Friday, August 10, 2012

Cooking on the Hook

The Olympics are winding down, and this is our last post remembering Montana sports and champions (at least for now). Let's remember a sport that has long since been abandoned: cooking on the hook.

Photo by F. Jay Haynes
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, H-6318
Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition heard of the wonders of the Yellowstone region, but they did not venture that far south. When Expedition member John Colter returned to Montana to trap, his near death experience escaping the Blackfeet led him through a portion of what would become Yellowstone Park. Most attributed his descriptions of fire and brimstone to delerium, and they called the area Colter’s Hell. But other stories gradually emerged. One of the famous tales first told by mountain men involved fishing. Montana pioneer attorney Cornelius Hedges was the first to provide a written account. An avid fisherman, Hedges was with the 1870 Washburn-Doane Expedition organized by a group of Montanans to explore the Yellowstone region. Hedges wrote that as he hooked a trout, he missed landing the fish on the bank. The fish came off the hook and flopped into a nearby thermal spring. By the time Hedges retrieved the fish with his pole, the trout was cooked through. While Hedges was too shocked to try it again, others reading his account took up the sport. Henry Winser, in his 1883 guide to Yellowstone Park, describes the art of hooking a trout, swinging the pole over to a thermal pool, and plunging the fish in, hook and line still attached. Cooking on the hook became a favorite sport. One preferred place was the Fishing Cone that Hedges described, which is a spring in the West Thumb Geyser Basin. Fishermen at the Fishing Cone sometimes dressed in a chef’s hat and apron to have their picture taken “cooking on the hook.” The Park once allowed this practice, but it is now prohibited. Cooking on the hook is now just another famous fish story.

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