Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Voices from the Past: The Devil Fish of the Gulf (1906)

This is a great story about the "devil fish," a saltwater ray, which was accidentally hooked by a mackerel fisherman. It was run in the Oct. 27, 1906 issue of Forest & Stream.

The Devil Fish of the Gulf.

New York, Sept. 22.—Editor Forest and Streams: I inclose personal letter, also page from the Galveston Daily News, thinking both may be of some interest to you. Mr. Cotter, proprietor of the Aransas Pass Hotel, is an old personal friend of mine. I have spent four seasons at the Pass, and think it the best point for large and small game fish in the country. This holds good with feathered game, as a guest of the Aransas Pass Hotel can always kill his quota of redhead ducks or quail within a few miles of the hotel, and in a short space of time.

I have been watching your paper for further reports of the catch of some of my tagged tarpon, jewfish and yellowtail, which were caught and turned loose four years ago, but so far have only heard from the one jewfish, which was reported as caught about two months after it was tagged.
W. B. Young.

Mr. Cotter writes:

Fishing has been very good all summer, 1,246 tarpon have been landed this season to date and lots of time is left to catch more. October is a good month for tarpon and you should get some shooting in the back bays then. Fish stories are scarce, but here is one: While out mackerel fishing a few days ago, a lot of the fishermen were anchored close to each other and were having fine sport, when of a sudden a yell was heard and the boat W. B. Leach, of Palestine, was fishing from, was seen coming through the fleet at about twenty-five miles speed with no visible effort. The boats scattered as best they could to keep from being wrecked. After clearing the fleet the boat was seen going straight to sea at this terrific speed. Mr. Leach and his boatman were staying with the boat. Several launches started after them to save their lives; but for two miles or more were unable to gain on the fast moving boat. Of a sudden some one in a nearby launch gave a yell, and looking at the boat in the distance a huge black mass was seen to rise to the surface, spreading out on each side of the captured boat. Several yelled, "devil fish!" and drove their launches at their utmost speed to reach the occupants of the captured boat.

Philip Mayer, of New York, who was in the fastest launch and was armed with a harpoon, was first to reach Leach's boat, and being of a venturesome nature drove the harpoon into the devil fish, which made a sudden surge, almost capsizing both boats; and at the same time snapping the harpoon and loosening from the other boat, it was seen going out to sea and disappeared in the distance.

Mr. Leach, who is a locomotive engineer on the Q. & G. N. Railway, says he has had some wild rides, but this one capped the climax. His version of the fish fouling his boat was that the anchor caught in its mouth and when the fish, becoming frightened, started to sea, the pressure of the boat held the anchor against him until he made the sudden dive when harpooned, and the anchor cleared itself.

If this fish story won't do, I will tell you another next time. Cotter.

-- Dr. Todd

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