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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan. An evolving history dedicated to the principle of committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Frank Wilkeson fishes on Grandy Lake,

John Grandy and Ike and Sam Morrell
By Noel V. Bourasaw, publisher, Skagit River Journal
(fishing net)
Does anyone have a photo of fishing or hunting in the old days here that we can use to illustrate these articles?
Please email here.

      Grandy Lake is a very small body of water to the southwest of Baker lake and Lake Shannon and north of old Birdsview and west of Concrete. Like many folks who grew up in the Skagit valley, my family spent a lot of time on those lakes during the summer and showed them off to our relatives from out of town. Frank Wilkeson especially loved this lake while living here in the 1880s and '90s and spent a lot of time fishing it with his son Samuel. This story was transcribed from the New York Times by Patricia McAndrew, a scholar and author from Pennsylvania who is about to publish a book on Frank Wilkeson and his fishing columns, The Old Soldier Goes Fishing. After searching for information about Frank for seven years, I got goose bumps in 2001 when Patricia sent me this particular story, because I knew that to reach Grandy Lake, Frank might have crossed my childhood farm near Minkler lake.
      John Grandy is still a phantom figure from the upper river for us. He lived here only briefly. We know from the biography of his neighbor August Kemmerich that they arrived here together on Valentine's day, 1878. Birdsey Minkler, who had worked with them while they logged on the Olympic Peninsula the two years before, located land on the north shore of the river where the town would later be named for him. Kemmerich said that, in the winter months when the woods and mills were shut down, the logger friends explored the areas around Seattle for possible homestead sites. Minkler and Kemmerich chose land here that was on the river shore; Grandy chose a site that was inland to the north. The water that is now Grandy Lake was probably at the far north end of his property. We know nothing about Grandy's personal life or his short tenure here, other than he sold the timber rights to his 141 acres in July 1882 to a Mr. A. Duncan and Mr. G.G. Wells, and then apparently returned to Port Madison, Kitsap county.
      Wilkeson refers to "Ike" in the story — who was Ike or Isaac Morrell, a farmer east of Hamilton. They appeared to be very good friends who teased each other about their fishing prowess. In another column from 1892, Frank writes in another column: "To-morrow morning early we will get Ike — one of my neighbors when I am in the Skagit Valley and a most expert fisherman, but prone to make uncalled-for, if not unwise, experiments in matters relating to bait." Ike and his own brother Sam were bachelors who moved to the Skagit from Tennessee in 1894 and homesteaded east of Hamilton on the river. Frank never mentions Sam Morrell, which is ironic since Hamilton old timers remember Sam most for his fishing. In fact, Fred Slipper grew up in Hamilton in the 1920s and '30s and can remember Sam living in the old hotel by the river and selling fresh-caught fish to Fred's mother at their back door. Ike died at age 83 in 1938 and Sam died at 89 in 1951. Perhaps a reader can supply more information about any of these early pioneers.

Fishing on Grandy Lake

By Frank Wilkeson, New York Times, August 30, 1891

As I write, nineteen torn and tattered flies, mementos of Grandy Lake, lie on my desk before me. And, as I have previously written, they tell the story of the excellence of the fishing. — Frank Wilkeson

      One evening last week my young comrade entered my office after an absence of three days. The youth smiled wearily as our eyes met, and said, as he unslung his creel and stood his rod in a corner: "I am pumped out. I have had a time, such a time, catching trout. Look!" he exclaimed as he unstrapped and opened the creel. It was packed full of dressed fish.
      "All trout, Sam?" I inquired in eager tones.
      "All trout, father," he replied. Then, as he threw himself wearily into an armchair and looked through labor-laden eyes at the distant, fir-clad mountains from whose foothill he had walked that day, he said: "The fish would not rise in Grandy Creek and I followed it to its headwaters. I found the home of the trout away off yonder," indicating with outstretched arm a low, forest-clad spur of the Cascade Mountains, "and I slaughtered them. I am too tired to talk. Look into my fly-book, that will tell the story."
      He handed me his fly book. I turned the leaves rapidly and whistled the note that is indicative of astonishment. Coachmen, professors, grizzly kings, brown hackles, brown hens, black gnats, and white millers, all, were chewed and torn. The deer hair, wild fowl feathers, and worsted had almost disappeared from the hooks. They were a most disreputable-looking lot of flies. But the story of rare sport that was clearly indicated by the torn and tattered and worthless flies was really told to all fishermen who saw them.
      The tired boy smiled at me when I had finished my inspection of his fly book, and said, coaxingly: "Do not go to the hotel of mysteries for dinner. Let's cook a dandy dinner on Ike's stove (Ike was a neighbor of mine who had left town for a few days) and have a royal feast."
      I was wholly tired of the mysteries that were served at the hotel as food and readily agreed to the proposition relative to a royal feast. We had one.
      The feast over, we sat side-by-side and smoked Havana tobacco and drank strong coffee. The weary boy brightened under the stimulation afforded by a good dinner and strong drink. I listened attentively to the story of the catch, and my heart beat strongly, and I could feel the throbbing of the rod and hear the delightful music of the reel and see the rippling, brown water.

Let's take the day off and go fishing

Read about Patricia N. McAndrew's new book, The Old Soldier Goes Fishing — planned for publication in December 2005, a collection of his columns and a biography of Frank and his family.

      "Let's take a day off and go fishing," my comrade said as he grasped my arm lightly.
      "It is a whiz," I replied. "We will go next Friday."
      The fly books were restocked. "They will rise to any fly," Sam asserted. The selection he made was remarkable for its variety. The books looked as though a crazy fisherman who intended to cast for phantom trout in imaginary pools had filled them. I had serious doubts relative to the efficacy of the flies that Sam had selected, and quietly bought coachmen and Seth Green flies, which I concealed in my inside pocket. It might be that trout would rise to scarlet ibex, black gnat, and white miller in early August, all the flies on the same leader; but I had not then encountered such trout, and I had cast flies on many trout-stocked waters.
      Early Friday morning we mounted our horses and rode up the Skagit Valley. Presently the sun rose above the snow and glacier clad peaks of the Cascade Mountains, and promptly the open forest that stands close to the rapidly flowing river was alive with bird life. Doves three times the size of eastern mourning doves, but marked in precisely similar manner, flew from treetop to treetop, cooing sweetly the while. Pine squirrels barked either a welcome to us or angry disapproval of us, and emphasized their remarks with waving tails.
      We rode side by side, talking gaily and foolishly too, as good comrades are wont to do. Up the valley, past Birdsview, where men were rolling enormous cedar and fir logs into the river, then to the north along an old logging skid, till we came to a foot trail that led across a high, timber-clad divide, on the other side of which Grandy Creek Valley lies.
      Grandy Creek is famous trout-fishing ground. I once caught 110 trout in its water in three hours. The trail we were on led to the stream above the second canon, and the region was strange to me. The water foamed and tumbled in tiny white waves, and there was a miniature waterfall every few rods. The water was as clear as plate glass. In the deep pools, where the surface of the water was unruffled, every pebble, with which the bottom was paved, was distinctly visible, and in every pool were trout lying motionless.
      The trail wound in sweeping curves through a dense forest, here swinging to the left to avoid a gigantic cedar tree that had fallen, there curving to the right to pass a prostrate fir, and yonder leading to a settler's shack that stood in a clearing of small area. We were on unsurveyed land, but the settlers who have prospected the forests of Western Washington for land on which to create homes have pushed far beyond the limits of the surveyors, into the dense forests, and their houses stand at short intervals.
      Six times we forded the roaring creek. Six times we dismounted to try to catch trout that lived in inviting pools; six times we failed to catch any, and six times we threw stones into the pools to stir up trout that would not rise to flies. If trout lie in pools and calmly gaze through beautiful eyes at colored-colored flies that naturally flutter across the surface of clear water, and in addition are contemptuously indifferent to grasshoppers, and are criminally ignorant of proper trout food, it stands to reason that those trout should be stoned out of their cool houses and be made to take exercise and to get hungry. At any rate, we thought so, and we stoned them vigorously.
      We loitered along the trail. A mother goose, that had probably lost her first clutch of eggs to a prowling bear or fine marten, fluttered before us with hanging wings and ruffled feathers. She greatly interested us when she showed fight when we dismounted preparatory to finding her hidden young. A brave bird to dauntlessly offer battle to us. She wholly won our admiration by her display of courage. We left her happy that she had forced two strangely formed creatures to clamber on horses and retreat into the forest.
      About noon we arrived at a shallow pond of brownish water, along the edge of which the trail had been worn. Sam turned in his saddle and said, as he waved his hand toward the pond: "Grandy Lake, father."
      "My son," I said in corrective tone, "that is not a lake. That is a weed-grown pond of stagnant water. There are no trout in that puddle. Ride on, my boy, you cannot deceive your father."

Sam teaches his dad about Grandy Lake
      Sam was off his horse in an instant, and motioned me to dismount and to a seat by his side on a log. Then he said: "I am not joking. This is Grandy Lake. Sit here a few moments and watch the surface of the water."
      I filled and lighted a pipe, and while I smoked I gazed at the pond. In less than a minute I was satisfied that trout, and enormously hungry or exceedingly playful trout, fairly swarmed in the shallow water. At our feet, among water-soaked windfall tree tops, in the pond by a rocky ledge, across the lake in the shadows cast by lofty fir trees, in the center of the pond, at its head, at its foot, everywhere over its surface, trout leaped high over the water, then, bent into silver bows, dived headforemost into the dark pond.
      "No trout, eh?" said Sam, as his brown hand clasped my knee strongly. "No trout, eh? Millions of trout, my father; what sport is ahead of us!" he exclaimed, as his eyes brightened, and he added, joyously: "This fishing will surpass any we ever had together in Minnesota. Let's get at 'em!"
      We mounted and rode to a small lakeside clearing, in which stood a well-built log house and a group of outbuildings that were owned by a settler who had sent me word to use the house and cooking utensils. We put up our horses, ate a bit of cold meat and bread, laid a wager of certain broad pieces of silver as to who would catch the most fish, and then jointed our rods, reeved our lines, fastened our leaders, and walked down to the lake and far out into it on an old tree, to the end of which a rough, home-made boat was tied.
      We entered the boat and rowed down the lake in the direction the wind blew from. The water was brownish and shallow--in no place over eight feet deep. A growth of aquatic plants stood in miniature forests and detached groves in the water. There was deep mud all over the bottom of the lake. In the deeper portions there were no plants. It was the most unpromising trout water I ever saw, but trout were constantly breaking, and they leaped higher than I ever before saw trout leap.
      Arrived at the lower end of the pond, which is not over forty acres in area, we threw the boat broadside to the wind and drifted slowly up the lake, whipping the water as we advanced. We did not make a cast without a rise following the falling of the flies. We did not catch trout every cast, but that was our fault. We speedily discovered that by far the larger number of fish lived among the water plants. In unencumbered water we caught but few fish. Two trout to a cast was a frequent catch, and it mattered not the fly. When we arrived at the upper end of the pond and ceased to fish because of shallow water, say ten inches, one sixteen-pound creel was heaping full and a score of trout were flopping on the bottom of the boat. We had thrown another score of undesirable fish into the water. We had fished silently, each intent on the sport. When our boat grounded our eyes met, and I replied to Sam's look of inquiry, saying: "It took thirty-five minutes to drift up. These trout bite too freely. They are too plentiful. We will tire of this sport before an hour has passed. It requires no skill to catch these fish. We will drift up once more and then change this fishing."
      We rowed down the lake, keeping close to the shadow-screened bank, where the water was deepest. We found a deep, dark pool, into which a tiny rill of ice-cold water tumbled. A cedar tree had fallen across this pool years ago. The old trunk was thickly covered by springy moss. We agreed that fish of size lived in the pool, and that we would reserve it until gray evening time.

Read about Patricia N. McAndrew's new book, The Old Soldier Goes Fishing — planned for publication in winter 2005, a collection of his columns and a biography of Frank and his family.

      Again we drifted up the lake. The wind was light, only sufficiently strong to slightly ripple the water, but not enough to obstruct our vision. When our flies fell lightly on the water we could see two or three trout leave their cover and swim swiftly toward the supposed food. Their movements would cause a score of trout to rush forth and to rise eagerly at the flies. They were so keen and hungrily anxious that they generally missed the flies at the first rise, and we struck in vain at them. Then they would beat to and fro in the water, searching for the food that had so mysteriously disappeared, as I have seen setter dogs beat the ground where wounded prairie chickens lay hidden in brown grass. The hungry fish would spring open-mouthed on the flies when they again fell. Struck deeply that time, the hooked twain would swim wildly and break water frequently, and after them their kin fish swam, furiously eager to take the coveted food from their mouths.
      As we drifted, other trout joined the school, and thirty, forty, fifty hungry trout would cause the water to boil around the flies when they fell, and the whole school would swim after hooked relatives to force them to disgorge. Some motion or lurch of the boat would frighten the following fish, then, with brisk strokes of broad tails, they disappeared into the cover afforded by water plants, and another school would quickly gather, to disappear in their turn. The trout were dead game. They fought savagely from the prick of the hook to the finish. Arrived at the head of the lake, the second creel was full and about forty trout were lying on the bottom of the boat. Eight flies had been chewed to bareness.
      Silently we rowed the boat into the shadows cast by lofty fir and cedar trees and to the shore. We carried all the fish to a large flat rock and there dumped them out of the creels. They were all of a size, and, save some lean fish, they weighed five to two pounds. We sorted them thoroughly, throwing away the lean fish, and counted the remainder. There were ninety-six fat trout. We had to clean them and cut off their heads and tails to sufficiently reduce their bulk to enable us to pack them into two sixteen-pound creels. Neither of us knew the fish. We had caught a dozen different kinds of trout in Washington, but had not seen this trout before. They were deep, round fish, with golden spots on their sides. Their flesh was salmon-colored. Their eggs were immature. Evidently they would not spawn till late October or early November, and, so I was told by the settlers, they left the calm water of the lake to spawn in running water, returning to the lake after the spawning season was over.
      As we sat smoking and talking to kill time, the air vibrated with the quick stroke of wings nervously beating. Two mallard drakes flew past. We heard them splash into the water beyond a point of land. Presently two others, followed by their half-grown broods, swam slowly around the point and toward us. They arrived within twenty yards of us before they made us out. Then they beat the water briskly with their wings and hastened to their home behind the point. Long after they had disappeared, we heard them quack angry disapproval of us, and of all fishermen who invaded their water.
      The sun had begun to approach the tops of the fir trees when we rowed to the dark pool where the tiny waterfall murmured. There we whipped the water lightly with a single fly, and had the only enjoyable fishing of the day. One by one, we drew out dark, beautiful trout. Two or three times I saw a large trout, that I judged to weigh two and a half pounds, rise slowly through the dark water as though he intended to seize the fly. There was something that did not suit him, or, maybe, alarmed him, for he sank slowly after each appearance. I had tired of fishing and was leaning back in the stern of the boat to watch Sam's fly float lightly on the water. Again I saw the large, highly colored trout rise close to the surface and gaze through red-rimmed eyes at the brown fly and then slowly sink.

The whale of Grandy Lake
      "Did you see the whale, father?" Sam asked.
      "Yes, I have seen him three or four times," I replied.
      "Let's catch him. That is the trout I want for my dinner."
      "All right. We will broil him this night," I said confidently, and, I added, "let's get away from here for a few minutes to give him time to forget us."
      We rowed gently away from the pool and fished to kill time, catching trout and turning them loose, hooking others and allowing them to unhook themselves. A desire to catch three trout at one cast took possession of me. I decorated a leader with a red, a black, and a white fly and cast it on the water in derision--cast it forth as an insult to the intelligence of Grandy Lake trout. Minnesota trout, Ottawa trout, Lake Superior trout, Montana and Idaho trout would have held an indignation meeting to discuss the insult offered to them by flinging such an absurdly-decorated leader into waters inhabited by them. Sam protested in mock earnestness against the sacrilege, but I asserted that Grandy Lake trout were color-blind and possessed of no intelligence. I was accurate in my measure of their intelligence and lack of discrimination relative to proper trout food. The white miller was welcomed, the black gnat was received in open mouths, and the scarlet ibex was greedily seized. I repeatedly hooked three fish. One invariably escaped, and frequently I lost two, but I established the fact of the color-blindness of Grandy Lake trout--established it to my satisfaction, at any rate.
      When the sun was sinking into the tops of the fir trees that stood on a distant ridge, we pitched a coin to decide who should attempt to catch the big trout. Sam won, and handed me his paddle as he clambered into the bow of the boat. I put up the oars and paddled noiselessly to the pool and the moss-grown cedar that lay across it. Without a jar the bow of the boat ran lightly up on the log and hung motionless. Lying on his side, with his head and right shoulder above the boat, Sam inspected the pool to determine his plan of attack. About twenty-five feet from the boat and close to the deepest part of the pool the top of a large stump projected obliquely above the water.
      Said Sam in a low tone: "I think he lives under that stump. Now, if I cause the proper fly to fall on the stump and then drop lightly from it to the water, I believe that he will rise to it. What fly shall I use?"
      "When in doubt, use a coachman," I replied.
      "Coachman it is," he said.
      Silently and unseen by the trout, my comrade removed a brown hen from his leader and substituted a new and beautiful coachman that I gave him from my reserve store.
      "Can you see?" he inquired.
      "Yes," I replied. "I can see the stump and the water directly below it. Be careful," I added warningly.
      With right arm extended away from the pool and boat, the prostrate fisherman caused his light rod to writhe to and fro. The fine silk line looped and curved and moved as a thing of life. Inch by inch, foot by foot, the line ran off the silent reel till there was sufficient line curving in the air to reach the stump when it was cast forward.
      "Now," whispered my comrade. There was an imperceptible turn of his wrist, his forearm straightened, the rod darted forward, the long line that had been writhing serpent-like behind the boat followed the bamboo tip obediently, the loop unrolled forward with a low swish and the beautiful fly fell lightly on the side of the stump and close to its top. Instantly the vibrant rod began to quiver in answer to a slight muscular contraction of the brown and sinewy arm, and the fly moved slowly down the stump. Presently it fell lightly on the calm, dark water, there it fluttered and tiny ripples waved from it.
      I saw a flashing bar of color dart up through the dark water. There was a break, the tip of the rod flew up as the supple wrist turned, the trout sprang four feet out of the water, shaking his head the while. The boy was on his feet, his feet were on the log almost instantly, and the fight began. The trout fought furiously and persistently toward the stump, and inch by inch, foot by foot, the boy, walking on the fallen tree, led the fish away from the unknown dangers of the stump and toward the open lake. Arrived at the end of the tree, [Sam] turned to me and said joyously, "He is mine."
      Standing upright, with his rod bending and throbbing in his left hand, and his right hand at the reel, the fish and the boy fought it out. In a few minutes the exhausted fish, with wide-gaping mouth, was alongside the log, the boy dropped on one knee, leaned over, and with a quick motion thrust his thumb and index finger into the trout's gills. With a happy laugh he held him up for me to look at and exclaimed, "He is a beauty! He is the handsomest fish we have caught since we landed the three-pound Dolly Varden at the foot of the big riffle. Now for home and dinner," he added as he entered the boat and handed me the fish to admire while he rowed home.

The second day on the lake
      The following morning we were up with the sun. A gentle wind caused the water of the lake to ripple slightly. In all directions trout were springing high to greet the rising sun. Our horses were saddled, our rods were unjointed and in their cases. Our creels were no longer full, as we had fed four hungry settlers at supper and breakfast, and other fish-hungry settlers had asked for and obtained fish to carry home. We stood leaning lightly against our horses to watch a bald eagle that was circling high above the lake, dodge when Winchester bullets whistled past him and then calmly resume his circle and search for food.
      Splash, splash, splash from the lake. Sam grasped my arm and said: "Let's give them another whirl. It will be my last fishing for a year. And we have but few fish to take home."
      "We will fish for two hours," I replied.
      We tied our horses to a fence, jointed our rods, served the lines, and clambered into the boat. Four times we drifted up the entire length of the lake. The wind blew fresh. The trout bit furiously. Apparently they were wild with hunger. It was a slaughter. The creels were piled high and had to be strapped to hold their contents. A gunnysack was filled one-third full. We had caught more trout than we could comfortably carry on horseback. The full creels and bag of fish were strapped on Sam's saddle. Then we mounted and rode slowly into the gloomy forest and along the trail to the Skagit River.
      We were in high spirits and cared nothing for a large black bear that stood up in a near-by berry patch and gazed at us through small, pig-like, black eyes. We reviled him and he fled. We yelled contemptuous defiance at him as he ran, and boldly asserted in vociferous tones that he habitually ate skunk cabbages, and all men who hunt bears know that that was an insult that any bear of courage would have instantly resented. He was the coward bear of Grandy Creek, and he deserves to die.
      As I write, nineteen torn and tattered flies, mementos of Grandy Lake, lie on my desk before me. And, as I have previously written, they tell the story of the excellence of the fishing.

— Frank Wilkeson

Journal links and background reading
      This story was transcribed from New York Times archival material and shared by Patricia McAndrew, a scholar and author in Pennsylvania.

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