The following fairytale appeared in the first column on page one, of the June 13, 1896, edition of the RANGELEY LAKES newspaper. Not that it is odd to find a fantastical story in such a prominent position in ANY publication past OR present, but this was not a “creative take” on some actual event. This “whopper” was intentional.

Given the never-ending stream of bad news these days, how wonderful it must have been to live in a time when the “news” could be trumped by an entertaining yarn. I especially enjoyed all the geographical references that added local color to the story. As a “Professional Grandfather”, I highly recommend that you clip this one out and save it as bedtime story for the young Rangeley Lakers in your life or for the young at heart when a needed escape from modern realities becomes necessary. Unfortunately, the piece was left untitled, and the author’s name was not revealed. However, the line; “Stray Pages from My Sketchbook” printed where the title line would be, strongly indicate that the author was most likely the editor of the paper, Harry P. Dill. The ”Fishy Tail” begins by the fireplace of the newly constructed Rangeley Lake House…

Our story begins around the fire in the parlor of the “new” Rangeley Lake House Courtesy Rangeley Lakes Historical Society

He had fished all day, but luck had been against him, and now he was taking it out in blowing the fishing sky high, to the group round the hotel fire. “There aren’t any fish in the lake,” said he. “Not even a shiner?”, queried one of his listeners. “No, not even a shiner,” he replied. “I ’ve fished the length and breadth and depth of the confounded lake, and there isn’t a fish left in it. “I don’t…” (in mid rant he was interrupted by a bell boy. “A gentleman out on the piazza wants to see you, sir,” said the bell boy. Who is he?” “Didn’t give any name,” answered the boy. Wondering who it could be, the man put on his hat and followed the bell boy onto the piazza. There, standing so the moonlight fell upon him as the limelight follows the leading lady on the stage, was the figure of a man rather above the average height. Raising his hand, and slowly circling it in front of the astonished fisherman, he said: “Come.” Powerless to resist, the man followed him across the street, down through the field, past Mr. Marble’s new cottage, till at last he paused on the very edge of the wharf where the Irene’s wood barge is moored. Then he looked fixedly at his companion a moment and said: “Change.” In the twinkling of an eye our friend found himself transformed into a trout, gliding through the water by the side of another trout which was talking in the same voice that the strange man had used when he said “Come” and “Change.”

They swam along for some distance in silence. “Now we go down a bit,” said the guide, leading the way almost vertically downward for many feet. Soon they were traversing a narrow, rocky gorge. After a time, they came upon a huge chub, which barred the passage, demanding in a thick, chubby voice: “Who are you?” “Friends,” answered the guide. “Give the password.” “There is a hook in it.” “All right. Pass on” said the chub, moving aside. “Although somewhat cannibalistic,” explained the guide, “these chubs make excellent servants and sentinels.”

The gorge now widened out into an expansive, semicircular enclosure with a sandy bottom. The guide swam up to a bit of rock in the center and gave three resounding whacks with its tail. There was a pause for a moment, then with a mighty swish, many fish began to pour in from all sides. They arranged themselves according to size, the largest in front and the smaller ones on the outskirts. After the last

arrival had swished into position, the largest fish, a trout which would not weigh an ounce under twelve pounds, spoke in a clear, ringing voice: “Well, Sir Guide, what report bring you?” “I have with me,” answered the guide, “one of those men who say there are no fish left in the lake.” “Good,” said the big trout. Then, turning to the fisherman, he continued: “It hath been decided in solemn conclave of the fishes that thou shalt have revealed to thee what was never seen by mortal man before. By magic power thou wilt be shown through this great system of waters. To thee has been given the form of a fish, yet thy human senses have been left unchanged, and whatsoever thou seest to-night, thou wilt remember when thou returnest to the land of men. Thou mayest ask any questions thou wilt, and none but truthful answers shall be returned thee. And now, Sir Guide, away with your charge and see that no harm cometh to him.”

Together the two started off. “I believe,” said the guide, “that you were up Greenvale way today, were you not?” “Yes, and beastly poor fishing it was, too,” replied the fisherman. The guide fish paused before a rock and gave three resounding whacks. In the moment’s pause that followed, he explained that the whole of Rangeley Lake was divided into water states, each one in charge of a commander with lieutenants to assist him. “When I give the signal raps,” every fish within hearing must instantly repeat them, and so, in a remarkably short space of time the whole division is speeding to the spot of the meeting.” By this time the fish were arriving in twos and threes and half-dozens. Among the first was a huge land-locked salmon of about thirteen pounds weight, who was the commander of the Greenvale division. The guide explained his visit and asked the fisherman if he had any questions to ask the salmon. “Well,” he commenced, “how old are you?” “Twelve pounds last estimation day.” “What do you mean?” asked the perplexed fisherman. “Why, you see we fish go not by years but by weight. Once in every twelve moons we assemble, and the Conclave of Fishes estimates our weight. We rank according to weight; all officers being chosen from the heaviest fish.” “Thank you, that’s something entirely new to me.” “And now we must be off,” said the Guide. In quick succession the pair visited the City Cove division, the Island division, the South Cove division, the Hunter Cove and South Bog divisions. At every halt, the three raps of the guide brought a thousand or more fish to the meeting place. They were of all sizes, none being less than a pound, for as one of the fish explained, trout and salmon were not subject to the laws of the Conclave till after they had attained a weight of one pound. “Now for the Big Lake,” said the guide, as they concluded their visit at South Bog, and in a flash, they found themselves in the darker waters of Mooselookmeguntic. Three raps from there the guide drew forth an immense number of fish; many of them larger than it seemed possible for trout and salmon to grow. By this time the fisherman was asking questions freely. “How happens it,” he asked a 10-lb. salmon, “ that we hardly ever catch trout or salmon as big as you are?” “It is this way,” answered the salmon. “After they-pass the weight of a pound, all trout can tell real from artificial, and are in not the slightest danger of being caught. Our laws, however, are very strict, and the penalty for all misdemeanors is death. Now fish will not kill each other after they pass the pound limit, hence death is self-inflicted. The condemned fish is sentenced to bite at the first artificial bait offered, and, escaping that—as you know they often do, —he is allowed thirty days’ respite and must then try again. As the fish grow larger, they settle down and rarely ever transgress the laws, hence are seldom forced to die The Death. Do I make my meaning clear?” “Very,” said the fisherman, “but may I ask what crime is the most common?” “The killing of young trout,” answered the salmon. After this the guide whisked the fisherman down to Bemis and up past Frye’s Camp to Toothaker Cove and Pleasant Islands, showing him thousands upon thousands of trout, and among them many which would weigh well into the two figures.

“Now we’ll go to Kennebago and Seven Ponds,” said the guide. “No, no,” pleaded the fisherman, “I’ll own that I was wholly wrong, and take back everything I said. There are fish enough in these lakes to furnish sport for many years.” “Right you are, my friend,” answered The Guide. “Remember what you’ve seen.” Then he continued: “In three seconds you’ll be back in your room at Marble’s, and, by the way, you’d better countermand that order to call you at six o’clock, for its now almost three.” Slowly fixing his glassy eye on the fisherman, he said the magic word: “Change!”

And now you have a new (old) Fish Tail, spawned locally some 127 years ago about a magical place known as Rangeley…that you can save and read at bedtime to the special young ones in your life. Have a great week and we will see you next time with more from Rangeley’s iconic past.

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