Pieces People Ask For/A Fight with a Trout

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We had been hearing for weeks of a small lake in the heart of the forest, some ten miles from our camp, which was alive with trout,—unsophisticated, hungry trout: the inlet to it was described as stiff with them. In my imagination I saw them lying there in ranks and rows, each a foot long, three tiers deep, a solid mass. The lake had never been visited, except by stray sable hunters in the winter, and was known as Unknown Pond. I determined to explore it fully, expecting that it would prove to be a delusion, as such haunts of the trout usually are. Confiding my purpose to Luke, we secretly made our preparations, and stole away from the shanty one morning at daybreak. Each of us carried a boat, a pair of blankets, a sack of bread, pork, and maple sugar; while I had my case of rods, reel, and book of flies, and Luke had an axe and the kitchen utensils. We think nothing of loads of this kind in the woods.

A couple of hours before sundown we reached the lake. If I live, to my dying day I shall never forget its appearance. … But what chiefly attracted my attention, and amused me, was the boiling of the water, the bubbling and breaking, as if the lake were a vast kettle with fire underneath. A tyro would have been astonished at this common phenomenon; but sportsmen will at once understand me, when I say that the water boiled with the breaking trout. I began casting, and had got out perhaps fifty feet of line, and gradually increased it to a hundred. It is not difficult to learn to cast, but it is difficult to learn not to jerk off the flies at every throw. Finally, in making a shorter cast, I saw a splash where the leader fell, and gave an excited jerk. The next instant I perceived the game, and did not need the unfeigned "dam" of Luke to convince me that I had snatched his felt hat from his head, and deposited it among the lilies. Discouraged by this, we whirled about, and paddled over to the inlet, where a little ripple was visible in the tinted light. Instantly, upon casting, there was a rush, a swirl. I struck, and "Got him, by—" Never mind what Luke said I got him by. "Out on a fly," continued that irreverent guide; but I told him to back water, and make for the centre of the lake. The trout, as soon as he felt the prick of the hook, was off like a shot, and took out the whole of the line with a rapidity that made it smoke. "Give him the butt," shouted Luke. It is the usual remark in such an emergency. I gave him the butt; and, recognizing the fact and my spirit, the trout sank to the bottom, and sulked. It is the most dangerous mood of the trout, for you cannot tell what he will do next. We reeled up a little, and waited five minutes for him to reflect. A tightening of the line enraged him, and he soon developed his tactics. Coming to the surface, he made straight for the boat faster than I could reel in, and evidently with hostile intentions.

"Look out for him!" cried Luke, as he came flying in the air. I evaded him by dropping flat in the bottom of the boat; and when I picked my traps up he was spinning across the lake as if he had a new idea, but the line was still fast. He did not run far. I gave him the butt again, a thing he seemed to hate, even as a gift. In a moment the evil-minded fish, lashing the water in his rage, was coming back again, making straight for the boat as before. Luke, who was used to these encounters, having read them in the writings of travellers he had accompanied, raised his paddle in self-defence. The trout left the water about ten feet from the boat, and came directly at me with fiery eyes, his speckled sides flashing like a meteor. I dodged as he whisked by with a vicious slap of his bifurcated tail, and nearly upset the boat. The line was, of course, slack; and the danger was, that he would entangle it about me, and carry away one leg. This was evidently his game; but I untangled it, and only lost a breast-button or two by the swift-moving string. The trout plunged into the water with a hissing sound, and went away again with all the line on the reel. More butt, more indignation on the part of the captive. The contest had now been going on for half an hour, and I was getting exhausted. We had been back and forth across the lake, and around and around the lake. What I feared was, that the trout would start up the inlet, and wreck us in the bushes. But he had a new fancy, and began the execution of a manœuvre which I had never read of. Instead of coming straight toward us, he took a large circle, swimming rapidly, and gradually contracting his orbit. I reeled in, and kept my eye on him. Round and round he went, narrowing the circle. I began to suspect the game, which was to twist my head off. When he had reduced the radius of his circle to about twenty-five feet, he struck a tremendous pace through the water. It would be false modesty in a sportsman to say that I was not equal to the occasion. Instead of turning around with him, as he expected, I stepped to the bow, braced myself, and let the boat swing. Round went the fish, and round we went like a top. I saw a line of Mount Marcys all around the horizon; the rosy tint of the west made a broad bank of pink along the sky above the tree-tops; the evening star was a perfect circle of light, a hoop of gold in the heavens. We whirled and reeled, and reeled and whirled. I was willing to give the malicious beast butt and line and all, if he would only go the other way for a change.

When I came to myself, Luke was gaffing the trout at the boat-side. After we had got him in and dressed him, he weighed three-quarters of a pound! Fish always lose by being "got in and dressed." It is best to weigh them while they are in the water. The only really large one I ever caught, got away with my leader when I first struck him. He weighed ten pounds.

Charles Dudley Warner.