Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Voices from the Past: Musky Fishing in Clayton, New York (1860)

Gary Miller sent in this blurb to me some time ago and I am just now getting around to posting it. It’s from the July 31, 1860 New York Times, back when the Gray Lady was just one of a couple dozen daily papers in NYC. It features a lovely account of musky fishing in Clayton in the days of Gardiner Mills Skinner.

This fishing is peculiar in its character. Your landlord engages your guide, with boat and tackle, for one dollar and a half a day, to serve you from dawn to dark if you wish to fish as early and as late. Two rods, supported entirely by the boat, one reaching out upon one side, and the other upon the other, with lines attached about 100 feet long, with spoons or decoys, and a drag-line from the stern about 150 feet in length, comprises the tackle. A seat is provided for the sportsman, which is generally a cushioned chair in the stern-sheets of the boat, and he sits face to the guide. In this luxurious and easy position he can amuse himself when the fish are not active in smoking, reading, viewing and admiring the quiet scenery of the beautiful islands surrounded by the crystal waters, or, if he so inclines, can sleep, relying upon his guide to wake him when he has a strike. The guide rows you over the best ground, if you are not personally acquainted with it, and the most uninitiated are enabled to tell when a fish seizes the decoy. Then hand over hand with the line, slowly, till Mr. Fish makes his appearance near the boat, and the great skill is in landing him safely. A large one requires the gaff; a smaller one is seized just back of the head with the hand, and a smaller one still is jerked in unceremoniously. A good day's sport gives so many that at night a true sportsman feels ashamed to look upon such murder.

The muskallonge vary in weight from 15 to 65 pounds; the pickerel from 2 to 20 pounds; the black bass from one to four pounds. It is not uncommon to see little boys and girls in skiffs rowing about the river trolling. One day last week a small lad was thus engaged in the bay near the vessels lying at the wharf, when he "fastened" (a local term) to a muskallonge. Being alone in the boat, with no implements to secure him or kill him, and the fish being about as heavy as the boy, it was a fair and for a long time seemed to be a very doubtfully-resulting fight. The lad, however, had the advantage; for while the fish was being weakened by the struggle, the boy held his own. The boat swayed round and round as the muskallonge struck out right and left, till at last the lad succeeded in getting Mr. Muskallonge's head over the gunwale, and by one sudden convulsion of the fish in he came with the boat. And now the reader may suppose the fight was ended. Not so: for it had but just begun, for the boats sit low upon the water, and these fish, averaging about five feet in length, will go overboard, if not prevented, quicker than they come in. The little fellow let go the line, and seized Mr. Muskallonge around the body, and a rough and tumble scuffle ensued upon the bottom of the boat, the fish being first uppermost and then the boy; but he held on, and hollowed stoutly for help, when one of the guides, seeing his condition, shot out with his boat from the shore, and towed in the contending parties. But the little fellow never relinquished his hold till the club was applied to the muskallonge's head, when it was ascertained the fish weighed 48 1/8 pounds. Mr. JOHNSON, the proprietor of the Walton House, sent the fish to the proprietor of the Everett House, in New-York.

-- Dr. Todd

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