THE FISH THAT WERE SOUGHT
I. Lake Trout, or as they were some times called, salmon trout or Mackinaw trout, were taken almost exclusively by gill nets, though records show the use of some pound nets during the 1880's. They had cyclical fluctuations in numbers, but had few natural enemies save man, until the coming of the sea lamprey during the 1950's.
Those who classify lake trout are divided into two groups, splitters and lumpers. Splitters define many sub-species, while lumpers place all lake trout in a single group. Isle Royale fishermen are confirmed splitters, and classify trout according to their color, depth at which they feed, and spawning ground. The following classification comes from one of the old-time fishermen of Isle Royale:
Redfinone of the earliest, spawns in shallow outlying ridges with gravel bottoms in 3 to 4 feet of water.
Channel or Silver Salmonspawn in bays or channels of mud bottom with weeds.
Silver Greyspawn on outlying ridges and in a little deeper water than the Redfin.
Smokyspawn after Silver grey on same spawning ground, or possibly in a little deeper water.
Grey Salmonspawn in 20 to 30 fathoms of water in weeds on mud bottom, such as Rock Harbor channel, inner half of Siskiwit Bay and Washington Harbor.
Paperfina small, thin, gaunt fish, never going over three pounds. Spawn in spring and fall, don't know where.
Rock of Ages Troutat Rock of Ages Reef and occasionally some at Taylor Reef and Menagerie Island. Spawn in September.
Siskiwitboth white and black. Black generally run almost three times as large as white. Spawn in up to 100 fathoms of water.
Mooneyesspawn on the north side toward Gull Rock, and to Blake Point and Passage Island. Also south to Mott Island, in 35 to 50 fathoms of water.
Unnamed speciesbreed on Superior Shoal. Don't know name, but it is a different breed and poor eating.
The Siskiwit (siskowit, siskawit) deserves special attention. It is restricted to Lake Superior, while the lake trout is found in the other lakes. It is an extremely fat trout, and unpalatable when eaten fresh; but salted it was considered a great delicacy, and was much sought after during the early days of commercial fishing. As one authority wrote:
II. Whitefish. The whitefish was found in all the Great Lakes. It has been known from the time of the earliest explorers as a fine table fish. The earliest commercial fishing on Lake Superior involved the catching of whitefish in the rapids of Sault Ste. Marie. It ranked with the trout as the most important commercial fish in the lake. During the early 1870's, the Bureau of Fisheries made a great many experiments in the artificial propagation of whitefish.
III. Lake herring. Herring were not sought to a large extent during the early period, since they were of less commercial value than the trout or whitefish. The profit for fishermen was less because of the low price on the market; and the cost of dressing and packing them was greater because of their small size. They became the mainstay of fishermen on Isle Royale, however, when the lamprey decimated the lake trout.
The American Fur Company's fisheries were successful in that a large number of fish were caught. The pack of salt fish for 1837 was 2000 barrels, for 1838, 4000 barrels, and for 1839, 5000 barrels. A system of inspection for quality was developed, and some sales made, but the panic of 1837-41 put an end to the fishing business. An agricultural depression in the Ohio Valley cut off the market there for this new food, and efforts to sell fish in the east failed.
Last Updated: 02-Apr-2007