Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Voices from the Past: A Bull on a Fly Rod (1895)

The following account, from The New York Sun and dating from 1895, gives an interesting glimpse at California fishing at the end of the nineteenth century, through a unique fishing experience. It has to be the only time a fisherman has ever played a bull before.

A Bull on a Fly Rod:
Lively Episode of a Day's Fishing in California

There was an experience more exciting than fishing to come before the day was ended. At noon the ladies of our party came by wagon to join us at luncheon, and they accompanied us in the afternoon's fishing. Toward night, when we had worked well up toward the mountains, some cattle came down to the stream to drink, and without apparent provocation a lively young bull began to paw the ground and bellow unpleasantly and followed these demonstrations up by charging upon our party. Looking up from my fishing at this juncture; I saw that it was the red plaid shawl of one of the ladies that had excited the animal's hostility. Calling to her to throw down the shawl and for them all to run, I threw stones at the bull to divert his attention, while the other gentleman of the party helped them up the steep bank, where the bull could not follow. Tho bull stopped at tho shawl, tossed it about in an ugly manner, and then, turning his attention to me, gave me a sharp run across the sands to the bank. I got there all right, carrying my rod, with tho line and leader flying behind, but just as I struck the top of the bank I felt a sudden jerk of the rod's tip, and turning saw that one of my fly hooks had caught the bull in the nostril.

It was one of the queerest catches I imagine that ever a fisherman made, and I literally played that bull with a fly rod for a quarter of an hour. I owed him no good will, and besides I wanted to save my tackle. The nostril of a bull, as you probably know, is exquisitely sensitive to pain, and with my strong, flexible split bamboo rod, duplicating reel and stout gut loader at the end of a hundred feet of braided silk I managed to hold the big creature under control. He couldn't seem to make out what had got him by tho nose, but he knew that it hurt him worse whenever he tried to break away, and to increase the mystery there was all the time dangling and switching before his eyes a big, bright red bass fly that I had left on my leader as an experiment in trout fishing. He would strike at it with his horns, and his rage at finding he couldn't hit it, and that it came back at him every time, was comical to witness-—from a place of safety, of course.

From time to time the bull would charge upon the shawl and toss that about, and then I had to work the reel and tip for all they were worth to save all my tackle from going by the board. At last, in one of those furious charges, as he lifted the shawl on his horns I felt something give away, and at the same moment the shawl went up into the air. The hook had torn loose from his nostril, and two of the hooks on the leader were fast in the shawl. I dropped the rod and pulled line and shawl in, hand over hand, like a Cape Cod fisherman hauling pollock. Tho bull didn't tumble to the situation until I had got the shawl nearly to the bank, and then he came for it, but it was too late. I whipped the shawl up to where we were standing just as his head butted the perpendicular bank with a thud that brought down a shower of earth.

The shawl carried a good deal of sand and had some holes in it, but there was no disposition to complain on the part of its owner. We thought we had enough fishing for one day, and leaving our enemy down in the river bed pawing sand and bellowing his anger we took our wagon thankfully for the hotel.

-- Dr. Todd

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