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IN treating of the most beautiful and novel sport of arrow-fishing, its incidents are so interwoven with ten thousand accessories, that we scarce know how to separate our web, without either breaking it, or destroying a world of interest hidden among the wilds of the American forest.

The lakes over which the arrow-fisher twangs his bow, in the pleasant spring-time; have disappeared long before the sere and yellow leaf of autumn appears, and the huntsman's horn, and the loud-mouthed pack, clamor melodiously after the scared deer upon their bottoms.

To explain this phenomenon, the lover of nature must follow us until we exhibit some of the vagaries of the great Mississippi, and, having fairly got our "flood and field" before us, we will engage heartily in the sport.

If you will descend with me from slightly broken ground through which I have been riding, covered with forest trees singularly choked up with undergrowth, to an expanse of country beautifully open between the trees, the limbs of which start out from the trunk some thirty feet above the ground, you will find at your feet an herbage that is luxuriant, but scanty; high over your head, upon the trees, you will perceive a line, marking what has evidently been an overflow of water; you can trace the beautiful level upon the trunks of the trees, as far as the eye can reach.

It is in the fall of the year, and a squirrel drops an acorn upon your shoulder, and about your feet are the sharp-cut tracks of the nimble deer. You are standing in the centre of what is called, by hunters, a "dry lake."

As the warm air of April favors the opening flowers of spring, the waters of the Mississippi, increased by the melting snows of the North, swell within its low banks, and rush in a thousand streams back into the swamps and lowlands that lie upon its borders; the torrent sweeps along into the very reservoir in which we stand, and the waters swell upwards until they find a level with the fountain itself. Thus is formed the arrow- fisher's lake.

The brawny oak, the graceful pecan, the tall poplar, and delicate beech spring from its surface in a thousand tangled limbs, looking more beautiful, yet most unnatural, as the water reflects them downwards, hiding completely away their submerged trunks. The arrow-fisher now peeps in the nest of the wild bird from his little boat, and runs its prow plump into the hollow, that marks the doorway of some cunning squirrel.

In fact, he navigates for awhile his bark where, in the fall of the year, the gay-plumed songster and the hungry hawk plunge mid-air, and float not more swiftly nor gayly, on light pinioned wings, than he in his swift canoe.

A chapter from nature: and who unfolds the great book so understandingly, and learns so truly from its wisdom, as the piscator?

a, The level of the Mississippi, at its ordinary stage of water. b, The height of the spring rise. c, d, The "dry lakes." By examination of the above drawing, an idea may be formed of the manner of the rises of the Mississippi. The observer will notice that when the water is at a, the lakes c and d will be dry, affording a fine hunting-ground for deer,&c. When the water is at b, the lakes are formed, and arrow-fishing is pursued. (See description.) A correct idea may also be formed by what is meant by a water-line on the trees, indicating the last rise; the water- line will be formed of the sediment settling on the trees at the line b, marked above.

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a, The level of the Mississippi, at its ordinary stage of water. b, The height of the spring rise. c, d, The "dry lakes." By examination of the above drawing, an idea may be formed of the manner of the rises of the Mississippi. The observer will notice that when the water is at a, the lakes c and d will be dry, affording a fine hunting-ground for deer,&c. When the water is at b, the lakes are formed, and arrow-fishing is pursued. (See description.) A correct idea may also be formed by what is meant by a water-line on the trees, indicating the last rise; the water-line will be formed of the sediment settling on the trees at the line b, marked above.

The rippling brook, as it dances along in the sunshine, bears with it the knowledge, there is truthfulness in water, though it be not in a well. We can find something, if we will, to love and admire under every wave; and the noises of every tiny brook are tongues that speak eloquently to nature's true priests.

We have marked, that with the rise of the waters, the fish grow gregarious, and that they rush along in schools with the waters that flow inland from the river, - they thus choose these temporary sylvan lakes as depositories of their spawn; thus wittingly providing against that destruction that would await their young, in the highways of their journeyings.

It is a sight to wonder at, in the wilds of the primitive forest, to see the fish rushing along the narrow inlets, with the current, in numbers incredible to the imagination, leaping over the fallen tree that is only half buried in the surface of the stream, or stayed a moment in their course by the meshes of the strong net, either bursting it by force of numbers, or granting its wasteful demands by thousands, without seemingly to diminish the multitude, more than a single leaf taken from the forest would perceptibly alter the vegetation.

We have marked, too, that these fish would besport themselves in their new homes, secluding themselves in the shadows of the trees and banks; and, as the summer heats come on, they would grow unquiet; the outlets leading to the great river they had left would be thronged by what seemed to be busy couriers; and when the news finally spread of falling water, one night would suffice to make the lake, before so thronged with finny life, deserted; and a few nights only, perhaps, would pass, when the narrow bar would intrude itself between the inland lake and the river, that supplied it with water.

Such was the fish's wisdom, seen and felt, where man, with his learning and his nicely-wrought mechanisms, would watch in vain the air, the clouds, and see "no signs" of falling water.*

Among arrow-fishermen there are technicalities, an understanding of which will give a more ready idea of the sport. The surfaces of these inland lakes are unruffled by the winds or storms; the heats of the sun seem to rest upon them; they are constantly sending into the upper regions, warm mists. Their surfaces,

  • It may not be uninteresting to naturalists to be informed, that these fish run into the inland lakes to, spawn, and they do it of course with the rise of the water. These overflows are annual. A few years since the season was very singular, and there were three distinct rises and falls of water, and at each rise the fish followed the water inland, and spawned a remarkable example where the usual order of nature was reversed in one instance, and yet continuing blindly consistent in another. It is also very remarkable that the young fish, native of the lakes, are as interested to mark the indications of falling water as those that come into them; and in a long series of years of observation, but one fall was ever known before the fish had left the lakes.

however, are covered with innumerable bubbles, either floating about, or breaking into little circling ripples.

To the superficial observer, these air-bubbles mean little or nothing; to the arrow-fisherman they are the very language of his art; visible writing upon the unstable water, unfolding the secrets of the depths below, and guiding him, with unerring certainty, in his pursuits.

Seat yourself quietly in this little skiff, and while I paddle quietly out into the lake, I will translate to you these apparent wonders, and give you a lesson in the simple language of nature.

"An air-bubble is an air-bubble," you say, and "your fine distinctions must be in the imagination."

Well! then mark how stately ascends that large globule of air; if you will time each succeeding one by your watch, you will find that while they appear, it is at regular intervals, and when they burst upon the surface of the water, there is the least spray in the world sparkling for an instant in the sun. Now, yonder, if you will observe, are very minute bubbles that seem to simmer towards the surface. Could you catch the air of the first bubble we noticed, and give it to an ingenious chemist, he would tell you that it was a light gas, that exhaled from decaying vegetable matter.

The arrow-fisherman will tell you that it comes from an old stump, and is denominated a dead bubble. That "simmering" was made by some comfortable turtle, as he opened his mouth and gave his breath to the surrounding element.

Look ahead of you: when did you ever see an Archimedean screw more beautifully marked out than by that group of bubbles? They are very light, indeed, and seem thus gracefully to struggle into the upper world; they denote the eager workings of some terrapin in the soft mud at the bottom of the lake. In the shade of yonder lusty oak, you will perceive what arrow-fishermen call a "feed;" you see that the bubbles are entirely unlike any we have noticed; they come rushing upwards swiftly, like handfuls of silver shot. They are lively and animated to look at, and are caused by the fish below, as they, around the root of that very oak, search for insects for food. To those bubbles the arrow-fisherman hastens for game; they are made by the fish that he calls legitimate for his sport.

In early spring the fish are discovered, not only by the bubbles they make, but by various sounds, uttered while searching for food. These sounds are familiarized, and betray the kind of fish that make them. In late spring, from the middle of May to June, the fish come near the surface of the water, and expose their mouths to the air, keeping up, at the same time, a constant motion with it, called "piping."

Fish thus exposed are in groups, and are called a "float." The cause of this phenomenon is hard to explain, all reasons given being unsatisfactory. As it is only exhibited in the hottest of weather, it may be best accounted for in the old verse:

"The sun, from its perpendicular height Illumined the depths of the sea; The fishes, beginning to sweat, Cry, 'Dang it, how hot we shall be!'"

There are several kinds of fish that attract the attention of the arrow-fishermen. Two kinds only are professedly pursued, the "carp" and the "buffalo." Several others, however, are attacked for the mere purpose of amusement, among which we may mention a species of perch, and the most extraordinary of all fish, the "gar."

The carp is a fish known to all anglers. Its habits must strike every one familiar with them, as being eminently in harmony with the retreats we have described. In these lakes they vary in weight from five to thirty pounds, and are preferred by arrow-fishermen to all other fish.

The "buffalo," a sort of fresh-water sheep's-head, is held next in estimation. A species of perch is also taken, that vary from three to ten pounds, in weight; but as they are full of bones and coarse in flesh, they are killed simply to test the skill of the arrow fisherman.*

  • The carp, to which we allude, is so accurately described in its habits in "Blane's Encyclopedia of Rural Sports," when speaking of the European carp, that we are tempted to make one or two extracts that are remarkable for their truthfulness as applied to the section of the United States where arrow- fishing is a sport. In the work we allude to, we have the following: "The usual length of the carp in our own country (England) is from about twelve to fifteen or sixteen inches; but in warm climates, it often arrives at the length of two, three, or four feet and to the weight of twenty, thirty, or even forty pounds." Par. 3448. Again, "The haunts of the carp of stagnant water are, during the spring and autumn months, in the deepest parts, particularly near the flood-gates by which water is received and let off. In the summer months they frequent the weed beds, and come near to the surface, and particularly are fond of aquatic plants, which spring from the bottom and rise to the top." Par. 3453. We find that the fish retains the same distinctive habits in both hemispheres, altering only from the peculiarities of the country.

The incredible increase of fishes has been a matter of immemorial observation. In the retired lakes and streams we speak of, but for a wise arrangement of Providence, it seems not improbable that they would outgrow the very space occupied by the element in which they exist. To prevent this consummation, there are fresh water fiends, more terrible than the wolves and tigers of the land, that prowl on the finny tribe, with an appetite commensurate with their plentifulness, destroying millions in a day, yet leaving, from their abundance, untold numbers to follow their habits and the cycle of their existence undisturbed. These terrible destroyers have no true representatives in the sea; they seem to be peculiar to waters tributary to the Mississippi.

There are two kinds of them, alike in office, but distinct in species; they are known by those who fish in the streams which they inhabit as the "gar." They are, when grown to their full size, twelve or fifteen feet in length, voracious monsters to look at, so well made for strength, so perfectly protected from assault; so capable of inflicting injury. The smaller kind, growing not larger than six feet, have a body that somewhat resembles in form the pike, covered by what looks more like large, flat heads of wrought iron, than scales, which it is impossible to remove without cutting them out-they are so deeply imbedded in the flesh. The jaws of this monster, form about one fourth of its whole length; they are shaped like the bill of a goose, armed in the interior with triple rows of teeth, as sharp, and well set, as those of a saw.

But the terror, is the "alligator gar," a monster that seems to combine all the most destructive powers of the shark and reptile. The alligator gar grows to the enormous length of fifteen feet; its head resembles the alligator's; within its wide-extended jaws glisten innumerable rows of teeth, running, in solid columns, down into its very throat. Blind in its instinct to destroy, and singularly tenacious of life, it seems to prey with untiring energy, and with an appetite that is increased by gratification.

Such are the fish, that are made victims of the mere sport of the arrow-fisherman.

The implements of the arrow-fisherman are a strong bow, five or six feet long, made of black locust or of cedar (the latter being preferred), and an arrow of ash, three feet long, pointed with an iron spear of peculiar construction. The spear is eight inches long, one end has a socket, in which is fitted loosely the wooden shaft; theca other end is a flattened point; back of this point there is inserted the barb, which shuts into the iron as it enters an object, but will open if attempted to be drawn out. The whole of this iron-work weighs three ounces. A cord, about the size of a crow-quill, fifteen or twenty feet long, is attached to the spear, by which is held the fish when struck.

Of the water-craft used in arrow-fishing, much might be said, as it introduces the common Indian canoe, or as it is familiarly termed, the "dug out," which is nothing more than a trunk of a tree, shaped according to the humor or taste of its artificer, and hollowed out.

We have seen some of these rude barks that claimed but one degree of beauty or utility beyond the common log, and we have seen others as gracefully turned as was ever the bosom of the loving swan, and that would, as gracefully as Leda's bird, spring through the rippling waves.

The arrow-fisher prefers a canoe with very little rake, quite flat on the bottom, and not more than fifteen feet long, so as to be quickly turned. Place in this simple craft the simpler paddle, lay beside it the arrow, the bow, the cord, and you have the whole outfit of the arrow- fisherman.

To the uninitiated, the guidance of a canoe is a mystery. The grown-up man, who first attempts to move on skates over the glassy ice, has a command of his limbs and a power of locomotion, that the novice in canoe navigation has not. Never at rest, it seems to rush from under his feet; overbalanced by an overdrawn breath, it precipitates its victim into the water. Every effort renders it more and more unmanageable, until it is condemned as worthless.

But, let a person accustomed to its movements take it in charge, and it gayly launches into the stream; whether standing or sitting, the master has it entirely under his control, moving any way with a quickness, a pliability, quite wonderful, forward, sideways, backwards; starting off in an instant, or while at the greatest speed, instantly stopping still, and doing all this more perfectly, than with any other water-craft of the world.

In arrow-fishing, two persons are only employed; each one has his work designated - "the paddler" and "bowman."

Before the start is made, a perfect understanding is had, so that their movements are governed by signs. The delicate canoe is pushed into the lake, its occupants scarcely breathe to get it balanced, the paddler is seated in its bottom, near its centre, where he remains, governing the canoe in all its motions, without ever taking the paddle from the water.

The fisherman stands at the bow; around the wrist of his left hand is fastened, by a loose loop, the cord attached to the arrow, which cord is wound around the forefinger of the same hand, so that when paying off, it will do so easily. In the same hand is, of course, held the bow. In the right is carried the arrow, and, by its significant pointing, the paddler gives directions for the movements of the canoe.

The craft glides along, scarcely making a ripple; a "feed" is discovered, over which the canoe stops; the bowman draws his arrow to the head; the game, disturbed, is seen in the clear water rising slowly and perpendicularly, but otherwise perfectly motionless; the arrow speeds its way; in an instant the shaft shoots into the air, and floats quietly away, while the wounded fish, carrying the spear in its body, endeavours to escape.

The "pull" is managed so as to come directly from the bow of the canoe; it lasts but for a moment before the transfixed fish is seen, fins playing, and full of agonizing life, dancing on the top of the water, and in another instant more lies dead at the bottom of the canoe.

The shaft is then gone after, picked up, and thrust into the spear; the cord is again adjusted, and the canoe moves towards the merry makers of those swift ascending bubbles, so brightly displaying themselves on the edge of that deep shade, cast by yonder evergreen oak.

There is much in the associations of arrow-fishing that gratifies taste, and makes it partake of a refined and intellectual character. Beside the knowledge it gives of the character of fishes, it practices one in the curious refractions of water. Thus will the arrow-fisherman, from long experience, drive his pointed shaft a fathom deep for game, when it would seem, to the novice, that a few inches would be more than sufficient.

Again, the waters that supply the arrow-fisherman with game, afford subsistence to innumerable birds, and he has exhibited before him, the most beautiful displays of their devices to catch the finny tribe.

The kingfisher may be seen the livelong day, acting a prominent part, bolstering up its fantastic topknot, as if to apologize for a manifest want of neck; you can hear him always scolding and clamorous among the low, brush, and overhanging limits of trees, eyeing the minnows as they glance along the shore, and making vain essays to fasten them in his bill.

The hawk, too, often swoops down from the clouds, swift as the bolt of Jove; the cleft air whistles in the flight; the sportive fish, playing in the sunlight, is snatched up in the rude talons, and home aloft, the reeking water from its scaly sides falling in soft spray upon the upturned eye that traces its daring course. But we treat of fish, and not of birds.

Yonder is our canoe; the paddle has stopped it short, just where you see those faint bubbles; the water is very deep beneath them, and reflects the frail bark and its occupants, as clearly as if they were floating in mid air. The bowman looks into the water - the fish are out of sight, and not disturbed by the intrusion above them. They are eating busily, judging from the ascending bubbles.

The bowman lets fall the "heel" of his arrow on the bottom of the canoe, and the bubbles instantly cease. The slight tap has made a great deal of noise in the water, though scarcely heard out of it. There can be seen rising to the surface a tremendous carp. How quietly it comes upwards, its pectoral fins playing like the wings of the sportive butterfly. Another moment, and the cold iron is in its body.

Paralyzed for an instant, the fish rises to the surface as if dead, then, recovering itself, it rushes downwards, until the cord that holds it prisoner tightens, and makes the canoe tremble; the effort has destroyed it, and without another struggle it is secured.

When the fish first come into the lakes, they move in pairs on the surface of the water, and while so doing they are shot, as it is called, "flying."

In early spring fifteen or twenty fish are secured in an hour. As the season advances, three or four taken in the same length of time, is considered quite good success.

To stand upon the shore, and see the arrow-fisherman busily employed, is a very interesting exhibition of skill, and of the picturesque. The little "dug out" seems animate with intelligence; the bowman draws his long shaft, you see it enter the water, and then follows the glowing sight of the fine fish sparkling in the sun, as if sprinkled with diamonds.

At times, too, when legitimate sport tires, some ravenous gar that heaves in sight, is made a victim; aim is taken just ahead of his dorsal fin; secured, he flounders a while, and then drags off the canoe as if in harness, skimming it almost out of the water with his speed. Fatigued, finally, with his useless endeavours to escape, he will rise to the surface, open his huge mouth, and gasp for air. The water that streams from his jaws will be colored with blood from the impaled fish that still struggle in the terrors of his barbed teeth. Rushing ahead again, he will, by eccentric movements, try the best skill of the paddler to keep his canoe from overturning into the lake, a consummation not always unattained. The gar finally dies, and is dragged ashore; this buzzard revels on his carcass, and every piscator contemplates, with disgust, the great enemy to his game; this terrible monarch of the fresh-water seas.

The crumbling character of the alluvial banks that line our southern streams, the quantity of fallen timber, the amount of "snags" and "sawyers," and the great plentifulness of game, make the beautiful art of angling, as pursued in our Northern States, impossible.

The veriest tyro, who finds a delicate reed in every nook that casts a shadow in the water, with his rough line, and coarser hook, can catch fish. The greedy perch, in all its beautiful varieties, swim eagerly and swiftly around the snare, and swallow it, without suspicion that a worm is not a worm, or that appearances are ever deceitful. The jointed rod, the scientific reel, cannot be used; the thick hanging bough, the rank grass, the sunken log, the far reaching melumbium, the ever still water, make these delicate appliances useless.

Arrow-fishing only, of all the angling in the interior streams of the southwest, comparatively speaking, claims the title of an art, as it is pursued with a skill and a thorough knowledge that tell only with the experienced, and to the novice, is an impossibility.

The originators of arrow-fishing deserve the credit of striking out a rare and beautiful amusement, when the difficulties of securing their game did not require it, showing that it resulted in the spirit of true sport alone.

The origin of arrow-fishing we know not; the country where it is pursued is comparatively of recent settlement scarce three generations have passed away within its boundaries.

We asked the oldest piscator that lived in the vicinity of these "dry lakes," for information regarding the early history of arrow-fishing, and he told us, that it was "invented by old Uncle Zac," and gave us his history in a brief and pathetic manner, concluding his reminiscences of the great departed, as follows:

"Uncle Zac never know'd nothing 'bout flies, or tickling trout, but it took him to tell the difference 'twixt a yarth worm, a grub, or the young of a wasp's nest; in fact, he know'd fishes amazin', and bein' natur-ally a hunter, he went to shooten 'em with a bow and arrer, to keep up yerly times in his history, when he tuck Inguns and other varmints, in the same way."

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