well as any that can do justice to the occasion.

Uncle Toby, overcome with tender sympathy, swore with an unctious,
rotund oath, that his sick friend should not die; and we are told that
"the accusing spirit which flew up to Heaven's chancery with the oath
blushed as he gave it in; and the recording angel as he wrote it down

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Online LibraryGrover ClevelandFishing and shooting sketches → online text (page 1 of 5)