Essays and Reviews

by Archibald Lampman

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley


Fishing in Rice Lake


Rice Lake,  which  is  probably known to many of my readers  is a beautiful little sheet of water, embedded among hills gleaming in the autumn with yellow patches of matted rice, which lifts its thin stalks through five or six feet of water to a height o[f] two feet perhaps above the surface. Sprinkled with small islands, steep-banked and covered with dark, thick wood, reflected in the sleepy stillness of its glassy surface, the lake seems on a calm summer’s morning like a little patch of dreamland dropped into the midst of the woody hills that gird it round.

The sun had risen, and not a breath of wind stirred the magic stillness of the scene. Our boats, provided with the necessary tackle both for trolling and still fishing, shot out from the old wharves below the village of Gore’s Landing, over the sleeping waters, as we watched the tangled weeds below us, tall and thick in the shallow bay—hiding place of many a staid saturnine black bass, who swept majestically away as we passed above him, scared by the whirl of the water from the glittering oar blades; or impudent sunfish, swaggering and indifferent, sunning his contented snub-face in the morning light; countless perch and minnows, skimming hither and thither, picking up occasional scraps of eatable matter, and often narrowly escaping the yawning jaws of their kingly tyrants, the bass.

There were three of us in the boat—a fat old gentleman in the stern, myself, and a tough denizen of the neighborhood to pull the oars—a noted character, brown, hardened, muscles like wire, a miraculous fisherman, a miraculous duck shooter, thoroughly acquainted with all the best spots for fishing and shooting, and discreetly silent about the same. The old gentleman had command of the trolling line, which was accordingly let out as soon as we had got clear of the bay and into deep water, the brass spoon spinning merrily behind at a distance of perhaps a hundred feet. For some time we kept our course straight out into the lake, then turned and skirted the rice bed between two of the islands, in hopes of alluring from the tangled recesses of the rice shade one of those lounging fellows who are generally loafing lazily about the edges of the bed looking for something worth eating. The maskalonge is a swaggering, violent, greedy fellow, but not very cautious—like some of his avaricious counterparts among men he often snatches at anything that glitters, quite heedless of the uselessness and danger of it.

We had not gone far when we were startled by "Bless my soul," from the fat gentleman who was glaring, purple-faced, behind him and pulling hard at his line. I came to his assistance and as the oarsman pulled on we leisurely drew in the line. Our captive struggled bravely, flinging himself several times out of the water and whirling in wild circles as we got him nearer to our side. At length, tired and weakened, his long striped frame was transferred from his native element to the bottom of our boat, his desperate exertions to escape our grasp nearly terrifying out fat friend out of his wits. A blow on the back of the head from the "headache stick" which we had brought with us, soon, however, convinced the prisoner that a state of complete rest was most conducive to his happiness; though the old gentleman still looked with no very assured glance upon the long rows of sharp vindictive teeth that fortified the jaws of the fallen hero.

As we coasted along the side of one of the islands, a beautiful wooded hillock rising from the placid water, stony-shored with wild creepers and grape vines trailing to the water’s edge, we captured another of the bright-eyed tyrants and one or two bass.

After this we resolved to row back again to the mainland, and try our chances at still fishing, for we had taken care to provide ourselves with the necessary tackle. The water was still, glassy, smooth and too clear to afford us much hope of success. However, we dropped anchor a few yards from a stony point, between which and the mainland stretched a reedy swamp, lined with rushes. The great, white water-lilies, opened wide to the sunlight, gleaming here and there through the reeds, two or three dreamy cranes drifting off over the water, casting their long, dark, shadows over its sleeping surface. Our anchor rested on a bed of stones and the water was clear, deep and almost free from weeds. It was a favorite place for the black bass, and our rods were quickly adjusted. The unsuspecting crawfish, gathered for us by some village urchin from his rocky habitation, was cautiously extracted from the swarming can, wherein but a moment before he had been lustily clawing his neighbors, and the sharp hook inserted under his tail—that lithe, graceful little tail that had so often aided him in dashing out of danger’s reach at a magic speed—and drawn through his body, out at the throat. Now inert and almost lifeless, the tempting bait was cast into the still water and sank till the float rested upright on the surface.

Some time we waited under the hot sky and with the mirrored water between us, in that dreamy revery which makes the sedate amusement of fishing the philosopher’s cherished enjoyment, and recalls to us the figures of genial Izaak Walton and many others whose footsteps will be traced beside these native brooks to the end of time. Presently my float descended to the depths, slowly, majestically, solemnly, evidently borne off by some proud old veteran, too philosophical to make a fuss over any bait however fat and tempting. I tightened my line, and instantly my captive was awakened to the danger of his position, made off for the open lake until he was brought to a halt by the cautious effort of my hand. I found him no compliant prisoner, and it was not without considerable trouble that I laid his black side upon the bottom of the boat. After this we caught several bass of from two to four pounds weight, and lost several, one of which saw fit to go off with the better part of the old gentleman’s tackle, causing considerable trouble and a great deal of unnecessary blasphemy.

After this last event we weighed anchor at the intercession of our fat friend—who was convinced that the fish, having now learned the trick, would proceed to further violation of the principles of honor and run off with all the other rods and lines in the boat—and rowed over the rice-beds to the other side of the lake, a distance of about three miles and a half.

Here we found the mouth of the river Ottonabee, flowing through a vast marsh, overgrown with reeds, rushes and wild rice and fringed with stunted trees, the home of the frog and the mosquito. After pulling a few hundred yards up the stream, we cast anchor again in a bend of the river, and here, almost under the shade of the trees, we dropped our lines into the deeps and found better luck than ever. Several magnificent fish were soon stretched stiff and stark on the inhospitable boards of our treacherous craft, and it was not till sunset that our hardy oarsman weighed his anchor and we took our contented way, sun-tanned and ravenously hungry, back to the quiet little village, nestling among its trees on the steep lakeside, where our stomachs were plentifully refreshed and our minds cheered by reflection upon the gratifying success of our day’s work.