Fishing, a part of Bay's history
Last week on a beautiful 78-degree day, my husband and I went fishing with my son off Vermilion. For me there is nothing like being "on the water." The perch aren’t biting good this year and all the fisherman are whining. Someone was calling across the water, “Here perchy, perchy.” We caught enough to have a few nice meals but not the 30 limit you can catch on a good day. I have a light action Shakespeare Pro Am rod that I love.
This reminded me of all the fishing we have always participated in here on the south shore of Lake Erie. Our early settlers owned cane fishing poles or threw a fishing net into the water off the shore to fish for dinner. For some it was a second income and others, their livelihood. The Saddler family were fishermen. Charles Dodd, a traveling tailor from Henrietta, Ohio, while at the Osborn house making a suit, heard of a position as a deck hand on one of Sherman Osborn‘s boats. He moved his family to Dover and became a fisherman. The Cahoon family, as added income, had the boat/fish house on Cahoon Creek. Leverett and John Marshall Cahoon leased the boat house to the Buckeye Fish Company.
The Buckeye Fish Company is listed in an old book about fishing on the Great Lakes by J.H. Kippert. It states they are supplying fish and the kinds of fish they supplied. Some references are for “scrap or tankage” of lake fishes. It also states they sold fish oil, sheet, 2 packages, two cans lake shad, fish oil, crude, zeroed or refined, fish glue. In an article regarding fishing in Sandusky, it reports on the zoology of Ohio in 1838 with a quote by Professor Kirtland that whitefish, though frequently taken in the lake within the limits of Ohio, are not found there in sufficient numbers. He also states no one wrote down statistics on how many fish were caught per year, and the kind of fish that were in the lake at that time. Many of the fish that were prevalent in the lake in the 1880s are now extinct, having been over-fished.
At the Cahoon homestead, as with the Saddlers and Osborns, fish were not only caught to be eaten but to be used as fertilizer on the field. Native Americans taught the early settlers how to make a hole in the dirt, and place a fish in the hole with the plant or seed to give more nourishment for stronger growth. Non-edible fish were dried and pulverized and placed on the farmers' fields as fertilizer. Fish were separated while in "the pot" just for that purpose.
Farmers would haul their wagons to the fish house and fill it with whole fish, come home and shovel the fish over their fields. The sun would dry the fish and they would plow the dried fish into the soil. Experimental fish hatcheries were set up in Sandusky, Toledo, Castalia and Kelleys Island to keep the fish prevalent in the lake. Blue pike and longjaw cisco are two species extinct in Lake Erie due to over exploration and pollution. New species of fish introduced into the lake over the years have competed with our fish for food.
Along the lake and inland ponds, fish for dinner was a staple. The Wischmeyers bought their fish from the Buckeye Fish Company next door for their guests, and our farmers went fishing or purchased fish from the farmers along the shore for dinner. The lake offered fish called whitefish, black bass, blue pike, cisco, perch, suckers, walleye, shad, and drum daily, just to name a few. My grandmother cooked drum that my cousin caught. Today, we throw them back.
The most popular fish are the yellow perch and walleye. The walleye, which can grow up to 20 pounds, is the largest member of the perch family. Port Clinton lays claim to the "Walleye Capital of the World."
Many of our residents were still fishing for fun when I was growing up in the 1940s and '50s. I remember driving in the car after dark and looking out at the lake and seeing lantern light about 500 feet off shore on the fisherman’s rowboats. It’s a great memory because you don’t see this any more.
I am the Historian for the Bay Village Historical Society, member and Past President, 1976. Lived in the village since 1936. I was part of a team that developed the Cahoon farmhouse into Rose Hill Museum in 1973. I participated by inventoring the Cahoon items and serving as the first Accessions Chairman and as a Docent at the museum for 20 years. I was part of the committee that brought the Osborn house to Cahoon Memorial Park in 1995 and turned it into a learning center. Along with my sister, Gay Menning, and the society, we wrote the 'Bay Way of Life' history book in 1974. When Ginny Peterson asked for my help, I offered my historical pictures and wrote the captions for the Arcadia picture book, 'Bay Village,' published in 2007.