Those Fish Stories

Improbable fishing yarns have been around as long as fish and fishing. The Norfolk Weekly News-Journal in the summer of 1907 reported an escalating series of such tales from Verdigre, Neligh, and Valentine. The News-Journal on July 26, 1907, found clues in these “fish stories” to the national character of Americans, particularly those in the West.

The News-Journal said: “It is a rule of human thought that man constantly goes through the process of setting first one goal for his achievement, gaining that goal and then advancing the pegs to aim at further on and up. . . . Striking examples of this desire to accomplish always more and more, to move always further and further along the route of advancement in thought and action, has been found here in northern Nebraska within the past few days. Those fish stories have furnished the example.

“A few days ago a Verdigre dispatch in these columns told of a remarkable fish catch in the Verdigre creek. A small fish had been drawn out of the [water] when a very large catfish came along and swallowed the little three-pound fish and was hooked. After a struggle the monster catfish was landed. Steak from the catfish was enjoyed in a Verdigre restaurant for supper that night. The story had the ring of truth and the fish editor of The News cordially believes that it happened. But that is neither here nor there.

“Western America is not satisfied to stand still. To remain stationary is retrogression, and the west goes forward. Came a story from Neligh next day. A much bigger fish had been caught at Neligh. First a small fish was hooked. On this as bait another hit. Then came the monster third fish to swallow both the other two. A man was drawn clear across the stream in trying to land the mammoth catch. It was a fish story pure and simple. But as a fish story it was a clever yarn. And fairy tale though it was, credit must be given to Neligh for the progressive spirit which prompts men to risk their all for the sake of going on and up.

“But even that was not enough. The further west you go the more progressive the people, according to popular theory. And the impression apparently had reason[able] foundation. Valentine is located a couple hundred miles west of Neligh. Both are in Nebraska. But it took Valentine to set a new mark. Captain McCloud was fished out of the river. He was hanging to a clothes line rope. What was first thought to be a drowning person proved to be a catfish weighing 102 pounds. Was it true? Ask the cook. So shrewd a westerner as Dr. Warner of Butte asked The News if it were true. The sporting editor throws up his hands at the query. It sounded well. And at all events, true or untrue, it was seeing Neligh and Verdigre and going them one better. Surely Valentine paid to sit in the game.”

In this postcard version of a “fish story” an enlarged picture of a fish has been added to John Nelson’s photograph to make it appear that it is about to swallow the boat. NSHS RG3542:141-4

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