Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Voices from the Past: Frederic J. Haskin Part I

Few people today recognize the name, but Frederic J. Haskin was a prominent national writer around the turn of the twentieth century who contributed a number of articles on fishing to The Washington Post and other august publications. The following 1910 article from The Post is illustrative of his eclectic approach to writing about fishing. As the author of a number of works of international flavor, Haskin's articles often had a global perspective.

Fishing Tackle, Part I

by Frederick J. Haskin

In these April days no subject so completely possesses the minds of the average American man as that of fishing tackle. The lure of the opening of the game fish season ever has been a strong one, and whether it be a hook and line fit for catching a minnow, a steampower net for catching hundreds of barrels of herring or mackerel, or a harpoon gun for laying low the mighty Leviathan of the sea, fishing tackle is full of interest to him who dreams, and in his dreams hears the faint, far, call of the wild. So far as game fishing is concerned, the present season opens up inauspiciously, and that for the sole reason that some Yankee has invented a new piece of fishing tackle, a rod, and line, which is alleged to register the weight of the fish one does not catch. Of course, no fisherman could be worthy of the name and still believe the testimony of such a cheap-john instrument as against that of his own muscular sense, but he does dread to hear the demand of the man from Missouri.

Animals that Catch Fish

In the fishing world many remarkably instruments and appliances are used, but one must go to the Orient to find the most peculiar sort of tackle. One occasionally hears in America of a trained otter, and the fisherman who is lucky enough to possess one has a guarantee for a good season's work. In the Mediterranean turtle fisheries the remora, or sucking fish, is used as an assistant fisherman. It is a curious sort of fish which attracts itself to a larger fish, to turtler, or to boats themselves, and when it gets a good grip a mud turtle is not in its same class for holding-on qualities. When it is caught a heavy ring is placed about its body just ahead of its tail and it is tethered to the boat. When a turtle is in sight the remora is thrown out, and it fastens its 40-leech-power suction apparatus to the shell of the turtle. It holds fast to the turtle until that creature has been towed alongside of the vessel, when it is pried lose and sent after another turtle. Sometimes the remora gets contrary and will not try to take hold of the turtle, but will swim back to the boat and fasten its sucker to the hull of the boat.

Akin to the remora in turtle fishing is the use of the cormorant in China for fishing purposes. The birds are caught when young, and are carefully trained. A light collar is placed about their necks, to which strings are fastened. They are thrown out into the water and taught to catch fish and bring them to the Chinese boars. It takes infinite patience, much plotting, and some boxing of ears to teach the cormorant to fish without a collar and strings attached, but when one masters the art it is a most valuable aid to the fisherman. The cormorants take a certain pride in their work, and when they are unsuccesful in their efforts they take their places shame facedly to await the next try-out. The young usually are trained to work by the assistance of the old birds. The owners are kindness itself to the birds when they work, but box their heads and hurl imprecations at them when they fail.

Spider Webs as Fish Nets

In some of the South Sea Islands a species of spider proves that it was the original fishnet maker. A bamboo sapling is bent on a round shape and tied. It stays in this position for some time, and then a spider comes alongs and uses it as the framework on which to build its web. This converts it into a sort of Brobdingnagian tennis racquet, and with this the native knocks a fish out of the water as a tennis player would strike a ball out of his side of the court. The webs are as strong as the dipnet of ordinary design.

In the commercial fisheries of the world all sorts of tackle are used. Of course, the vast majority of the world's fish supply is caught in nets. The most important of these nets is the trawl net. This is a large-mouthed net bag of gigantic proportions, with a beam of about 40 feet. At either end of this beam is a triangular hoop, which serves the threefold purpose of sinker, beam supporter, and sled runner. This net is "shot" from the stern of the boat and trawled along until it is filled with fish, when it is hauled in.

Trawl Net Fishing in Canada, ca. 1900

The seine is one of the nets which the populace owes much of its fish supply. It is a plain net, with sinker weights at the bottom and cork floats at the top. It may vary in size from the huge, quarter of a mile long and 60 feet wide Cornish Pilchard seine to the little band net worked by the fisher children along the beach. In the heavy salmon fishing of the Northwest the seine and the gill net are much used. The seine is short in a semicircle across the stream, and when it is full of fish it is hauled ashore, horse and steam power often being used in the operation. The fish wheel is also used in the salmon fisheries. It looks much like an overshot water wheeel, and over this the fish are shot into a stake inclosure.

-- Dr. Todd


Peter said...

I'm embarrassed. Frederic J. Haskin was my great grandfather and I had no idea he was "a prominent writer". My mom told me that he had his own kind of information service and he published answers to questions in the newspaper but I think she sold him short a little bit. His son, also Frederic J. Haskin, was an Episcopalian reverend and he passed away on December 27, 1992. His son is survived by his wife and my grandmother, Louisa Haskin, who resides near Burlington, Vermont in the summers and, when she can, in St. John, US Virgin Islands, in the winter. I'll have to do more research on my great grandfather. I never knew him, but this is really cool.

rk60657 said...

Peter, your great grandfather was indeed fascinating. Check out this amazing article about telephones.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing the telephone article, RK! It's encouraging to hear that there are writers in my lineage, as I really enjoy writing and I am pondering whether there might be opportunities for me to make it into a career. My grandfather, Fred Haskin, used to publish poetry books on the side.

Just last week I took what was a huge leap for me and went alone to an open mic story telling competition in San Francisco. I put my name in the hat for the opportunity to tell a story... and I won! I was very excited.

Merilee Karr said...

Frederic J. Haskin was also up on the latest science of bubonic plague, in 1904.
The Oregon Sunday Journal, the progressive newspaper of Portland, Oregon, published a long article under his byline on Sunday, July 3, 1904.
The article was a report from Bahia, Brazil, about, among other things, the epidemic of bubonic plague raging there at the time.

He writes, "The flea, like the mosquito, is merely the distributor of disease. It carries the bubonic plague from rats to people."

This is remarkable, because the flea-plague connection was discovered in 1898, by a French scientist working in India--but most scientists and doctors around the world were skeptical, or willfully ignorant, about it.

How did Haskin learn of it? And what was his connection to Portland or its newspaper?

Knowledge that fleas carried plague was the key to Portland's defense against the disease in 1907, when plague threatened to spread from San Francisco up and down the West Coast. Every city in the West allowed the infection in -- except Portland.