Halfway through those raging rapids with the bass following me in great triumphant leaps, my canoe overturned.
The entire crew take hold of the rope and yank the lunge in hand over hand

Did a Fish Ever Fight or Are All Yarns of Battles Pure Fiction? A Tale of the Only Bass That Ever Put Up a Real Struggle.

By Gregory Clark, July 7, 1923.

Fishing is full of fictions.

In fact, after a careful study of the whole subject of fishing over a period of a quarter of a century, I am convinced that fishing is largely fiction.

At times during my intensive study of the subject, I have come very definitely to the conclusion that there is no such thing as fishing, and that fish themselves are only a delusion.

But there is a weakness in human nature which some call gullibility and others call credulousness, which demands for the human spirit some outlet other than that provided by the perusal of cold facts. It manifested itself in olden days in the legend of the griffin and in the unicorn. Fables grew up about these strange beasts.

In modern times this outlet is provided by fish. And mankind lets loose these restless longings for the mystic and unknown and the incredible through the fabulous tales of fishing.

To go thoroughly into the whole matter would require more than a short story. And a short story is what the editor demands.

I shall take, therefore, only one aspect of fishing: the fable of the fighting fish.

You will hear men commonly arguing with great animation as to which fish is the gamest and fights longest.

“Give me the lunge,” says one. “Give me a lunge of ten pounds or over and I am set for life. There is no fish that swims to compare for gameness and furious fighting spirit with the lunge.”

“Inch for inch, and pound for pound,” says another, quoting I know not what authority, “the small mouth bass is the gamest fish that swims.”

“A trout,” says another, “is never beaten. I have fought a one-pound brook trout, with light tackle, fine and far off, for three-quarters of an hour, and when, through utter exhaustion, I was forced to put the net under him, that trout was as fresh and full of fight as the moment I hooked him.”

That’s the way they talk.

“One hour and twenty minutes it took me to land that twenty-two pound lunge,” says the lunger. “A battle royal all the way.”

Here we are in the very core of fiction.

The lunge fisherman usually drags a stout rope behind a rowboat, at the end of which dangles a large metal trolling spoon set with gangs of hooks one inch or more in size. Similar sets of hooks are used by life-savers when they are dragging for drowned humans. When the poor fish seizes the metal bait, the entire crew of the rowboat take hold of the stout rope and yank the lunge in, hand over hand, like a log. With a whoop and a roar, the lunge is slammed into the bottom of the boat and clubbed to death. The whole operation takes from twenty to forty seconds.

But fiction demands a story about the fish. So the fishermen stretch it into a battle of forty minutes.

About ninety per cent. of the lunge caught in this fishermen’s paradise are thus caught on a rope in a few seconds.

The remaining ten per cent., I find, are caught by real sportsmen, who use a rod to troll with. It is a stout steel rod, strong enough to hold a bull. The line is tested to hold twenty pounds, and the biggest lunge that swims weighs, in the water, only three pounds, owing to the laws of specific gravity. So the odds are slightly in the fisherman’s favor.

When a lunge is struck, the first thing they do is look around to see if anybody is in sight. If there is nobody around, the lunge is reeled in, quite as effectively and a little more safely than by the hand-line method. If anybody is within sight, they spread the battle over three or four minutes. The poor fish wonders what has happened. It wiggles and yanks. But in it comes.

That battle took an hour and six minutes, “by the watch.”

Bass fishermen use a hand net, and as soon the bass is hooked, so alarmed is the fishermen for fear it will escape, he drags it alongside and dips it out of the water with the net.

Trout fishermen are the fictionest fishermen of the lot. Never yet have I met a straight out-and-out worm fisherman. Ninety-nine per cent. of trout fishermen are loaded up with fly hooks, leader boxes, light fly rods and little landing nets. Ninety-nine per cent. of them have a can of worms secreted about their person.

When in sight of their friends, they whip the stream with files. But you will notice that trout fishermen always like to get away by themselves.

“You fish up stream and I’ll fish down,” says one, selecting a cast of files with loving care.

And the other promptly agrees.

The minute they are out of sight of each other, off come the flies, and one of those known as a Gardenia or garden hackle goes on. The cast of flies is hung handy in the hat, in case anyone should be met on the stream.

You see a trout fishermen sneaking very softly up a stream. They tell you the reason is that trout are very wary and have to be stalked. Not at all. Another fish legend. They are sneaking so softly not for the trout, but listening for other fishermen, lest they be caught fishing with worms. I have seen a couple of country boys standing in the water under a bridge snaring trout with fine wire. And the trout flittering about their feet. Trout wary? Trout fishermen wary!

The way ninety-eight per cent. of trout are caught is this: The fisherman hooks it, and with a violent swipe slams the poor little thing high and dry up on the bank.

The other two per cent. are caught in the presence of other fishermen, and for fiction’s sake the catcher has to play it around in the water for a moment, with his heart in his mouth, before scooping it up in the net.

The only authentic case I know of where a bass put up anything like the legendary scrap was a personal experience in which that bass far exceeded any fiction tale I ever heard.

It was up on the Muskosh River, just above the rapids known as Brown’s Cookery.

Evening was falling, and a purple haze hung like a magic curtain over the grey rocks and the dark green firs.

I drifted in my canoe about seventy-five yards above the head of the swift rapids. I was using frog bait and casting to the shores on either hand. In my canoe I had seven of the eight bass the law allows, all of which had put up remarkably good battles, considering that it was only fiction.

I had dropped my bait fair in the middle of swirl of current, when a giant bass leaped and took it. He came fully four feet clear of the surface in that wonderful rush.

With a steady rush that took all but ten feet of my hundred and fifty foot line, he passed me upstream, leaping every few feet and shaking his beautiful bronze body. At the end of the rush, when I had despaired, he turned and rushed as madly down stream, still leaping, and entered the rapids. There he had the swift current to aid him, and he took all but a foot and a half of my line. So intent was I on the battle that I did not notice I was drifting towards the dangerous rapids, which no man had ever shot, except in fiction.

Feeling the stern, if hopeless, pressure on my hold, that bass turned again, raced up stream, and again I was facing north. Leaping every four seconds, by the watch, which I was using to time him, in the interests of truth, he fought over that river.

To my horror, I suddenly saw white water at my side.

I was in the rapids. Would I relinquish that fabulous bass and seize the paddle in the vain effort to save my life? Or would I go to my doom like a good fisherman, holding grimly to my catch?

I decided to die game. Halfway through those raging rapids, with the bass following me in great triumphant leaps, with the dim shades of night upon us, my canoe overturned and I was thrown down, down, deep into that boiling rapids. I lost consciousness. I know not how I escaped from the ragged rocks of that furious stream. But when I came to, I was lying on the beach, three hundred yards below Brown’s Cookery, and morning was breaking. And that bass was still leaping and racing out in the pool below the rapids, with only two and one-half inches of my line on the reel. It had safely come through the rapids with me, and had fought me all night. But unconscious though I was, I held him.

When I dragged it ashore, along about noon, I was utterly exhausted. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the bass had missed his regular feeding time, I never would have got him. He weighed, if I remember rightly, seven and a half pounds – the largest bass ever caught in Ontario. I didn’t enter him in The Star competition, not did I tell my friends about him. For if there is one thing I detest, it is that air of incredulity with which a man’s fishing stories are received.

I tell the tale now, only by way of proving the rule that most fishing stories are fiction. Exceptions prove the rule. This case I have recited is the only instance I know of where a bass really did fight. Most bass are hauled in like an old boot.

I have similar tales to prove my contentions about lunge and trout. Once I fought a thirty-eight pound lunge which I had caught inadvertently on a three-ounce trout rod. It took me four days to land It. Owing to bad weather, I have no photos to prove it. And on another occasion, I hooked a two-pound trout which fought me a distance of seventeen miles up a stream near Caledon. Mile after mile we struggled, the creek getting smaller and smaller. My frail tackle and the delicate fly hook were almost frayed out. If it hadn’t been for the fact that at last we came to the headwaters of the stream, which were a small spring about two feet in diameter, I never would have landed that beauty. When I put my net under him in that small pool of crystal water, I was scarcely able to see. But the trout was just ready to make the seventeen mile journey back to where we had started.

It is cases like these which go to prove, by exception, just to what extent fishing is a legend, a fiction and a pure fabrication.