Copyright
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

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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 7 of 18)
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low water cannot be" stronger than high, if I fail to
keep up with you I can lag behind or come home."

" Really, you do not know what you are under-
taking ; but I will tell you what you can do. Go
with the two Indians, see how they manage in the
first rapid, and then take the place of one and
try it."

To this, after much protest and complaint, Frank
and I persuaded him to agree ; more, however, as a
personal favor to ourselves than on any other ground,
and his grumblings of dissatisfaction were loudly
audible till we had passed the first rapid ; Don nei-
ther offered to pole nor grumble afterwards.

The water was very strong, collected in large
pools, and then rushing with tremendous force down
a confined channel, or else pouring in long exhaust-
ing stretches of foaming current over pebbly shal-
lows and amid i^rotruding boulders. At one S2:)ot
Frank and myself were fifteen minutes, just able to
hold our own and not advancing a foot, with the
imminent risk of upsetting at any instant ; and Avhen
I was out of the canoe fishing, he was utterly una-
ble, to the intense delight of tlYe Indians, to stem
the rapids at all.

The canoes were small, and the canoe-men had to
occupy a most uncomfortable position : kneeling and
sitting on their heels, not being able to stand erect
as I had often done in larger boats, so that Frank
complained of cramp in his legs for days afterwards.
Short setting poles were used, and our utmost
strenscth had to be exerted w^here the current was



LAKE SUPERIOR. 105

strong. Of course, the Indians were entirely at
home at the work, and although straining their best,
enjoyed our deficiencies and shouted over our mis-
haps ; whenever we either caught a trout or came
near upsetting our canoe, whenever we had any
good luck or any bad luck, and often when we had
neither, they roared with laughter. Not appearing
to give the fate of their canoe, which was in our
hands, a thought, they were intensely amused when^
ever we brushed against a rock or careened her till
the water flowed in. Instead of the proverbial taci-
turn grinmess of the conventional Indian, they were
hilarious and loquacious, although their language
was a sealed book to us. They were on the best;
footing, and held animated conversations with our
guides, were continually amused at their own witti-
cisms, and when on our return, while descending an
unusually dangerous rapid, Frank, distrustful of my
judgment, insisted upon taking entire charge of the
canoe, and as a natural consequence came very near
upsetting and throwing us into the boiling waters,
to the peril of our lives and destruction of the boat,
they could hardly contain themselves, but made
merry over it the entire way home.

The Agawa winds among high, bleak, and sterile
hills, is rapid and filled with pools, but has none of
those tumbling cascades which give life to the water
and wear out deep, dark holes where trout love to
congregate in warm weather. The current, stained
with the dead leaves and decaying vegetation of
the ponds and marshes, where it has its source, is
5*



106 LAKE SUPERIOR.

amber-colored, and lends its hue to the pebbly bot-
tom over which it flows. It evidently, thi-oughout
its great extent, furnishes admirable spawning-
grounds for the fastidious trout, and in cool weather
is filled with them in vast numbers. But when a
warm season has heated the water, and a drouth
has diminished the current, the fish, finding the ele-
ment unsuited-to their comfort or even existence,
are compelled to seek the cool, shady cav^erns of the
lake shore.

The river, when we visited it, was in this condi-
tion, and there were none but small, dark-colored
fish, which, although excellent in the frying-j^an, after
the excessive exertion of surmounting the rapids
had given us an appetite, furnished but tame sport
on the line.

Our dinner was pleasant, our trip ex<3iting, the
scenery wild, the river interesting, the savages
amusing, and ourselves agreeably entertained ; but
we returned early, possessed of a wretched show of
game. We had taken two dozen fish, but none of
them were large.

On issuing from the secluded channel of the river,
we realized, to our surprise, that a heavy gale was
blowing from the south-east. We had not felt the
wind till we approached the open water, and emerged
from among the hills and trees, but soon found the
waves rolling in upon the sand-beach in a way to
remind one of the surf on " Old Long Island's sea-
girt shore."

The waves appeared to drive the trout in from



LAKE SUPERIOR. 107

the lake, and towards evening tlie river near its
mouth was alive with them, breaking in every di-
rection ; yet, strange to say, although we cast our
flies frequently directly over them, and kept on fish-
ing till it was night, not a trout did we take. In
all our experience such a thing had never happened,
and where they were so numerous, a dozen often
being visible at the same instant, so voracious and
unaccustomed to the presence of man, it was extra-
ordinary. Fish will frequently, although breaking
freely, refuse the fly, but generally a few will be
misled, and occasionally one will be caught ; but
here in the Agavva, a hundred miles from civilizar
tion, we saw ten thousand trout in the space of five
hundred yards, and after expending skill and pa-
tience, failed to take a single one.

No explanartion of this phenomenon presented
itself; there was nothing in the air, water, or time
of day to explain it, and although it was followed
during the night by a great change of temperature,
there would appear to be no connection between
the two events. The fish seemed to be playing
rather than feeding like salmon running in from
the S<?a ; and, anticipating cooler weather, may have
been preparing to ascend the river. And it is
proper to mention here that two gentlemen, who
fished tiiti river a few weeks^afterwards, had remark-
ably fine sport.

Fishing having proved itself vanity and flies a mis-
conception, we returned to the tent and superin-
tended the payment of the guides, by impressing



108 LAKE SUPERIOK.

upon Frank the necessity of giving them sufficient.
One received his in a greasy, dirty hat that he had
worn for several seasons, and which could hardly
have improved the flavor ; and the other, not having
so expensive a luxury as a hat, wrapped his in a
neck-cloth that had been in use day and night for
years, and had never been washed. Frank gave
them each, in addition, a little butter on a biscuit,
and they hurried away, delighted with their trea-
sures.

The Indian children had brought a number of
agates that they had collected from time to time,
and Don selected the best, which were, however,
inferior specimens, and paid for thorn also by barter.
Of course, our little friend Wajack had her store to
exhibit, and received a favorable consideration from
Don, who endeavored to make her understand a few
English words, which were such exquisite baby-talk
as to be nearly incomprehensible to the rest of us.
He foimd in the long run that he succeeded better
by holding up the proposed payment and pointing
to the agate, as none of the savages presumed to
ask for more than we oifered.

The following morning the trout again declined
positively to recognize our allurements, and the
wind being fair, we concluded to commence our
homeward voyage. We were sorry to j^art with
our amusing Indian friends, notwithstanding an
occasional pang of fear for our numerous articles
that lay scattered about, and which it is only justice
to say were entirely untouched • but as we could



LAKE SUPERIOR. 109

make nothing of the fishing, had become possessed
of the best agates, and had explored the river tho-
roughly, we proceeded to reembark.

The wind was, for the first time, in every way
favorable ; but ere we had reached Point aux Mines
it had become so violent that Frank, alarmed at the
increasing roulan^ began to talk of his wife and
eight children, and how sorry they would be if he
were drowned ; and when the wind further in-
creased, and Frank began to talk of his nine chil-
dren, we concluded it was time to stop and put
into a port of distress. In truth, those open, heavily
laden boats are not the safest of vessels in a sea-
way, and yawing about as they do before every
wave, have to be watched carefully lest they broach
to and fill.

Charley enjoyed Frank's terror, and would have
kept on as a matter of pride till his employers were
satisfied; but Frank, with streaming hair, staring
eyes, and blanched countenance, was a picture of
distress, and if we had not given permission, would
have taken it to run behind the first friendly point.

This proved to be Point aux Mines, where in
former days a copper mine had been located, and
the shafts and buildings, dilapidated it is true, and
fast crumblmg to pieces, remained to mark the
traces of man's enterprise. The point had been
purchased by a company from the Crown ; but as
the latter failed to pay the Indians, who were the
rightful owners, they, with the assistance of many
of the Canadians, among whom was our friend



110 LAKE SUPERIOR.

Charley, made a night-attack upon the post, and,
by a complete surprise, captured it without loss or
bloodshed. The speculation never having been pro-
fitable, the company was only too glad to be cap-
tured ; and having obtained an extravagant indem-
nity from the home government, never resumed
possession of the works.

The buildings were windowless and tenantless,
and served as shelter for voyaging parties of In-
dians ; the underground passages were falling in,
the machinery was going to ruin, the ]3latforms
were rotting, and the gardens had grown up with
long, rank grass.

We explored the shafts, collected some specimens
of the ore, and returned to the boat in time to find
the wind greatly abated, and embarking, soon ar-
rived at the Point of Mamainse. Having fished for
a short time from a rock named after one of our
best 'New York fishermen, Stevens's Rock, we con-
tinued our voyage, and reached the former camp-
ing-ground on the Batchawaung before dark.

The weather had changed. The rain was falling
in that dull, penetrating drizzle that is so depressing
to one's spirits, and the cold air made our wet
clothes and damp bed far from comfortable. Camp-
ing in a rain, building a smoky fire from damp logs,
and making a bed of wet boughs, in spite of the
protection of water-proof blankets, is impleasant,
although it rarely produces sickness. Don bore the
discomfort with a patient composure that was an
eminent example to our city exquisites, and never



LAKE SUPERIOR. HI

uttered a complaint ; on the slightest provocation
he would j)robably have proved, conclusively, that
moisture was man's natural condition, and infinitely
preferable to sunshine and dry clothes.

On ascending the river next day, as Don and
myself were walking along the bank we observed
a rustling in the grass, and pausing, roused a flock
of partridges. I shot one as they rose, and behold-
ing them, to my great satisfaction, alight on the
neighboring trees, proceeded to poach, thinking
only of the pot, and shot from the trees and on the
ground, in utter disregard of all sportsmanlike rules,
the entire covey. They consisted of but a single
brood, and the young were not more than three-
quarters grown ; but the anticipation of their juicy
tenderness on the gridiron overpowered any qualm-
ish sentimentality, and right glad were we to collect
the ten plump, tender little fellows into a bloody
pile.

The trout had moved from their, former locality,
but were plentiful as ever, enabling us to satisfy our
desires and return early to camp, with one fish of
four pounds and several of three. During the day
there was a sudden change of temperature, preceded
by a furious attack from the brulots upon our un-
happy persons. Apparently anticipating the advent
of cold weather and partial lethargy, they satiated
their appetites with our blood, in spite of ointments
and veils.

During our absence a party of fishermen had
arrived from the Sault, and finding our camp,



112 LAKE SUPERIOR.

located themselves a few hundred yards below us.
As we desccHded the river next morning, we stopped
to exchange salutations and inform them of the con-
dition of the fishing. Being ourselves abundantly
satisfied with killing trout, we proposed making a
short visit to the romantic Harmony before return-
ing to the Sault, and left the strangers in the sole
possession of the Batchawaung.

We found the Harmony lower and warmer than
we had left it, ahnost deserted by trout, but other-
wise as beautiful and picturesque as ever. We lin-
gered round the falls, and listened to the noisy cas-
cade, drank from the ice-cold spring, shot a few
ducks on the lower stretch of water, killed a dozen
fine trout at the upper shute^ and indulged in the
luxury of laziness.

Don had been heretofore as active as any member
of the party, often up the first and to bed the last ;
frequently rousing the guides from their slumbers by
a loon-like call, repeated until they appeared ; but
on our first morning at the Harmony he positively
refused to get up, and to my persistent entreaties,
replied in a despondent voice :

"It is no use ; you give me no rest, keep me up
every night till eleven, work me to death all day,
and let the flies and mosquitoes annoy me without
cessation. I will stand it no longer, and intend to
sleep as late as I please."

"But, Don, breakfast is ready, and you will
lose it."

" Then I shall have a second breakfast. You feed



LAKE SUPERIOR. 113

me on pork, and trout, and ducks, till I am tired of
them, and get no nourishment from the endless repe-
tition."

"I have made a beautiful omelet this mornino-,
and it will be ruined."

"Then make me another — we have plenty of
eggs — or I will make it for myself"

" But you will miss the morning's fishing."

" I do not care. I have caught trout enough to
last my lifetime, and I will have a little rest."

With that he turned over, incontinently went to
sleep, and no efforts on our parts, nor shouts from
the guides, w^ho with delight imitated the cry with
which he had been accustomed to wake them,
could rouse him till eleven o'clock. Apparently
much refreshed, he eat a light lunch preparatory to
a more substantial dinner, the hour for which had
almost arrived. Getting up at eleven o'clock in the
woods is equivalent to sleeping till four in the after-
noon in the city.

Somewhat moved by his complaints, and having
plenty of leisure-time, I devoted myself to providing
for dinner the best our larder afforded : soup made
from preserved vegetables furnishing the first
course ; trout, larded and fried, the second ; broiled
duck, garnished with thin pieces of pork, the third ;
and such entremets as boiled rice, chow-chow, and
the like, closing with a dessert of that remarkable
and ill-named preparation called corn-starch, one of
the most valuable discoveries for the city-bred ex-
plorer of the woods.



114 LAKE SUPERIOR.

Corn-starch is a remarkable edible, supplying tlie
greatest variety possible, never seeming to result in
the same production, and furnishing a subject of un-
tiring wonder as to what form it will take next.
On some days it would be beautiful, transparent,
bluish jelly, then it would be a solid, opaque white,
and again a dusky brown semi-liquid substance ;
fi-equently it resembled, pap, and. now and. then
would be full of doughy lumps, as though endeavor-
ing to effect an exiDerimental pot-pie ; sometimes it
tasted of liquorice, at others it seemed, flavored with
molasses; but generally it had not the slightest
particle of taste. I never could calculate on a result ;
if I tried to obtain jelly, I made pap ; if pap was my
purpose, pot-pie would be the product.

Don eat it daily in a state of be\yilderment bor-
dering on idiocy, inquiring regularly after the first
taste : " What have we here, now ?" But once,
when brown instead of white sugar was used, and
effectually obliterated all other flavor, he made what
young ladies call a face. The inventor of corn-
starch must be a wonderful man, but it is to be
desired that he would reduce his bantling to a little
better state of subjection, and put on his labels
directions more applicable to the woods, where
milk and moulds and flavoring extriacts are not to
be had, and ice-creams are a reminiscence of the
past.

Monotony is the drawback to life in the woods,
and corn-starch is doubly welcome on that account.
It is nutritious, being composed of the essential



LAKE SUPERIOR. 115

portions of the grain, is compact, and easily pro-
tected from wet ; it furnishes an astonishing variety
of desserts where any dessert is a luxury, and it is
an admirable addition to one's stores, though I wish
it had a little more taste.

The dinner, including the corn-starch dessert, was
a success, and revived Don's spirits, so that he w^as
up betimes thereafter during our stay at the Har-
mony.

With reluctance we bade farewell to the pretty
stream, whose soothing murmurs, grateful shade,
and wild scenery invited us to remain ; and our
eyes lingered on the hills from which it springs, as
we slowly passed out of Batchawaung Bay on the
route to Gros Cap and the Sault. But, aware that
our limited time was almost expired, we pushed on
our homeward way, stopping to dine at the camp-
ground near its mouth. Here we found, amid the
debris of ancient wigwams, the bleached skulls of
numerous beavers, and were surprised at the pecu-
liar formation of their long, mordant teeth. We
had frequently noticed logs of considerable diameter
that had been cut through by these powerful natu-
ral saws, and that bore the long furrows that they
made; but were astonished to find, in extracting
these teeth from the skull, that they constituted
nearly a semicircle. Worn as they would be by
severe and continued use, nature had made this
provision to sujDply the rapid waste, and the portion
of the ivory concealed in the skull was fully two
inches long. Don collected several, and finding a



116 LAKE SUPERIOR.

l^eculiarly large specimen, muttered, on withdraw-
ing the teeth, that it must be the remnants of

"Ahmeek, the king of beavers."

Before reaching Gros Cap we struck and lost, by
the fo-uling of our trolling lines, which were both
out together, a very large lake trout. This fish, in
spite of his size, gave so little play that we were
scarcely aware that we had hooked him, and were
astonished when we saw his immense proportions
as he came near the boat. We scarcely considered
his loss a disappointment.

We spent two days at Gros Cap, having fine
sport and killing some large fish. Don broke his
tackle several times, and the lively, bright-colored,
vigorous trout, luxuriating in their appropriate ele-
ment, the cold spring water of the lake, gave us
excellent play. Wandering from rock to rock, and
casting out into the limitless lake, every rise was
sudden and unexpected, every step changed the
distance of our cast and the character of the fishing-
ground.

The submerged rocks were visible through the
limpid water, and from beside them or from their
deep, dark fissures a trout might rise with a, furious,
impetuous plunge at any moment. The fish were
numerous, breaking in the placid evenings in my-
riads, and the sport was entrancing. During the
warm mid-days, when the sun was too brilliant or
the lake too calm for fishing, we would wander
about the island, hunting specimens, inspecting na-



LAKE SUPERIOR. 117

tiiral peculiarities, and chasing the ephemercB that
had supplied the place of the brown pJiryganidcB.

There was a surprising similarity of color in all
the natural flies of that region ; they were mostly
of modified shades of brownish yellow or gray.
The yellowish variety had two long whisks, one
inch and three-quarters long, banded with gray,
eyes round, white, and protuberant, with a black
speck, and eight sections to the body. They were
quite active and numerous, while other varieties
resembled them in general appearance and charac-
teristics.

Tiie rocks were seamed with veins of copper, the
oxide of which had discolored the adjoining stone,
and occasionally we could obtain pretty and appa-
rently rich specimens. Unfortunately, neither Don
nor myself, though well enough read in the classics
and other equally useful sciences, had ever studied
mineralogy, and were as good judges of minerals as
a savage would be of a watch. Our ignorant con-
clusions, however, were that if the north shore of
Lake Superior were properly explored, under Yan-
kee supervision, mines might be discovered equal-
ling those of the south coast. "With this sage con-
clusion we were forced to be satisfied.

Charley had a passion for prospecting ; w^as ready
at a moment's notice to dig out with the axe any
strange-looking deposit, fully convinced that some
day he should make his fortune, if he only could
learn to distinguish the valuable from the worthless.

At last a strong westerly wind came out, and a



118 LAKE SUPERIOR.

heavy fog settled down upon us, wrapping the hills
in its graceful shroud, hanging pendant from the
distant rocks and trees, shutting out the lake from
view, covering the bushes with glittering gems, and
wetting our thin clothes uncomfortably. As there
was too much sea running to fish, we wrapped our-
selves up in the water-proofs, and embarking the
remnants of our property, set sail for the Sault.

This was to be our last day on the lake, our last
day in the open woods, the last time we were to
stand face to face with nature's solitude — and our
spirits felt depressed at the prospect. No more
sleeping beneath the cool canvas, no more looking
out upon the limitless Big-Sea-Water, no more peer-
ing up into the silent night, and no more of those
thronging thoughts and grateful inspirations that
feed the soul in the wilderness. The freedom from
rules and restraint was to be laid aside, the easy
dress must be replaced by the methodical cut, the
manners and acts must be shaped to those of others,
and we were to conduct ourselves henceforward
according to the received and established pattern.
We were approaching civilization, where stiff and
stately houses were to limit our views, and man's
works shut out those of God.

The wind soon hauled ahead, and driving back
the fog, let down a flood of sunlight on the spark-
ling water ; but the current being quite strong in
our favor as we approached the outlet, we made
good headway, passing in our course a yacht crowd-
ed with sportsmen, and under full sail going wing



LAKE SUPERIOR. 119

and wing for the N^eepigon, encountering other sail-
ing vessels, and meeting with occasional evidences
of man's presence.

At six o'clock that evening we shot the rapids,
and discharging our load at the wharf, ensconced
ourselves once more beneath the hospitable roof of
the Chippewa House. Three glorious weeks had
come and gone since we were last there — three weeks
of unalloyed happiness, three weeks of invigorating
life and exercise, worth all the medicines in the
world — three weeks of intelligent and sensible enjoy-
ment. In that time impressions had been made and
lessons had been learned never to be forgotten ;
health had been acquired that would last for years,
joy tasted that would leave its flavor during life.
And now farewell to the staunch old barge ; farewell
to our canvas home, to the merry camp-fire, to the
woodsman's life ; farewell to the deep forests, the
sombre pines, the waving elms, to the dancing
streams, and the open water ; farewell to our faith-
ful guides ; farewell to the graceful trout, the elegant
namsegoose, the fierce black bass ; a long farewell
to Gitche-Gume, Big-Sea- Water, the greatest of the
great lakes of our great country !



120 LAKE SUPEEIOR.



CHAPTER VI.

The finest trout-fishing in the world is to be ob
tained at Lake Superior ; although larger fish may
be killed in the lakes and streams of Maine, and
greater numbers in the brooks of New Hampshire,
Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania, nowhere is
to be found the same abundance of trout, averaging
above two pounds, and wonderfully game and vigor-
ous, and nowhere a more beautiful region to explore
or pleasanter waters to fish over. The entire rocky
shore of the lake, along both coasts, is one extensive
fishing-ground, where the skilful angler can at any
point find delightful sport; the innumerable tribu-
taries, large and small, of the British or American
territory, unless shut out by precipitous falls, are


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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 7 of 18)