Many early Yellowstone travelers describe places like the Fishing Cone where anglers could catch a fish in cool water and then cook it in a nearby hot spring without taking it off the hook. In fact, Philetus Norris, the park’s second superintendent, used to demonstrate the feat for the amusement of tourists.
The earliest written description of cooking live fish in a hot spring was written by Cornelius Hedges, a member of the famous Washburn expedition of 1870. Here’s Hedges’ description of how he accidentally discovered the trick.
My individual taste led me to fishing, and I venture that none of the party dared to complain they did not have all the fine trout that there several appetites and capacities could provide storage for. Indeed, I felt in gratitude bound to hear testimony that for fine fish, and solid, satisfying fun, there is no body of water under the sun more attractive to the ambitious fisherman than Yellowstone Lake.
While upon the subject of fishing, allow me to relate one or two instances of personal experience. One day, after the loss of one of our comrade, when rations were getting short, I was deputed to lay in a stock of fish to eke our scanty larder on our homeward journey.
Proud of this tribute to my piscatory skill, I endeavored under some difficulties, to justify the expectations of my companions, and in about two hours, while the waves were comparatively quiet, I strewed the beach with about 50 beauties, not one of which would weight less than 2 pounds, while the average weight was about 3 pounds.
Another incident, illustrative of the proximity of hot springs rather than of trouting: Near the southwest corner of the lake is a large basin of exceedingly hot springs. Some are in the very margin of the lake, while others rise under the lake and indicate their locations by steam and ebullition upon the lake’s surface when the waves are not too uneasy. One spring of large size, unfathomable depth, sending out a continuous stream of at least 50 inches of scalding water, is still separated from the cool water of the lake by a rocky partition not more than a foot thick in places.
I returned to the narrow rim of this partitian and catching sight of some expectant trout lying in easy reach, I solicited their attention to a transfixed grasshopper, and meeting an early and energetic response, I attempted to land my prize beyond the spring, but unfortunately for the fish, he escaped the hook to plunge into this boiling spring.
As soon as possible, I relieved the agonized creature by throwing him out with my pole, and although his contortions were not fully ended, his skin came off and he had all the appearance of being boiled through. The incident, though excusable as an incident, was too shocking to repeat.
— Cornelius Hedges, “Yellowstone Lake,” Helena Daily Herald, November 9, 1970.
— Illustration from William Cullen Bryant (ed.), Picturesque America. New York: Appleton, 1872. 1:302.
— You also might enjoy Henry J. Winser’s story about “Cooking Fish on the Hook in a Hot Spring.”
— For more stories about fishing, click “Fishing” under the Categories button to the left.