Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Voices from the Past: Ozark Ripley

Ozark Ripley was one of the best outdoor writers from the golden age of sportswriting: the 1910s and 1920s. A dedicated angler, he penned numerous articles and books on the subject, and was widely respected for his conservationism. Here is one of the best articles he ever wrote, published in 1925.

My Greatest Thrill in Sport


For many years I have hunted and killed all kinds of big game on the American continent, except polar bear, and I have taken most kinds of fresh and saltwater game fish.

Bu the greatest thrill ever experienced during my 50 years devotion to outdoor sports came to me this summer in July, on the Nipigon River, in the rapids just below the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge, at Nipigon, Ontario.

It all happened late in the evening. The trout at this point are the most famed and largest brook trout in the world. But just at
that time they were not striking as usual on account of the exceedingly cold nights. However, I decided to go to the river to try out a little split bamboo bait casting rod, two and three-quarters ounces, that I had made for casting very light lures. It would be a revelation to myself and other anglers to take trout in this manner, when fly casting is the vogue.

The water under the Canadian Pacific bridge, and below for a quarter of a mile at least, flows like a mill race. I attached to my line a small weighted feather casting minnow, just to see if the little rod would shoot it. At the first try I shot the lure at least 135 feet across the water toward the west bank, and in the opposite edge of fast water.

The very instant that the tiny lure struck the water the second of the only two large rainbow trout that up to then had rose and seized my lure. It was a monster. It seemed an impossible accomplishment even to land that fish with the little rod and the fine nine-pound test casting line. The thrill that came in that approaching darkness was incredible. The killing of moose and grizzly bear was tame in comparison.

I worked in a bad light nearly an hour, and in danger of falling into that deep, swift reach, trying hard to lead that fish out of the fast water where the current could not aid it into the long upstream swirl on my side. The only thing that helped me in that fight was the generous supply of filled line I had in store on my reel to help perfect thumbing of it.

I worked up and down those rapids in despair and hope, as the whims of the strong leaping fish directed. Yet the thrill of trying to land the whopper leaping rainbow with that tiny rod was something I had never conceived possible.

It began to grow darker. Suddenly on the left bank I saw a big black bear take to the water and swim deliberately toward my fish, despite the terrific current. Evidently he took it for a cripple. Right off that rainbow sensed his presence, and darter for the east bank as fast as I could reel in slack, and the bear kept his course direct for him.

The rainbow, heading straight for the upstream water, with occasional leaps from it, finally gained the stretch of upstream current with the bear only a few yards behind him. That bear did not become appraised of my presence unitl he made a lunge for the fish, missed it as it leaped out of the water, and then scrambled for the bank to get a better survey of his expected prey. That very moment he got a whiff of the man scent, wheeled and scrambled as fast as he could for the thicket of spruce along the sheer hillside.

And then the thrills of the thrills occurred in the darkness as I roughed that spent rainbow and brought him along the coarse narrow sand bank, where, as he was far too large for my landing net, I fell on top of him and help him captive with my hands and knees until his strength was completely exhausted.

-- Dr. Todd

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