Read CHAPTER IV - CATCHING THE SEA-SERPENT of The Boy With the U. S. Fisheries , free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on

There was great excitement in the village the next day when the revenue cutter brought in the Japanese raiding schooner and her crew. The boat that had successfully reached the ship had already begun to load her quota of sealskins, and the men had not thrown them overboard, believing that they could get away. Consequently, with the evidence of the raid ashore and with the seals in the boat belonging to the schooner from which witnesses had seen the crew go on board, the case was complete.

“What are you going to do with the prisoners?” asked Colin. “Are you going to put them on trial here?”

“Not here,” the agent replied. “The Federal Courts look after that.”

“But I thought you were a judge,” the boy protested. “Who administers justice on the islands?”

“The chief agent,” was the reply. “He is a magistrate. All the natives are employees of the Fisheries Bureau. He has a lot of authority over them. Obviously! But any really grave case is tried at Valdez, because that’s the nearest Federal court from here. Sealing questions, too, are so confused with international issues that we don’t undertake to decide them.”

“And what will happen to the schooner?”

“A prize crew will be put aboard. Take her to Unalaska. The revenue cutter will pick them up afterwards. Probably start for Valdez without delay. Captain Murchison said this morning that he wanted to go along.”

“I wonder if I’ll have to go?” said Colin. “I’m sure I don’t want to, at least, not yet. There’s ever so much more that I want to find out about seals, and I’ve hardly started. If I’m ever lucky enough to get into the Bureau of Fisheries, I hope I shall have a chance to get something to do on this fur seal service.”

“Fur seal’s very important. But only a small part of the Bureau of Fisheries,” the agent said, and outlined to Colin the general workings of the Bureau, in which he showed the practical value of the work.

“I know. I want to join the Bureau,” the boy persisted, “not only because I think there’s more fun in it than in anything else, but because I like everything about it.”

“What do your folks say about the plan?” the Fisheries agent queried.

“They know I want it,” the lad replied, “but I never felt that I knew enough about the Bureau to say that I didn’t care to do anything else. Father’s always wanted me to take up lumbering or forestry or sawmills or something to do with timber. He’s quite a big lumberman, you know. But, some way, that never appealed to me.”

“Your father ought to know,” the other said. “Obviously! And if he owns timber lands, I think it’s up to you to be a help. Lots of interesting angles to the lumber business. And if the timber lands are going to descend to you, you’ll have to look after them, anyway.”

“But they won’t,” objected Colin; “that’s just it. In about ten years that timber will be all cut off. I’m pretty sure Father will let me join the Bureau,” the boy continued, “because he’s wild about fishing himself. Why, just now, he’s down at Santa Catalina, angling for big game.”

“Some difference between the Fisheries Bureau and angling for sport,” the agent warned him. “I’ve been in the business all my life. But I’ve never even learned to cast a fly! It’s a serious business, and down in Washington you’ll find that the value of the work to the people of the United States is the chief aim of the Bureau.”

“It may be serious, but I should think that there is always something new. And, anyway,” Colin said enthusiastically, “fishes are ever so much more interesting than animals. There are such heaps of different kinds, too!”

“The interest in work depends on how you look at it,” soberly responded the agent. “Obviously! But don’t think the Bureau is experimenting with every kind of fish in the ocean. There are only a few food fishes or forms with commercial value that are exploited at all.”

“But you were describing to me, only yesterday, the way they handle millions of baby fishes annually. I’ve just got to get into the Bureau.”

“Go ahead, then. I don’t doubt we’ll be glad to have you. I’ve done my best to show you what you’ll have to face,” the official declared, “and if you’re still eager for it, why, go in and win. There’s always a place somewhere for the chap who is really anxious to work.”

At supper that day, the decision was announced that the revenue cutter would start for Valdez next morning, and Colin had to scramble around in a hurry to take a last look at the seals, to get a small crate made for the blue fox pup, which he was going to send home for his younger brother to look after, and to put into a small trunk he had got from one of the villagers the few things he had saved from the wreck and had been able to buy in the village.

The trip down to the Aleutian Islands and through its straits was a delight to Colin, and he became quite excited when he learned that the second lieutenant had for years been attached to a revenue cutter which had a wharf at the Fisheries Bureau station at Woods Hole, Mass. This officer, who had a brother in the Bureau, was only too glad to talk to the boy about the service, and Colin monopolized his spare time on the journey. And when, one day, his friend depicted the immensity of the great salmon drives of the Alaskan rivers, the lad grew so excited that the lieutenant laughingly told him he expected some fine morning to find that he had jumped overboard and had started swimming for the Ugashik River or some other of the famous salmon streams of Alaska.

Shortly before they arrived at Valdez, the lieutenant of the cutter called the boy aside.

“Colin,” he said, “didn’t you tell me the other day that you were going down to Santa Catalina?”

“Yes, sir,” the boy answered. “Father’s down there now, and I want to ask him if he won’t let me go and join the Bureau of Fisheries.”

“Well,” the officer replied, “before you do that, I think you ought to get some idea about the sort of work there is to do. It happens that one of my brother’s friends is on the Columbia River just now, making some kind of experiment on salmon. He has a cottage not far from one of the state hatcheries, and if you like, I’ll give you a letter to him. If you are really determined to enter the Bureau, you might stop on your way to Santa Catalina and see the work from another point of view.”

“I’d like to ever so much,” said Colin, “but I couldn’t very well go uninvited.”

“He’ll be only too pleased to see you,” was the reply; “he’s a Westerner like myself, and will enjoy putting you up for a day or two.”

“It’s right in my way, too,” remarked Colin, yielding to his desire to go.

“Quite a few of the steamers for ’Frisco stop at Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River,” the lieutenant suggested, “and the professor’s cottage is not more than half an hour from there, near the state fish-hatching station at Chinook, Wash.”

“Just across the river, then?”

“Exactly. The way I look at it, you’re not at all likely to have anything to do with fur seal if you go into the Bureau, certainly not for a good many years. So you can’t judge the Fisheries’ scope from that, and you ought to see the work that will probably fall to your lot.”

“Very well, sir,” said the boy, “I’ll go gladly, and thank you ever so much.”

“I’ll drop a note to Professor Todd, then,” the lieutenant said, nodding as he turned away, “and as we may be delayed a few days in Valdez, the letter will reach him before you will.”

On their arrival at the Alaskan town, Colin learned that some time would elapse before the trial of the Japanese prisoners, as the court would not be in session until later in the summer, and he was told that when his deposition had been taken, there would be no need to keep him as a witness. Accordingly, after the boy had related the story of the discovery and of his entire connection with the affair, he was told that he might leave.

As the revenue officer had expected, within a week a steamer left Valdez for San Francisco, calling at Astoria on the way, and Colin took passage aboard. Aside from meeting on board an old shell collector, who taught him a great deal about the principal valuable sea shells of the world, the voyage was without incident, and he arrived in Astoria in time to proceed the same afternoon to the cottage of the professor, where he was to stay that night, having found a letter of welcome awaiting him in Astoria.

Reaching the house he presented his letter of introduction, and was cordially greeted. Finding that the boy was really interested, his host took him to a tiny laboratory of his own, where he was experimenting on the various diseases of the salmon and the trout.

This gave Colin an entirely new outlook on the Fisheries’ activities.

“I never thought of fishes being sick before!” he exclaimed. “Are there fish-doctors in the Bureau?”

“There’s a large division of the service given to that very work,” the professor replied, “only there are so many millions of fish that we do not try to cure the individual, but only endeavor to prevent the disease. You know what the work of a veterinary is?”

“Of course,” the boy responded.

“And you know that the United States Government has an inspector at every place where cattle and sheep and pigs are slaughtered to see that no diseased animals are sold?”

“Yes,” the boy answered, “I have heard of that, too.”

“Since there is almost as much fish eaten in this country as there is meat,” the professor continued, “Uncle Sam sees to it that no diseased fish are sold for food.”

“I don’t quite see how,” the boy responded; “there can’t be an inspector at every place where they catch fish.”

“Certainly not, but as long as there is no disease among fish, there can be no diseased fish. We try to prevent the diseases. Now here, for example,” he continued, “are a lot of fish that have a kind of malign growth. It comes very frequently among the trout and salmon that are artificially raised, and sometimes we find it among fish that have been reared in a state of nature, and I have been working for some time on this and I hope this year or at all events by next season to be able to show the cause of the disease. That is really my problem, Colin, but the details of it are too complicated to explain easily. But you have come at a particularly good time,” he continued, “because I have been wanting to do an experiment which I thought might interest you, and I waited until you came. If you like, we’ll go out to-morrow.”

“I should, ever so much,” Colin exclaimed. “What’s the experiment?”

“When the salmon come in from the sea,” the professor began, “there is a great deal of hesitation among them sometimes before they go up the river to spawn, and we want to find out whether they go back to the sea again, whether they swim directly up the stream, or whether they remain in the brackish water at the mouth of the river.”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, what is the use of knowing?” asked Colin. “I mean, what does it matter as long as the salmon spawns?”

“The salmon is one of the most important food fishes of the country,” the professor said rebukingly, “and it is as important for us to know all about its habits as it is to know about the way a grain of wheat grows.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Colin said, a little shamefacedly. “I suppose everything really is important, no matter how small.”

The professor smiled at him.

“If you have much to do with studying fish,” he said, “or, indeed, with any kind of science, you will find out it is always the little things that tell the story. Take the grain of wheat again. If one kind of wheat ripens two days earlier on an average than another kind, you might think that so small a difference wouldn’t be of great importance, but those two days might and often do make the difference between a good crop and one which is frost-bitten and spoiled.”

“That’s a lot easier to see,” agreed the boy. “But, sir,” he objected, “you can pick out one little bit of a field and work on that, and it will ‘stay put.’ Fishes wander all over the place.”

“We want them to do so, my boy,” was the reply.

“How can you work on separate fish? One looks so like another!”

“And for that very reason we’re going to tag them.”

“Tag them?”

“With a little aluminum button fastened to their tail, just as bad youngsters fasten a tin can to a dog’s tail. Every tag has a number, and we use aluminum because it corrodes rapidly in salt water.”

“Then I should think,” said Colin, “that was the very reason why you shouldn’t use it.”

“Why not?” asked the professor mildly. “We know that the salmon are not going to stay in the salt water, because they are going up the river to spawn. If, therefore, we catch a fish in the nets higher up stream, with the tag bright and shining, we know that it hasn’t been in salt water at all; if dull and just a little worn away, that the fish with that tag has been staying in the brackish water near the mouth of the river; but if it is deeply corroded, that the fish returned to sea for a time. As you see, a good deal of information is gathered that way. But in the morning you will have a chance to see how it is done, and then the results when they are published will seem more interesting.”

“Have you been associated with the Bureau of Fisheries, Professor Podd?” Colin asked.

“Not directly,” the other replied. “I should have enjoyed it, and it seems to me a work of the first importance, but every man is apt to think that about his own work, or work that is like his own. But I can tell you what decided me, nearly twenty years ago, to give all my spare time to the fishery question.”

“What was that?” asked Colin.

“It was a phrase in a lecture that Dr. Baird, the founder of fish culture in America, was giving about the need of the work. He pointed out that there was more actual life in a cubic foot of water than in a cubic foot of land, and closed by saying, ’The work of conserving the Fisheries of the United States will not be finished until every acre of water is farmed as carefully as every acre or land.’”

“I never quite thought of it as farming,” said the boy.

“Nor had I, before that time,” the professor said. “But ever since then I have seen that we of the present time are the great pioneers, the discoverers, the explorers of this new world. Instead of blazing our trail through a wilderness of trees we dredge our way through a wilderness of waters; instead of a stockade around a blockhouse to protect us against wild beasts and wilder Indian foes, we have but a thin plank between us and destruction; instead of a few wolves and mountain-lions to prey upon the few head of stock we might raise, we have thousands of millions of fierce, finny pirates with which to do battle, and we work against odds the old pioneers could not even have estimated!”

“That’s great!” cried Colin, his eyes shining.

“The surface of the sea,” the professor continued, warming to his subject, “reveals no more of its mystery than the smoke cloud above the city tells the story of the wild race of life in its thronging streets, or than the waving tips of a forest of mighty trees reveal the myriad forms below. Each current of the ocean is an empire of its own with its tribes endlessly at war; the serried hosts of voracious fish prey on those about them, fishes of medium depth do perpetual war upon the surface fish, and some of these are forced into the air to fly like birds away from the Nemesis below.”

“And much is still unknown, isn’t it?”

“We are discovering a new world!” was the reply. “No one for a moment can deny the greatness of the finding of America, and Columbus and the other early navigators are sure of immortal fame, but even so, what was the New World they found to the illimitable areas of unknown life, in the bottom of the sea, that have been made known to man. Think of the wonder that has been revealed by the Challenger and other ships that have explored the ocean beds!”

“There is still a great deal unknown, isn’t there?”

“Still an unknown universe! Lurking in the utter darkness of the scarce-fathomed deeps of the ocean, what Kraken may not lie, coil on coil; what strange black, slimy, large-eyed forms do their stealthy hunting in perpetual night by the light of phosphorescent lamps they bear upon their bodies? Many of these there are, every year teaches of new species. The land oh! the land is all well known, even the Arctic and Antarctic regions no longer hide their secrets, but the ocean is inscrutable. Smiling or in anger, she baffles us and her inmost shrines are still inviolate.”

The professor checked himself suddenly, as though conscious of having been carried away by enthusiasm.

“We’ll try and get at some of the secrets to-morrow,” he said, “but it will mean early rising, as the trap is to be hauled at slack water.”

Acting on the hint, Colin bade his host good-night, but his sleep was fitful and restless. The sudden passionate speech of the grave scholar had been a revelation to the boy, and whereas he had felt a desire for the Fisheries Bureau before, he knew now that it had been largely with the sense of novelty and adventure. But the professor’s words had given him a new light, and he saw what an ideal might be. He felt like a knight of the olden time, who, watching his armor the vigil before the conferring of knighthood, had been granted a vision of all his service might mean. He knew that night that the question he was to ask his father could have but the one answer, that the great decision of his life was made, his work was cut out to do.

Shortly after daybreak the next morning, Colin was called and he dressed hurriedly. After a hearty breakfast in which steel-head trout figured largely, he went down to the pier on the water and was not sorry to have the chance of showing his host that he was a good canoeist.

“How large is the work of the Bureau now, Professor?” asked Colin, as the light craft shot down the magnificent stretches of the Columbia River.

“Over three and a half billion eggs and small fish were distributed last year, if I remember rightly,” was the reply. “Of course, a large proportion of these fish did not reach maturity, but perhaps half a billion did so, and half a billion fish is an immense contribution to the food supply of the world.”

“But aren’t there always lots of fish in the sea?” asked Colin. “When you come to compare land with water it always looks as though there must be so many that the number we catch wouldn’t make any sort of impression on them.”

“Think a bit,” said the professor. “You’ve just come down from the Pribilof Islands. How did you find matters up there? Had the catching of seals been harmful, or were there so many seals still in the sea that it didn’t matter what line of hunting went on?”

“Of course, pelagic sealing had nearly killed off the entire species,” said Colin, “but, somehow, fish seem different. Oh, yes, I know why. Seals only have one pup at a time and fishes have thousands of eggs.”

“That’s a very good reply,” the professor agreed, “but why was it that pelagic sealing was so bad? Was it done all the year round?”

“No,” said Colin, “principally when the females were coming to the spawning ground.”

“And the Pribilof Islands are only a small place. Especially when compared to the range of oceans the seal cover during the rest of the year?”

“Very small.”

“Then,” said the other, “it is easy to see that the respective size of land and water has very little to do with the general fishery question. But if a seal or a fish must come to the land or to narrow rivers to spawn, it follows that man possesses the power to determine whether spawning shall continue or not, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” agreed Colin, “I suppose it does.”

“And if you protect the seals, the herd will increase.”

“It ought to.”

“Very good. That is just the work we are doing here. The salmon come into fresh water to spawn just like shad and a number of other species of fish and when you kill a salmon just about to ascend the river, you destroy at the same time the thousands of eggs she bears.”

“But I thought salmon were always caught running up a stream?” said Colin in surprise.

“They are,” was the quick response; “by far the larger number are caught that way, and as long as a certain proportion go up the stream there’s no great harm done. But if every one of the salmon is caught, as happens when nets are put all the way across a stream, there will be none to spawn, and in a few years there will be no fish in that river.”

“Do the fish always return, when grown up, to the river in which they spawned?”

“That is disputed. But the large proportion of such fish do not travel very far from the mouth of the river in which they were born and the natural impulse for fresh water at spawning-time leads them naturally to the nearest stream. So, it is imperative that some fish be allowed to go up-stream, or in other words, that salmon-catchers allow a certain proportion to escape their wheels and nets.”

“They ought to be willing enough to do that, I should think,” said Colin; “it’s for their own good in the long run.”

“A lot of them want quick profits now, without any regard for the future,” his host said scornfully. “Of course, there are laws for fishery regulation in many of the States, but inspectors have their hands full in preventing violations. In Alaska, which is a territory still, that supervision is done by the government through the Bureau of Fisheries.”

“It must be a little aggravating to the salmon men, just the same,” said Colin thoughtfully, “when they are trying to keep their canning factories going full blast, to have to allow half the catch to go on up the stream. But,” he continued, “why don’t they catch the salmon coming down the stream again? I should think that would settle the whole question.”

“It would,” said the professor, “if they came down! But they don’t. Every single salmon, male and female, that goes up the river in the spawning season dies up there. None of them ever comes down alive.”

“I don’t think they did that way in Newfoundland!” ejaculated Colin in surprise. “When I was staying with my uncle there I saw lots of salmon, and it seemed to me that they went down the river again.”

“They did,” was the reply. “The Atlantic or true salmon does not die after spawning, but not a single fish of any one of the five different kinds of Pacific salmon ever spawns twice. Every yard of the shores of the upper reaches of Pacific coast rivers is covered almost solidly with dead salmon from September to December!”

“How awful!”

“It makes some places uninhabitable,” the professor replied. “Where a market is near enough, the dead fish are collected and sold for fertilizer.”

“Is it the fresh water that kills them?”

“No,” was the reply; “that is one of the most curious features of the life-history of the Pacific salmon. As soon as the fish are nearly ready for spawning, all their digestive parts shrivel up, so that they can’t eat. In the male salmon, too, the end of the upper lip turns into a sort of hook so that the fish can’t even open his mouth wide enough to eat anything. Then in the fresh water their scales turn slimy and, as they often get injured trying to leap falls and rapids, all sorts of skin diseases attack them. A salmon in the upper reaches of the Columbia headwaters is a pitiful wreck of the magnificent fish that entered it to spawn.”

“Do they go far?”

“As much as a thousand miles,” was the reply. “The quinnat and blue back or the spring and the sockeye, as they are generally known, take the long journeys, but the silver or coho, and the humpback and dog salmon keep to the small streams near the sea. The young fry cannot live in salt water and the instinct of the salmon is to swim up-stream as far as possible, no matter what obstacle is in the way. When they have gone to the very limit, the salmon make pits and holes in the gravel and sand at the bottom of the stream for nests, and drop the eggs in these. The male salmon immediately afterwards floats over the nests and does his share in making sure that the eggs will hatch out.”

“How big are the salmon?” asked the boy.

“You’ll have a chance to see,” the professor answered, as he swung the canoe in to the wharf, at the state hatchery station, “because we’re going to measure the ones we tag this morning.”

The foreman and one of the men of the station were waiting for them in a good-sized motor boat, towing behind which was a curious-looking affair composed of two small barrels fastened together by long slats.

“Don’t you know what that is?” queried the professor, noting Colin’s puzzled look.

“No, sir.”

“That’s a live car. The barrels at each end have enough water in them to sink them to a certain depth. Then the slats, as you see, are nailed two-thirds of the way around the barrels, leaving just enough space for the water to flow in and out freely. They put the fish in that to tow them home alive. The slats are better than netting because sometimes the fishes catch their scales in the meshes and get hurt.”

The run to the fish-trap was made in a few minutes, and the boat went inside to the ‘pound,’ the net was partly hauled up, and the professor took out his punch and the buttons. Colin had put on a pair of rubber boots and oilskin trousers, as had all the rest of the party, and he was ready for anything that came along.

“Do you want my slicker?” the professor asked him. “You’re apt to get splashed.”

“I don’t mind a bit, thanks,” answered the boy, rolling up his sleeves; “a little shower-bath will feel good on a hot day like this!”

“All right, then,” the leader of the party declared, “we’ll give you a chance to make yourself useful. Here you are!”

Colin took the large flat-bottomed net and awaited further instructions.

“Catch one of the salmon,” he was told; “never mind the rest of the fish. And,” he was warned, “don’t bring the net clear out of the water.”

“Very well, sir,” the boy replied, then his curiosity getting the better of him, he asked, “Why not?”

“Because if you do, the salmon will struggle against the meshes of the net, bruise himself, and probably scrape off some scales. I told you how easy it is for a fish to get diseased if he loses any of his scales. If you keep the net about four inches below the water, the fish has the resistance of the water to fight against, and it will tire him out quickly without doing any harm.”

“All right,” Colin answered, and commenced scooping for the fish. In a minute or two he had a large twenty-pounder in the net and he raised it until the bottom was a little below the water, as he had been told.

“You’re right about getting wet!” cried Colin, laughing, as the salmon began to whirl and plunge and dance in the net, sending a shower of water all over him and nearly blinding him by the force with which the drops of water struck as they were splashed upwards by the powerful strokes of the fish’s tail.

The instant the salmon stopped struggling, the hatchery boatman seized it by the tail with a strong grip, swung it clear out of the net and over his left arm, laying it immediately on the measuring platform. This consisted merely of a wide board with an upright at one end, a rule giving both metrical and standard measures being nailed to the side of the board. Instantly the measurer called out the length and the professor noted it down, the hatchery foreman famous for his expertness in judging the weight of a fish calling out the weight to be recorded. Laying down his pencil, the professor then, with a small punch, made a tiny hole in the tail-fin of the salmon, the fish having been thrown over the captor’s left arm again, slipped an aluminum button through the hole, and riveted it securely. The entire process took less than a minute and a half, and by the time the salmon had been released and tossed into the water again, Colin was ready with another fish.

“I don’t see why the fish don’t die as soon as they come out of the water!” exclaimed Colin.

“For nearly a minute, some fish breathe better out of the water than in it,” the professor answered, “but after that the gills stick together and the fish strangles. Two or even three minutes will not injure salmon, and some fish will recover if they are out of water for hours. Indeed, there are some fish that live out of water most of the time.”

“Live out of water?” the boy said in surprise.

“Certainly. Some kinds of fish, at least, can’t stay in the water very long, but remain perched up on the rocks.”

“Perching like birds?” Colin said incredulously.

“I know that sounds a little improbable, but it’s true, just the same,” the professor said, smiling. “This is a Fisheries story, not a ’fish story.’ There’s a difference. They come from Samoa and belong to the skippy family. Most of them live on the rocks, and they jump from rock to rock instead of swimming. Some of them even are vegetarians which is rare among fish and their gills are smaller and stouter. Plenty of them are only in the water for a little while at high tide, living in the moist seaweed until the tide rises again.”

Colin was silenced, and he went on vigorously dipping up salmon.

“How many fish are you going to tag?” the boy asked, when a couple of hours had passed by.

“Sixty,” the professor answered, “and we must be nearly through, for I have only a few buttons left.”

Secretly the boy was much relieved, for his back was tired from stooping and netting heavy fish for two hours, but he would have worked to utter exhaustion rather than complain. However, within another quarter of an hour, the last fish was dropped over the side and the party was on its return journey.

“Why don’t you stop and see the hatchery?” suggested the professor, in return to a host of questions put to him by the boy concerning salmon culture.

“I’d like to, ever so much, if I might,” was the answer, and Colin looked up at the foreman.

“Come right along,” was the latter’s immediate response. “It isn’t much of a place to look at, but you can see whatever there is to see.”

The hatchery itself was simple and bare, as the foreman had suggested, consisting merely of a row of boxes arranged in such a way that water flowed through them constantly, bringing a steady supply of fresh water without carrying away the light eggs and tiny fry. Colin was thoroughly interested, and followed the foreman from place to place, eagerly watching the processes of hatching the fish and asking unending questions.

“Here,” the man said, after he had answered a dozen or more queries. “I’ll show you just how it’s done and you’ll learn more from watching than I could tell you in a week of talk.”

He led the way to a large pond not far from the hatchery, which was connected with a small stream, the water of which was almost entirely fresh.

“It’s a little early yet for the autumn run,” the foreman said, “but maybe there’s some salmon ready for their eggs to be taken. We’ll have a look, anyway.”

“Are there any chinook in there?” queried Colin, who was feeling a little proud of the knowledge he had acquired that morning as to the way of distinguishing the varieties of salmon.

“Don’t want chinook,” was the reply; “they have got to go away up the river to spawn and wouldn’t be in shape if we tried to use them here. We only raise humpback and dog here, the hatcheries for chinook and silver salmon are away up the river.”

“Run by the State or the Government?” queried the boy.

“Both,” was the reply, “and quite a few are managed by commercial fish companies who are as anxious as any one to see that the annual salmon run does not grow smaller. Their living depends upon it.”

At his request one of the men commenced scooping up some of the salmon in the pool to see if any of them were ripe, and meantime the foreman who was still wearing his oilskins picked up a tin pail, holding it between his knees. In a minute or two the man came in holding a ripe female salmon.

“Now watch,” the foreman said to Colin, “and you can see the whole performance.”

He seized the salmon by the tail, and all the eggs ran down toward the head. Then, holding the fish head upward, he pressed it slightly, and the eggs ran out from the vent rapidly, striking the bottom of the pan with considerable force. The foreman had hardly got the eggs when his assistant came in with a male salmon, and the same plan was repeated, the milt falling upon the eggs. Both male and female salmon then were returned to the pool. The eggs and milt were shaken violently from side to side until thoroughly mixed, a little water being added to help the mixture. Then he took the pail to the faucet.

“But you’re washing the milt off again!” cried Colin, as the foreman filled the pail with water.

“It’s had plenty of time to work,” was the answer, and the eggs were poured into a flat pan and washed several times.

“Now we’ll put just a little water in the pan,” the foreman continued, “and leave it here to swell.”

“Why should it swell?” asked Colin.

“The egg isn’t really full when it comes from the mother fish,” the foreman answered, “the yolk rattles around inside the shell, but after it has been mixed with the milt, it begins to suck up water, and in about half an hour it’s full.”

“What happens next?” queried Colin.

“That’s about all. We put the eggs in frames so that the water has a chance to circulate freely, and then we go over the frames once or twice a week to pick out any eggs that may happen to die or not to grow just right.”

“How long does it take before a fish comes out?” Colin asked interestedly. “About a couple of weeks?”

“Weeks!” was the surprised answer; “we look for hatching to begin in about five months, and during all that time every tray of eggs is picked over once or twice a week. That keeps dead eggs from infecting live ones.”

“You must keep them a long time, then?”

“Nearly a year altogether. Those in that trough right behind you are just hatching, they’re from the first batch of spawn in the early spring run. Most of them are hatched out now, for you see only a few eggs in the tray.”

Colin looked in and saw, as the foreman said, only half a dozen eggs left in the tray, while in the shallow water of the trough below were hundreds of tiny fish, like transparent tadpoles still fastened to the yolk of the egg. Some, which were just hatched, were less than three-quarters of an inch long, and scarcely able to move about in the water because of the great weight of the yolk about the center of their bodies. A few had consumed a large part of the sac.

“It’ll take them about six weeks to get rid of the yolk,” the foreman said, anticipating the boy’s question, “and if they were in a natural stream they would be able to look after themselves. We feed them tiny grubs and worms and small pieces of liver. From that time on it is merely a question of giving them the proper food and keeping the troughs clean. When they are five or six months old we set them free.”

“Do you do any work except salmon hatching here?” Colin asked, as, after a morning spent in the station, they walked toward the pier.

“No,” the foreman answered, “we distribute a million and a half young fish every year and that keeps us busy enough.”

“Well,” said Colin, shaking hands, “I’m ever so much obliged, and I really feel now as if I knew something about a hatchery. And I’ve had a share in one experiment, anyway!”

On his return to the cottage he found the professor getting out fishing-tackle.

“Going out again?” queried Colin.

“I thought you might like to try a little sport-fishing,” was the answer; “you said you were going down to Santa Catalina, and you might as well get your hand in. You can stay over another day, can’t you?”

“I suppose I could,” Colin answered, “and I should like to catch a really big salmon with a rod and line, not only for the fun of it, but because I happen to know that Father’s never caught one, and I’d like to beat him out on something. It’s pretty difficult, though, to get ahead of Dad!”

The professor shook his head with mock gravity.

“That’s not a particularly good motive,” he said, “and I don’t know that I ought to increase any boy’s stock of conceit. It is usually quite big enough. But maybe you won’t catch anything, and I’ll chance it.”

“Oh, but I will catch one,” Colin declared confidently; “I’m going to try and get one of the hundred-pounders that I’ve read about.”

“You’ll have a long sail, then,” his host replied, “because fish of that size don’t come far south of Alaskan waters. Twenty-five or thirty pounds is as big as you can look for, and even those will give you all the sport you want.”

“Very well,” Colin responded, a little abashed, “I’ll be satisfied.”

“It’s rather a pity,” the professor said, when, after lunch, they had started for the fishing-grounds in a small catboat, “that you haven’t had a chance to go up to The Dalles to see the salmon leaping up the falls and the rapids. I think it’s one of the most wonderful sights in the world.”

“I’ve seen the Atlantic salmon jump small falls,” Colin said, “but I don’t think I ever saw one larger than ten or twelve pounds.”

“I have seen hundreds of them fifty to eighty pounds in weight leaping at falls in the smaller Alaskan rivers. I remember seeing twenty or thirty in the air at a time while the water below the falls was boiling with the thousands of fish threshing the water before their leap.”

“How high can they jump?” asked Colin.

“About sixteen foot sheer stops even the best of them,” the professor said, “but there are not many direct falls like that. Nearly all rapids and falls are in jumps of five or six feet, and salmon can take that easily. Still, there is a fall nearly twenty feet high that some salmon must have leaped, for a few have been found above it, and they must either have leaped up or walked round there’s no other way.”

“How do you suppose they did it?”

“In a very high wind, probably,” the professor answered; “a gale blowing up the canyon might just give the extra foot or two at the end of a high leap.”

As soon as they were about four miles out, the sail was taken in and, following the professor’s example, Colin dropped his line over the stern. The shining copper and nickel spoon sank slowly, and the boy paid out about a hundred feet of line. Taking up the oars and with the rod ready to hand, Colin rowed slowly, parallel with the shore. Two or three times the boy had a sensation that the boat was being followed by some mysterious denizen of the sea, but though in the distance there seemed a strange ripple on the water, nothing definite appeared, and he forgot it for the moment as the professor got the first strike.

With the characteristic scream, the reel shrilled out, and the fish took nearly a hundred feet of line, but the angler held the brake so hard that the strain rapidly exhausted the fish, and when it turned toward the boat, the professor’s deft fingers reeled at such a speed that the line wound in almost as rapidly as the rush of the fish. As soon as the salmon saw the boat it tried to break away, but its captor had caught a glimpse of the fish, and seeing that it was not too large for speedy action, reeled in without loss of time, and gaffed him promptly.

“Small chinook,” he said, as he tossed him into the boat.

He had hardly finished speaking before Colin made a grab for his rod, and the catch was repeated in almost the same manner. This went on until five fish had been caught, the last one, which fell to the professor, putting up the most gamy fight of them all. But still it was too easy for real sport.

The ripple which Colin had been watching had come nearer, and in the catching of the last fish, the boat had been brought quite close to it.

Then, noiselessly, and like a strange vision, out from the undulating ripples rose slowly a creature more fantastic than the boy’s wildest dreams. The head was green, with large unwinking, glittering eyes. In slow contortions, the body, of a transparency that showed the light through, writhed like a tremendous ribbon-snake, and a sharp row of serrated fins surmounted all its length, from which, near the head, scarlet streamers floated like a mane. A moment thus it held its head erect, then sank below the surface. The boy sat with his eyes fixed upon the spot where he had seen this weird appearance, unknown and ghostly-seeming.

“Colin,” said the professor, and his tone was so imperative that the boy turned sharply, “what is the matter? What are you watching?”

“I don’t know, sir,” said the boy; “I don’t know much about fish, and I was waiting until it came nearer. I was going to say ”

He stopped suddenly.

“What?” asked the professor, a little impatiently.

“You’d laugh at me,” the boy answered.

“You saw ”

“I saw a big green head with large eyes and spines on its back put its head out of the water,” Colin said doggedly, “and it had a bright red mane. I couldn’t think of anything but but,” he hesitated and then gulped out, “a sea-serpent.”

He half feared to look at his companion, feeling that a pitying smile would greet his news, but after a few seconds’ silence, he glanced up and saw that his fellow-fisherman was looking grave and thoughtful. At that instant the boy felt a quick snap at his line and he struck, the salmon whirling away instantly. It was a good fight, and the fish was full of grit, sending a curious thrumming sensation up the line that set every nerve aquiver. At last he got the fish stopped, and had just started to reel the big salmon in, when the apparition thrust its head out of the water not twenty feet from the boat. It distracted Colin’s attention, and a few seconds later his line snapped.

“The salmon’s got away,” said Colin disgustedly.

“What does that matter?” said the professor. “We’ve something else to do.”


“Catch your sea-serpent,” was the reply, as the older man pointed to the green and scarlet gleam in the water.

“It must be thirty feet long,” Colin said, then realizing that his tone suggested that he was afraid, he added boldly, “but I’m game. What is it, anyway?”

“You’re not so far off in calling it a sea-serpent,” his companion said; “at least, it’s more like the fabulous monster than any other fish that we know.”

“But how are you going to catch it?” the boy asked.

“By hand,” the professor replied, slipping off his outer clothes.

“You mean you’re going in after it?” queried the boy with amazement.

“Certainly,” the other answered; “it’s harmless enough.”

“It doesn’t look it,” said Colin, but he was not to be outdone, and prepared to follow his host into the water.

They ran the boat close to the creature, which swam but feebly despite its immense length, and the professor plunged over the side, holding the loop of a rope. A few strokes took him to the long, ribbon-like form, which was not thicker than a man’s body, and he threw his arms about it, back of the head. The fish struggled weakly, but the professor did not let go, and in a few seconds Colin had brought up the boat. He then took the rope, which had been passed around the soft and flabby body. Then, jumping overboard also, the boy helped the professor lift the fish from below, for the flesh was so soft that a rope would cut right through it. With great exertion, for the creature was heavy, they got it on board, half swamping the boat in doing so. Despite its size, the strange visitor from the deep seemed scarcely able to struggle and lay motionless in the boat.

“What is it?” asked Colin, as he gazed on the snake-body and the strange head which, with its brilliant crimson mane, was reminiscent of some fiery horse of ancient legend.

“What can it be?” he repeated wonderingly.

“An oarfish,” the professor answered.

“That isn’t what I think it is,” Colin replied. “I’m sure it’s something quite different.”

“What?” asked the professor, smiling.

“I believe something has killed the sea-serpent at the bottom of the sea and this is its ghost!”