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SOME REMARKS on the FISHES of the WESTERN WATERS of the State of
New-York, in a letter to S. L. MITCHILL, M. D. &c. from the Hon.
DE WITT CLINTON, LL. D. Member of the American Philosophical
Society, President of the Literary and Philosophical Society of New-
York, &c. dated New-York, February 1st, 1815.

SIR,

VI.

[Read before the Society, on the 9th of February, 1815.]

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YOUR meritorious attempts to elucidate the ichthyology of this country, have attracted the attention, and excited the expectations, of the public. Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required," is the language of holy writ. What the Michaux have done to illustrate our botany, and Wilson our ornithology, will, no doubt, be effected by you, in the great department of natural science which you have undertaken. What vast treasures of natural knowledge remain to be discovered in this country! Let us hope that these immense fields of interesting investigation will, in due time, be fully explored by the eagle eye of philosophy.

In abundance, in variety, and in delicacy, the fishes of our western waters are not surpassed by any in the world. They ought to be fully examined, and I need not tell you, that little or nothing has been done in this way. The few scattering and desultory notices we have of them, have been principally furnished by strangers to natural knowledge. With a view of drawing your particular attention to this subject, I have taken the

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liberty of addressing to you a few observations, which either occurred to me during a short visit to that country, or which have since been suggested by intelligent gentlemen with better opportunities for information.

In the first place, there is a marked distinction between the waters above and below the cataract of Niagara, in respect to certain species of fishes. That wonder of nature interposes an insurmountable barriez against the ascent of fishes: The salmon and the eel are never seen above the Niagara Falls, and it is probable that there are some fishes in the upper lakes which are not to be found in the waters below the

cataract.

upper

Secondly, it may be asked, how then did fishes get into the lakes? This is susceptible of a satisfactory answer: It may have been accomplished in three ways.

1. When, after the submersion of the whole earth by the general deluge, the ocean retreated, and dry land was formed, fishes would, of course, be left in the waters that remained; and as lakes, which have outlets as well as inlets, like our great western lakes, would in process of time, lose their saline qualities and become fresh, their inhabitants would either accommodate themselves to this new situation, or gradually become extinct.

ocean.

2. In every spring and fall there is a communication between the lakes and the ocean, by means of the Chicago, Illinois, and Mississippi, and it is highly probable that this is the route of some kinds of fishes from the The carp, chub, sturgeon, pike, and cat fish of the Mississippi, are to be seen in the lakes and their tributary streams. There is, certainly, a great resemblance between some of the fishes of the ocean and of the lakes, and this similarity has been traced to such a fanciful extent, that a very ill-tasted fish in Erie, is called the sheep's head, on account of a supposed resemblance to its salt water namesake. The salmon does not pass by this route into the lakes, because he never visits the

Mississippi, and the eel does not avail himself of it, because his habits are directly the reverse of all fishes that ascend from the sea into fresh water rivers. They pass into rivers for the purpose of propagation, and in course of time their brood go to the ocean, where they acquire their growth. On the contrary, he visits the sea every autumn with the same view, where he produces his young, and the ensuing spring they ascend into the rivers. As it is near two thousand miles from the lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, these periodical and semi-annual voyages, are impracticable: and it is certainly almost impossible for the young eels to proceed to such a distance against the rapid currents of the Mississippi and Illinois.

3. Fishes are found in small ponds and lakes which have no communication with any other waters. This is, perhaps, generally accomplished by aquatic birds who swallow the ova of fishes, and carry them to other places. They may have been conveyed in like manner to our inland fresh water seas.

At the head of the western fishes, may be placed the white fish, which is universally admitted to be the most delicious. When I visited that section of the country, I had no opportunity of seeing this celebrated fish. We are even ignorant of the family to which it belongs, and it is not known to us by any specific marks. From the general account which I have had of its form and habitudes, I am induced to believe, that it belongs to the salmo genus, and that it is a non-descript. It is found not only in all our great lakes, but it exists also in the lakes and rivers to the north west of them. It is described as a white straight fish, not unlike salmon in appearance, but very different in taste; about the size of a shad, but thicker and less bony, and generally weighing from three to six pounds It abounds at the falls of St. Mary's, and is taken in great numbers, in the spring, in the mouth of the Niagara river, and even as high up as Lewiston: It is caught by sweeping the beach with a seine;

but owing to the declivity in Niagara river from Lewiston to the fort, there is no advantageous position to draw the seine, except on the beach between Fort George and the Light House, on the British side, where it is practised with great success.

Pike or pickerel, weighing from three to twelve pounds, are taken in great numbers in the lakes, and as high up as the whirlpool, in the Niagara river; their bodies are long, and nearly round; their flesh somewhat soft, but fat, and much esteemed when boiled; they are not good when dried or salted.

The muscalinga, a species of pike, is greatly esteemed, and is generally caught in rivers emptying into the lakes: It weighs from ten to forty pounds, and in a few instances forty-five pounds, and is generally very fat.

The salmon-trout, and cat fish, are also excellent, and are not usually as large as the muscalinga; but some of the first have weighed fifty pounds.

The sturgeon is an inhabitant of all the lakes, and has been caught, I am told, weighing more than one hundred pounds. Its flesh is of a

firmer and finer structure than those taken in the Hudson.

White, black, and rock basse, are also seen in great numbers. The first is said to resemble the sea basse; the second, the black fish; and the third, the rock or streaked basse of the ocean. They are all much liked, generally weighing from one to three pounds, and are good salted or dried: It affords fine amusement to trail for the black or Oswego basse, when passing over the Oneida lake: Even when the boat is in full motion, they bite with avidity at a red rag tied to a hook.

Although the eel cannot ascend the Niagara falls, yet it is continually making attempts, and is sometimes found as high up as fifty feet, and is

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