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How to Teach a Kid to Fish (With a Dangerous Spear)

Is making and throwing a fishing spear dangerous? A little, sure... I mean... yes. Yes, it is dangerous. It is also pretty damn fun and memorable.

The American Boy’s Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do It by Daniel Carter Beard first hit bookstores in 1882, almost 30 years before Beard helped co-found the Boys Scouts of America. Something of a precursor to both Scouting For Boys and The Boy Scout Handbook, the 408-page tome is loaded with hands-on activities and projects ⏤ not to mention illustrations and schematics ⏤ designed to keep young boys from getting bored while teaching valuable outdoor skills. It is not, however, designed to keep them out of the hospital. The thing is full of inspiring ideas (perfect projects for summer Sundays) that all seem like shortcuts to tetanus. Suffice it to say that most modern parents wouldn’t let their kids do this stuff.

Still, it’s worth taking a look at these old activities because some of them are just plausible enough to pursue if you’re feeling particularly rugged and masculine or happen to be staring into the eager eyes of a kid looking for an excuse to play in the woods. Is making and throwing a fishing spear dangerous? A little, sure… I mean… yes. Yes, it is dangerous. It is also pretty damn fun and memorable.

Here are Daniel Carter Beard’s instructions (and our parenthetical notes) on how to make something sharp and throw it at a lake.

How to Make a Fishing Spear…

Make the shaft or handle of any straight stick or pole seven or eight feet long; trim it down, and test the weight occasionally by balancing it in the hand (FATHERLY NOTE: It’s the end of the first sentence and you’re already thinking about hitting up Home Depot. I feel you.). When the shaft seems to be about the proper weight (FATHERLY NOTE: Spear weight may not be something you’re familiar with. Heavier than you’d think would be a good way to go), it should be let alone, and attention directed to the barbs for the head of the spear.

In place of the ordinary single point generally used as a spearhead (FATHERLY NOTE: Wear gardening gloves. Seriously.), the fishing spear may be supplied with two points, as shown in the illustration (Fig. 121, p. 189). Any hard, elastic material will do for the head, split bamboo or cane (FATHERLY NOTE: Go with the bamboo, which is easier to find and handle.), two pieces of heavy iron wire, filed to a point and notched into barbs upon the inside, as shown in the diagram, or the points may be made of bone like the fish arrows used by the inhabitants of Vancouver’s Island. Very hard wood will also answer for the spearhead.

After the head pieces are notched and pointed, they should be firmly bound to the spear at a point a few inches below the end of the shaft. A couple of small wedges driven in between the shaft and the points will diverge the latter as in the illustration.

After this is accomplished, lash the barbs firmly on up to the head of the shaft. If a fish be struck by one of these weapons, it will be next to impossible for it to escape. The elastic points at first suddenly spread apart as the spear strikes the fish’s body; the next instant they violently contract, holding the fish a secure prisoner (FATHERLY NOTE: Same thing goes with human arms so please be careful). The barbs upon the inside prevent the prey from slipping out, no matter how smooth and slimy his body may be.

A small instrument made upon a similar plan can be used for catching snakes or other reptiles that are not safe or pleasant to handle. Frogs may also be readily captured with a fish spear, and any boy who takes the time to make one of these weapons will find himself amply repaid for his trouble. The elder stick described and illustrated upon page 34 is made upon the same principle as the fish spear.

Armed with fish spears and torches great fun can be had spearing fish from a row-boat at night. The torch illuminates the water and appears to dazzle the fish, at the same time disclosing their whereabouts to the occupants of the boat, who with poised spears await a favorable opportunity to strike the scaly game (FATHERLY NOTE: Bring sandwiches in case you don’t get lucky, but this is pretty much the coolest way to pick up dinner).