Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Voices from the Past: James H. Thompson (1918)

This is a really cool article entitled "Out Of My Tackle Box" by James H. Thompson, dated December 1918 and run in The American Angler. It's a fantastic piece that is a nice one to read on a quiet morning...
WHEN I left off bass fishing last summer I purposely left on one of my reels a particularly diabolical backlash tangle, that I might have the retrospective pleasure, some winter clay of confinement, of solving its perversity. Yesterday while a grate fire snapped and chattered and gossiped of homely things far removed from the thrills and fervors of my wild Canadian lakes, I brought out my tackle box and basked in the fire's artificial August while I unraveled the silken braids, and from their twists and snarls invoked a reconstructed day of sport.

Old Tom. my guide, knew of no such things as backlashes. He called them by the more expressive term of "bird's nests." In all my days a-fishing with Tom I never saw him troubled with a backlash, although he could equal with a hardrunning dollar reel and stiff, cheap steel rod, guiltless of agate guides, my best efforts with a jeweled and intricate reel and delicate bamboo. How he did it I never discovered, but I suspect it was by sheer strength of his thews.

Out of the tangle of line, as I marveled at its intricacies, I unwound the whole thread of a week's angling. From the reel I unreeled a contemplative, yarn, and from the tackle box I conjured forth all the spiritual delights of my summer's sport. True, the line you leave so neglected for months may not be of further use in landing a hard-fighting bass, but its loss will be small compared with the pleasures of retrospection, and 1 advise every angler to leave off fighting with a backlash tangled on his reel that he mav enjoy a winter's day of sport.

Strange how the memories of Old Tom are entangled in this line. The close intimacies of long busy days on the waters cling stubbornly here in the tackle box. Here in the first loop of the tangle is the tale of the first day out with Old Tom: The old guide was suspicious of my angling prowess, as well he might be, for long inaction had made my casts weak and inaccurate. I had brought to net two good-sized bass without comment from the guide, and I was tingling with the first thrills of the fish-fever, but he stolidly attended to his oars and took no share in my early enthusiasm.

I was piqued and shocked that the old fellow should have no enthusiasm for the rare sport. I did not know that out of his experience he was putting me to the test, and that I must win my fishing spurs before he would accept me into the fraternity of experts.

Then came an opportunity. As he rowed around a rocky point of Dog Lake. Tom advised, "You might try a cast and troll over that open water." I tried, and almost as soon as the bait had sunk into the water I had a strike that well nigh jerked the light casting rod from my hands. Away went the line, running from a free spool, until my quarry stopped for a sulking spell.

I was eager to inject some display of interest into the uninterested guide, and shouted to him. "If I haven't hooked the granddaddv of all the fish in Canada, I'm a liar!"

"Yeh, y' got one all right," was the unconcerned reply.

Then I began to fight. The fish came hard, fighting every inch of the way, until at some twenty feet from the boat he broke water. Such a fish! lie looked to my excited eyes like some gargantuan monster.

Tom plied his oars with calm unconcern. Again the big fellow broke .water. Then the guide stirred from his apathy.

"Y' better let him go," he advised. "Y'll lose all that pretty tackle. Y' can't land him with that outfit."

There was a direct challenge in his contempt for my outfit and I accepted it. I was mad ; angry that this hired servant should question my skill.

"You attend to your oars and I'll look after the fish," I snapped. "I won't lose my tackle nor the fish if you will look after your business."

Eight times that fellow made his rushes and each time took with him all my light line. Eight times I reeled him back and almost despaired of saving my angling reputation. The ninth time he sulked a little longer, came in with a little less fight, and when I was able to see his length, gave up and allowed me to tow him to Tom's gaff. The guide pulled into the boat, a twelve-pound northern pike.

With all the contempt that Canadian guides have for the big scavengers, he crushed the head and dumped the pike into the fish-box. Then he wiped his forehead, expectorated freely, and spoke:

"Didn't think v' could do it," he said. "Guess y' can land anything in these waters with that tackle after all. Just let me take a peek at that rod, will y'?"

From then on I was accepted by Tom. He showed me faithfully where the big fish lay and worked long and unceasingly to share my sport. He boasted at the hotel, made bets with other guides on my catches, and in every way made amends for the suspicion with which he had viewed my first efforts.

And with every fresh snarl of the line came another memory of Tom's homely philosophy, his unfailing good nature and uncanny knowledge of fish and their ways.

What an excellent sportsman the old fellow was! What lessons of clean, decent sport he teaches through the long days of his labor. He was so gentle that I never saw him inflict unnecessary pain on a living thing. It was part of his code always to kill a frog before he impaled it on a hook. "I just can't stand it to see the little fellers paw around and try to get off," he used to explain.

Tom had a great reverence for bass. There was never a big fellow that came to his net that was not received with a little ceremony all Tom's own. "Pretty fellow," lie would croon. "You made him fight some, didn't ya, 'fore you give up?" And when the legal limit of the day's catch had been reached, how carefully he unhooked the fish and put them back in the water with the admonition to ''Hurry up and get well so's you can fight somebody else."

Tom taught strict obedience to the law and would countenance no slightest infraction of its code. It is the presence of such guides as he that makes fishing in the waters over which he presides so good.

At last I came to the key snarl of the backlash and wound the straightened line on the typewriter ribbon spools that I have rigged to hold extra lines. Then I turned to other souvenirs in the tackle box to revive other memories.

Down in one of the compartments there lies a battered "crab wobbler." Its wooden head is scarred and nicked where horny-nosed bass pounded it in anger. One day that bait served me well, but only one. Some inexplicable temperamental crochet of bass psychology that day drove them after the plug. It seemed to infuriate them and they struck at it so ferociouslv that oftentimes it was impossible to hook them. One strike broke the barb from one of the three hooks of the gang. Not another day of the season was I able to use that plug with any success. It was another proof of the crazy ways of bass.

Down in the bottom of the box reposed my Canadian license and I dug it up to admire that entirely sportsmanlike and too often disregarded clause that provides that no line shall have more than three hooks. How admirably and adequately that disposes of the cruel unfairness of plugs mounted with whole dozens of inescapable barbs! If fishermen would only be content to abide by the laws in confidence that the regulations are made primarily to insure a perpetuity of good sport!

Here's another souvenir: The lure on which I took the majority of my bass. It's a feathered, wecdless hook carrying over it, and under the swivel, a No. 4 spinner and a kidney sinker. On this I used a pork rind ''baby" and found it a sure-fire bait especially on rare dark days. The "baby" was whittled from a piece of rind not quite so large as the first and second fingers combined. The end through which the hook was inserted was a half-inch in width and a quarterinch in thickness. The thickness increased to a half-inch and then tapered again to the other end, which was pared down to just about the depth of the tough part of the rind. The width increased to three-quarters of an inch. Two legs were split in the end furthest from the hook. The completed "baby" approximated the size and shape of a small frog and made a very excellent wobbler. Sometimes I used the same bait on "Little Egypt," one of Al Foss' ingenious lures.

I always found that the No. 4 spinner and the kidney sinker were essential to whatever form of bait I was using. When frogs seemed best to appeal to the tastes of the bass I used the combination with an ordinary snell-less hook.

Another memory from the tackle box is summoned by a hook without a barb, filed to a needle point. Had a lot of fun with that one afternoon. Fish had been striking so fast and furiously that I had become wearied of bringing them to boat and releasing them, and I decided upon a play-spell. Tom chuckled sceptically when I filed the barb off a hook and told him my plan. I wired the frog bait to the eye of the hook and began casting. Those bass seemed to join in the sport and accepted my challenges with a keen appreciation of the fighting chance I was offering them. And say, it was some fun trying to keep a big fellow on that slippery hook until I could bring him to the net's tip!

Down to the bottom of the box I fished in the fire's warm glow. I laid on retrospective back underneath spme Canadian beech and smellcd the tantalizing aromas of Tom's expert cooking; I felt with savage delight the cold drizzle of a summer rain down my back; my wrist ached again as it had ached on the waters of Dog Lake when casting and playing had kept me so busy that muscles grew pained and swollen.

Some other day this winter I have reserved for the pleasure of again going through the tackle box, oiling my reels. running my lines through a pad saturated with neatsfoot oil, testing and discarding uncertain tackle and preparing for another season. Then my sport shall not be retrospective, but prospective. On that day I shall write to Tom and promise him an early return to his guidance.

So out of my tackle box I find at least two good days' fishing while winter holds me prisoner here by my fire.

-- Dr. Todd

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