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 4 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 4 of 18)
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She was called the Bacchus^ and, like her jolly pro-
totype, willingly lent us her aid ; and giving us a
tow, made our old boat, for that occasion at least, a
fast one. She tore her way along, crushing the
waves with her high bow, throwing a mass of white


water from her propeller, and carrying ns in fine
style past Pointe aux JPins^ nearly ten miles of our

Having left her, as our course now lay more to
the northward, we managed with hard rowing, very
different from our previous gallant progress, to
reach Pointe aux Chenes or Oak Point, in time
for dinner. Looming up at the distance of about
six miles, rose abruptly to the height of five hun-
dred feet the bold promontory of Gros Cap^ its
round head enveloped in driving fog. A scanty
verdure of pines and firs covering its sides, it stood
out a bold landmark, being the first high land of the
northern shore.

About half-way between Pointe aux Chines and
Gros Cap hes a low and narrow island, covered with
small trees and underbrush, furnishing an admirable
camping-ground ; and the wind increasing as the
fog descended, crawling slowly down the mountain
sides, we could advance no further.

All day long canoes filled with Indians, taking
advantage of the to them favorable wind, passed us
on their way to a grand council at Mitane. It was
wonderful where they could all come from; the
men seemed to carry their wives, papooses, and
household gods, and were accompanied by number-
less dogs that ran along the shore ; one party con-
sisted of a squaw seated at the bow to paddle, ano-
ther in the stern to steer, and a brave amidships
fast asleep ; the canoe was propelled by a blanket,
used as a sail. The Indians exhibit great skill in


sailing so unsteady a boat as a canoe ; although to
ordinary mortals it is difficult to stand up in one,
they manage to sail them in heavy winds and over
a rough sea. This art appears to be peculiar to
them, for I have never known it attempted by the
Canadian voyageurs, nor even by the half-breeds.

The fogs rising from the cold waters of Lake Su-
perior are frequent and dense ; on this occasion the
moisture settled upon the bushes, fell from the
leaves in large drops, and dampened the boughs of
which our bed was to be composed. For this latter
purpose, as there was no sapin on- the island, we
were compelled to use oak sprouts, a substitute
that Don at first, attracted by its beauty and appa-
rent comfort, approved, but which, when before
morning the leaves were pressed flat and the stems
made unpleasantly prominent, he anathematized

After supper we wandered along the shore, pick-
ing up the queerly shaped and oddly colored stones
that abound on the Canadian side of the lake. No
agates noi* amethysts, and none of the really beauti-
ful pebbles, are to be obtained south of Michipicot-
ten, but everywhere are curious specimens to be
found. Carried, as it is supposed, by the ice-drift
of former ages from their natural beds, crushed by
the moving mass, and rounded by the beating waves,
the hardest only survive, while the strangest and
most incongruous varieties are collected together.
Meeting with novel specimens at every step, we
were continually rejecting what we had just selected,


till we hardly knew which were really the most re-

Next morning broke with the weather the same,
but towards mid-day the wind fell. Don had been
gratified with his meals thus far, but on being offer-
ed rice for breakfast, said that it reminded him of
his European experience, where rice was not con-
sidered fit to eat without being filled with raisins
and having goose-gravy for sauce. In fact, he did
not think he could eat it without these accompani-
ments. Before the trip was over, however, he found
that in spite of European authority and the absence
of goose-gravy, rice was quite palatable.

By hard work we reached the camping-ground at
Gros Cap, a small island almost adjoining the main
land, which is too rocky and precipitous to locate a
tent, and having arranged our camp amid the driv-
ing fog, essayed the fishing off the point. Fortune
did not smile upon us ; and having killed one fish
for supper, we were glad to escape from the cold,
damp air, and return to the warmth of the fire.

The appearance of the rocks in this region is re-
markable. Not only are they veined with metal
and quartz, running in long seams, but they are cut
up by deep furrows, at the bottom of which are
strewn broken and pounded stones. The origin of
the furrows, or scratches as the geologists term
them, has been differently explained ; some writers
attributing them to the action of water, and others,
with probably the correct theory, alleging they were
made by the ice-drift of former ages. The ice-drift


was the accumulation of suow and ice in the neigh-
borhood of the north pole, its increasing masses
forcing their way towards warmer latitudes, and
carrying with them immense rocks and boulders.
The drift formerly extended far beyond its present
limits, pouring into the deep water of Lake Supe-
rior, and must have crushed and riven whatever lay
in its course — cutting deep furrows whenever the
boulders it was carrying came in contact with the
unyielding native rock. The character of the rifts,
which do not resemble the effects of water, their
uniformity of direction, and the pounded character
of the stones, confirm this view.

Whatever may have been their origin, they are
troublesome to cross, forming as they do abrupt gul-
lies running from high up the hills into the deep
water, and occurring at every few hundred feet.
But where they pass below the surface, they and the
natural caverns worn by the waves form admira-
ble retreats for the timid trout. For the whole
length of the shore, the broken rocks lie piled up
in the water, and at some places extend far out ; as
they furnish the best locality for sport, although
generally the angler has but a short distance to cast,
occasionally a long stretch has to be made. The wind
is frequently adverse or across his line, and as he
must reach a particular spot in spite of all obstacles,
his capabilities are often put to the seveiest test.

To encounter and overcome difficulty is the true
sportsman's delight, almost as much so as to see
the silver-sided beauties of the lake rise suddenly


from their fairy caverns and seize his fly, to feel
them struggling and fighting for their liberty, jump-
ing again and again, and finally to watch their fading
brilliancy enveloped in the fatal net. The trout of
this region resemble the sea-trout of the Gulf of
St. Lawrence in their habits and appearance. They
have the same pearly whiteness on their sides and
bellies, heightened by the minute specks of carmine ;
the same vigor and dauntless courage, the same savage
voracity, and the same way of springing out of wa-
ter when they are on the line. They rise unexpect-
edly with a rapidity resembling fury, grasp their
object with determination, and on being struck, fight
bravely. Their flesh, also, is equally red and firm,
their fins of a pure color but not quite so delicate,
and their shape identically similar. Of course they
could never have ascended from the sea, but are in-
debted for these peculiarities to the pureness of the
water of the lake, as the sea-trout are to that of the
gulf And whereas the sea-trout lose their bril-
liancy on ascending the rivers, so do these of the
lake — a fact which we afterwards ascertained — be-
coming even darker colored than their brethren of
the lower regions, and obtaining the reputation
among the ignorant natives, from their changed ap-
pearance, of being poisonous.

Another party of fishermen had located on Gros
Cap island, our tents being pitched within a few
yards of each other, and we passed a pleasant even-
ing in their society ; our pipes — for I had after
much difficulty persuaded Don that cigars were


made for the club-house, not the wilderness — suggest-
ed inquiries about the native weed called Kinnikin-
nick, which the Indians in their grand peace councils
used before the advent of the white man, and which
in a perverted form had lent its name to the tobacco
we were using. It appeared that the identical weed
was growing close around us, and although the In-
dians of their party laughed with contempt at any-
one using it when pure tobacco was to be had, we
induced them to collect and prepare a small quan-

The preparation consists of drying it thoroughly
by the fire until it is brown, and then pulverizing it
by friction in a cloth. The operation was soon
completed, but, although we tried it mixed and un-
adulterated both, we were forced to admit it had
absolutely no flavor whatever. Perhaps it wanted
more time or care in the curing, as the men com-
plained of the dampness.

Our new-made acquaintances left next morning
early, and Don and myself took a late breakfast and
were joined by an unexpected visitor. A quantity
of cold potatoes and ship-biscuit, intended for our
men's breakfast, had been temporarily placed on a
neighboring log, and while we were partaking of
warmer edibles, a few steps off a pretty little ground
squirrel ran out, chirruped a merry good-morning,
and proceeded as a matter of right to help himself to
the cold victuals. He was sleek, bright-colored, and
fat, evidently accustomed to many such repasts ;
and after trying a piece of potato and finding it



was good, he took up a whole one in his mouth and
ran off with it. It was larger than his head, and
looked droll enough in his mouth, stretched to the
utmost ; he had not gone far before his sharp teeth
cut through, and taking out a piece, let the rest fall.
Not taking the trouble to pick it up, he returned
with another little cry to the dish, and this time
chancing on a smaller one, carried it off in safety.

Having stowed that away, he returned, and being
satiated with potatoes, tasted the biscuit, which had
been soaked in grease and was tender. The piece
he selected had a larger piece hanging to it, and to
see him pull the latter off with his fore-paws was
highly amusing. The biscuit, on trial, proving ac-
ceptable, with a little flirt and another cry, he
seized quite a large piece, and with a glance at us
as much as to say, " I am only taking a fair rent for
the use of my land," he ran off with it in the same
Uvely, confident way. It was a beautiful sight, and
we stopped our meal to watch his pranks.




Gros Cap is the first of the rocky hills thnt form
the northern boundary of Lake Superior, ;ind which,
with the higher chain of mountains further inland,
divide the streams that run to the southward from
those that empty into Hudson's Bay. The Hud-
son's Bay Company, that wonderful commercial under-
taking that had stretched its aims across our con-
tinent, and which, after the destruction of the bearer,
has lost its influence and been shorn of its power,
has stations along the coast of Lake Superior at the
mouths of the various rivers of importance. At
the Sault on the Michipicotten, the Pic, and the
ISTeepigon, they have planted their trading posts, and
although their glory has departed, they are still
kept up and do some business. These stations were
convenient stopping-places for the voyageurs, and
were located at the mouths of rivers, of which the
fountain-heads communicated by a portage with a
different system of waters. For instance, the Michi-
picotten is the Indian highway to Hudson's Bay, and
both on it and on the rivers adjoining that empty
into the latter, has the great Company its stations.
The study of the results that that purely commercia


undertaking has achieved, from the Saguenay Kiver
throughout the British Provinces to tlie far West,
is an instructive evidence of the power of man un-
restricted and untrammelled. In various ways it
has left its mark for ages.

Gros Cap is a perpendicular bluff, shooting straight
up from the water, and with its rocky clefts just
furnishing foothold for the active fisherman ; pieces
of rock seem to have been .broken off and thrown
into the water at its base, and among these trout
are numerous. No place furnishes a pleasanter
camping-ground, although not directly at the fish-
ing ground, and few spots afford better sport. As
fortune was not particularly propitious, and our
journey was indefinitely extensive, we took advan-
tage of a calm that had settled down upon the lake
to push on across Goulais Bay, which lay as calm
as a mirror, bathed in the glorious reflection of a
cloudless sky.

Farther out. Isle Parisienne seemed floating on
the water, while inside of us the bleak sides of the
abrupt hills were reflected in long wavy lines. The
sun had climbed the eastern sky and poured down a
flood of warmth and light in strange contrast with
the tempestuous weather of several days. The
atmosphere, instead of being dense with impenetra-
ble fog, was exquisitely transparent, and the water,
that perfect ornament to every landscape, stretched
away as far as the eye could reach.

" Dark behind it rose the forest,

■ Rose the black and gloomy piae-trees ;


Ro55e the firs with cones upon them,
Bright before it beat the weather,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea- Water."

Such a day is admirably adapted for taking lake-
trout, and no sooner had we entered the bay than our
lines were arranged for the purpose.

The Namaycush — pronounced more nearly like
Namaegoose, with the accent on the second syllable —
the Salmo Amethystus of our ichthyologists, the
Truite du Lac of the Canadian, and the Mackinaw
Salmon of the American, inhabits Lake Superior
throughout its length and breadth, is captured along
the shores and in the bays, and when smoked, fur-
nishes the principal food of the Indian. It prefers a
rocky uneven bottom, where the water is neither ex-
cessively deep nor very shallow, and during the
summer months bites readily at any of the ordinary
trolling-spoons. An ivory imitation-fish is especial-
ly attractive ; and an old-fashioned bowl-spoon,
elongated with bright tin on one side and red on
the other, is in general use.

Whenever the Indian is paddling in his canoe
over any of the favorite localities, he trolls with' the
latter bait, which is sold at the stores in the Sault ;
and to make it imitate more accurately the herring
it is intended to represent, he attaches the line to his
paddle. By this means a peculiar darting motion is
given to the spoon which is said to be very fatal,
Buel's patent spoons, whether with feathers or with-
out, are successful ; and so little particular is this



voracious fish, that he will bite at a white rag
attached to the bare hook.

Once struck, however, and he surrenders without
an effort, appearing even to swim gently forward,
which conduct, although natural in a man under
similar circumstances, is not expected in a fish. So
slight is his resistance that it is difficult at times to
tell whether he is on the line or not ; and although,
of course, on approaching close to the boat he flounces
and struggles a little before he can be gaffed, he
affords the sportsman no excitement whatever. He
may also be taken in deep water with a long line
and sinker, with the lake-herring for bait, and is thus
during the fall captured of enormous size.

He is found occasionally to weigh seventy pounds,
and perhaps more ; a handsome fish to look at, he is .
also excellent to eat, and with the peculiar confor-
mation of the trout, he combines its elegance and
the rich redness of flesh of the true salmon. He is
rarely taken by trolling to exceed ten pounds in
weight, and on the north shore more frequently of
five or six ; but of that size is an invaluable addition
to the fisherman's larder. He may be either boiled
or broiled, and makes a capital foundation for a
chowder. He must by no means be confounded
with the siskawit, which is only taken in the upper
part of the lake, rarely exceeds seven pounds, and is
so fat as almost to dissolve in the frying-pan — at
least we were thus informed by our guides, for we
took none ourselves.

The best time to take them is in calm weather,


because on such days they rise nearer the surface
and are able to see the bait farther. If the wind is
strong or the boat moving rapidly, they will not
bite ; in fact, the boat should not be sailed or rowed
faster than three miles an hour, and a common
hand-line of fifty or a hundred yards is sufficiently
good tackle. They are persecuted by the aborigines,
who capture vast numbers for winter use; but we
never caught more than a dozen in a day, as we
never fished exclusively for them.

Goulais Bay is one of their favorite haunts, and
we were soon made aware of their presence. I had
the pleasure of striking the first, and felt some
anxiety, it being a new species to us, till he was
safely gaffed and landed. He weighed four pounds
and a half, and we fairly feasted our eyes over his
beautiful shape. Don soon had one still larger, and
we took six while crossing from the headland of
Gros Cap to Goulais Point. They diflfered a little
in size, the largest being six pounds, but not in
shape or appearance, and were in their way as ex-
quisite a collection of fish as ever were taken.

We could doubtless have killed many more if we
had wished to remain for the purpose ; but the Har-
mony River, our destination, was a long way ofi",
and the sun was running across the sky at a rapid rate.

We stopped to dine at Goulais Point, and took
advantage of the opportunity to bathe; the water,
close to the shore where it was shallow and had
been heated by the sun's rays, was warm, but occa-
sionally streaks cold enough almost to freeze the


blood were encountered. The Narasegoose, on being
prepared for the pot, were found to contain spawn
well advanced, and were exceedingly fat.

The dinner being over and the men rested, our
slow progress was resumed, and we passed Maple
Island — Isle aux Arahes — into Batchawaung Bay.
The sun in his downward coarse marked out a
broad golden path upon the still surface of the lake,
vividly recalling to our minds that most exquisite
picture in "Hiawatha" of the chieftain's departure
for the "land of the Hereafter;" which now had
the charm of a peculiar interest, as we were floating
upon the very waters where the scene is laid :

" And the evening sun, descending,
Set the clouds on fire with redness ;
Burned the broad sky, like a prairie,
Left upon the level water
One long track and trail of splendor,
Down whose stream, as down a river,
Westward, westward Hiawatha
Sailed into the fiery sunset,
Sailed into the purple vapors,
Sailed into the dusk of evening."

Thus dreamily murmured Don, as with his back
against our biscuit-barrel, and his feet upon our
butter-tub, he gazed upon the dying glories of the
orb of day ; and now, as the last glimmering spark
sank below the horizon, the strange pale light of
the north crept over the sky; the stillness of death
brooded upon land and water, and ephemerce^ issuing
from their larva state, burst into winged life and


followed the course of our boat. Fronting us was
the long island called by the same name as the bay
beyond it, and towering far above were the moun-
tains of the mainland, cleft in two places where the
Harmony and Batchawaung Rivers had broken their
way to the lake ; to the right extended the bay for
many miles, and to the left stretched in its immen-
sity the trackless " Gitche-Gumee, Big-Sea- Water."
Darkness approaches slowly in northern latitudes;
our oarsmen were weary, and our pace was mode-
rate, but we had to make a long detour to reach
the river beyond, and it was determined to camp on
the island. Reaching the upper end, we landed, and
our men searched for a favorable spot. One pecu-
liarity of a voyageur is his antipathy to camping at
an unusual place ; warned by his experience of the
inconveniences that attend such a course, the diffi-
culty of making a comfortable bed, properly secur-
ing the tent, and arranging the fire, he will endure
considerable extra labor to reach a spot with which
he is acquainted. Therefore we were not surprised
when Frank reappeared and announced the imprac-
ticability of establishing our camp.

The day had been hard for the men ; the weather
had been hot and the journey long, and it gave me
pleasure to hear Don propose that we should row
for a time. He was rather unaccustomed to the ex-
ercise, but kept up bravely as we continued our
course round the island and across towards the main
shore. The pale light still filled the atmosphere to
that degree that, at nine o'clock, we could read fine


print ; the ephemerce still followed us with fluttering
wings, and whisks extended ; the death-like calmness
still rested on the unruffled water. At the point of
the island were four pretty little islets clustered to-
gether, lending additional beauty to the bay em-
bosomed in majestic hills. The way seemed length-
ened out amazingly, and our arms were weary, and
the night had closed in darkness ere we reached the
mouth of the Harmony River, the Auchipoiscehie
of the Indians. Here we found an old camping-
ground, almost a cleared field in size, and the rem-
nants of several wigwams. Collecting the poles of
the latter, we built a rousing fire that illuminated
the surrounding forest and cast a lurid glow upon
our active men. By its light we landed our stores,
pitched our tent, established our quarters, and re-
tired to rest.

We had made a long thirty-five miles, against
imfavorable circumstances, felt exhausted but
thankful we had arrived at last, and taking a little
refreshment, drank good-luck to ourselves and the
Harmony. Just as I was about closing my eyes to
sublunary things, Don remarked :

" There is a serious question I have to put to you.
To-day's journey has probably been exceptionally
slow and tedious, but how long, under ordinary cir-
cumstances, do you think it would require to come
from New York to the Harmony River?"

Next morning early having broiled a ISTamsegoose
for breakfast and found it both well cooked and ex-
cellent, we ascended the level water that extends


for some distance from the mouth of the river. The
day was fair and the wind favorable, the birds sang
their welcome merrily, and the trees bowed grace-
fully as we passed. An old duck and her young
were startled by our approach, and fled, making such
use of their powerful legs as to outstrip us readily.
A short distance beyond the smooth water, and
almost three miles from the lake, we came to the
lower fall or pitch of the stream, which had become
quite narrow, and there we made our camp.

It was a lovely spot ; the thick trees formed a
dense shade over our tent, the trembling cascade fur-
nished continual music ; opposite, a rivulet of purest
ice-water emptied into the stream ; in front the
river spread out into a broad, quiet pool ; while
through intervening trees and bushes we could catch
glimpses of the high falls a few hundred yards above
us. Previous camps had been located at the same
place, and a path had been cut to the rock close by,
from which we could, fish below the cascade.

Hastily disembarking such things as we had brought
with us, impatient to explore the river, and tanta-
lized by half glimpses of the cataract beyond, we
crossed the stream in the barge, and guided by
Frank, followed a well-worn pathway in the woods.
A few hundred steps brought us to the bank, where
a glorious prospect greeted us. The stream, rising
among the summits of the hills, pitched down
over a slanting precipice, seaming its brown face with
irregular, delicate lines of silver. Issuing from a
mountain gorge, so far above as to be scarcely dis-


tinguishable, it leaped over pitch after pitch, collect-
ing in deep pools at every break, and whirling round
or dashing over huge boulders in its course, till de-
scending the last shute, the main body tumbled in
one heavy wave into a dark, turbid pool at the base.
From either shore the evergreen trees projected, lean-
ing over as if to protect the uneasy river, and a
heavy trunk, originally torn up and borne along by a
spring freshet, had lodged upon a broad, bare, rocky

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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 4 of 18)