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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 16. Fishing and Boating

IN the spring of the year, when the ice broke up, in the creek, the pike (or pickerel) came up in great abundance from Detroit River, and they were easily caught. At such times the water was high in the creek, often overflowing its banks. Sometimes the Ecorse appeared like quite a river. We made a canoe of a white-wood log and launched it on the Ecorse. Sometimes we went fishing in the canoe. At such times it needed two, as the pickerel were fond of lying in shallow water or where there was old grass. By looking very carefully, on the surface of the water, I could see small ripples that the fishes made with their fins while they were sporting in their native element. By having a person in the back end of the canoe, pole it carefully, toward the place where I saw the ripples, we would get up in plain sight of them, and they could be either speared or shot.

I think the most successful way was shooting them, at least I preferred it. If the fish lay near the surface of the water, I held the gun nearly on it, and if it was six inches deep I held the gun six inches under it, and fired. In this way, for the distance of two or three rods, I was sure to kill them or stun them so that they turned belly up and lay till they were easily picked up with a spear. In this way I frequently caught a nice string. I have caught some that would weigh eight pounds apiece. Sometimes I stood on a log that lay across the creek and watched for them when they were running up. I recollect one cloudy afternoon I fished with a spear and I caught as many as I wanted to carry to the house. Sometimes they would be in a group of three, four or more together. I have seen them, with a big fish below, and four or five smaller ones above him, swimming along together as nicely as though they had been strung on an invisible string, and drawn along quietly through the water. I could see their wake as they were coming slowly up the creek keeping along one side of it. When I first saw them in the water they looked dark, I saw it was a group of fishes. It looked as though the smaller ones were guarding the larger one, at least they were accompanying it. They appeared to be very good friends, and well acquainted, and none of them afraid of being eaten up, but any of them would have eagerly caught the smaller ones of another species and swallowed them alive and whole. I do not know that they devour and eat their own kind, I think not often, for nature has given the pickerel, when young and small, the ability to move with such swiftness that it would be impossible for a larger fish to catch them. They will be perfectly still in the water, and if scared by anything they will start away in any direction like a streak. They go as if it were no effort and move with the rapidity of a dart. I have cut some of the large pickerel open and found whole fish in them, five or six inches long.

But I must finish describing that group of fishes! As they were swimming up, the smaller ones kept right over the large one. I stood until they got almost to me and I killed four of them at once and got them all. It is known that it is not necessary to hit a fish with a bullet in order to get it. It is the force of the bullet, or charge, striking the water that shocks or stuns him, and causes him to turn up.

These fish ran up two or three weeks every spring. Then those which were not caught went back again into the Detroit River. Father made him what he called a pike net which had two wings. By the time the fish were running back, the water was settled into the bed of the creek. Then father would set his net in the creek, stretch the wings across and stake it fast. The mouth of the net opened up stream. This he called a funnel; it was shaped like the top of a funnel. It was fastened with four hoops. The first one was about as large around as the hoop of a flour barrel, the next smaller, the third smaller still, and the last one was large enough for the largest fish to go through.

When the net was fastened around these hoops it formed a tunnel about four feet long. Then we had a bag net eight or ten feet long. The mouth of this was tied around the first or large hoop of the tunnel, so when the fish came down and ran into that they could not find their way out. Father said when the fish were running back to Detroit River, it was right to catch them, but when they were going up everybody along the creek ought to have a chance. I never knew him to put his net in, so long as the fish were running up. When they got to going back, as they most all run in the night, in the evening he would go and set his net, and next morning he would have a beautiful lot of fish. In this way, some springs, we caught more than we could use fresh, so salted some down for summer use. They helped us very much, taking the place of other meat. For years back there have hardly any fish made their appearance up the Ecorse. Now it would be quite a curiosity to see one in the creek. I suppose the reason they do not come up is that some persons put in gill nets at the mouth of the Ecorse, on Detroit River, and catch them, or stop them at least. It is known that fish will not run out of a big water, and run up a small stream, at any time except in the night.

These denizens of the deep have their own peculiar ways, and although man can contrive to catch them, yet he cannot fathom the mysteries that belong alone to them. Where they travel he cannot tell for they leave no track behind.

It is seen that I used a hunter's phrase in my description of holding the gun while shooting fish. The hunter will readily understand it as given. If he has seen a deer and it has escaped him, and you ask him why he didn't shoot it; he almost invariably says, "I couldn't get my gun on it before it jumped out of my sight." To such as do not understand that phrase I will say, the expression is allowable, as the bullet or charge of shot flies so swiftly (even in advance of the sharp report of the gun). The distance of twenty rods or more is virtually annihilated: Hence the expression, "I held the gun on it," (though it was rods away). If he sighted his gun straight toward the object he wished to hit whether it was in the air, under water, or on the ground, he would claim that he held his gun on it.

I said that the bullet flew in advance of the report of the gun. That is true, on the start, or until it struck an object, if the object was at a reasonable distance; but if the distance proved too far, it of course would fall behind the sound. The bullet is the bold—fearless—and often cruel companion of the report of the gun, and loses in its velocity the farther it flies, being impeded and resisted by the air, and at last is left flattened and out of shape, a dead weight, while the report of the gun passes on very swiftly, and dies away in the distance to be heard no more. I have often heard the reports of guns very plainly that were fired at ducks on Detroit River, six or seven miles away. With what velocity their sounds approached me, I leave Dr. Derham to determine. According to his calculation it must have been at the rate of eleven hundred and forty-two feet per second. It has also been ascertained with what velocity the ball leaves the gun and pierces the air. The following is the practical result ascertained by the experiments of Mr. Robins, Count Rumford, and Dr. Hutton: "A musket ball, discharged with a common charge of powder, issues from the muzzle of the piece with a velocity between sixteen and seventeen hundred feet in a second."


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