This section is from the book "Moose-Hunting Salmon-Fishing And Other Sketches Of Sport Being The Record Of Personal Experiences Of Hunting Wild Game In Canada", by T. R. Pattillo. Also available from Amazon: Moose-Hunting, Salmon-Fishing and Other Sketches of Sport: Being the Record of Personal Experiences of Hunting Wild Game in Canada.
During the summer and autumn large bodies of herring and mackerel frequent the harbours of Nova Scotia, pursued thither by their relentless foes the albacores, sometimes called the horse-mackerel, from their great resemblance to the mackerel in fact, they are considered to belong to that family. If my readers have seen a mackerel, and, moreover, hooked one with a jig and line, they can conjecture, from the smartness of the ordinary mackerel, what kind of sport an over-grown one of 600 lbs., fastened to hook and line, would be likely to afford. Certainly he would be no plaything. I have helped to capture them in fish-traps 11 feet long and as big as a vinegar-cask. When these fish are among the shoals of small fish, they rush and leap out like salmon and pollock, and are so ravenous they are often dangerous to fishermen picking their nets, as they rush from beneath the boats after the fish falling out of them. Albacores, though not generally eaten by Englishmen, yet are very nice eating, and are more highly prized by Portuguese and Spaniards than any other fish they take, and sell for the highest prices.
Prompted by the desire for a little excitement, a friend and I decided to attempt the capture of one of them. As we knew the gear required must be first-class, we procured two of what in fishing parlance are called 18th hemp cod-lines, each 32 fathoms long. Then we had a hook made for each out of steel three-eighths thick, 8 inches wide, with a 3-inch shank, and long heavy beard. With our lines attached to swivel-reels to run them on and off, we felt we were equipped for the expected spree, so, having secured a stiff medium low boat, we proceeded one morning -quite early to the netting-ground. There we found the nets well fished, and knew by that our game would be on hand.
We procured a number of herrings with which to bait them up, and then lay on our oars, awaiting developments. Presently one of the fishermen called out, " Halloa, boys! here's a fellow 1" meaning an albacore, followed by a shout from another and still another, that they were about their boats; so we slowly moved outside the range of the boats, throwing over a herring every few yards to toll them along with us. When we considered we were far enough away, we took the precaution to secure the reel to the thwart, for we were a bit afraid of the fish we expected to grapple with. Then I threw over a herring, to see if there were any albacores near us, and to our delight a monster rushed for it just under the surface, so I threw another loose one and another attached to the hook. He rushed for the first one, whirled and took hold of the other, and we had hold of him. Then for a few minutes we had a good imitation of the antics of a wild prairie horse when first haltered. He jumped his full length out of the water, which gave us a very vivid idea of the monster we were attached to; then he started at an awful pace across the harbour.
The line was running out swiftly, so that we had to move as quickly to get it into the notch in the stern, which we had wisely thought to make. Then I seized an oar and placed it for steering, while we both got positions to trim the boat. What we feared was that, when he had run all the line out, if the boat was motionless, something might break; so to obviate that, my friend succeeded in grasping the line partially, and thereby gradually starting the boat, while I helped by sculling, so that by the time it was all off the reel, she was moving faster than ever she did before, and it is doubtful if she ever did after. The fish kept up the pace for at least ten minutes, towing us directly into the harbour; then he made a jump, turned, and took us straight back for the fishing grounds. The men in their boats had been watching us with great interest, not supposing for a moment they were to have any part in it, but when they saw us going directly for them, the shouting and hooting and swearing that suddenly started from them would have been laughable to any disinterested spectators, but we could see plainly that, if he continued the course he was then taking us, nothing short of a collision with one or more of the boats would follow, and the most of them were half loaded with herrings.
The way those fellows were shouting was as if Pandemonium were let loose, and tended somewhat to disconcert us. The nearer we approached them, the greater the peril seemed of sinking by contact one or both of our boats, so I jumped with my knife to free him, but in the rush to do so my foot slipped, and I went headlong on top of my mate, and my knife flew out of my hand confusion worse confounded. Before we could disengage ourselves, the boats came together with a heavy crash, filling the other's and washing a lot of their herrings overboard. This additional drag caused the albacore to spring again, when, to save ourselves from being all thrown overboard, one of the men cut the line. The first salute we poor fellows got was, " You d d fools! " followed by language not altogether classical English, nor yet pure Anglo-Saxon, having a large percentage of the swear element in it. After their first ebullition was over, we got into a hearty laugh over the ridiculousness of the affair; then they baled their boat out, and went on with their work.
We poor disgruntled fellows rowed around among the other boats, finishing up the first part of the spree with roars of laughter. Of course, after the danger was over, the whole affair appeared so funny that we all had to shout and halloa or burst.
Our freed albacore paraded himself all over the harbour, jumping dozens of times, with the line still attached to him, all through that day. In the course of an hour, by seeing these big fellows rushing about us in the bay, the sporting temperature rose again, and we decided to try our other line on another fellow. The fishermen hesitated to supply us with bait, fearing a repetition of the same peril, if we got fast into another. After a little coaxing, we got what we wanted, and started off shore, occasionally throwing a herring as we went. When we thought ourselves out of danger limit, we stopped, got the gear into shape for immediate action, if necessary, not knowing then if there were any fish near.
This was soon decided when I stood up and threw over a herring, for it scarcely struck the water before it was grabbed. Then I threw over the baited hook, and he seized it just as fiercely; and this second fellow was fast, rushing and jumping even more fiercely than the first. He began towing us directly away from the boats for some time. To make his speed less rapid, we crossed our oars and held back water, which acted like a drag. Suddenly, like his predecessor, he turned at right angles to the current he had been following, and led us in that direction fully ten minutes, then took a range leading directly for the boats. Up to this time we did not feel at all anxious apart from the long row that seemed before us when he was leading off shore. Now, however, there appeared to be evil in his eye, and if he should take us up there this time, the results might be much more serious than before, for the boats were all deeply loaded.
What was to be done? While we were trying to plan some feasible way out of it, and at the same time save our fish, he made a leap out, and fell very heavily, thus showing he was weakening, and from that time we found the boat was moving more slowly, and we therefore became very hopeful. As we looked in shore, the men had their hats off, and were gesticulating fiercely, giving us to understand we ought to cut him free, which we would probably have done had we not noticed his faltering. The speed of the boat kept slackening very fast, so much so that in a short time we were able to gather in the line to within a few fathoms of him. He had towed us to within 150 yards of the fishermen, when suddenly he stopped short. We hauled up the line, and the fish with it. What a beauty! Ten feet long, weighing 600 lbs. We soon had a rope through his gills, and towed him to the shore in through the boats. The men and boys came to see him after their nets were picked, and helped us haul him on the beach, and finished by giving three cheers, which made us feel like heroes. Our cranky friends of the collision had long ere this got over their pet, and all enjoyed a hearty laugh over the exciting time. " Hang it! " said an old chap,*" we were getting worked up when you were coming right for us again, as we would have been in a bad plight, with our boats all loaded down, if the scamp had got you there." We had had all the sport there was to be obtained out of the fish, so we gave his body to the men who had lost their herrings through us, thus reimbursing them well, as the fish was worth at least $20. If any of my readers are at any time on our Nova Scotian shore, and are seeking sport, they can have it equal to that enjoyed on the Pacific Coast in the capture of the albacore. This fish is so voracious that it is no trouble to bait him up, but see that your gear is good, and don't fear he will eat you, if by chance he should haul you overboard. He does not fight long, but he means business while at it.*
* I have not the slightest doubt that Mr. Pattillo's very exciting account of his albacore-fishing in this chapter will induce anglers to visit Nova Scotia, to fight the albacore with rod and line; just as they go now to Catalina Island to catch tuna, a fish of the same species. R. B. M.