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FISH-SPEARING THROUGH THE ICE.
By J. O. ROORBACH.
ABOUT thirty years ago, I was stranded by the dropped into the water a string on the end of which severe winter weather, which put a stop to naviga- was a rude wooden decoy-fish, small enough to tion, at the old army station of Green Bay, now a represent bait to the unsuspecting perch or pickerel flourishing city in the great State of Wisconsin, who should spy it. This decoy was loaded so as to at the mouth of the Fox River,-- at the south- sink slowly, and was so moved and maneuvered western extremity of a long arm of Lake Michigan. as to imitate the motions of a living fish. Society in that far-off army post, though cut off Crawling under the blanket with my Indian friend, by the long winter from the outside world, was I was surprised at the distinctness and beauty with very delightful in those days, and the good times I which everything could be seen by the subdued had, both indoors and out, during those snow-bound light that came up through the ice. The bottom months, I have never forgotten.
of the river, six or eight feet below us, was clearly But what I wish especially to describe for the visible, and seemed barely four feet away. The boy readers of ST. NICHOLAS is a curious Indian grasses, vegetable growths, and spots of pebbly custom that I discovered in the course of my bottom formed curious little vistas and recesses, in winter rambles. I had frequently noticed, while some of which dreamily floated a school of perch booming along the ice road on Fox River be- and smaller fish. Each little air-bubble sparkled hind one of the fast little French ponies, a curious like a gem, and the eye delighted in tracing and lot of black dots on the ice, in the retired nooks watching the mystery of beautiful water formaand coves along the farther shore. “What are tions, where every crevice seemed a little fairy they?" I asked; and the invariable reply was : world, with changing lights or shadows made by “They are Indians fishing.” This puzzled me still the sunlight through the transparent ice. more, and I resolved to investigate. So one day I The wooden decoy-fish, meanwhile, was being crossed the frozen river, and, approaching one of delicately handled by the Indian fisherman, now those mysterious black dots, found it to be appar- raised gently to the top of the water, then sinking ently only a bundle in a blanket, scarcely large slowly; the very action of sinking and the posienough to contain a human form. But, looking tion of its artificial fins made it run forward, now closer, I could see, first from one bundle and then this way, and now that, until it really seemed from another, the quick motion of a pole, or spear- alive. handle, bobbing up and down. A word, a touch, Suddenly, from somewhere -- I could not tell even a gentle push, only called out a grunt in re- where, it seemed to come by magic — a large ply, but at last one bundle did stretch itself into “dory,” or “moon-eyed pike," appeared on the a bright young Indian brave with wondering and river bottom. The watchful Indian slowly raised wonderful eyes peering at me from under a mop of the decoy-bait toward the surface, the larger fish black and glossy hair. A little tobacco, a little following it with interested and puzzled eyes. pantomime, and a little broken English succeeded There was a sudden movement of the spear; down in making him understand that I wished to know it darted; its sharp prongs pierced the unsuspecthow he carried on his fishing under that funny ing pike, which was speedily drawn up and thrown heap.
wriggling on the ice. Then the blanket was re-adThen I saw it all
. Seated, Turk fashion, on justed, and the fishing was resumed. My bright the border of his blanket, which he could thus young Indian friend said he could catch from draw up so as to entirely envelop himself in it, he twenty to thirty pounds of fish in an afternoon in was completely in the dark, so far as the daylight this manner, and sometimes could even secure was concerned; and, thus enshrouded, he was double that quantity. hovering over a round hole in the ice, about eigh- So ingenious and exciting a method of fishing teen inches in diameter. A small tripod of birch interested me greatly, and when, years after, I sticks erected over the hole helped to hold up again visited Green Bay, with two bright boys the blanket and steady a spear, which, with a deli- and zealous fishermen of my own, wé, with some cate handle nine or ten feet long, was held in the other wide-awake young fellows, adapted the Inright hand, the tines resting on the edge of the hole, dian method of fishing, - which was somewhat too and the end of the pole sticking through an open- rough to be literally followed,- to suit the abil. ing in the blanket above. From the other hand, ities and ingenuities of civilized American lads.
INDIANS SPEAR-FISHING FOR PICKEREL AT THE MOUTH
OF THE FOX RIVER, WISCONSIN.
Since then the two boys have put our experiment into practical use on some of the best known pickerel ponds of New Jersey, and at one time they came out ahead in a fishing-match against two men with several set lines each.
For such boys, therefore, as have interest or opportunity for such sport, I will describe this mode of fishing, in detail.
In the first place, we built a house, or shelter, grand improvement upon the Indian blanket, making it possible for the sport to be comfortable, as well as exciting and interesting. This shelter, passed through it, would come about over the which can be made of any convenient boards from center of the bottom. To cover this hole we used an inch to an inch and a half thick, was about a block one foot square, with a three-inch hole in four feet high, four feet long, and three feet wide the middle. To exclude light from around the at the bottom,—and two feet long and eighteen spear, we tacked a cloth funnel to the outer edges inches wide at the top. The front only of the of the block, firmly fastening it with inch square shelter was perpendicular, which caused the other strips nailed on. This funnel was long enough to three sides to slant. We left a four-inch square exclude the light by rumpling or wrinkling around hole in the top, which was level, about three inches the pole, while the opening was loose enough to from the slanting end, so that the spear, which admit of free and vigorous action. The illustration on this page affords the best description of the iron, with tines four inches long. If quarter-inch house, which can of course be modified to suit the iron is used, the tines should be six inches long; tastes or convenience of any one who may choose if one-eighth inch, four inches will be long enough. to build a little structure of the kind. One of my Any blacksmith can make these tines with barbs as friends uses a six-foot-square house with a floor, shown in the figure on the next page. We had them a seat, and a small charcoal stove; he can thus pointed and bent at the upper end, so as to be driven enjoy a change of position, his pipe, or book, at into the handle, as shown by the dotted lines. leisure, at such times as the fish are not running. Our spear-handles were made from straight pine
BOY-SPEARERS ON A NEW JERSEY PICKEREL-POND.
The best time for the sport is just before and just after sunset.
Of course no floor is necessary, and any block or bit of board which raises the sportsman a few inches from the ice would serve for a seat.
I must add by way of caution that every hole or crack in the box should be covered ; as a direct ray of light not only obstructs the vision, but prevents fish from coming to the hole. Any opening that may be discovered after setting up the box on the ice, can be closed with a handful of snow. or spruce shingle laths about one and a quarter
The tines of the spears which we used were made inches wide, tapering from the thickness of the lath of quarter-inch, round iron; and for fish weigh- at one end, to three-fourths of an inch at the other. ing two or three pounds, three-sixteenths or one. They may be from nine to twelve feet in length eighth iron will answer. I have caught four and but a good average is ten feet. five pound pickerel on a spear of one-eighth inch The handle should be grooved so that the tines
DIAGRAM OF THE SPEAR.
sinking to a depth of three or four feet. Then it should be guided in a circle around the outer limit as far as can be seen, then returned to the center, about three or four feet down ; and again, kept al.
most still. Probably the fisherman will suddenly may be sunk at least half-way into it, to prevent be surprised to see a large fish almost under his slipping or twisting. They should be lashed very eyes. Now, without excitement, gradually lifting tightly and carefully to the pole with stove-pipe the bait with one hand, with the other he takes wire or any other malleable wire.
the spear, and poises it over the fish, letting it The artificial bait or minnow, of which there are gently slide through the hand and approach him, two outline figures on this page, we whittled out while he attracts his intended victim with the of pine. They were three or four inches long, motions of the bait. and in proportions as drawn. In the side-view, When he has lowered the spear to about eighteen
the dotted and shaded part, A, shows the shape inches or a foot from the fish's back, being careand proportion of a hollow, opening from below, ful to keep the hand raised, he should strike it to be run full of melted lead; we made these hol- suddenly and he will be apt to catch. This is a lows larger at the top, so that the lead would not trick which any one can soon learn. Of course a drop out, and poured in lead enough to sink the few failures must be expected, at first. minnow rapidly. After cutting out the hole, and If a lad feel nervous and uncertain, and can not before running in the lead, we drove in the side- use both hands as described, let him throw the fins, which we cut from bits of tin with a pair of line over the left knee so as to hold the minnow strong scissors. The dotted lines show how these just over the fish, which will probably remain long fins met in the center of the space which held lead. enough for him to lower the spear gently with The lead thus held the fins, and the fins kept the both hands and to strike with certainty.
As a lead more securely in place. The back-fin was rule the boys followed this course, but the expert also cut from tin and driven into a slit made with manner is that first described. a knife along the back. A bent pin made a small During a snow-storm or on a partly cloudy day, eye, or staple, wh was set over the center of the
or just before and after sunset, are the best times lead and just ahead of the back fin. We defi- for successful sport. nitely settled the position of the staple by tying It will not be difficult to see; for if the box a fine fish-line to it and experimenting in a pail of shuts out all outside light, it will be beautifully water. When the fish hung perfectly level, the transparent and clear below, even until late in staple was in the proper position. By pulling the the evening. If the ice is covered with snow, it string, the resistance of the water on the side-fins should be cleared away for a space. caused the fish to shoot ahead; and on slacking A thick overcoat should be worn, although the the thread, it also shot ahead while sinking; in animal heat in the box will make the spearman this way, by giving the thread little short jerks warm enough, and sometimes too warm. I have and alternately lifting and lowering, we made our fished comfortably when the thermometer was ten decoy-bait to play about in very fish-like motions. degrees below zero.
Sometimes we used uncolored minnows, and The door of the house should be on the left sometimes we painted them white, the back a hand of the spearman, who should sit with his back dark greenish gray.
to the perpendicular end. When he catches a The young fisherman must not keep too contin- fish, he unbuttons the door, pokes the fish outside, ued an action with the bait; but he should merely pulls the spear in, and resumes fishing. raise and lower it a few inches, by little half-inch On many of our inland lakes and ponds this jerks, for a few minutes at a time; every once in fish-spearing can be combined with a day's skating a while, however, he may raise it quickly nearly to and other amusements, and will give to many a the top of the hole. Here it should be made to boy a good day's sport which he will long reswim and glide about, in whatever way it will, while member.