REMINISCENCES OF SARATOGA AND BALLSTON.
WILLIAM L. STONE.
Lake Saratoga. - Its Early Piscatory History .
"We care not who says,
And intends it dispraise,
That an angler to a fool is next neighbor;
Let him prate - what care we?
We're as honest as he;
And so let him take that for his labor."
FORMERLY, Lake Saratoga was noted for its remarkable fishing and during the interregnum between the first and second battles of Behmus Heights, when the British army were in want of food, the Indians were in the habit of supplying General Burgoyne's table with trout of a delicious flavor caught in its bright waters. Shad and herring, also, were in the habit, before the mills were erected at the junction of Fish Creek and the Hudson, of running up into the Lake and even so far as Greenfield, by the Kayaderosseras Creek. Up to the year 1825, the Lake was filled with trout; and even so late as 1832, the late Col. Wm. L. Stone, writing from the Springs to his paper, the New York Commercial Advertiser , states that a few of these fish were yet occasionally taken. But pickerel from Sand Lake having been introduced by Squire Rogers, of Mud Mill, into the Lake in 1824, the trout very soon vanished. Indeed, it is to the presence of the former fish - known as the "fresh-water shark," and the sworn enemy of the trout - that we owe the loss of that fish rather than to any other cause. The last trout that was taken in the Lake was, I believe, in 1863, at the foot of Snake Hill. Trout, however, are yet occasionally taken in Lake Lonely or the Little Lake; but these are not really inhabitants of that sheet of water, but come down from the two creeks that empty into it. The last I saw taken there was by the late E.R. Stevens, in the winter of 1866. Other fish, however, abound. The muscalinga, which were put into the Lake in 1855, have now become comparatively plentiful, and of good size - some of which have already been taken weighing thirty pounds - while as to the Oswego or Black bass, which in 1849 were introduced into the lake from Black Pond (Corinth) by the late Washington Putnam and Amos Stafford, assisted by William Carragan, one was caught by George Crumb in 1857, at the mouth of the Kayaderosseras, weighing nine pounds and four ounces. And here, in passing, let me remark that it is no penance to keep a short voluntary Lent where one can get such fish. Once, when at Myers', I ordered a few bass to be broiled. Gentle traveller! if thou art wise when thou goest thither, thou wilt do likewise. A black bass of Lake Saratoga is so delicious - as Charles Lamb says of a canvas-back duck - the eating of one forms an era in a man's existence.
The Lake also has been long famous for its yellow perch ( Perca flavescens ). This fish, though not having the reputation of some others, has, notwithstanding, stood the test of time, and has been as little subjected to the mutations of fashion, perhaps, as any one of the finny tribe. It was highly esteemed by the Romans, as we are informed by Aristotle, and its praises were sung by Ausonius:
"Nec te delicias mensarum, perca silebo
Amnigenos inter pisces degnande marinis!"
Frank Forrester (William Henry Herbert) in his authoritative work, The Fish and Fishing of the United States , awards the palm to Lake Saratoga as being par excellence the haunt of the perch both for size and delicacy of flavor - some of which, he adds, "are frequently taken weighing three or four pounds." In the cabinet of the late Dr. Allen there is a perch that the writer, in company with William S. Mersereau, now of New York City, and John L. Barbour, caught near Stafford's Bridge, and which, when first taken out of the water, weighed two pounds. Mr. John Morey also has, I understand, taken them in the deep water opposite Snake Hill, of even greater weight.
But the glory of Lake Saratoga, as a place for fine sport has, I am afraid, departed for ever. The late Amos Stafford and Major Edward Fitch have both told me that formerly they thought nothing of taking two hundred pounds of pickerel in a day. In the winter of 1860, Mr. Wm. H. Stevens (eldest son of the late E.R.) and the writer took one hundred pounds of pickerel opposite "Fitch's ditch" in one afternoon, and would have taken more had not Stevens' horse, breaking through the ice, compelled the fishermen to turn their attention to catching a fish of quite another kind! Now, however, unless Seth Green has been "around," I defy any man to say that with the best of skill, the most approved appliances, and under the most favorable circumstances, he can take thirty pounds of pickerel in a day's fishing.
The cause of this state of things is to be ascribed entirely to the pernicious practice of "spearing" and fishing with "set lines" and "nets," and although the midnight piscatory assassin may say to the fish in the words of an old song:
"Why flyest thou away with fear?
Trust me, there's naught of danger near,
I have no wicked hooke,"
yet this "netting" is a custom not only fraught with tenfold more danger to the finny tribe than legitimate fishing, but is one that has continued now for many years, notwithstanding all endeavors by law and otherwise to put a stop to it. Hon. George S. Batcheller, in the winter of 1873-4, with praiseworthy thoughtfulness, procured the passage of a law to prevent fishing with nets in Lake Saratoga. It will do no good. Such a remedy has been tried repeatedly, but without avail. The difficulty is that no one, even of those who are most interested in the matter, care to act as informers, when the penalty for doing so will be the girdling of his pet orchard, or the burning of his hay-ricks. Yet this business of "set-lines and nets" is producing incalculable mischief, not only in this beautiful lake, but in others near at hand by rail, that help to build up our village. Not a thousand miles from Saratoga is a lovely lake that three years since abounded, yea, fairly teemed, with pickerel. Two years since the practice of catching them by "set-night-lines" was introduced; and now he is a very lucky angler who, where once he could catch by legitimate fishing fifty pounds in a morning, can get five pounds. And this condition of things will continue so long as the temptation exists, in spite of all efforts to the contrary. All things, however, they say, have their compensations; and if Lake Saratoga can no longer boast of its fine fishing, perhaps the loss will be more than made up by its being the finest sheet of water in America for the holding of inter-collegiate and national regattas. Let us hope so, at least.
But I fear that in speaking so at length of fishing , I am trenching on the province of my friend Jesse Frazer, who, as is well known, is considered the authority on all piscatory matters connected with Lake Saratoga and its vicinity. Nor, perhaps, can I make the amende honorable to him better than by leaving the sober domain of history for romance - for are not "fish stories" and romance synonymous? - and relating a most remarkable adventure of Frazer on Lake Saratoga.
Jesse Frazer's Fish Story .
The early dawn of a spring morning in 1861 found Frazer and McCaffrey leisurely floating down the Kayaderosseras, "spinning" for that "Prince of Game Fishes," the black bass. On coming opposite a huge boulder, Frazer "struck" a fish which broke off the hook and snell and escaped. A few rods farther along, and near an old tree-top, he had another "strike" - this fish also breaking away and carrying with him the barb of the hook. Not having another hook, they went down to the mouth of the creek, where, building a fire, Frazer heated and bent up the broken shank, tempering it with water. "Now," says Jesse to "Mac," "on going back, I shall catch those two fish. They both will prove to be bass; the one by the tree-top will weigh five pounds and two ounces, and the first one I struck by the boulder will weigh six pounds three ounces and a half." Sure enough, the tree-top was reached, Frazer caught a bass with the barb in his gills, that weighed five pounds and two ounces. But, more astounding still, when the boulder was passed, he caught another bass in which was found the first hook and snell, and which weighed exactly six pounds, three ounces and a half, neither less nor more! McCaffrey, believing himself in the presence of a conjurer or a magician instead of an humble follower of Izaak Walton, leaped ashore; nor could he ever be persuaded again to try his luck with so "uncanny" a companion.
"I know not of the truth, d'ye see;
I tell the tale as told to me."
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