Benjamin Whitman.

Nelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r online

. (page 15 of 192)
Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r → online text (page 15 of 192)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" When the pioneers located on Presque
Isle, in 1795, they had to resort to fishing in

^ 4hn^^i^ ^^y^^^^^^^



their log canoes from the lake and bay for the
purpose of adding to their food supply, and
the soldiers in the forts east of Mill creek
laid in a large supply each season for their
own use. * * * The bay of Presque Isle
abounded in all varieties of lake fish, particu-
larly the black bass, and all fish were taken
with the hook and line prior to 1880. * * *
The ponds in the Peninsula, and Pike pond
on the south side of the bay, near the harbor
entrance, were the spawning grounds for a
large variety of fish. Pike pond was rated
for the number and size of the grass pike.

* * * The black bass and lake pike have
always been the game fish of the lakes, and
trolling in a school of black bass is the finest
sport for a tour fisherman that can be con-
ceived. * * *

"Formerly perch abounded in the bay,
particularly in Misery bay ; but thej- are by
no means as plentiful now, and yet they
are not nearly as scarce as black bass in
proportion. Rock bass and sunfish were some
years ago e.xceedingly abundant. The differ-
ent varieties of pike indigenous to the lakes
formerly were in great numbers, but are not
now nearK" as numerous. The herring are
also not nearly as plenteous as formerly, al-
though they are still caught in large quan-
tities. It used to be the occupation during the
winter months of many persons to fish for
them through the ice, and as many as five to
eigiit hundred persons have been seen fishing
for them through the ice in the bay, and in
the lake near the piers.

"In 1852 Captain Nash, a fisherman frem
Mackinac, took from there to Dunkirk, N. Y.,
two Mackinac fish boats, with gill nets and
complete outfit, and began fishing at that
point as an experiment. He set his nets about
eight miles northwest from the harbor, and
his first catch was a large one of white fish.

* * * It was mentioned in the Dunkirk,
Buffalo and Cleveland papers of the day as
the first catch of white fish on Lake Erie, and
Captain Nash positively informed the writer
of this. * * * As soon as it became known
that white fish had been taken in Lake Erie
people began fishing for them in these waters.
Previous to finding the white fish it had been
the custom all along the lake for persons who
could afford it to send to Mackinac or Detroit
every fall for a barrel, half barrel or kit of
sugar-cured white fish for winter u.^e.

"The muskallonge used to be quite plenti-
ful in this vicinit}-. The largest one taken at
this point was sixty-two pounds; the next
largest forty-four pounds. * * * Only a
few years ago sturgeon were considered of no
use, and were taken to the peninsula and
buried. Thousands of them have been buried
there. To-day they are worth two dollars and
fifty cents each.""

An account of the rise and progress of the
fishing interest, now one of the most import-
ant in the city, is given in one of the chapters
devoted to Erie.


The following article by an unknown
writer in the New York S/m is worthy of
preservation :

"No other bod)- of fresh water on the
globe produces so large a quantity of fresh
fish as Lake Erie, and Sandusky, Ohio, is the
greatest market for fresh fish in the world.
About 2,00(),0(X) pounds of sturgeon alone are
handled at Sandusky everj- year, nearly one-
third of which are taken in the vicinity of that
place. Three-fouiths of that immense quan-
tity of sturgeon are taken by Buffalo fisher-
men. Tons of sturgeon roe are spiced and
pickled at Sandusky annually, and the trade
in isinglass made from the air bladders of that
fish is an important one. A sturgeon's roe
will weigh from twenty to sixty pounds
Three-quarters of the Sandusky caviare is sent
to Germany, and is exported from that coun-
try' back to this in large cjuantities, the same
as the finest English dairj- cheese is male up
in Cattaraugus count)', sent to England and
shipped back here again. vSandusky gets ten
cents a pound for her caviare, and lays by
quite a snug pile annually from its sale. Yet
it was not until 1865 that the sturgeon was
looked upon with even a small degree of favor
by lake fishermen. Now smoked sturgeon is
found not only in the markets of all the large
cities and towns, but in country stores also,
while fresh sturgeon is one of the highest-
priced of fresh water fishes.

^' SpawniiigGrouiids. — In none of the other
great lakes do the conditions for fish seem to
be so favorable as in Lake Erie. This is due
in a great measure, fish culturists think, to the
variations in the depth which are peculiar to
that lake. The western end is shallow, and


thus provides vast areas for spawning grounds, i
The deep water at the eastern end is an almost 1
boundless retreat for the half-grown j'oung. |
The line between deep and shallow water ;
seems to be drawn at Cleveland, for west of |
that city the water is not more than sixty feet
deep anywhere, and the average depth will |
perhaps fall below fort}'. East of that line the
water grows rapidly deeper until it reaches a
depth of 225 feet in some places.

" Trout, Muskallonge and Herring. —
There is something singular in the distribution
of fishes in Lake Erie. The lake trout, one of
the most valuable of lake fishes, is rare at the
best in Lake Erie, but it is never taken west
of Erie. On the other hand, pike and mus-
kallonge are taken only west of Erie. If a
fisherman is after lake herring, he knows he j
will be wasting his time if he sets his nets in
the eastern waters. He seeks this beautiful
and delicious fish at or west of Erie. The lake
herring is the lesser white fish of Lake Erie, j
Here is another funny thing ; at least it may i
seem so to those who don't know the reason.
While Erie herring fishermen are hauling in i
fish by the ton in April and May, and getting
a good many all along through the summer, j
the fishermen further west know better than i
to wet their nets during these months, for they |
wouldn't get herring enough to make a smell 1
in a frying pan. When fall comes, though,
the Erie fishermen know enough to take out
their nets and keep them out, and the San-
dusky and other western fishermen put their's
in. In the western waters the champion
month for catching herring is November. The
reason for this is that in that month the fish
are moving in enormous schools on to the
spawning grounds around Bass Island and
grounds further west. A similar situation
exists in the matter of white fish. The most
profitable months for taking them from the
Erie deep water fisheries are July and August, 1
and the shallow water fishermen to the west-
ward don't get a chance at them until No-

'■'Muskallonge Decreasing. — One of the
most lamentable facts about the fish of the lakes
is that the muskallonge, that king of game
fishes, is decreasing in numbers every year. The
home of this great fish is in the deep waters i
of the lakes. It is only when it is on its an-
nual spawning migration to the streams and ]
tributaries of the lakes that the sportsman

with rod and line comes in contact with the
muskallonge. It ascends those streams to
spawn, and when that duty is performed the
gigantic pike turns its head homeward again,
and seeks once more the depths of the lakes.
It is not due to the fishing that the muskal-
longe is growing rarer everj' year in the lakes,
in the lakes, but to the defilement of the
spawning grounds by the sewage of towns
and the refuse of manufacturing establish-

'■'■Lake Sturgeon. — There is something also
that is playing hob with fhe sturgeon of Lake
Erie, and one of these days, if the sturgeon
fishermen don't mend their waj'S, they will
wake up and find their ugly but valuable fish
one of the has-beens. Sturgeon spawn in
June along the rocky ledges of the eastern end
of the lake and leave deep water the same
month. They travel in schools. The favor-
ite method the fishermen have of taking them
is by grappling irons. Attaching a far-reach-
ing grappling iron to a long rope, the fisher-
man throws it overboard and drags it along
rowing. When this overtakes a school of
sturgeon the grappler knows it at once by the
strike the iron makes on a fish. The line is
then drawn up hand over hand, and if the
grappling hook fixed itself firmly in the stur-
geon the fisherman will probably get his fish
aboard. If not, it will tear loose, perhaps mort-
ally hurt. Thousands of sturgeons are killed
in this way every year and become a dead
loss. Lake Erie fish have curious migrations.
The sturgeon, the blue pike, and many other
species regularly leave their spring and early
summer haunts toward the end of July, and
seek the Canadian shore of the lake, and it
will be useless to look for them in their old
haunts again until the coming of the fierce
November gales. Soon after the first hard
sou'wester the blue pike will appear on its old
feeding grounds, and the sturgeon be found
nosing around again in Sandusky Bay.

"■Lake Fishing. — Fishing in Lake Erie is
done with pound and gill nets. The gill net
is used almost exclusively by the fishermen at
Erie, and, in fact, almost everj'where in the
eastern waters. Half the whitefish taken
from Lake Erie are caught in gill nets, which
is to be regretted, for these gill nets are doing
untold damage to the whitefish supply of the
lake, on account, not of the fish the)' catch,
but of the fish that are destroyed and wasted


by them. The fish are caught by getting fast
in the meshes by their gills, hence the name
of the net. The tish thus caught soon die.
Whitefish are so delicate that a few hours'
delay in removing them from the nets makes
them worthless. Gill-net fishermen plan to lift
their nets every forty-eight hours. Lake Erie
is subject to fierce storms that frequently con-
tinue several days, during which it is impos-
sible for nets to be lifted. Thus hundreds of
tons of choice whitefish, to say nothing of the
other varieties, are held in the nets until they
are of no use, and have to be thrown away.
This feature of gill-net fishing has done more
to lessen the number of whitefish in the lakes
than any other one thing. The pound net is
used almost exclusively in the western waters
of the lake, and with the exception of white-
fish a large percentage of the fish taken in
Lake Erie are caught in pound nets. This
device was introduced on Lake Erie at Dun-
kirk by a man named McClosky, in 1850.
There are now several hundred miles of them
stretched along the lake, some of the lines
being from ten to fifteen miles in length.

''Herring. Etc. — The lake herring is a

wonderful variety of fish. In spite of the
thousands upon thousands of tons of them
that have been taken from Lake Erie in the
last few years, they are more abundant than
ever, and they are the only lake fish of which
that can be said. Sometimes the nets will be
so jammed with herring that the markets will
be knocked galleywest.

" It is estimated that 0,000 tons of fish are
salted along Lake Erie annually, not less than
5,000 tons are frozen, and probably 2,000 tons
are smoked. The amount of fish sold from
Lake Erie points fresh, which is principally a
local trade, will reach 18,000 tons a year.
These figures represent the catch of Lake Erie
only. The other lakes west of Erie add some-
thing like 50,000 tons to the annual total of
the supply. While Lake Erie produces more
fish than any of the other lakes, the whitefish
of Lake Superior surpass those of Lake Erie
in quality — as they do all other whitefish.
The lake trout of Lake Superior are also the
finest in the world. Lake Michigan produces
a close .second to Lake Erie in whitefish, and
exceeds all the other great lakes in amount of
lake trout.'"


The Indians — Extermin-vtion of the Eriez Tribe — Ponti.\c's Consimracv-stCapture
oi- Forts PREscyLrE Isi.e and LeB

Online LibraryBenjamin WhitmanNelson's biographical dictionary and historical reference book of Erie County, Pennsylvania : containing a condensed history of Pennsylvania, of Erie County, and of the several cities, boroughs and townships in the county also portraits and biographies of the governor's since 1790, and of numerous r → online text (page 15 of 192)