Pike Fishing 1848


West River

Near The Connecticut River And The Cove

Indian Rock At Right

Pike Fishing In West River

Mr. Willard H. Pettis, of this town, an equally devoted follower of the Muses and Izaak Walton, judging from the 'troubled' state of the waters in the cove near the mouth of West River, that he was 'called for,' took his skiff and spear, last Monday night, and succeeded in 'captivating' a Pike measuring 32 inches in length and weighing eight pounds and three-quarters.

Since then, he and other knights of the rod have taken with the hook several of these fish, of a smaller size, one weighing between four and five pounds.

The Pike, we believe, is not indigenous to our waters, and perhaps a brief account of 'whar they come from' will not be uninteresting to our readers.

Thompson, in his Natural History of Vermont, says that the "Esox estor," or common Pike, "is very common in Lake Champlain and all its larger tributaries. It grows to a large size, frequently exceeding 30 inches in length, and weighing 10 or 12 pounds. It is very voracious, devouring great numbers of reptiles and small fishes. It is taken both with the hook and seine, and is considered a very good fish for the table."

About the year 1820, a number of the citizens of Middlebury, and some of the students in the College,---among whom were Hon. James Wilson, (New Hampshire's Long Jim,) George Chipman, Esq., of Middlebury, Rev. Stephen Olin, D. D., President of the Middletown (Ct.) Wesleyan University, Charles K. Field, Esq., of Fayetteville, and Roswell M. Field, Esq., of St. Louis, Mo., formerly of this county,---

brought from Lake Champlain a number of Pike and other fish, and put them into the Otter Creek, above Middlebury falls, where they 'multiplied and replenished' the waters with great rapidity.

In 1830, some citizens of Plymouth procured a few of these Pike for the purpose of peopling their beautiful Ponds. A few years ago, we are informed, one of the ponds 'broke loose' and emptied its contents, fish and all, into Black River, from which 'the descent was easy' into the Connecticut.

These imported Pike have been frequently taken at Bellows Falls and elsewhere, still there seems to be "a few more of the same sort left."

---We learn that since Mr. Pettis's achievement, the north end of Main St. has presented the appearance of a perfect forest of fishing-poles, such has been the rush of boys to the cove, with pin-hooks and twine duly rigged, in the hope of a 'glorious nibble.' There has certainly been an immense sacrifice of angle-worms. But we earnestly entreat these beguiled youth to listen to the voice of the pike which comes up from 'the vasty deep,' crying---

"Spare us, as ye would be spared."

---We recommend the appointment of deputations from the residents near the ponds in our neighboring towns, for the purpose of securing and locating specimens enough of this valuable fish to secure its perpetuity in this 'region round about.'---Now it might easily be done; soon they will be scarce; ---"Rari nantes in gurgite vasto."

Semi-Weekly Eagle, April 14, 1848.

[The historically-minded, verse-laden, humorous style of this writer points to Henry Burnham, the future town historian. The editor at this time was Broughton Davis Harris.]


Isaak Walton (1593-1683) was the author of "The Compleat Angler" (1653).

Zadock Thompson, "History of Vermont, Natural, Civil, and Statistical". (Burlington: Published for the Author, By Chauncy Goodrich, 1842). "The Common Pike" pages 137-138.

The author's "the descent was easy" is an allusion to Virgil's "Aeneid", VI. 126, "Facilis descensus Averno", "The descent of Avernus is easy."

The author's "the vasty deep" recollects William Shakespeare's "Henry The Fourth", Part I Act 3, scene 1, 52-54---

"I can call spirits from the vasty deep."

"Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?"

"Rari nantes in gurgite vasto"
Virgil's Aeneid, I. 118
"A few swimming in the vast deep."

That Pike was served up by Capt. Lord on Saturday evening. We hav'n't heard any one, who was so fortunate as to enjoy the Captain's hospitality on that memorable occasion, say that his fare was n't good. We have no fault to find.

Semi-Weekly Eagle, April 17, 1848.

[Capt. Thomas C. Lord was mine host of The Vermont House. The hotel featured a huge painted sign with the hotel's name on it---in white letters, against a medium grey background. This fine establishment stood along the east side of Main Street for a brief while, until the catastrophic fire.]


[The post card view presents the West River before the building of the Vernon Dam, when the river channel was much more narrow and ten feet lower. "The Cove" had not been flooded.

Indian Rock is carved in a rock face about ten feet high and fourteen feet long. The rock is not vertical, but lies at about thirty degrees up from the horizontal.

At times, the lower rock was covered with silt. When Prof. Hitchcock of Amherst photographed Indian Rock in 1866, he had workmen shovel away an acummulation of West River sediment.

During the Civil War and later, a popular summer evening stroll was taken out the Asylum Street, then down the path leading through the meadows of Holland Pettis to a view of Indian Rock, then along by the old covered bridge, and the return to the Common by the Putney road.

William Cabot had purchased a cigar store Indian, and for years it could be seen, propped up before the south entrance to the covered bridge.]


Esox Estor, Common Pike

Pike Introduced.

There were no pike in the Connecticut until about 1840. They are all supposed to have come from "Plymouth Ponds" on Black river. Some years earlier these lakes were stocked with them and protected by the state.

A flood broke down the barriers and washed away many of them into the river, and from that into the Connecticut, and they have gone both north and south from the mouth of the Black river.

In 1841 a pike was caught at the foot of the locks, weighing eighteen and three-quarters pounds, by Henry Hills, which was so large, Mr. Hills was unable to land it and it was shot. The fish was served up at Davis & Russell's tavern, the old Bellows Falls stage house, and 20 citizens partook of the dinner.

Brattleboro Daily Reformer, November 20, 1922.

"River Formerly Alive With Fish".


John Richmond, Called "Old John Dover"

. . . . He knew Alfred Ellis was the most eminent fisherman in town, and it may be he intended to take away his well-earned laurels. This much is certain; John, in his latter days, spent much time fishing in divers places.

One morning he caught, at the mouth of the West river, an enormous pike. Passing through Main street with his valuable prize, much attention was excited, congratulations offered and inquiries made of the fortunate fisherman.

With the usual preface John replied, "Can't tell, can't tell; if he hadn't thought 'twas Alf Ellis' hook never should catched him in God's world.".

Henry Burnham, Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont. Early History, with Biographical Sketches of some of its Citizens. (Brattleboro: Published by D. Leonard, 1880) p. 170.

[Alfred Ellis lived in Brattleboro in a low building on High Steet when there were only two other buildings there, with his wife Elizabeth "Eliza" Nash. Their son Charles C. Ellis was born in 1822.]




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