Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fishing for Laughs, Part II

Again we delve into the "funny bone" of the fisherman, and up at the microphone stand is John Lyle King, author of Fishing the Nipigon (1883). For those who don't know, the Nipigon River is in Ontario and is absolutely legendary, even in King's time, for its massive Brook Trout. Regular catches even today of 20" and 5 pound brookies are made. That is a massive trout, folks. Don't believe me? Check out this brookie from Nipigon:

Yikes. That is a huge Brook trout. Anyway, King decided to put on his humorists' hat when he related the following anecdote in his famous book about Bishop Beckwith of the great state of Georgia, who was fishing with his friend Bishop Whipple of Minnesota during King's trip up the Nipigon. Bisphop Beckwith, in fact, registered a 6 1/2 pound Brook Trout in the Red Rock lodge register, of which King related:

It is no breach of the confidence shared by all the trouters of the Nipigon to refer to the general hearsay of a large joke connected with the most ponderous of the trouts. Of this the good Bishop himself is likely unaware, though the wind, "a chartered libertine," has blown the secret from Victoria Falls to Red Rock. The gist of it is, that the excellent bishop of Georgic was probably made the unconscious victim of pagan guile and machination. In the post mortem process required for the preparation of the trout for the frying-pan, the cook's carving knife struck upon several stones within its throat and jaws. There are cases of icthyolites, or figures of fish in rocks, but in icthyologic records or experiences, there is no instance of rock in fish, or of internal petrifications in living fish, or any disease of fish that may be called the gravel. The surprising phenomenon, therefore, can be due only to human agency, and the human agency strongly savors of a sleight of hand prank, and the prank no doubt was played by some one of more of the pagan half-breed guides as a joke for flatteringly enhancing the eclat of the capture with the surreptitious but more exceeding weight of glory.

"The thing we know is either new or rare--

We wondor how the devil they got there."

As the irreverent guides are illiterate, there is no reason to suppose they "caught onto" or got a hint of the glorifying scheme from Mark Twain's Jumping Frog of Calaveras.

Let's go to the replay and break this down. The Good Bishop Beckwith, fishing with his friend the Bishop of Minnesota, catches a big brook trout that weighs in at 6 1/2 pounds. When filleted, the fish is found to be full of stones. Since it is not possible the Bishop could have pulled this off, his (illiterate) guides get the blame.

Oh. I get it.

No chance the bishop might have done this himself, I guess…at least not in Mr. King's eyes. Anyway it is an interesting anecdote if not terribly funny; I award this story three fish out of five for set up and one fish out of five for laughs.

It most certainly didn't make me laugh, although it did make me suspect the bishop…

-- Finn

Finn Featherfurd is the pseudonym of a sad and lonely retired professor and newspaper columnist who has spent the better part of the past four decades (unsuccessfully) chasing fish in the Lower 48. A long-time collector of vintage fishing tackle of all kinds, he is currently fascinated by pre-1920 children's fishing reels (40 yards and smaller). When the spirit moves him, he will contribute occasional pieces and essays to the Fishing for History Blog. He can be reached at

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