Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Voices from the Past: Musky Fishing in the St. Lawrence (1884)

The following article on musky fishing appeared in the July 5, 1884 issue of The Daily Evening Traveller, and features a nice description of musky fishing in the St. Lawrence River.


Habits of the King of the St. Lawrence -- How He Is Fished For

A correspondent of The New York Times, who has been fishing in the" Upper St. Lawrence river, writes:

The muskallonge has been known to grow to the length of six feet, and to weigh 80 pounds. Those of the St. Lawrence never attain that size, so far as is known, but in the lakes of Miehiganja "six-footer" is not uncommon. The waters of the Upper Mississippi also abound in muskallonge of the larger size. A forty-pounder is no rarity in St. Lawrence waters.

The angler who has never hooked a muskallonge, especially a large one, does not know what exciting sport with the rod is. The muskalionge is the Goliath of the pike family, and his great size, strength and endurance, and his tactics when hooked entitle him to the position of monarch of game fishes. He is built for swiftness and for offensive warfare. He is called to defend himself against no other freshwater fish that swims, but he is the natural enemy of all, being literally, as Halleck has called him, "a fierce and dauntless marauder." Anglers who are expert in both salmon and muskallonge fishing do not hesitate to say that the latter is much the more cunning and determined in the methods he adopts to escape the hook. Quick as the salmon is, and as sudden in his turnings and whirlings and leaping in manoeuvering to break the angler's hold, the muakallonge is still quicker.

The muskallonge is a panther in cunning and ferocity and as ravenous as a wolf. He lays in wait for prey in the weeds along the shore and in places where instinct teaches him that other fishes on which he feeds pass to and fro or congregate. He feeds on his own kind as readily as on other species, for, like all the pike family, his appetite is cannibalistic as well as insatiable. A favorite lurking place of the muskallonge is in narrow channels connecting wider portions of a river or parts of a lake. He catches the fish that pass to and fro In the confines of the channel at a great disadvantage, and, dashing from his hiding-place like a thunderbolt, seize3 his prey with greater ease and certainty. When lying in wait the muskallonge is as motionless as a rock. There is no more evidence of life about him, save an almost imperceptible and cautious working of the gills and a gentle movement of a fin now and then, than there is about the log by the side of which be may be lying. But the instant a pike or a bass or any living thing that will make a toothsome mouthful for him passes within sight the motionless object darts with the velocity of a cannon-ball from its hiding-place, and what it aimed to seize it seldom fails to strike.

The greed and pugnacity of the pike family is proverbial, a pike a foot long having no hesitancy in attacking a fish of a less bellicose species three times its size, and the greed and courage of the muskallonge are In proportions to its dimensions. A local St. Lawrence river angler relates how he was fishing for muskallonge by "skittering" a minnow in Goose Bay. This is a favorite method of angling for this fish, and is the familiar old-fashioned style of pickerel fishing on the small ponds of this and other States, except that the minnow used is much larger, and the tackle proportioned to the powerful game it is expected to kill, and the still more important exception that the rod is long, slender and elastic to make the sport more enjoyable and scientific. As the minnow was being skittered along on the edge of a weedy spot, it was seized by a small muskallonge, which was booked. The fisherman had drawn the fish within rive feet of the boat, when suddenly it was seized by one many times larger, which rushed to the top of the water, and bore the smaller one away under the very noses of the occupants of the boat. The large muskallonge rushed back ratio deep water, and soon gorged its victim. Aider a long fight it was landed in the boat. The small fish was in its throat, and the minnow was in the throat of the smaller fish, which weighed over five pounds. The big mukallonge was a 2O-pounder.

Trolling and skittering are the best methods for catching muskallonge, Still-fishing is not attended with good results, as the large fish are but seldom caught in that way. It is illegal to spear or net the muskallonge, but it is its own protection generally against both the spear and the net, its cunning and agility being almost invariably a match for the skill of those who bring the illegal methods against it. The man who succeeds in spearing a muskallonge has earned the prize, no matter if it be gained by a barbarous practice. It is related by a well-known angler for muskallonge that in a pool where a number of these fish of the largest size were known to lurk, some fishermen determined to draw a seine, as all efforts to catch any of the fish by legitimate means bad failed. The seine was drawn through this pool time and time again, but not a muskallonge was taken. The angler who relates the incident took bis position in a boat, and, holding by one of the buoys of the seine, was drawn after it over the surface for the purpose of investigating how the fish managed to elude the net. Lying with his face close to the water, he says, be could see the fish on the bottom plainly, and as the net approached them they ploughed their wedge-shaped heads in the sand and made a passage under the seine along the bottom of the pool.

Much depends on the skill and dexterity of the man at the oars in successfully landing a muskallonge, if the fish is a big one. The writer had a guide who seemed to attach more importance to recounting past exploits of his own in killing muskallonge than he did to furthering the present efforts of his employer In the same line, and the latter bad the pleasure of losing the only fish he hooked in the day's fishing he was enabled to enjoy—a muskallonge that would have tipped the beam at 25 pounds at least. He' jumped several times from the water at least 10 feet clear and shook his head in furious efforts to release himself from the hook, while his eyes glared like a tiger's. He was reeled nearly within reach of the gaffhook, when the man at the oara had his attention attracted to something else. The boat swayed round. The line slackened, and the infuriated fish turned like a flash and dartod down stream. There was an instant s slowing up in his speed as the line was again drawn taut, and then he went on, leaving the angler a semicircular piece of his jaw as a memento of the day.

But a few days have now to elapse before the opening of the trout fishing season on Long Island, N.Y. Rods have been looked over and got in readiness, and the merits of the split bamboo seven-ounce thoroughly canvassed. Artificial flies by hundreds are taken out of their hybernating camphor and aired, and especially the members of the South Side Sportman's club are hoping for a good day on the first of April when the game beauties will be brought to. basket by the hundreds.

-- Dr. Todd

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