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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

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Frank Wilkeson 6:
Fishing and Hunting in Hamilton 1893

Sport in the Skagit Valley
A Bright January Day Spent with Rod and Gun

By Frank Wilkeson, New York Times, May 14, 1893
Does anyone have a photo of fishing or hunting in the old days here that we can use to illustrate these articles?
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      One morning in January, as I sat by a brightly-burning fire of resinous fir sticks to smoke an after-breakfast pipe of Havana tobacco I read the telegraphic accounts, as published in Seattle newspapers, of arctic-like storms raging along the Atlantic seaboard and of blizzards coursing over the great plains. I rejoice that I lived in a land where blizzards are unknown. Suddenly my front door opened without the effete preliminary formality of knocking to indicate desire to see me on the part of the visitor or coy waiting by him for an invitation to enter.
      The door opened and Dan strode in, and Dan's dog followed after and promptly sat down by the fire and thrust his muzzle into my hand. Dan had a fishing rod in his hand. A canvas haversack hung by a strap from his shoulder. The right pocket of his sack coat bulged. I knew he had a bait box hidden in it. Said Dan, with the freedom characteristic of the West:
      "Get a move on yourself, old boy. Drop work today. The wind has shifted to the south; trout will bite. Get your rod and let's go fishing. I have a can of grubs in my pocket. Come on."
      Then Dan ceased to talk and gazed through interest-lighted eyes at a new hammerless shotgun that hung on pegs over the mantel, and presently he said, coaxingly, and as though he were merely suggesting an interesting fact:

The tempter ceased to talk seductively. . . he looked at me through brown eyes, looked coaxingly, as though to say: "Come along. Let's take a day off. Let us go into the woods and hunt pheasant, and loiter along trout streams, and shoot ducks at the lake."

      "I know where a flock of mallards loaf these bright January days away. And I know where a grove of wild crabapple trees stand, trees which bore so abundantly last Fall that the bears, though they polished the tree trunks climbing up and sliding down, so frequently did they visit to eat fruit, could not eat one-half of the crop. And every pheasant [Eastern partridge] in the Skagit Valley almost aided them, too. The pheasants are still pleasantly engaged in eating crabapples. Yes," Dan added, "I know where the wild crab trees stand, and there is an old logging road that leads close to it."
      The tempter ceased to talk seductively. He smiled and gazed at the gun. His black pheasant-hunting cur rapped vigorously on the floor with his tail, and thrust his muzzle further into my half-closed hand, as he looked at me through brown eyes, looked coaxingly, as though to say: "Come along. Let's take a day off. Let us go into the woods and hunt pheasant, and loiter along trout streams, and shoot ducks at the lake."

Leaving the dreary world behind
xx       The glamour of the forest possessed me. I could not resist. I crumpled the paper that contained the dreary accounts of severe storms and acute suffering of people in Eastern States and in Europe, and threw it into the fire. I kicked off my light shoes and pulled on heavy German socks and my mountain shoes, and said, as I grasped my rod: "I will join you, Dan. If you want to shoot birds, take the gun. You will find cartridges in the box on the mantel."
      Dan filled one pocket of his coat with cartridges and took the beautiful gun from the pegs, and together we left the house, the dog close behind us.
      It was about 8 o'clock. The morning was gloriously perfect. A heavy hoarfrost thickly coated the grass and all objects and things that lay on the ground. The frosty air was as exhilarating as laughing gas. The sky was cloudless. The white dome of Lank Mountain, twenty-five miles up the valley from us, glowed in the rays of the rising sun that had just rolled up the eastern flank of the lofty Mountains. The valley lay in the shadows cast by towering, forest-clad foothills. The black dog cavorted and barked as he ran in ever-widening circles. Tiny fountains of frost jetted from his feet.

Walking the river road
(fishing net)
      We walked briskly up the river road for two miles. Pine squirrels ran across the road at short intervals, and, after being earnestly chased by the dog, they sprang on to tree trunks and climbed to safe perches. There they sat and barked defiance at the dog and abuse at us, all of which they emphasized with many waves of bushy tails. The delighted dog gazed upward through glowing eyes at the beautiful, angry animals, and wagged his tail joyously. But, like the well-trained dog he is, he did not give tongue below squirrels in trees. He was silently enjoying the pleasures of the chase; that was all.
      We turned from the river road into an old, long disused logging road that leads to a creek, in the deep pools of which trout, fingerlings generally, have ever lived. Arrived at the creek, Dan divided with me the white grubs that he had chopped out of decayed maple stumps and logs and carried in his bait box. Then he said: "I will go up the creek about half a mile above the crabapple trees and fish down to the crabs. I will cache the gun and cartridges in the large hollow cedar tree that stands just above the foot log. Do you fish upstream to the crabs, and if you arrive there before I do the gun will be there for you to use."
      He disappeared into the forest. I jointed my rod, reeved my line, fastened a No. 8 coachman on to it, and, hiding behind a fir stump, cast the fly on the cold, clear water of a deep pool, the bottom of which was covered by interlacing sunken logs. As I drew the beautiful fly flutteringly across the surface of the water, I was surprised to see a large river trout, a gorgeous-colored fish of fifteen inches in length, swim from beneath the protective logs and slowly rise toward the fly. His deliberateness was not indicative of supreme hunger. For an instant he inspected that fly attentively, and then, with a flap of his broad tail (as though to say: "Odd fly that, for this season, eh?") he sank slowly among the logs and to disappearance.
      I resolutely resolved to eat that trout for breakfast the next day. I reeled in my line ad then stepped from behind the stump that concealed me from the keen vision of food-stuffed trout. I cut with heavy knife the brush from behind me so as to have free play of line while casting. I resumed my station behind the stump close to the pool, and with open fly book before me I cast, in slow succession, brown hackle, black gnat, seth green, brown hen, white miller, and ibex flies on that pool, and caused them to flutter in the most alluring manner. The large trout and several of his comrades, fully his equals in size and beauty, inspected the fluttering flies at long range, but resolutely refused to breakfast with me. Then I tried a line of nightmare flies of gaudy [sic] color and wholly unlike any fly that ever lived, but that occasionally attract trout that are apparently afflicted with brain diseases. No use.

How the fish thought in 1893
      I knew that the large river trout were ascending the creek, and that it was not a migration to their spawning grounds. It was a freak, a whim, and they were likely to return to the river any day or at any hour almost. If any were to be caught they must be hooked speedily or not at all. I am not fond of baiting trout with salmon eggs or with white grubs, but tomorrow would be Friday, and I had caught no fish. So I reluctantly opened the bait box and — after exchanging a red, white, and blue bass fly for a double-shelled Minnesota black bass hook — I impaled three wriggling white grubs, shortened my line, and carefully dropped them into the clear water.
      A large trout with red jaws and fins and belly saw the wriggling grubs, and quickly rose to bite. So clear was the water that I could see every motion of his tail and fins and jaws and the brilliant spots on his sides. The instant his jaws closed on the grubs a turn of my wrist drove the hook home, and with one powerful stroke of his broad tail the trout was circling, and a dozen other large trout swam after him to rob him of his food.
      It was a delightful spectacle. The trout gamely tried to sink beneath the logs, but the fight was unfair, as I grasped a salmon rod in my hand — a rod that has throbbed and bent over rapid water many times when silver salmon fought at the end of 100 yards of line, and fought in vain. I snubbed the trout to the surface and brutally dragged him to land and up the bank to my feet, and there I murdered him with a knife. And I treated six of his brothers in precisely similar manner before the remainder of his family suspected that the grubs were unorthodox and unfit for food on Thursdays. The smallest of these trout was fourteen inches long.
      Slowly I fished toward the crabapple grove. Here in a pool formed by a tiny waterfall pouring in from the north, which cascade was greatly admired by a solitary water ousel [now usually spelled ouzel] that repeatedly dived into the falling water for his breakfast, I caught a beautiful white-meated mountain trout that was a little over twelve inches long. There, at the foot of a foaming riffle in water that swirled in a strong eddy around a cedar stump, four large trout were unable to resist their keen desire to eat white grubs in the morning and were quickly transferred from the eddy to my creel.
      Arrived at the crabapple trees, my sixteen-pound creel was full of trout. I had more fish than my friends and I could use, so I unjointed my rod and found a sunny spot, and began to smoke and to wait for Dan to appear. I congratulated myself on being in the Skagit Valley in Washington, lightly dressed, enjoying trout fishing in January, with a bright, warm sun riding overhead, instead of being forced to fight for existence in the arctic-like blizzards that I knew were raging throughout the greater portion of our country.

      Dan's dog barked yelpingly. "Pheasants," I murmured. Presently Dan appeared. His face was flushed and his eyes glowed. He cast his fish-packed canvas bag at my feet, leaned his rod against a tree, and disappeared into the hollow cedar quickly to reappear with the shotgun and cartridges. "The dog has treed a partridge," he exclaimed, and he added: "I saw several birds; wait here. I will not be gone long," and he again disappeared, this time into the crabapple patch.
      Soon I heard him shoot. The forest resounded with the report, and it rolled across the river, to be echoed from wall to wall, and finally to die away far up distant canons. Then the forest was again silent save for the low, sweet sighing of lofty fir tops as they swung to and fro in the soft south wind. The dog barked again, and then at short intervals I counted two, three, four, five, six reports, and speedily after the last shot Dan appeared. He carried four

      partridges. With a note of sorrow in his voice, he lamented missing two birds. We walked slowly along a trail that led to the small lake. Arrived there, the flock of mallards was feeding on the opposite side. Dan, good fellow, insisted that I take the gun and that he would walk around the lake and frighten the water fowl, and, he asserted, that they would surely fly past me, and that I would bag, "oh! ever so many ducks." Dan frightened the birds, there was no doubt of that. If I had not known that Dan was making the unearthly noise I heard, I would have run out of that forest and home. The ducks sprang high into the air, and swept past high above me, all save one green-headed drake. Him I killed.
      Arrived at home I insisted that Dan dine with me, and together we cooked and ate a royal meal and when our after-dinner pipes were glowing and the fire on the hearth burned high, we caught the trout again, and shot the pheasants and mallard duck, and enjoyed looking back on one January day in the woods fully as much as we had enjoyed the actual sport.

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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