Robert Barnwell Roosevelt.

Superior fishing; or, The striped bass, trout, and black bass of the northern states. Embracing full directions for dressing artificial flies with the feathers of American birds; an account of a sporting visit to Lake Superior, etc., etc., etc online

. (page 3 of 18)
Online LibraryRobert Barnwell RooseveltSuperior fishing; or, The striped bass, trout, and black bass of the northern states. Embracing full directions for dressing artificial flies with the feathers of American birds; an account of a sporting visit to Lake Superior, etc., etc., etc → online text (page 3 of 18)
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room. It had the great desideratum of plenty
of fresh air, for it was of the whole width of the
house and had windows back and front, but Don
was surprised that people who kept hotels did not
acquaint themselves with the other important requi-

"There, for instance, you observe the water
pitcher has a cracked handle. Some time you will
undertake to lift it and it will give way, and then
there is no telling what it may ruin; the trunk,
even, may receive the entire contents."

" But, Don, that is an old crack ; it has evidently
stood several years, and will doubtless last the few
days we are here."

"Not so certain; and just observe that disgusting
nick in the wash-basin, it will always look dirty even
if it is not."

" Don, you are wrong there ; that is a good sign,
it proves the basin may nick but won't break."



" Then there is no slop-basin ; now what do you
suppose we are to do without a slop-basin?"

" Why, throw the slops out of the window, to be


" You would hardly call that decent in New York ;
and not only may they fall on some passer-by, but
the window is too small to permit it conveniently.
Just look at this pillow ; it is long, to be sure, but
not stuffed with half feathers enough ; what am I
to do with such an apology for a pillow as this ?"

" Why, double it up, of course."

" I see," he concluded, in a resigned tone, " you
are making a joke of these matters, so we will not
pursue the subject; but now that we are on shore
fresh from our voyage, I wish to ask seriously your
deliberate opinion whether you would advise any
one to take the trip just for the pleasure of the jour-
ney itself?"




In the northern part of Mmnesota is the greatest
elevation of what geologists denominate the eastern
water-shed of our continent ; lying almost exactly
in the centre of North America, here the streams
that flow to the north, east, and south, find their
source. Lake Superior, that adjoins this section on
the east, is the chief of those magnificent lakes that
empty from. one another into the St. Lawrence, and
finally wash the coast of Labrador. The Mississippi,
taking its rise in the same region and but a few miles
away, flows southward with ever increasing volume
to the Gulf of Mexico, and then sweeping around
Florida and through the Atlantic, rejoins the waters
of Lake Superior off Newfoundland ; while the
Ked River of the North, pursuing a contrary course,
empties into Hudson's Bay and thence into the
Northern Ocean. These waters, starting from little
rills and springs scarcely .more than a few steps
apart, after wandering thousands of miles asunder
come together and commingle in the Northern Atlan-
tic Ocean.

Here were the famous Lidian portages. One from
Lake Superior through Pigeon River, Sturgeon Lake,
and Rainy River into the Lake of the Woods, has
served to locate the boundary between two great


nations, and is the native highway between Hudson's
River and Hudson's Bay. Another through Brule
River leads into the head waters of the Mississippi,
and thence, by ascending the Missouri, to the rivers
that empty into the Pacific Ocean. These portages
were traversed year after year^by the aboriginal in-
habitants, who have left their tracks in the well-worn
paths that are still followed by the voyageurs, and
are suggestive of easy grades to those who wish to
bind our country together by paddle-wheel and rail-
road track.

Lake Superior, with a surface six hundred feet
above, and a bottom three hundred feet below
the level of the sea, stretches out in vastness and
splendor five hundred miles long by nearly two hun-
dred broad, and holds in its bosom islands that would
make respectable kingdoms in the old world. On
the southern shore its sandstone rocks are worn by
the waves and storms into fantastic shapes, imitative
of ancient castles or modern vessels, or are hollowed
out into deep caverns ; on the north the bolder shore
rises into rugged mountains whose face has been
seamed by the moving ice-drift of former ages. In
the country bordering upon the south are located
inexhaustible mines of copper and iron of immense
value ; and along the northern coast are found agates
and precious stones.

A hundred streams pour their contents into the
great lake which, from its enormous size and depth,
retaining the temperature of winter through the
summer months, empties its clear, cold, transparent


waters into the river Ste. Marie. Not producing a
'large variety of iish, those that dwell in its bosom
are the finest of their species. The speckled trout,
the Mackinaw salmon, and the black bass are large
and vigorous; sturgeons are j^lentiful, although
valueless except as an article of food ; and the white
fish are the daintiest fresh-water fish in the world.

The forests are mainly composed of the sombre
evergreen trees, relieved frequently by the beautiful
white birch, and along the low lands by a consider-
able number of other varieties ; the shore on the
north is a bold bluff five hundred feet high, but
where it descends to the water it forms occasionally
tracts of fertile interval ; on the south the coast is
more level and apparently more sterile. Both shores
are as yet totally uncultivated, and from the severity
of the winters will probably long so remain.

Immediately upon our arrival at the Sault we
made our preparations for a campaign against the
fish, and engaged, as guides Joseph Le Sayre, a
Melicete chief, and Alexis Biron, a Canadian half-
breed. Old Joe, as we called him, though he did
not seem over forty, was a fine looking Indian with
an erect graceful shape, and pleasant open counte-
nance ; Alexis, though apparently a good man, was
not so prepossessing.

We embarked in a large, stout canoe, and paddling
across the broken water at the foot of the fall, com-
menced fishing the streams into which the river is
divided by numerous islands near the opposite shore.
A small, brown caddis fly, or, scientifically speaking,


phryganea^ covered the water in myriads, was
wafted along in clouds by the wind, and settled upon
the trees and rocks everywhere. Knowing that they
changed from a species of worm on rising to the
surface, we selected clear, calm spots and endea-
vored to examine the process. It was too rapid for
human eyesight ; a spot of transparent water would
be bare one instant, and the next there would be
upon its surface two or or three little creatures danc-
ing about and trying their wings preparatory to a
bolder flight. We never managed to see the larva,
but invariably beheld the perfect fly appear instan-

Their number was incalculable; living ones filled
the air, were blown along like moving sand, were
carried into our faces so that we could scarcely face
the wind, and settled upon our boat; dead ones
covered the water in all directions, were devoured
by the fish, especially the lake herring, and were col-
lected by the current in masses resembling sea-
weed. They were nearly the color of common
brown paper throughout, legs, wings, and. body
being of much the same hue. They arrive every
year at the same time and in about the same num-
bers. They last a week or so, and although we
found them the entire length of our subsequent trip,
their favorite locality seemed to be the Sault. They
are used as bait for the lake herring, which I believe
is identical with the cisco, an excellent fish closely
resembling, and in my opinion equal, if not superior
to the white fish.


The trout usually begin taking the artificial fly in
the early part of July, but although we had been
warned that they were not as yet rising this year,
we had no anticipation of the wretched luck that
awaited us. Notwithstanding the water seemed
promising, and deep, dark holes, beautiful eddies,
and lively pools indicated success ; and notwithstand-
ing continual changes of our flies, we only killed
three small fish. Perhaps the numerous natural in-
sects, or the larvm from which they were metamor-
phosed, proved a sufficient and preferable food ; we
could not induce the trout to rise, and did not even
see them breaking.

Exploring all the little streams of the Canadian
side, hoping at every cast to improve our luck, we
worked our way slowly and arduously, for the water
was unusually low, against the current, and steadily
ascending with the strenuous efforts of our canoe
men, who used stout poles for the purpose, we at
last emerged above the islands and at the head of
the rapids.

Here the water of the lake, confined to the narrow
channel, chafed uneasily in tiny wavelets, as though
conscious of the approaching struggle. Above, the
river stretched away to the westward, evidently
from a considerable elevation but comparatively
smooth ; nearer, it was rushing like a mill-race ; below
it was broken into white waves, huge cascades, and
seething rapids. How wonderful is the change in
the appearance of water lying calmly in the lake,
hurrying rapidly but silently down a smooth slope,


lashed into billows by the wind, toiling among rocks
or leaping over falls — but above all is it peculiar and
terrible in passing through broken descents ! See it
glide so deceitfully smooth, but with such resistless
power toward the rapids ; notice its tiny innocent
ripples and childlike murmurs at your feet ; see the
pretty rolling undulations. Trust yourself to its
seductions. N'ow it has you in its fearful current,
now it drags you along, it clasps you struggling and
shrieking in its fierce embrace ; it throws its white
arms around you, lashes itself into a fury, whirls you
about in its powerful eddies, sinks you down in its
mighty whirlpools, dashes you against the rocks,
drags you along the jagged bottom, tosses you over
the cascades, and finally flings you torn, bleeding,
disfigured, and lifeless to the bottom of the tranquil
pool at its base.

In the sunlight it resembles liquid crystal ; flow-
ing along placidly, transparent as the diamond, it
sweeps upon the rocky shoals and flies up in a
shower of purest pearls, alternately revealing or
hiding some monstrous gem to which it lends its re-
flective brilliancy ; over the limestone it is opal, over
yellow rocks it becomes onyx, over the red, ruby or
garnet, over the green, emerald.

Bending and waving in ever varying beauty of
form, but carrying in its bosom or reflecting from its
foam the sunlight fire, a thousand times intensified,
of precious stones.

As the day was well advanced, we determined
to trust ourselves to the unreliable element and run


the rapids, which is one of the favorite amusements
of the adventurous. This can be made as dangerous
as desirable, according to the selection of route,
either near shore, where there is only the chance of
an upset and a few bruises, or through the centre,
where it is certain death. We chose a middle
course, but as near the centre as our guides, who
were not venturesome, would go. Crossing over
above the broken water to the American shore, the
large, high-sided, but fragile canoe was headed down
stream, giving us a view of the prospect before us.
Great ridges of white foam stretched at intervals
almost from shore to shore, while the darker water
was broken into heavy waves, curling up stream and
ready to pour into the boat as it should rush down-
wards through them. At first the canoe settled
gently, making us plainly feel that we were going
down hill ; then it gathered way as the current in-
creased,' a,nd went plunging on its course. The
waves flew from our bow or leaped over in upon us,
the rocks glided by racing up stream, whirlpools
twisted us from side to side ; we sprang over tiny
cascades or darted down slopes deep and dark, or
shallow and feathery white with foam ; we rushed
upon rocks where inevitable destruction seemed
awaiting us, and the shore, trees, and houses went
tearing by ; past the little island at the head of the
rapids, past the main fall, through foam and spray,
we dashed headlong, till the few minutes required
for the entire descent being exhausted, we glided
calmly and quietly into the water below.


Looking back it seemed as thoiigli we gazed upon
a hill covered with water instead of up a river, and
nothing but practical experience would ^ponvince a
tyro that it could be navigated in safety with a birch
canoe. Exhilarated with the pleasurable sensations
we had enjoyed, and satisfied that the trout were
not in a rising mood that day at least, we returned
to the hotel.

The few fish we had killed were, transferred by
our host to the cook, and reappeared on table in fine
style. After discussing an excellent dinner and
comparing notes with the other fishermen present,
we accepted the invitation of the canal superinten-
dent to examine the locks and visit his pond of tame
trout. We found the canal an admirable structure,
expensively built, and of a size to accommodate the
largest steamers that navigate Lake Superior ; not,
however, being skilful in works of that character,
we felt more interest in the trout pond.

The latter was quite small, fed by a pipe from the
canal that cast up a jet in the centre, and was filled
with over a hundred of fine, large, active trout,
weighing from one to four pounds. They were
wonderfully gentle, would feed from the hand, allow
any one to scratch their sides and lift them from the
water, and if one end of the food was held fast, they
would tug like good fellows at the other. When
we held a piece of bait between the first finger and
thumb, and at the same time presented the little
finger, they would frequently seize the latter by
mistake ; and although on that occasion they let go


instantly without doing the least harm, the proprie-
tor said when hungry they occasionally left the
marks of tjieir teeth. It was extremely interesting
to watch their movements, as their appetites were
never allowed to become ravenous and produce
quarrelling among themselves. They were magnifi-
cent fellows, swimming about majestically, and com-
ing to the surface in a fearless way to return the
gaze of the spectators.

The trout were mostly taken in nets from the
canal when the water was drawn off. They had
been known to spawn, trying to ascend the jet for
that purpose, and depositing their eggs where the
water fell ; but the spawn either was eaten by their
comrades or failed to hatch. Under no circum-
stances, however, would the young have lived
among such rapacious giants.

Having amused ourselves sufficiently with the
tame trout, we turned our attention once more to
their wilder brethren ; but as no better success
attended us than in the morning, we returned early
to superintend the capture of the white-fish. Every
morning and evening the Indians and half-breeds
are seen by pairs in their canoes, one wielding a
large net with a long wooden handle, and the other
plying the jDaddle. Ascending cautiously to the
eddy below some prominent rock, the net-man in
the bow peers into the troubled water, and having
caught sight of the white-fish lying securely in his
haven of rest, casts the net over him. The moment
the net touches the water the other ceases paddling,


and allows the canoe to settle back with the cur-
rent ; the fish thus entangled in the meshes is lifted
out and thrown into the boat. The net is about
four feet across, the rim is of wood, and the handle
is bent at the end so as to afford a secure hold.
Nothing but the practised eye of the native can dis-
tinguish, amid the foam and spray and broken water,
the dim and varying outline of the fish. Many are
frequently taken at one cast, and they are sold,
large and small, for five cents apiece.

Although undoubtedly delicious eating, fresh from
the cold water of Lake Superior, white-fish are not
superior in flavor to their smaller brethren, the lake
herring. The latter, so closely resembling the for-
mer as to be only distinguishable by the sharper
projection of the lower jaw, are taken with the na-
tural brown fly that has been already described.
Differing little, if at all, from the cisco of Lake
Ontario, they rise with a bolder leap at the natural
fly, and their break is as vigorous and determined
as that of the trout. They do not seem, except on
rare occasions, to take the artificial fly, but with
bait not only furnish pleasant sport for ladies, but
an admirable dish for the table.

The lake herring is found in many of the extensive
waters of the West, but being smaller than the
white-fish, is overshadowed by the reputation of the
latter. It is a pretty fish, bites freely and plays
well, but having to contend in delicacy against the
white-fish, and in vigor against the trout, it does
not receive the attention it deserves. Early in July


they collect at the Sault in millions, filling every
eddy of the rapids and crowding the canal, and de-
vour the dead and living phryganidoe. Later they
retire to deep water.

It being now apparent that the trout did not in-
tend to accept our delusions as veritable insects,
and as fish of three and four pounds had been taken
with minnow, much to our envy, Don determined
to try the bait. There are several species of min-
now captured from among the rocks of the Sault
in shrimp-nets, but the favorite is a peculiarly shaped
fish bearing the euphonious title of cock-a-doosh.
What the name signifies, either in French or Chip-
pewa, we could not ascertain ; but the broad, round
head and slim tail remind one of a pollywog, which
of all created things it most resembles. The cock-
a-doosh is a muscular little fellow, and not appear-
ing to mind a hook thrust through him, furnishes a
lively, attractive bait.

At the suggestion of some gentlemen who were
old habitues, and who recommended to us a couple
of men that had accompanied them on former trips
up the lake, we had determined to discard our pre-
sent boatmen, although without cause of complaint,
and engage Frank and Charley Biron to accompany
us into the woods. We had laid in our supplies of
food, all of which, except the tent, the liquor, solidi-
fied milk, and a few especial luxuries were purchased
in the village stores, had made our preparation for
departure in the morning, and devoted the afternoon
to fishing the little rapids.


Our present men had already ascertained our in-
tended change, and we had hardly pushed off before
old Joe began upon us. He spoke French, the lan-
guage of communication between the natives and
travellers, and never shall I forget his reproachful
tone and manner. Perfectly respectful, he pictured
our enormities and unkindness in such eloquent
words that we hung our heads in shame.

Never before had he, the chief of the Melicetes,
acquainted as he was with the whole length of the
lake, been displaced for younger men. The young
men were good voyageurs — that he did not dispute ;
but was it reasonable to prefer them to one who had
lived his whole life in the woods, or was it right to
brand with disgrace a guide who for two days had
served us, as we admitted, faithfully ? Unusual, in-
deed, was it to change the men, and should he have
this discredit cast upon him ? He had not been en-
gaged positively to accompany us ; but had we not
spoken to him and asked his advice ? "Was he not
justified in expecting it? He was sorry and hurt
that we should have done so ; he had been pleased
with us ; he knew that he could have pleased us ;
but could he rest under such an imputation ? Were
younger men better boatmen than he ? Were they
better acquainted with the lake ? Were we dis-
satisfied with him so far? Why, then, had we
changed, unless indeed to offend him? His feel-
ings were wounded, and he felt sure that we must
regret our injustice. If we said that we had been
. advised to do so, it must have been by persons who



did not know him or had some unworthy object;
and should we have done so great a wrong without
more inquiry? "No, messieurs/ this is the first
time I have been turned away for younger men."

It is impossible to give his language, for Joe, al-
though usually taciturn, burst forth with an over-
whelming flow of eloquence, showed us our conduct
in such a light that we would gladly have retracted,
and compelled us to take refuge behind our ignorance
of the customs of the place. Disclaiming the intention
to cast a slur upon him, we expressed the fullest con-
fidence in his abilities, and said that were it not too
late we should cancel our other engagement. Some-
what mollified, the pleasant expression returned to
the old brave's countenance ere we reached the
little rapids, where the excitement . of fishing di-
verted our attention.

Don here met with his first success with the cock-
^-doosh, striking and killing, after a protracted strug-
gle of twenty minutes, a fine trout of three pounds.
The rapidity of the current, which flowed deep and
strong without an eddy, gave the fish a great advan-
tage, and tried the rod to the utmost. The hook,
from its size taking a better hold than the diminu-
tive fly-hooks, remained firm and' enabled Don at
last to bring his prey to — and kill our first
large fish in the waters of Lake SujDerior.

Having fished faithfully, but in vain, for a mate,
although we saw in a deep pool quite a number as
large or larger, and as my fly would still only at-
tract the small ones, we headed once more up-stream.


The two miles' return was slower than our descent,
and gave us time to admire the scenery, to watch
the vessels passing through the narrow channel of
the shallow river, and note the decaying woodwork
of the old fort that once did good service against
the Indian, but would be a ludicrous structure in
modern warfare. On arriving at the Sault the finish-
ing touches were given to our preparations for camp-
ing out, and a wagon engaged to transport our
stores by land to the head of the canal, where our
new men and their barge were to meet us early on
the morrow. We parted with Joe, who, however,
that evening and next morning heaped coals of fire
on our heads by doing us innumerable little favors
in the way of suggestions, advice, and physical aid.

The day following, as the last article was placed
upon the cart, we were informed that neither
eggs nor bread was to be had in the village. Our
horror, or rather mine — for Don little knew what a
dearth of eggs implied — can only be appreciated by
an experienced cook ; bread was a minor matter, as
Ave had ship-biscuit, but eggs were indispensable.
It appeared on inquiry that the baker had been heat-
ing his own coppers, as the fast men express it, in-
stead of his oven, and was now sleeping off the efiTects
of his debauch ; and hens, feeling their importance in
that desolate country, only lay on special occasions.

While we were in a condition bordering upon
despair, uncertain whether to proceed, the steamer
Illinois hove in sight. Never w^as an arrival more
opportune, for one of the numerous ventures of the


bar-keepers on these vessels is to supply the country
with eggs, and recollections of the baskets full that
we had seen hanging from the cross-beams of the
City of Cleveland came vividly to our minds. Leav-
ing Don to purchase the eggs, I pushed on with the
baggage. The former boarded the steamer as soon
as she touched the dock, and, rushing to the bar-
keeper, demanded eight dozen eggs. He was in-
formed, however, that they were sold by the basket,
which contained fifteen dozen, and he could have no
less. Then it was that Don rose to the importance
of the occasion. Others might have doubted, hesi-
tated, or failed to make the purchase at all ; but he,
without a pause, grasped the basket, laid down the
money, and started for the head of the canal. Fif-
teen dozen eggs were a perfect mine of comfort ;
in their golden bosoms lay undeveloped numberless
egg-noggs, delicious cakes, and appetizing omelets,
and Don's character was established for ever.

The wind, strong and contrary, was dashing foam-
crested waves against the piers of the canal, threat-
ening to make our journey a slow one ; our goods
and chattels were safely and carefully stowed, fill-
ing the barge as nearly as was desirable ; we had
even cast off and commenced our voyage, when
through the canal we saw approaching a tug-boat.

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Online LibraryRobert Barnwell RooseveltSuperior fishing; or, The striped bass, trout, and black bass of the northern states. Embracing full directions for dressing artificial flies with the feathers of American birds; an account of a sporting visit to Lake Superior, etc., etc., etc → online text (page 3 of 18)