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The Boss Fish by William O. Stoddard

JEFF AND CHARLEY FISHING BEFORE BREAKFAST. JEFF AND CHARLEY FISHING BEFORE BREAKFAST.

"No use, Charley. We might as well go home to breakfast."

"We got here early enough."

"I don't believe there's a trout in the brook."

"If there are any, they don't bite worms early in the morning any more'n they do any other time."

Charley looked mournfully down at his float, as it lopped wearily over on one side. The water of the little pool below the foot-bridge over the trout brook was as smooth as a looking-glass, and the float had not so much as wiggled since he dropped it in.

"I don't care much for trout, Jeff."

"I'd rather have some breakfast."

"And after that we'll take the boat, and go out on the pond. We've dug a pile of worms."

Slowly and grudgingly the line was pulled in, but the faces of both the boys brightened the moment they were turned in the direction of breakfast.

Half an hour later they were stopping for a moment to look at a stout, middle-aged man who was standing on the steps of the little village hotel, talking with the landlord. A strap over one shoulder held up a fishing-basket that swung behind his left hip, and in his right hand he carried, all ready for use, the lightest fishing-rod Charley Morris had ever seen. Even Jeff, who was from the city himself, and had looked at such things in the show windows of the shops, had an idea the stranger must have made a mistake in bringing that plaything into the country.

"It's a trout rod, Charley. If we'd had one like it this morning!"

"'Tisn't much bigger'n a horsewhip."

Just then the landlord was saying, "Thar isn't much in the pond 'cept perch and sunfish, but you may take something in the creek above. Your best show for trout is to work along the trout brook as far as the hill, and then cut across to the creek, and fish down. 'Tain't far to cross. To-morrer you can try the brooks beyond the hill. Some of 'em'll give you a full baskit."

"Hear that, Jeff," whispered Charley. "Just isn't old Galloway a-fooling him! Sending him to fish in that brook! Why, if our cows got at it all at once, they'd drink it dry."

Jeff was looking at the high boots the stranger wore over his trousers, and was just saying, "They're for wading, so he won't wet his feet," when Charley looked right up into the face of the "fancy fisherman" from the city, and asked,

"Mister, do you want any worms?"

"Angle-worms, my lad?"

"And grubs? I know where you can dig lots of 'em. Where Jeff and I got ours this morning."

"No, thank you, my little man. I don't care for any worms. Would you like to see my bait?"

"Guess I would. Look here, Jeff, he's going to show his bait."

The stout stranger chuckled merrily as he drew from one of his great side pockets a sort of little book, with a leather cover and flap.

"Jeff, he carries his worms in a pocket-book."

"Flies, my little man—flies."

"Our fish won't bite at flies, mister; and they won't hide a hook, neither."

Charley's eyes were opening wide, a moment later, as the little book was opened before them.

"Flies? Why, mister, there's pretty much every kind of bug, except bumblebees. All sorts of hooks, too. If you put them pretty things into the water, you'll get 'em wet, and spoil 'em."

Again the fat man chuckled.

"Will I? Well, now, you and I'll run a race. You two boys go ahead, and see which of us'll catch the most fish and the biggest."

"Come on, Jeff," shouted Charley; "we'll beat him!"

But then he suddenly turned again to say:

"Now, mister, you've got your scoop-net along. Minners don't count, do they?"

"No, sonny, minnows won't count. Only fish that are big enough to eat."

Charley had never seen a "landing-net" used in his life, but he knew what minnows were good for.

"If we had some, Jeff," he said, as they hurried along toward the pond, "we could try for some pickerel. There's some of them left. Only they've been fished for so much, they know enough to let a hook alone."

"Big ones?"

"Some of 'em. There's one awful big one. Black Dan—he's the best fisherman round here, only he's lame of one leg—he says it's the boss fish, and he's fished for him a whole day at a time."

"Did he ever get him to bite?"

"No; but he says he's seen that pickerel smell of his bait, and then swim up to the top of the water and wink at him."

"Wish we could catch him."

"If I had that feller's scoop-net, and could get some minners."

But he had no such thing; and in a few minutes more they were in their boat on the pond, while the stranger was walking fast, for a fat man, across the meadow toward the trout brook.

This was a very narrow, crooked affair, pretty deep in many places, and almost hidden by high grass, trees, and bushes.

"We know there are no fish there," said Charley, confidently.

"Not even trout?"

"Well, yes, maybe there's trout. But they won't bite. Not even before breakfast. Anyhow, they won't go for a bare hook, with a feather on it."

That seemed sensible, and Charley's own hook now had a worm on it, and so had Jeff's.

"We'll beat him. I know just where to go. We're in the right spot."

Perhaps he did; but before the morning was over he and Jeff had moved their boat into nearly a dozen more that seemed to be just as good.

The "pond" was a sort of miniature lake, and was nearly half a mile long, although it was nowhere very wide. It was supplied by what Mr. Galloway, the landlord, called the "creek"—a pretty stream of water about ten times as large as the trout brook in the meadow.

There were fish in that pond, and it was a pity the man from the city had not known it, and tried for some of them with angle-worms, instead of wasting his time over there in the meadow.

As it was, Jeff and Charley had it all to themselves, and the latter was half glad his city cousin got the first bite.

"Good for you, Jeff!"

"Bull-head! bull-head!"

"Look out for his horns."

"Ain't he a whopper?"

"I say, Jeff, did you ever read about flying-fish?"

"Course I have."

"Well, shouldn't you think their wings'd get wet under water?"

"Charley! mind your cork; it's gone under."

So it had, and in a moment more he could shout, "I'm even with you. Only mine's a pumpkin-seed."

It looked as if the luck of that morning had settled upon the two boys. It was hard to say which of them came in for the largest share of it. Even before they moved their boat the first time they could count three bull-heads, six perch, twice as many sunfish, or "pumpkin-seed," two shiners, and a sucker. To be sure, none of them were very large fish, but they were all big enough to eat, and would count when they came to compare with the contents of the fat man's basket.

"That was a pretty big fish-basket," said Charley. "Most of 'em are flat little things."

"It's bigger'n he'll need for all the fish he'll find in that brook. Hullo, my bait's off again."

"So's mine. Just a nibble."

"Six prime worms gone hand-running. Jeff, I guess we might as well pull up. The snappin'-turtles have come for us."

"Do they skin a hook that way?"

"That's just what they do. Black Dan says the fish put 'em up to it. Particularly that there boss pickerel."

Charley had more than one story to tell about Black Dan, but he pulled up the big stone that was doing duty as an anchor, and off they went to another "tip-top spot."

It proved so for a while, and there Jeff pulled in his first eel. Then he had a good time, as Charley said, getting the eel off the hook, and untwisting him from the snarl he had got himself into with the fish-line.

"There he goes," said Charley, "all over the bottom of the boat. Black Dan says an eel just loves to travel round."

"They're mean things to catch."

"I've got one. Now I'll show you."

Charley knew how to take an eel off a hook, but that one bothered him, and when he finally got him loose, he said,

"I say, Jeff, this won't do. I'd as lief fish for turtles. Let's move."

"Wait a bit. Maybe there's something else."

So there was, but not for any great length of time; and as the boys were impatient, they made another move.

They would have given one of their eels to know how the fat man from the city was getting along.

Toward noon their frequent changes brought them away up to the head of the pond, near the mouth of the creek; but they had not been anchored ten minutes before a deep-toned cheery voice from the bank hailed them with,

"Hey, boys! Having good luck?"

"Pretty good," said Charley. "Have you caught anything?—anything bigger'n minners?"

"Well, a fish or two. Come ashore and I'll show 'em. Besides, I want you to give me a lift with your boat."

The boys were ready enough to have a look into that fish-basket, and the anchor came up in a hurry.

"See," said the fat man, as he lifted the lid of his basket.

"Why, it's more'n half full."

"All trout too, and some of 'em are big ones."

"Mister," said Charley, "did you bring any of them from the city with you?"

"I guess not," chuckled the fat man. "I got most of 'em in the brook, but I did fairly well along the creek. Now do you see those bushes at the foot of the steep bank just below the mouth of the creek?"

"Yes," said Charley; "there's an awful deep hole right there."

"Well, I want to float over, slow and silent, so I can throw a fly right under those bushes."

"You'll get caught in 'em."

"I'll risk that."

He sat down on the front seat, and Charley rowed him over as if he were afraid of making a ripple on the water. He and Jeff were almost holding their breath with excitement over what their fat friend meant to do.

"That's it. Let her float."

The light graceful rod swung back, a remarkable length of very fine line went floating through the air, and the boys could see something like a small dragon-fly at the end of it.

"No sinker, Jeff," whispered Charley.

"It's just lit on the water."

It was a beautiful cast, and the fly fell at the very edge of the bushes, on a dark and shady spot of water with a small eddy in it.

Splash!

What a plunge that was!

"He jumped clean out of the water," exclaimed Jeff.

"You've lost your hook this time, mister, and your bait too. That's a pickerel, and we call him the boss fish."

"It's a bigger fish than I had reckoned on," said the stranger, "or I'd have brought a heavier rod and tackle."

"He'll snap any line you've got."

"We'll see."

The pickerel had felt the sharp point of that small hook, and he was now darting off toward the mouth of the creek.

The fat man took it coolly, holding his rod with one hand, while the other rested on the large bright brass reel, that was now spinning around as the fish drew the line out.

The tough little rod was bending, but there was no great strain upon it.

"He won't run far. Here he comes back again."

Not far indeed, but there were a hundred yards of fine line out before he could begin to reel it in. Then he cried,

"There he goes, down under the bank. Means to sulk. I'll worry him out of that."

"Why don't you pull him right in?" asked Jeff, excitedly.

"Because he wouldn't come if I did."

It was a good while before there seemed to be any prospect of his coming, and the boys were almost tired of the fun of sitting still to see their stout friend let out his line and reel it in again. But at last the pickerel himself began to get a little tired of pulling and being pulled, and was reeled in closer and closer to the boat, while the trout rod bent nearly double.

"He'll break that line!"

"No, sonny; that's what the landing-net is for."

They saw it darted under the gleaming side of the great fish—a lift, a splash, and the prize was floundering on the bottom of the boat.

"Hurrah, boys! We've got him."

"You've beat us, mister. I'm just going to go home and catch a lot of flies," muttered Charley.

Half an hour later they were all standing on the hotel steps, and Black Dan was holding up the pickerel.

"Dat ar's de boss fish, shuah! And you done cotch him wid a fly and dat ar whipstalk? Was you dar, Charley Morris?"

"I saw him do it, and so did Jeff."

"Well, ef I ain't glad he's done got dat ar pickerel out ob my way. Dat fish has been a soah trial to me!"

And Jeff and Charley had had their own fun, and their first lesson in fly-fishing.