By WILLIAM J. McNULTY
The phantom salmon that has haunted the waters of the Miramichi river and tributaries in the province of New Brunswick, has met its fate at last. The big salmon that has for the past five years successfully fought off fishermen, very often through inexplicable circumstances, is now but a stuffed and inanimate figure on the walls of a New York home.
The phantom salmon weighed twenty-two pounds and into that twenty-two pounds was packed about a hundred pounds of fight and a. thousand pounds of courage and last, but not least, as we will soon prove, about a million pounds of luck.
It was five years ago that the phantom salmon first made its appearance to a fisherman. Its debut was in this wise: Arthur Miles, a New Yorker, who visits the Miramichi river every year in search of the luscious salmon, changed the scene of his fishing activities one day from the Miramichi to Cain's river, one of the tributaries of the Miramichi. Cain's river is little more than a stream but as salmon water is rarely excelled anywhere in the world.
Miles started fishing on the tributary of the big river with some misgiving, for he had always, up to then, fished on the main river and had been successful, but that year in particular, his luck was conspicuous by its very absence. He did not get a bite in two days. Somebody recommended that he move along into Cain's river and, willing to try anything once, he did so. And here lies a tale — and not only a tale of a fish, but the tale of a man, as well.
The first day in Cain's river Miles was fishing from a canoe in the middle of the stream. Along came a particularly fine looking salmon. The salmon looked at the lure, and after sparring around it for about ten minutes, decided to throw caution to the wavelets, and took a husky bite. When it found itself impaled on the hook, that was so effectually sheltered by the lure, the salmon, as usual, started to struggle in an effort to dislodge itself.
Miles allowed the salmon to have its fling without attempting to hinder the fish in any way. After permitting the salmon to have its own way for about an hour, Miles decided the hour was ripe and the time opportune for landing that salmon in the canoe. So he gave a pull on the line, had his scoop net handy and when the fish came flying through the air from the water, he scooped it in the net with one hand. Just as he was congratulating himself on getting such a prize specimen of the salmon tribe, the biggest salmon he had ever caught, by some vagary of fate, the salmon became disentangled from the hook while in the net, and when Miles essayed to toss the fish into the bottom of the canoe, it flopped back into the water and swam quickly up the river, toward the deeper water.
In the six days he fished on the Cain's river that fall, Miles saw the phantom salmon no less than a dozen times but after the first experience the fish could not be lured into taking another bite at the attractive flies Miles had brought from New York City to tempt the New Brunswick salmon. '1 he prize fish would give the fly the double glim and circle it for about ten minutes and would then swim slowly away. Although Miles caught a six pound salmon he would have much preferred to have the phantom salmon in his grasp.
In the succeeding years that Miles his visited the Miramichi and Cain's river, he has seen the phantom salmon on each trip from two to three dozen times, but the salmon would not bite. All the while the fish was improving in beauty and in poundage, and becoming more and more the apple of the fisherman's eye. In the summer of the year 1921, Miles thought sure he had the elusive salmon on his hook. He was fishing in deep water at the time and for some reason or other, perhaps somebody had been wading in the stream, the water was j very muddy, for a radius of about ten yards, j Miles from the bank was fishing salmon and saw the phantom salmon from the shore. The fish was swimming slowly down stream. Suddenly Miles felt a bite on his hook, obscured under the muddy water. Elated at th« thought of once more having the phantom salmon on his hook and determined to corral the fish on this attempt, he resolved to drag it in without much of the usual playing. He was trusting to luck and a sturdy rod and line.
Much to his chagrin what showed above the surface of the muddy water, but a rubber shot partly decomposed from many months and perhaps years in the water. Miles then recognized the phantom salmon across the stream facing him. Miles was so sore it would have taken about a dozen jars of ointment to alleviate the soreness.
Miles had given up hopes of ever getting that salmon on his hook again but surprises happen in this world and Cain's river, although in the wilderness of New Brunswick, is no exception. When Miles came to New Brunswick's woods in 1921, he had some of the finest lures that any fisherman ever had. Incidentally he had a powerful rod and line. He was not very optimistic of catching that phantom salmon, but he at least had hopes. His chief worry was that somebody had beaten him to it and garnered the handsome fish.
The first day on Cain's river however, he saw the phantom salmon. He had on his most attractive fly. Miles nearly fell out of the canoe with astonishment when he saw the prize fish race at the lure and make a quick bite at it. Miles says he distinctly saw the salmon make the bite at the fly, and yet he waited in vain for the pull on the line. And when he looked for the fish he could not see it. It had suddenly vanished as though it had burrowed into the earth at the bottom or the side of the river.
Two days later Miles again espied the phantom salmon from his canoe. The salmon circled the lure and the concealed hook and seemed to smell the deadly implement secreted in the pretty fly. The fish would not bite although it went as close to the fly as a foot. Again it disappeared suddenly as the day previous. It did not reappear while Miles was on the river that day, and he remained fishing until five in the evening in the hope that the phantom salmon would again show itself.
The following day was slightly cloudy. Miles started fishing at about six in the a. m. He took in his pocket when he went in the canoe, several slices of bread as notwithstanding having had breakfast he felt unusually hungry that morning. As he held the rod with line and no mistake. Overjoyed at the tugging on the line, Miles decided to let the salmon play itself out and then come through with the grand finale that would result in the phantom salmon of Cain's river being in the river but in spirit.
Miles played the fish for a half-hour without attempting to restrain its progress in that water. Believing that a half-hour of struggling would have brought exhaustion in h wake for the salmon, he tried to swoop it on top of the water. But the phantom salmon only then started to show its real worth as « fighter. It fought as no other salmon had e-.c fought off Miles. Fearing his rod and H would not be equal to the strain imposed in them, Miles relaxed and once more a the fish to race about the water.
The salmon, now thoroughly aroused lion hand he used his other hand to get the bread out of his pocket. Forgetting about the fish for the moment he threw several pieces of bread on the water's surface, in cleaning out the pocket of crumbs.
The crumbs had no sooner reached the top of the water than Miles was electrified to see a salmon leap to the surface and show its splendid body, and seize the crumbs floating on the surface. It was the phantom salmon. After eating the bread crumbs the fish remained near the fly on the end of Miles' line. The phantom salmon would later have wished the fisherman was miles away, for eating the bread crumbs seemed to imbue him with a daring hitherto unknown since the first episode with the fly five years before.
The salmon came up to the fly and made a bite at it. And this time the fish was on the attempt to land it while it was yet in full possession of its strength, seemed abnormal strong. When the end of the line was reached by the salmon, there would be frantic struggled by the salmon and the water would be kick? into flying spray by the commotion caused b; the tail and fins of the fish. Very often salmon would jump as high as seven or eight feet out of the water. Taken all in all it wi; a remarkably spectacular as well as a desperate struggle.
The salmon towed the canoe hither and thither. Sometimes the canoe would be speeding upstream and then the salmon would tear about and race downstream and when I reached the end of the line, the canoe won't! follow the frenzied fish. At one stage of the struggle, the canoe was towed about a half-mile, with Miles, holding to the rod like ; man holding to a hundred dollar gold piece. The Gothamite refused to be frightened or shaken off by the vicious fish.
After two hours of fighting the long feared happened. The canoe was capsized by the frantic fish in a thrilling • race downstream. Having all he could attend to with the rod, Miles was unable to preserve the equilibrium of the frail craft. In one dash, the nose of the canoe went under the water, and which was shipped into the light craft. Tipping over, the canoe turned bottom side up, and Miles was unable to right it before it overturned. In consequence, the fisherman found himself in ten feet of water.
Being a good swimmer he was not fearful for his own safety but he did fear he might be forced to release his hold on the rod as he might not be able to hold the rod and swim at the same time. The salmon was then a the end of the line and speeding downstream. Miles was dragged through the water by the salmon for about twenty yards. And this I what caused the ruin of the fish. This effort so taxed the strength of the fish that when Miles was able to reach bottom and still have his head above the surface of the water, h landed the salmon on the bank of the stream by one strong swoop. After two hours am fifteen minutes of thrilling conflict. Miles was the conqueror and the phantom salmon thae had defied him for five years would defy him no more. It was one of the most desperate battles between fisherman and fish that has been reported in the annals of rod and line fishing.
Hunter-Trader-Trapper. October: 1921,
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