Old letters reveal 1900-era Erie commercial fishing history
A few years ago, a friend let me read a stack of letters his grandfather had written back in the early 1940s about Presque Isle and old-time Erie. His grandfather told my friend about his experiences back in 1896 to 1906. One or two of the letters mentioned two brothers, the Weindorfs, who were independent fishermen. They always fished in Lake Erie and not Presque Isle Bay. They would set their nets between a half-mile and one mile offshore.
Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay were a fishermen’s paradise from 1850 until about the mid-1920s. While fishing today is still outstanding, most of the fish the brothers would have caught have all but disappeared from Lake Erie. From 1850 to 1910, whitefish, herring, sturgeon and blue pike were the most-caught species. Today, lake trout, walleye, bass and yellow perch are favorite catches.
The brothers built a shack on the Lake Erie side of the peninsula and had a rowboat they kept on the beach. They had also built a track, much like a railroad track, made of rough wood. They ran a metal cart with four iron wheels. The brothers worked five days a week when the lake would allow their small boat to get to the nets.
They usually would get out first thing in the morning to take the cart back to the lakeside and wash it out with buckets of water. They would then row out to their nets. They would take about three hours to sort the fish in the nets and throw back the small or junk fish. They had two holding tanks in the boat to keep them until they returned to the beach. Next, they would decide whether to move the nets for the next day and just set them where they were or move them to a different location.
Once at the beach, they would transfer the fish to the cart, a very shallow waterproof container. Once they had the boat beached and safe, they would push the cart to the bay side of the peninsula. Just a note here: Everything they did would be Illegal today for several reasons. However, fishing on the bay and lake was not tightly regulated.
Once they had reached the bayside, they had to transfer the fish to another rowboat just like the one on the lake. They then would row the boat down the bay to either Loesch’s Fish Warehouse or the Union Fish Company. This usually took three hours or more, depending upon the weather. Next, they would negotiate a price for that day’s catch, which depended on what kind of fish they brought in and their size. So they needed to catch suitable species of fish. Once paid on the spot for the catch, they usually stopped for a beer or two before rowing back to their shack.
In a future column, I will cover an event that happened with their almost-friend, Joe Root. The brothers liked Joe and enjoyed seeing the various outfits he wore and his tales.
Who was Joe Root?Separating fact from folklore about Presque Isle’s famed hermit
Until then, see you at the park!
Gene Ware is the author of 10 books. He serves on the board of the Presque Isle Light Station and is past chairman of the boards of the Tom Ridge Center Foundation and the Presque Isle Partnership. Email him at email@example.com.