Fish and Fishing
From: Among the Isles of Shoals by Celia Thaxter
For the last ten years fish have been caught about the Shoals by trawl and seine in such quantities that they are thinning fast, and the trade bids fair to be much less lucrative before many years have elapsed. The process of drawing the trawl is very picturesque and interesting, watched from the rocks or from the boat itself. The buoy being drawn in, then follow the baited hooks one after another. First, perhaps, a rockling shows his bright head above water; a pull, and in he comes flapping with brilliant red fins distended, gaping mouth, indigo-colored eyes, and richly mottled skin: a few futile somersets, and he subsides into slimy dejection. Next, perhaps, a big whelk is tossed into the boat; then a leaden-gray haddock, with its dark stripe of color on each side; then, perhaps, follow a few bare hooks; then a hake, with horrid, cavernous mouth; then a large purple star-fish, or a clattering crab; then a ling, -- a yellow-brown, wide-mouthed piece of ugliness never eaten here, but highly esteemed on the coast of Scotland; then more cod or haddock, or perhaps a lobster, bristling with indignation at the novel situation in which he finds himself; then a cusk, long, smooth, compact, and kark; then a catfish. Of all fiends commend me to the catfish as the most fiendish! Black as night, with thick and hideous skin, which looks a dull, mouldy green beneath the water, a head shaped as much like a cat's as a fish's head can be, in which the devil's own eyes seem to glow with a dull, malicious gleam, -- and such a mouth! What terrible expressions these cold creatures carry to and fro in the vast, dim spaces of the sea! All fish have a more or less imbecile and wobegone aspect; but this one looks absolutely evil, and Schiller might well say of him that he "grins through the grate of his spiky teeth," and sharp and deadly are they; every man looks out for his boots when a catfish comes tumblng in, for they bite through leather, flesh, and bones. They seize a ballast-stone between their jaws, and their teeth snap and fly in all directions. I have seen them bit the long blade of a knife so fiercely, that, when it was lifted and held aloft, they kept their furious grip, and dangled, flapping all their clumsy weight , hanging by their teeth to the blade. Sculpins abound, and are a nuisance on the trawls. Ugly and grotesque as are the full-grown fish, there is nothing among the finny tribe more dainty, more quaint and delicate, than the baby sculpin. Sometimes in a pool of crystal water one comes upon him unawares, -- a fairy creature, the color of blush-rose, striped and freaked and pied with silver and gleaming green, hanging in the almost invisible water as a bird in air, with broad, transparent fins suffused with a faint pink color, stretched wide like wings to upbear the supple form. The curious head is only strange, not hideous as yet, and one gazes marvelling at all the beauty lavished on a thing of so little worth.
From: Thomas Glover, author of An Account of Virginia, to the Royal Society in London, published in 1676
And now it comes into my mind, I shall here insert an account of a very strange fish or rather a monster, which I happened to see in Rappahannock River about a year before I came out of the country; the manner of it was thus:
As I was coming down the forementioned river in a sloop bound for the bay, it happened to prove calm, at which time we were three leagues short of the river's mouth; the tide of ebb being then done, the sloop-man dropped his grapline, and he and his boy took a little boat belonging to the sloop, in which they went ashore for water, leaving me aboard alone, in which time I took a small book out of my pocket and sat down at the stern of the vessel to read; but I had not read long before I heard a great rushing and flashing of the water, which caused me suddenly to look up, and about half a stone's cast from me appeared a prodigious creature, much resembling a man, only somewhat larger, standing right up in the water with his head, neck, shoulders, breast and waist, to the cubits of his arms, above water; his skin was tawny, much like that of an Indian; the figure of his head was pyramidal, and slick, without hair; his eyes large and black, and so were his eyebrows; his mouth very wide, with a broad streak on the upper lip, which turned upward at each end like mustachioes; his countenance was grim and terrible; his neck, shoulders, arms, breast and waist were like unto the neck, arms, shoulders, breast and waist of a man; his hands if he had any, were under water; he seemed to stand with his eyes fixed on me for some time, and afterward dived down, and a little after riseth at somewhat a farther distance, and turned his head towards me again, and then immediately falleth a little under water, and swimmeth away so near the top of the water, that I could discern him throw out his arms, and gather them in as a man doth when he swimmeth. At last he shoots with his head downwards, by which means he cast his tail above the water, which exactly resembled the tail of a fish with a broad fane at the end of it.