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Old 10-19-2005, 10:19 AM   #1
Rattlesnake Gal
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Cool The Merrimack River: its source and its tributaries

The Merrimack River:
source and its tributaries

Embracing a history of manufactures, and of the towns along its course;
their geography, topography, and products, with a
description of the magnificent natural scenery
about its upper waters.

By J. W. Meader



The Forks. - Winnipesaukee Lake and River. - Pickerel Fishing. - The Wiers. - Laconia. -
Capt. Lovewell. - Centre Harbor. - Moultonborough. - Red Hill. - Sandwich.
HAVING arrived at the forks of the Merrimack in Franklin, namely, the Pemigewasset and the Winnipesaukee, it will be proper to turn attention to the latter stream and its great reservoir. It is at the confluence of these two streams that the Merrimack takes its name, - a name, whenever and wherever heard, suggestive of bright waters, industrious, prosperous, and happy communities, great factories filled with intricate and delicate machinery, and bright eyes and nimble and cunning hands to guide its movements.
Lake Winnipesaukee, the source of the river of the same name, is a large and magnificent sheet of water. It may be regarded as the grand central plateau of New Hampshire waters. The name is of Indian derivation, and has not unfrequently been erroneously interpreted as signifying "The Smile of the Great Spirit." This, however, is incorrect; it being rendered literally signifies the "beautiful water of the high place." The lake is something more than twenty miles in length, and affords a scene of unsurpassed loveliness. Like the glimmer glass of Cooper it spreads away like a liquid sheet of burnished silver in the bright sunlight, and forests rising high along its emerald banks mirror and reproduce themselves deep in its placid bosom. A calm serenity sits enthroned upon its polished surface, except when moderate breezes stir it into dancing ripples, or strong gales move it to gentle undulations.
This lake has many notable features. It is reputed to contain, like other famous waters, the inevitable three hundred and sixty-five islands. Whether this is so or not, the islands are numerous. On some of them are many farms of excellent and unusually productive land; others; are used solely for pasturing and herds of cattle and large numbers of sheep here find a splendid summer resort, securely enclosed, no trouble to the owner or his neighbor, and at the same time entirely self-sustaining; others are used solely for the gathering of picnic and excursion parties which resort here from long distances as well as the immediate neighborhood of the lake; and public-spirited or speculating individuals have erected permanent buildings, furnished with all the modern conveniences for innocent recreation for old and young, for religious societies as well as for the world's people; and here, throughout the summer season, crowds disembark from the steamers daily almost, having fled from the sweltering brick walls of pent-up cities, armed with all the needed supplies and luxuries to enjoy a holiday of social and rational pleasure, to indulge in the exciting and exhilarating sport of fishing and other amusements, and to drink of the waters of the translucent fountains, cool and refreshing from the mountains.
There are, also, many islands in this magnificent lake, luxuriant in majestic forest-trees, wild in matted and tangled undergrowth, like monster emeralds in a silver setting, or like an Oriental picture, the permanent haunt of the rattlesnake, and the temporary resort of the strong-lunged loon land other aquatic fowl. Considering the great size of this lake, its water-shed is extremely limited, so much so, that it is a great wonder how it maintains as steadily as it does its maximum depth. The topography of the surrounding territory would appear to the view well adapted to supply the feeders of this great body of water, but no stream of any magnitude finds its way into it. A narrow strip of territory skirting the lake shore supplies the usual small brooks, and these comprise the sum-total of its affluents. The extensive country stretching, away to the north some twenty or thirty miles to the Sandwich Mountains, whose inclination is to the southward, including the country some distance to the east and west, would seem to be the natural supply for the lake; but this is not so. The Bearcamp River rises among these mountains, and, after approaching within a few miles of Winnipesaukee, trends eastward and discharges its waters into the Ossipee Lake, from thence disgorged through the Ossipee River into the Saco.
Nearly all of the territory on the eastern side is drained by the Cochecho, which has its source or sources in the immediate vicinity, and it is well established that the lake can easily be turned and drained into the Cochecho instead of its present channel, thus making a vast difference in the power of the noble Merrimack; for, without this important tributary and more especially without this indispensable reservoir, the supply would fall short. Experience and a wise forecast combined have led the great companies along the river to provide artificial means to reduce the whole extent of this vast reservoir several feet, to meet the contingencies of hot weather and dry seasons.
The lake abounds in fish of many varieties; the lake trout and the pickerel being the most important and valuable. Cusk are much prized by many, and perch and horned-pout may be taken at any time, by the most inexperienced anglers, in quantities to suit. A variety of salt-water fish were some years since placed in this lake by experimenting parties; but as nothing was seen or known of them afterwards, it wais presumed they found their level either in a "watery grave" or through the channel of the Winnipesaukee and the Merrimack in a more congenial element, the briny deep.
(Stay posted for more about the fishing!)
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Old 10-24-2005, 09:17 AM   #2
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Smile Part Two - Winnipesaukee Fish - 1869

Lake trout are taken, but not so plentiful or so large as formerly; still an occasional laker of gratifying dimensions is hooked, varying ii size from three to thirty pounds. In June, 1868, one was taken out weighing seventeen and a half pounds. The sportsman is always liable to procure a coveted contest with at least one of these stout and powerful fellows. Deep fishing, is the only mode of taking them: and, proceeding to the approved fishing-grounds in a skiff, with an oarsman to assist the sportsman takes the soundings, which vary from sixty to eighty feet, then lowers the hook, attached to a strong line, sufficiently near the bottom, and nervously awaits the issue. Unmistakable demonstrations from the deep, warning him that the prize is hooked, the sportsman now turns his attention and skill to the work of securing the trout. Practice and prudence are now required for a safe and successful issue of the contest. The fish, discovering his condition, makes tremendous efforts to free himself, and requires to be reeled in and run out with a firm hand and a taut line until exhausted, or, as it is termed, "drowned," before he can safely be secured.
But the pickerel is the most plentiful and the most valuable of the lake fisheries. Summer and winter alike the business of catching pickerel is prosecuted with great success. In winter, it is estimated that five thousand lines are the average of the daily set, whenever the weather will permit. Ice fishing may be described thus: A party of two proceed with axe and chisel and cut from thirty to fifty holes in the ice, this being the number they can properly attend to. They then proceed to sound the depth of water in each hole successively, and set the hook. The depth of water is usually from three to five yards, and the line is gauged a little short of the depth required; a movable signal of colored cloth is attached to the line; a live, red-finned shiner hooked directly under the dorsal fin and lowered through the hole; the other end of the line is secured firmly to some object, and the slack of the line near the signal is attached to a slender twig a foot or more above the ice. All the lines being set, the fishermen carefully watch the going down of the signals, which occur when the pickerel takes the bait. In this manner they often secure large fares, and have lively work to care for all the lines properly. Many of the inhabitants about the lake have shanties constructed on a sort of sled, provided with comforts and accommodations for sleeping and cooking, and, when the ice is sufficiently strong, oxen and horses are attached, and they are hauled upon the lake to the fishing-grounds, and rented to parties, affording a considerable revenue to the enterprising proprietors.
Summer fishing is, however, if not more profitable, much more comfortable and exciting. At this season the numerous and extensive estuaries and coves which indent the shore are all alive with pickerel, prowling in quest of prey among the reeds and rushes along the marshes, or watching for the little blue fly securely hidden under the lily-pads, nuphar advena, that cover the surface with their broad leaves to the very brink of deep water. Seated in the bow of a boat, with a careful sculler in the stern, armed with a twenty-two foot rod and line to match, the boat pushes carefully along fifteen or twenty yards outside the line of water-grass; the hook, baited with a frog�s leg peeled, is handled out and made to ricochet along the surface. The pickerel whirls out from his hiding-place, and, with a powerful muscular movement, rushes upon the prey; at this time, apparently, in a completely inverted attitude. Experts differ as to the best mode of proceeding from this point,- some contending that, as he instinctively strikes his jaws together with great force to despatch his prey before swallowing it, it is impossible to pull the hook away from him; consequently he is sure to be fastened.. Others endorse the theory that he never swallows the bait until satisfied that it is both killed and palatable. Convinced that the frog's leg possesses the latter quality, he is allowed to proceed with it in his own way. Having got it in his mouth, he invariably retires to the vicinity of the bottom, but a short distance, to test its quality. It is necessary to keep a tolerably straight line on him during this time, as he always moves the moment he swallows the bait, and this movement is a signal to take him in. It is believed that the latter mode is much the surest and safest, as it hooks him stronger and more certain, although practice is required to land him safely in the boat. The pickerel is an excellent pan-fish, second only in value and quality to the trout, and is, like the latter, a most important item of New Hampshire inland fishing; and, although he is not found in brooks, or in the cold waters of the mountains, like the trout, he is indigenous to all the other waters of the State, rivers as well as lakes and ponds.
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Old 08-29-2006, 08:54 PM   #3
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I don't know if they still have any, but the Merrimack River Watershed Council republished this book in a limited edition a number of years ago. It's a very very good read with lots of history of the river.
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Old 08-30-2006, 10:43 PM   #4
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I don't know if they still offer the book, but those interested in the Merrimac might like the link to the Council. My two watershed organizations are located in the SUASCO basin which is the southernmost basin for the Merrimac. I often like the fact that even if I am that far away, in one respect I am still tied to the lake.

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