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Piscatory Archery.[1]
Part 4 of 6

These terrible destroyers have no true representatives in the sea; they seem to be peculiar to waters tributary to the Mississippi. There are two kinds of them, alike in office, but distinct in species; they are known by those who fish in the streams they inhabit as the "gar." They are, when grown to their full size, twelve or fifteen feet in length, voracious monsters to look at, so well made for strength, so perfectly protected from assault, so capable of inflicting injury. The smaller kind, growing not larger than six feet, have a body that somewhat resembles in form the pike, covered by what look more like large fiat heads of wrought iron, than scales, which it is impossible to remove without cutting them out, they are so deeply imbedded in the flesh. The jaws of this monster form about one-fourth of its whole length; they are shaped like the bill of a goose, armed in the interior with triple rows of teeth, as sharp and well set as those of a saw. But the terror is the "alligator gar," a monster that seems to combine all the most destructive powers of the shark and the reptile. The alligator gar grows to the enormous length of fifteen feet; its head resembles the alligator‘s; within its wide-extended jaws glisten innumerable rows of teeth, running down into its very throat in solid columns. Blind in its instinct to destroy, and singularly tenacious of life, it seems to prey with untiring energy, and with an appetite that is increased by gratification. Such are the fish that are made victims of the mere sport of the arrow-fisherman.

The implements of the arrow-fisherman are a strong bow, five or six feet long, made of black locust or of cedar, (the latter being preferred.) An arrow of ash, three feet long, pointed with an iron spear of peculiar construction. The spear is eight inches long, one end has a socket, in which is fitted loosely the wooden shaft; the other end is a flattened point; back of this point there is inserted the barb, which shuts into the iron as it enters an object, but will open if attempted to be drawn out. The whole of this iron-work weighs three ounces. A cord is attached to the spear, fifteen or twenty feet long, about the size of a crow quill, by which is held the fish when struck.

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Of the water-craft used in arrow-fishing, much might be said, as it introduces the common Indian canoe, or as it is familiarly termed, the "dug out," which is nothing more than a trunk of a tree, shaped according to the humour or taste of its artificer, and hollowed out. We hare seen some of these rude barks that claimed but one degree of beauty or utility beyond the common log, and we have seen others as gracefully turned as was ever the bosom of the loving swan, and that would, as gracefully as Leda‘s bird, spring through the rippling waves. To the uninitiated, the guidance of a canoe is a mystery. The grown-up man, who first attempts to move on skates over the glassy ice, has a command of his limbs, and a power of locomotion, that the nonce in canoe navigation has not. Never at rest, it seems to rush from under his feet; overbalanced by an overdrawn breath, it precipitates its victim into the water. Every effort renders it more and more unmanageable, until it is condemned as worthless. But let a person accustomed to its movements take it in charge, and it gayly launches into the stream; whether standing or sitting, the master has it entirely under his control, moving any way with a quickness, a pliability, quite wonderful, forward, sideways, backwards; starting off in an instant, or while at the greatest speed, instantly stopping still, and doing all this more perfectly than any other water-craft of the world. The arrow-fisher prefers a canoe with very little rake, quite flat on the bottom, and not more than fifteen feet long, so as to be turned quick. Place in this simple craft the simpler paddle, lay beside it the arrow, the bow, the cord, and you have the whole outfit of the arrow-fisherman.