Perch-Fishing

YES, I know it, they are bony, and they are muddy and they are not often lauded in anglers’ stories; but there’s something about perch-fishing that no other angling gives — it’s the return of youth. Don’t you remember the day you caught your first perch ? Don’t you remember your heavy birch pole, and your thick twine line, and your ringed perch-hook tied on with a dozen knots, and with a shingle-nail for a sinker and a pickle-stopper for a bob ? The hooks were two for a cent at the grocery, and lay in the case with the knives and the razors and the gum and the scissors and the candy and the thread and the envelopes — they were in the middle box of three. The little hooks on the right everybody knew were for trout, and the big ones on the left for pickerel. But you always bought out of the middle box, for you knew no trout would be along, and every boy knew no perch would bite at a worm strung on a pickerel-hook.

How proud you were when you took your sunburned capture home that day, and how happy when mother agreed to cook it! And then your joy when the little fish was brought in in lonely magnificence and laid beside father’s plate. How you swelled with importance as you detailed to him the exciting capture: the tremendous bite when your stopper went clean under till you thought it was never coming up, the terrific struggle your four-inch captive made, and how he almost got away! That was the first one, but will you ever forget it ?

And the other fishing-days, when you got up before dawn and stole downstairs to the dim kitchen. A drink of milk, a doughnut,and a triangle of pie; then you stole out quietly to the barn and got the spading-fork. Then the search, armed with fork and tomato-can, under the broad leaves of the rhubarb-bed, back of the hen-house and down by the cowbarn, until you had enough worms for the day’s sport. Then, of course, you left the fork sticking in the ground — you never would learn to put things away — and started off. Through the garden and orchard, stopping long enough for a handful of currants and a pocketful of sopsyvines — over the pasture-bars, eating a handful of huckleberries or lowbush blackberries here and there. Into the wood road,— very dark and still in the dawn, — where you stepped along very quietly so as not to disturb the bears. You knew perfectly well there were no bears, but you rather enjoyed the creepy sensation. Then out through the deep wet meadow-grass to the river, where the sun was now beginning to burn away the wisps of mist, and the red-winged blackbirds were making a tremendous fuss over their housekeeping. You reached the river-bank at the pout-hole, or the big rock, or the old willow (of course you know the exact place), and then you started fishing.

The river slipped dreamily by, the meadow-grass waved about your head, the sun climbed high, and the day grew warm. Perhaps you caught some perch — perhaps you did n’t. What did you care? it was good to be sitting there, watching your stopper. Perhaps you were just going to get a bite; perhaps the grandfather of all the perch was even now on his way to your bait! But you were fishing; everything else was unimportant; you knew they would be looking for you to help get in the hay; you knew you had left the fork out back of the barn; you knew your chores were n’t done. Ah! well, these were all petty troubles, not to be considered when one is fishing.

How many times since, when you have sat chained to a desk, have you wished that your duties might be slighted as easily, and that you could reach for your pole back of the kitchen-porch and start for the river ? I ’ve whipped miles of trout stream, I’ve played many a husky bass, I’ve read of the angler’s battles with tarpon and salmon and tuna; but when I want just real fishing, I seek out a quiet little river I know, dig a can of worms, get down on the small of my back under the willow, and watch my stopper float, and wait for the perch to bite. My troubles may go hang. I do not think of them. What I do think is what I’ve written here.