Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Voices from the Past: A Tippy Canoe by Edward Seymour (1883)

A friend of mine recently regaled me with a tale of woe in which he had tipped his canoe while on a fishing trip to Quetico and sadly lost much of his fishing gear. I've had this happen to me twice, and neither time was it any fun. The conversation reminded me of an anecdote I had read years before by Edward Seymour, who had a similar situation occur while fishing the Rangeley Lakes of Maine in the early 1880s. The following excerpt is from his seminal article "Trout Fishing in the Rangeley Lakes" (1883). It was reprinted in the book Sport with Gun and Rod in American Woods and Waters, edited By Alfred Marshall Mayer.

The "Spirit of Mooselucmaguntic"

by Edward Seymour

Apart from the risk of losing your trout because of the difficulty of landing him while the boat is tossing on the waves, this fishing in rough water has its perils, which add to its excitement if they do not increase its pleasures. One bracing September morning, I was industriously casting my fly from my boat, which was anchored three or four hundred yards from the sand-spit at the mouth of Bema Stream. The "Spirit of Mooselucmaguntic" (an effigy which the ingenuity of some of the campers had constructed from the gnarled roots which the waves had cast up on the beach and worn into incredibly fantastic shapes) looked upon the scene with a grin which foreboded some dire disaster. My guide, in despair at the determination which persisted in casting a fly in such a gale, was fishing from the bow of the boat with a drop line. A sudden exclamation from him, a start and a sharp twitch, indicated that he had hooked a large fish. I turned to see him pull a beautiful three-pounder over the thwart, which he had depressed to the level of the water to save the trouble of using the landing-net.

But our triumph was of short duration. No sooner had the victim been deposited in the boat than we both, in an instant, found ourselves pitched out of it and struggling in the water of the lake. Unnoticed by either of us in the excitement of the moment, our boat had swung around into the trough of the sea, and a huge wave had dashed in, completely filling it, and tipping it so nearly over that as the water came in we went out. Confident in my own swimming powers, I called to my guide, as soon as I came to the surface and grasped hold of the boat, that I could take care of myself, and not to be alarmed on my account. But a desperate series of flounderings on his part indicated to me what I had never before suspected, that, notwithstanding the fact that he had been a guide upon these waters for thirty years, he could not swim a stroke.

His frantic efforts to insure his own safety quickly tipped the boat bottom-side up, and again sent us both under. When I came to the surface, he was seated astride of the bow in comparative safety, while the second submersion had so water-logged my heavy winter clothing that I found it impossible to do more than hang on to whatever part of the slippery bottom of the boat I could best clutch. Then it began to look as if our strait was desperate. The anchor-rope held our boat with the same firmness upon which we had before congratulated ourselves, and I fear that it would never have occurred to either of us to cut it and let the boat drift ashore. Fortunately, however, another boat happened just at this crisis to be starting out upon the lake. By his vigorous yells, my guide attracted the attention of those in the other boat, and in a few moments it was alongside. My guide easily stepped from his place of refuge into the rescuing boat, nearly upsetting that in his precipitancy, and then it came to my relief. But I could neither lift myself over its side, nor could those who were in it pull me in without imminent risk of capsizing.

There was no other way but to tow me ashore ingloriously. As soon as my feet struck bottom, I waded to the beach, and then for the first time realized how completely my strength was exhausted, and for how short a time, in all probability, I could have sustained myself in the perilous position from which I had so happily escaped. A blazing camp-fire and a dry suit of clothes quickly restored my equanimity, which was, however, completely destroyed again by the reflection, which in an instant burst upon me, that my three rods, including a new split bamboo, together with a carefully prepared box of fishing-tackle, which contained my fly-books, were at the bottom of the lake and in water at least twelve feet deep. At first, it seemed as if my sport for that trip at least had been completely and disastrously terminated.

One of our guides, who was an expert swimmer, comforted me by the assurance that he could easily recover the more important articles by diving for them, and for a time it appeared as if this would be the only chance, until it occurred to us that one of the most enterprising and ingenious of our party had a day or two before constructed a square box with a pane of glass in the end, with which, after the manner of the sponge and pearl divers, he had been studying the bottom of the lake to discover, if possible, the localities which the trout were the most likely to frequent. Taking this out with us the next day, we found that the contrivance worked to a charm. Thrusting below the ripple the end of the box which contained the glass, and excluding the light as far as possible from the other end, every object on the bottom of the lake, at a depth of even fifteen or twenty feet, could be clearly discerned. A little patient labor with this and a large landing-net with a handle of sufficient length was finally rewarded with the recovery of every article of any value. The fly-books, however, were both destroyed, and part of their contents were seriously damaged; still, these were trifling offsets to my own fortunate escape and that of my guide.

-- Dr. Todd

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