An 1880s tale of catching and cooking a fish on same line in Yellowstone

An image from the Frank J. Haynes Postcard collection in the Yellowstone Digital Slide File shows a man at Fishing Cone in Yellowstone National Park.

By M. Mark Miller

Many Yellowstone National Park tourists have described places where an angler can catch a fish and cook it in a nearby hot spring without taking it off the hook, but few report actually doing it. Henry J. Winser described performing the feat in his 1883 guide for tourists.

It has often been said that it possible to catch trout in the Yellowstone Lake and cook them in a boiling spring close behind the angler—without taking them off the hook. The assertion seems incredible and it is generally doubted. This extraordinary feat may certainly be accomplished, not only at the Yellowstone Lake, but also on the Gardiner River below the Mammoth Hot Springs.

The writer performed it at the latter place, and in the presence of nine witnesses. Selecting a likely pool of the ice-cold stream with a boiling spring fifteen feet distant from the bank, he stood upon a projecting rock and made a cast. His flies soon tempted a trout to his doom.

The fish was small enough to be lifted out of the water without the aid of a landing net, and it was quite easy to drop him into the bubbling hot spring behind. His life must have been extinguished instantly.

This procedure was repeated several times, and each of the spectators who had purposely assembled to test the truth of the strange assertion partook of the fish thus caught and boiled. It required from three to five minutes to thoroughly cook the victims of the experiment, and it was the general verdict that they only needed a little salt to make them quite palatable.

This is a “fish story,” without doubt, but a perfectly true one. A feat so extraordinary could nowhere else be practiced.

Read more tales of early travel in Yellowstone like this excerpt from  Henry J. Winser,  The Yellowstone National Park: A Manual for tourists, in M. Mark Miller’s Adventures in Yellowstone: Early Travelers Tell Their Tales.

Editor’s note: While boiling live fish in the thermal features of Yellowstone Park has been prohibited since 1911, some who have tried it since have reported that the fish are imparted with an unpleasant taste of sulfur and other minerals which makes the novel method less than ideal as a practical approach to cooking.

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