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SOME FISH AND SOME FISHING
WHEN I VISIT NEW WATERS, AND
FIND THE FISHING
POOR AND AM INFORMED THAT IT IS NOT AS GOOD AS IT
USED TO BE, I AM REMINDED OF THE IRISHMAN WHO
SAID TO HIS PAL: “PAT, IRELAND IS NOT THE COUNTRY
IT USED TO WAS.”
“BEGORRA, NO,” REPLIED PAT; “AND SHE NIVER WAS.”
KNOWING that the period of a man’s hard-riding days is limited, I prepared for the inevitable some years since by making a pastime of sea-fishing. I have fished for most fish that swim in the American waters, both in the Atlantic and in the Pacific. The fish that interests me the most is the tarpon (Megalops atlanticus). I have fished for the tarpon in Florida waters every month in the year excepting in midsummer, all along the Gulf of Mexico as far as Aransas Pass, and in the Panuco River at Tampico, Mexico. I have also fished around the coast of Cuba and the Isle of Pines.
The tarpon is a most interesting fish to study. Although a bottom-feeder, he is often seen rolling along on the surface of the water very much as a porpoise swims. He is not afraid of man or boat, and even the small fish in the rivers will not increase their speed as you pass them by. In the rivers, when not in motion, they will lie on the bottom, coming to the surface from time to time for a mouthful of air and then retiring to their resting-place, after which the air-bubbles will rise to the surface for some time. It is this action that makes the natives insist that these fish have lungs and use them for breathing. Then, again, they will lie on the bottom for hours, as other fish do, with very little or no motion of the fins. I once caught a very small baby tarpon in a gill-net, and kept him alive in a tub for hours. He did not act as other fish do in like circumstances, but allowed me to stroke him gently without attempting to move. From time to time he would rise to the surface, as the large fish do in the rivers, then go to the bottom of the tub again, and in a moment the bubbles would slowly issue from his mouth. He kept this up all day. Tarpon feed on small school-fish and on mullet, yet their long underjaw denotes that they are bottom-feeders. They have no teeth, and the hard mouth, with which they crush their food before swallowing it, is a further proof that they enjoy a diet of crab and the like.
According to Hallock, the River Crow Indians have the following legend:
“Many creations ago, when the salt water covered the surface of the plains and the Rocky Mountain Range formed the shoreline of the primitive continent—long before any land animals existed except reptiles— the Great Spirit had constituted the tarpon-fish the great Silver King, and appointed him to be the guardian of the undiscovered vast ore-beds of silver which fill the mountain crags. He clothed him with silver armor-plates and made him ruler over all the anadromous fishes which came up out of the salt-water estuaries into the freshwater limpid streams to spawn. Once in every century the Silver King was permitted to bathe in an electro-thermal medicine spring of liquid silver, and thus pre. served and renewed the brightness of his armor. The silver springs flowed from the hidden ore-beds of the inner mountains. Finally the growth of the continent southward drove the ocean before it and thus the tarpon — the Silver King — was forced gradually into the Gulf of Mexico, where he now chiefly inhabits.
“He has gone from his former haunts just like the buffalo which once covered the prairies, and the great silver mines, being thus left unprotected and exposed, soon became revealed to the knowledge and cupidity of men who are now swarming more than ever into the country, bringing their picks and crushers and driving off the game. But the Great Spirit took pity on the Silver King because he was thus deprived of his ward and heritage and because he could no more renew his armor by bathing in the silver spring; and so he made him the everlasting coat of silver mail, which never fades nor wears off, either in the water or out of it. It will neither dim nor tarnish. Any Indian brave who wears the scales of the tarpon on his person will possess a medicine which will ever be to him a talisman of good fortune, both in this world and the spirit land to come. Plenty will surround him long after the buffalo have ceased to run.”
The first tarpon was taken by rod and reel by William H. Wood of New York on April 18, 1885, bottom-fishing, and it was not until the invention of the Van Vleck tarpon trolling-hook that the method of fishing for them in this manner became a success; for before that, out of ten fish you would “hang” you might with luck save one. I say invention of Van Vieck hook, yet the very same shape of hook can be seen in the Naples Museum, found in Pompeii (which was destroyed A.D. 79) and was probably used for trolling for tuna.
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