This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
Hello!" I exclaimed, as I glanced at the time-table, which, in the form of an illustrated itinerary, lay on the table. "We must be nearing the Nepigon." "The Nepigon!" exclaimed the judge, with the ardor of a sportsman. "More monstrous Trout have been caught in the Nepigon than in any other river on the continent. I have friends who firmly believe that it is one of the four sacred rivers that flow out of paradise."
"I think I would agree with them," I laughingly returned, "if they would make their paradise include not only the river, but the lake in which it heads. For if Lake Nepigon was not in paradise it was a great loss for paradise." And as I spoke, the train struck the bridge which stretches across the noble and noted river, and as it was gliding smoothly on it slowed, and suddenly stopped. "Oh, oh, oh!" "See, Tom, look!" "Jones, where are you?"
"Fo' de Lawd, Mars' Judge," exclaimed the waiter, "you two gemmen git to de hind end ob de kyar, ef you wants ter see what's gwine on down dar in dat ribber."
The excitement was contagious, for the car was full of shouts, cheers, and exclamations. The judge rushed down the aisle to the rear of the car.
"Great heavens!" he exclaimed, as he reached the platform. "Look at that!"
A hundred feet below us flowed the noble current, a deep, wide, strong-moving mass of water. Here and there an eddy marked it with its huge circumference. But in the main it moved downward toward the great lake, shining in full view, as a river flows between widened banks and with plenty of room. In the middle of the river, nearly under us, was a canoe with an Indian at either end, and a man in a velveteen jacket standing in the center. In his hands was a rod, and the tip of the rod was doubled backward nigh to the reel, the ringing whir of which filled the air. His pose was that of an angler who had struck a fish-a big fish-a fish that is fighting him gamily and stubbornly, and which he is resisting with the cool, determined skill of a veteran of the rod.
"What a picture," exclaimed the judge "Gad! whai a picture."
Well might he exclaim, "What a picture!" The wide river; the island-studded lake, into which it emptied; the lofty banks; the great dome of blue sky above; high over the stream, as if hung in mid-air, the long train, every window filled with heads, every platform crowded with forms, the engineer, an angler himself, hanging out of the cab, swinging his hat; below, the canoe, the ochred Indians, the bent body of the angler, the swaying, quivering, doubled-up rod- what a picture.
Suddenly, we, who were looking, saw the rod straighten. Some of us knew what it meant. The judge clinched my arm, and in an instant out of the water came the Trout, mouth open, fins extended, tail spread.
"Jerusalem!" screamed the judge. "He's a twenty-pounder!"
Dear old judge, thou hast the true angler's eye-that eye which enlarges and multiplies by a happy trick of vision, not merely the size of the fish, but the enjoyment of the soul. Ay, ay, it was a twenty-pounder to both of us old sports for the instant, and if the envious scales did shrink the noble form to shorter and thinner proportions, it could not rob us of the ecstasy of our first estimate, thank heavens!
And the fight that followed-what words may set it forth? O anglers, shut your eyes, and see and hear it from behind your closed lids. Call memory to your aid-the memory of the sternest fight you ever fought, of the swiftest torrent, of the wildest pool, of that favorite rod smashed to splinters, of paddle broken, of the "biggest fish that ever swam," lost or won. Stop, I say, and from behind closed lids see all this, and you will see what we saw under the great bridge over the Nepigon on that bright June day.
Whoever the man in the velveteen jacket might be, he was of the right sort-an angler of whom anglers need never be ashamed; for as he fought that fish he gave us such an exhibition of angler's fence as ranked him one of the best that ever fingered reel. An eight-ounce rod agaijist an eight-pound fish, a strong, deep current, and a Nepigon canoe. Grant anglers such conditions, and how many shall make a winning fight?
Twice the huge fish broke water, and twice the long train cheered him to the echo. The judge was wild. Each time the fish broke the surface, he fairly jumped! He leaned far over the rail. He swung his hat, and when the monstrous Trout broke the surface the second time, he yelled:
"Save him, save him, and I'll nominate you for the Presidency."
Once the great fish for an instant burst through his opponent's guard. Once, I must confess, my heart sank within me, as a stone sinks to the bottom of a well. When he was a hundred feet from the canoe, the rod nearly tip and butt, and the silk line stretched through the air like a wire, the fish doubled and lanced backward like a flash. We saw his wake-that sharpened wedge of water which anglers dread -and as he went under the canoe, and, in the stillness, that had come to us, we heard the line rattle on the bark, a groan escaped the judge. He rolled his eyes upward, and roared as if stricken with pain: "Great Scott! he's lost him!"
But the fish was not lost. The angler recovered his advantage, and fought the fight to the end, skillfully and coolly.
The fish was deftly gaffed by one of the Indians, and quickly lay on the bottom of the canoe. The Indians seized their paddles, and the light craft glanced toward the western bank, the man unjointing his rod as the boat shot along, and in a moment they came panting up the embankment with a huge hamper in their hands, in which, amid flowers and grasses, lay six other Trout, nearly as large as the one we had seen captured.
Seldom is such a reception granted to a mortal as was given to the man in the velveteen jacket. The engineer cheered and swung his hat; the fireman, sooted and begrimed, capered and danced on the coal-box like an electrified imp; the passengers yelled; the ladies fluttered their handkerchiefs; while we anglers of the party fairly took him in our arms and lifted him onto the platform, where the judge enfolded him in an embrace which the stranger will never forget-a hug such as an old angler gives a younger one to whom he is indebted for an exhibition of skill which has brought back to his memory all his own former victories, and proved to his anxious soul that the gentle art is not being neglected.
Never fear, never fear, dear old judge, that the art of all arts will be lost, or the skill of trained finger and eye be forgotten. We shall pass; but still the streams will flow on, the pools will go round, and the Trout love the coolness of springs and the rush of swift waters. The boys will grow up like their sires, loving water and sun, loving forest and rapids. With brown faces and hands, and with eyes keen as ours, they will stand where we stood, they will boat where we boated, they will camp where we camped, and the dead ashes of fires that we kindled they will kindle to new life again. The gentle art will live on, while nature is nature and mankind is man.
By W. H. H. Murray.