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

. (page 9 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 9 of 18)
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large reel, running on steel pivots, two hundred
yards of flax line attached to a 7 '^ hook with a
round head, and a rod of not over nine feet in
length, with a large agate funnel top. With such
tools experienced fishermen can cast a slice cut
from the side of a menhaden, and weighing about
three ounces, two hundred, aye, nearly three hun-
dred feet into the curling breakers of the Atlantic
ocean, and kill bass that will pull down the scales at
fifty, sixty, and seventy pounds.

A mode of preparing a bass line to render it
light and water-proof, without weakening it, is
recommended by excellent authority, and is simply
to soak it for one night in fish oil which does not
rot linen, to hang it up to drain the following day.



140 STRIPED BASS,

and to place it in mahogany sawdust to dry. When
thus prepared it does not soak water, nor even sink.

Fly-fishing for bass, however, is the perfection of
the sport, and infinitely surpasses in excitement all
other modes of killing these noble fish. The best
season on the Potomac is in July or August, and
the favorite hours the early morning or the twilight
of the evening. The ignorant and debased natives
who inhabit the romantic region of hill and valley
in the neighborhood of Tenally Town, about five
miles northwest of Washington, and who, dead to
the beauties that nature has lavished around them,
and utterly unacquainted with scientific angling,
look merely to their two cents per pound for striped
bass, manufixcture a fly by winding red or yellow
flannel round the shank of a large hook, adding
sometimes a few white feathers. They substitute
for rod a young cedar sapling, denuded of bark and
seasoned by age, and attaching to the upper end a
stout cord, fish with the large flannel swathed hook in
the rapids and below the falls of the Potomac, at
the old chain bridge, and without a reel, kill bass of
twenty or thirty pounds.

No spot can be imagined more wild and roman-
tic, and with proper tackle, the reel, the lithe salmon
rod, and the artistic fly — no sport can be more excit-
ing. The roar of the angry flood, the bare precipices
topped with foliage on the opposite bank, the flat
dry bed of the stream where it flows during the
heavy freshets, but at other seasons a mass of bare
jagged rocks, and the dashing spray of the broken



STRIPED BASS. 141

current lend a charm to the scene. While the fish,
rendered doubly powerful by the force of the stream,
and aided by the numerous rocks and falls, have
every chance to escape.

The bass pursue the silvery herring, which is the
principal natural bait, and ascend the Little Falls of
the Potomac during the summer months in vast
numbers. They are captured in such quantities
with the net in the salt water and with hook and
line in the rapids, as to be almost a drug in the
market.

As the season advances, the native crawls upon
some rock that reaches out into the stream, and with
his coarse but elastic cedar pole, casts the roll of
flannel, wrapped round a hook and misnamed a fly,
into the seething current ; and when the brave fish
seizes the clumsy allurement the fisherman contends
for the mastery as best he may, occasionally at the
risk of a ducking in the stream consequent upon the
sudden breaking of his tackle, and accompanied
with considerable risk. When a man has but a
slight foothold upon the slippery surface of a shelv-
ing ledge, and has attached to the end of his rod a
vigorous fish of twenty pounds, he is apt to fall if
the line parts unexpectedly. Many are the tales of
such accidents, and now and then of fatal results.
But with proper tackle, the scientific angler is mas-
ter of the situation ; he can reach any part of the
current, casting into the eddies at the base of the
precipitous cliffs opposite ; he can yield to the rush
of the prey ; can retire, paying out line, to surer



142 STRIPED BASS.

footing, and can follow the fish along the shore ; and
finally, having subdued his spirit and broken his
strength, can lead the prize, gleaming through the
transparent water with the sun's rays reflected in
rainbow colors from his scales, into some quiet nook
where he can gaff him with safety. Such is fly-fish-
ing for striped bass amid the most lovely scenery,
gorgeous in its summer dress of green and alternat-
ing hill and valley, dotted with pretty farms and
smiling grain-fields ; and there is but little sport
that can surpass it.

Bass are also taken at the Grand Falls, ten miles
further up the river ; but the Little Falls are their
favorite locality, as they are here just passing from
the salt tide into the pure, sparkling, broken fresh-
water. They frequently weigh twenty pounds, and
occasionally much more ; but, of course, the main
run is smaller, and the number killed in lucky days
is prodigious, being counted by hundreds.

Bass are said to be taken with the fly in other
rivers of the Southern States, and also to a certain
degree in those of the north. At the mouths of ^
narrow inlets, where the tide is rapid and diluted
with fresh-water, a gaudy red and white fly with a
full body, kept on the surfiice by the force of the cur-
rent and not cast as in fly-fishing, will occasionally
beguile them ; but generally speaking, bass are not
fished for with the 'fly north of the Potomac.

Although the artistic angler naturally despises the
miserable flannel abortion manufactured by the stu-
pid boors of Tenally Town, it will often be found as



STEIPED BASS. 143

good a lure as though composed of the rarest mate-
rials; in fact the bass exhibit none of that daintiness
of choice that is universal with salmon. So long as
the fly is large and showy they seem to be satisfied,
and their immense mouths can readily grasp a No.
7 hook, such as the natives occasionally use. One
of half that size is abundantly large, however, and
the clearer the water the finer should be the tackle.
The rod, reel, and line are those appropriate to sal-
mon fishing, although the line, if it is wet by salt-
water, should be afterwards rinsed in fresh to pre-
vent rotting. Some fishermen fasten a float above
the fly, and paying out line let it run down stream
into distant eddies ; but this is not so orthodox a
mode of proceeding, and does not require equal skill
nor as delicate tackle.

After a fish is struck, the same care has to be ex-
ercised if he is heavy that is necessary with the sal-
mon, and he will often compel the angler to follow
him a long distance ere the gaff terminates the strug-
gle. Bass make very determined but not such rapid
runs as their fellow-denizen of the flood, the salmo
salar^ but rarely retain that reserved force which
makes his last dash so often fatal ; nevertheless they
are resolute and powerful, and have to be handled
with care.

Another mode of taking bass, wliich is strongly
recommended, even for the open bays of the north,
by one of our best fishermen, but which I have only
tried in the narrow coves, inlets, and streams, where
the tide-way can be covered by a good cast, is to



144 STRIPED BASS.

use the salmon rod, line, and reel, but to substitute
a shrimp for the fly. The casting is then done in
the ordinary manner, and the gentleman referred to
claims, that it is by far the most killing mode. If
even equally successful, it is certainly far preferable
to the use of the float and sinker, or to the dull
monotony of bottom fishing. Any sport that brings
into active play the faculties of body or mind, and
which demands practice and experience, surpasses
the one that requires the merely passive quality of
patience.

The most successful, and excepting perhaps fly-
fishing, the most skilful method of taking the
striped beauties of the northern coasts, is with the
menhaden bait, cast into the boiling surf of the
ocean, or the larger bays ; and this sport is univer-
sally enjoyed along the iron-bound shore of New
England, from New London to Eastport. This en-
tire reach, is one mass of rockj indented by innu-
merable bays, or severed by inlets into barren islands,
where the tide rushes, and the surf beats ; and in
every favorable locality are the bass taken with a
stout rod, a long line, and menhaden bait. From
almost every bold rock, or prominent island, can the
angler cast into the vexed water of some current,
made by the huge waves rushing over the uneven
bottom, and allure thence the fiei'ce bass, who has
been attracted from the ocean depths, to feed on
the small fry that hide in the clefts and crevices;
and waiting with fins often visible above the tide,
to pounce upon his prey, mistakes for it the angler's



STEIPED BASS. 145

bait, and after a brave struggle surrenders to human
ingenuity.

Although the true fisherm-an may pursue the small
fish of the Delaware or Hudson, of IS'ew York Bay
or the Sound, may patiently bide their time at Hack-
ensac or Pelham bridges, McComb's dam or the
hedges; and may have true pleasure in capturing
them with dancing float and shrimp, or running
sinker, and shedder crab ; if he can spare a week
or two, he should cut adrift from the noise and tur-
moil, foul stenches, and fouler deeds of the city ;
and hastening to Newport or Point Judith, enjoy
the noblest sport of the salt water — ^bass-fishing
with menhaden bait. He will need stout nerves,
strong muscles, good tackle, and abundant skill ; for
he will be called upon to cast with the utmost of
his power, perhaps a hundred yards, and to strike
and land fish that may weigh half a hundred pounds.
He will be exposed to the sea-breeze, or it may be
the storm wind at early day-light, and the spray
from the salt waves, and wet and cold will be his
portion ; but he will forget these trivial evils, when
he stakes the bass of forty, fifty, or sixty pounds, the
fish that he has been living for, and when he lands
him safely on the slippery rocks.

Fishermen of character have been known to as-
sert, that they could cast with the rod, the ordinary
menhaden bait, one hundred and twenty yards ; and
although from a high stand, w^ith the aid of a strong
wind, this is possible, the ordinary cast is not over
half that distance, and to exceed one hundred when
V



146 STRIPED BASS.

standing on a level with the water ds rare indeed.
In fact, seventy-live yards is a good cast, and no
man need be ashamed who can put out his line fair
and true that distance. Rather better can be done
with the hand-line than with the rod, but with far
greater fatigue, and a painful over-exertion of the
muscles of the arm that is almost unendurable to one
who has not steady practice. The length of cast is
in a measure controlled by the direction and vio-
lence of the wind and the elevation of the stand
above the water ; in a contrary wind the best angler
will find it difficult to reach seventy-five yards, while
from a high rock, with a favorable wind, he will
cover that distance with ease.

The use of the hand line is neither artistic nor
adapted to gentlemen who fish for pleasure, although
more killing probably than the rival method. For
rod fishing, the best tackle and implements are ne-
cessary ; the rod must be short and stout, the finest
being made of cane at a fabulous expense ; the reel
should have steel pins or run on agate, be made
large and perfectly true, and the line must be from
tvvo hundred to three hundred yards long. Cane
rods are preferred on account of their lightness and
elasticity, but they are at present almost unattaina-
ble at any price, and the ordinary ones will answer
well, altho-ugh after several hundred casts weight
will be found to tell on unaccustomed muscles. The
objection ta jewelled reels is, that a fall or blow may
render them u&eless, while they run but little
smoother than those with steel pins. The reel and



STRIPED BASS. 147

guides must be large to deliver the line freely, and
if the line is seen to bag during the cast between
the guides, it is a sure sign that they are too small.
The line is of twisted grass or raw silk, which is the
best but most expensive and delicate ; of plaited
silk, which is the strongest; or of linen, which is
cheap and common, but as they are all easily rotted,
is the one in general use. The grass line, if it over-
runs and whips against the bars of the reel, is sure
to cut, but it delivers beautifully ; the silk line soon
becomes water-logged and sticky ; and the linen one
combines these defects with' a faculty of swelling
when wet peculiarly its own. A perfect bass-line is
a desideratum not yet supplied. The American reels
and cane rods are perfection, but the lines are a
cause of reproach and vexation of spirit.

Casting the menhaden bait is similar to casting
the float and sinker, only the power is enormously
increased and deficiencies proportionally magnified.
The line is wound up till the bait, if a single one, is
almost two feet from the tip, the rod is extended
behind the fisherman, who turns his body for the
purpose, and then brought forward with a steady
but vigorous swing that discharges it without a
jerk, like an apple thrown from a stick by rustic
youths. The reel is so far restrained by pressure of
the thumb that it revolves no faster than the bait
travels, but does not in the least detain it, and upon
the accuracy of this manipulation mainly depends
the result. If too niuch pressure is used, the line
cannot escape rapidly enough and falls short ; if too



148 STRIPED BASS.

little, the reel overruns and entangles the line, stop-
ping the cast ere half delivered with a jerk that
threatens its destruction. The fisherman must be
able to use either hand on the reel to rest his arms
and to take advantage of the wind.

If he is an adept he will drive the greasy bait
straight and true directly to the desired spot, and if
the weather is favorable and the fates propitious, he
will bring up some scaly monster of twenty-five or
mayhap thirty pounds, who will start seaward with
bait, and hook, and line, and only be persuaded,
after many eiForts and determined rushes, that it is
in vain. The strong ocean breeze will play with his
hair and the salt spume wet his cheek ; the vessels,
like floating marine monsters, will drift across the
waste of waters before him, the seagulls will hover
round uttering their harsh cry, and he will cast and
cast till arms and legs are weary, and he may kill
in a single day a thousand weight of fish. The
fresh air will give such a tone to his system, and the
exercise such strength to his muscles, and the ex-
citement such vigor to his nerves, that he will hardly
believe himself the same relaxed, despondent, list-
less individual that left the city a week previous.

The most famous localities for the sport are West
Island and Point Judith ; the former is reached by
the way of New London, and the latter by the Con-
necticut shore line of railway to Kingston. West
Island has lately been purchased by a club of gen-
tlemen, but will not probably be reserved exclusively
for their use, as the neighboring islands being free



STRIPED BASS.



149



to all no special privileges could be secured. There
is often great difficulty in obtaining bait, particu-
larly during a storm, which is the time that it is
most needed, as~the fish bite best in rough weather,
and on going from the cities it is well to pack a few
hundred menhaden in a box with ice and sawdust,
and thus insure a supply for some days ahead.




150 POINT JUDITH.



POINT JUDITH.

It is a long, weary, and dusty ride by the way of
the New Haven and Shore Line Railroads to Kings-
ton ; but if, at the end of the journey, a pretty little
widow, with hazel eyes, is found waiting to drive
over to the South Pier in the stage, and you are the
only other passenger, you will probably consider
yourself repaid for all annoyances.

It is seven miles from Kingston to the South
Pier, the driver may happen to be a little tight,
very sleepy, and wholly unobservant of what is
passing in the back of his vehicle. Moonlight is
either reflected with great brilliancy from hazel
eyes, or else hazel eyes originate a brilliancy akin
to moonlight, and certainly moonlight, hazel eyes,
white teeth, rosy lips, soft hands, and a slender
waist, are very bewitching in a close carriage of a
moonlight night, with a preoccupied driver. Some
women have a smile like sunshine, and their laugh
rings like a chime of bells ; and if you happen to be
riding alone with a pretty widow, and something
suggests love-making, and her merry laughter slowly
dies away into a gentle smile, and the smile fades
into a look of sympathetic feeling, that you have to
draw very near to see, till you feel her palpitating
breath upon your cheek, and her hand trembles



POINT JUDITH. 151

when by the merest accident you touch it, and the
ride occupies an hour or more, you may, before the
South Pier is reached, almost forget that you are
married.

If this fortune befalls you at the station, you will
probably fail to notice the beauty of Kingston vil-
lage and Peace Dale as you pass through them, and
will find the subsequent lonely ride from South Pier
to Point Judith dull and dreary. Some two miles
from the Pier is a house kept by John Anthony, the
son of Peleg, where sportsmen most do congregate,
and where all their reasonable wants, except the
wherewithal to quench their thirst, can be supplied,
and which is situated within a few steps of the best
fishing stations. John Anthony is a Yankee born
and bred, honest, faithful, willing, and acquainted
with all the habits, devices, and iniquities of bass
and blue fish. He will tell you that in May, when
the grass plover have their long note, and are heard
far up in the air travelling northward, bass are to be
caught with the eel-skin ; that in June, when high
blackberries are in bloom, they begin to take lobster
bait ; but from July 1st, and all through the fall, they
take menhaden, otherwise called bony fish or moss-
bunker, the bait that the true and skilful sportsman
loves to cast.

In July and August, the largest fish, occasionally
bass of fifty and even sixty pounds, rejoice the heart
of the angler by surrendering to his skill, while in
the Fall, although more numerous, they are smaller.
In both these particulars, the fishing at Point Judith



152 POINT JUDITH.

and "West Island, and furtlier northward, differs
from that in the vicinity of New York. Great suc-
cess, however, depends upon several contingencies.
It is supposed that the Gulf Stream, that prolonged
current of the Mississippi River, which sweeps with
its warmer temperature through mid ocean carrying
a genial atmosphere and fertilizing showers to the
otherwise arid shores of France and England,
changes its course yearly, approaching our coast and
sending its swarms of living creatures among the
rocks of Narragansett Bay, or withdrawing so as to
leave ns desolate and to increase the severity of our
winters. We all know that our cold seasons differ
greatly in intensity, and bass fishermen know that
success in fishing varies equally; but from what
cause these results flow, no one can positively say.

After a heavy storm has darkened the water by
w^ashing impurities from the shore, and at spots
where the dashing breakers fill the sea with foam,
the bass bite most fearlessly. Every crested wave
rising against the horizon ere it breaks, flashes with
their sparkling scales, and so sure as the bait cast
from the powerful two-handed rod reaches that
wave, so sure is it to be grasped by the nearest bass.
The breakers drive the spearing and other small fry
from their hiding-places among the rocks ; the dis-
colored water blinds them to their danger, and bass
trusting themselves in the very curl of the heaving
swell collect in myriads to the welcome banquet.
But as the discoloration misleads the spearing so it
also conceals from the bass the line attached to



POINT JUDITH. 153

the treacherous bait, and the latter, while pursuing
remorselessly his prey, becomes himself a victim.

Neither shrimp nor soft crabs are used in this style
of fishing, and the earliest bait, the eel skin, is pre-
pared by stripping the skin off the tail of an eel
from the vent aft to the length of about a foot, leaving
it inside out, and drawing it over a couple of hooks
so placed on the line that one shall project near the
upper and the other near the tail end. A sinker of
the size of one's little finger is inserted at the head,
and the bait is cast by hand and drawn rapidly. The
rod is not often used in this style of fishing, as the
heavy bait is apt to sink ere it can be reeled in.
The skin is frequently salted to increase its firmness,
and when used must be kept in continual motion, to
the great fatigue of the enthusiastic angler.

The menhaden bait is prepared by scaling it and
then cutting a slice on one side from near the head
to the base of the tail, passing the hook through
from the scaly side, and back through both edges, so
that the shank is enveloped and the flesh is outwards,
and then tying the bait firmly with a small piece of
twine that is attached to the hook for that purpose.
A menhaden or bony fish furnishes two baits, and
the residue, except the back bone, tail, and head, is
cut up fine, called chum, and thrown into the water
to make a slick. A slick is the oil of the menhaden
floating over the waves, and extended frequently by
tide or current a long distance, attracts the bass,
by suggesting to them that their prey is near at.
hand.



154 POINT JUDITH.

Where the water is clear it is customary m rod-
fishing, which is the only scientific mode, to use two
hooks ; the smaller, some two feet below the other
is attached to a fine line or gut leader, and denomi-
nated without any apparent reason the fly-hook.
Many of the best fishermen never use more than
one bait, and where the fish are large and plenty,
one is sufiScient. The fly bait is not generally tied
on, but twisted round the hook in a manner difiicult
to describe.

Lobster bait is deficient in tenacity, and has to be
tied on like menhaden, and probably the natural
squid would be an effective and manageable bait,
could it be provided in sufficient quantities. Limerick
hooks, except those manufactured expressly for the
purpose with a round head, are in great disfixvor,
having a bad reputation for strength, and a stout
but small cod hook is usually preferred. With skill,
how^ever, and plenty of line, the fisherman is more
to blame than the steel, for the breaking of the latter.
The best hook is now manufactured with a round
head and is fastened to the line with two half
hitches, the end again hitched above theiyi so as to
take the friction ; and as it is carried oflT by the first
blue-fish, or in the Yankee vernacular horse mack-
erel, that takes a fancy to it, the angler must be
well supplied.

The Bait, especially a single one, is light, but ex-
perienced hands claim to be able to cast it more
than a hundred yards, a feat that the tyro will
scarcely credit ; but ordinarily half that distance is



POINT JUDITH. 155

all that is requisite. The line should not be less
than six hundred and may be a thousand feet long,
and if of flax should not be over fifteen strands.
The rod, reel, and line, must be of the very best,
and the guides and funnel top large, or the angler
will fail to do himself justice, and will probably lose
his largest fish.

The friction is so great in casting, that the thumb
must be protected by a thumb-stall or cot, as the
natives call it, or better yet, one for each thumb, so
that you can cast from either side, and snub the fish
with either hand. They are made of chamois
leather, India-rubber, or some equivalent material ;
and in casting by hand, a similar protection is re-
quired for the forefinger. A shoemaker's knife is
admirably adapted to cutting bait.

If, then, familiar with these things, you shall have
chosen a favorable time during or at the close of a
south-easterly storm, and at break of day, accom-
panied by John Anthony, shall have posted yourself
upon Bog rock, or the Quohog, which is New Eng-
land and Indian for hard clam, or upon the famous
Scarborough, that great station in a heavy north-
easter, you may anticipate brave sport. The
waves will come rolling in, streaming out in the
wind like a courser's mane, with snowy crest, and
breaking with thundering roar they will sink back
seething with foam. As the tide rises a few drops
will fall pattering upon your feet ; shortly the waves
will leap up to your knees, then plunge into your
pockets, reach to your waist, pour down your neck,



156 POINT JUDITH.

and if you are not on the watch will lift you m their


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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 9 of 18)