Life on the Lake
- Commercial fisherman Marty Erickson describes how a mechanical net-lifter works.
- Duane Peterson shares experiences from a lifetime of fishing on Lake Superior.
- NPS carpenter Dave Brunsvold discusses restoring the TWILITE.
- Alex Martin explains his biggest challenge working on the TWILITE in 1980.
- Ron Deperry describes tribal efforts to retain rights to fish in Lake Superior (from Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission video “Lifting Nets: Gurnoe Decision”).
- Retired commercial fisherman and Bayfield mayor Julian Nelson explains his early support for establishing the national lakeshore.
Neil Howk interview of Marty Erickson on April, 1, 2019.
Marty: My name is Marty Erickson. I’ve been a commercial fisherman for about 40 years.
Marty: Gill nets, usually once you set them, they, from the lead line to the cork line it’s usually about 8-12 feet deep and usually you’re starting in about 30 feet of water or deeper, so just about everything will go right over the top of them.
Neil: Was there something on the (fish tug) DONNA BELLE that you used to help get those nets out of the water?
Marty: Yes, we had what we call a gill net lifter. Ah, first off you’d come up and you’d have a buoy that floated up in the water. You grabbed that and then you’d have a line that you brought around the lifter, and just started the lifter around and she’d move in a circle.
Neil: Mm hmm.
Marty: And you’d pull up the line, come to an anchor and bring that in. Then come to another line and go to the nets and the nets would just come around the lifter.
Neil: Would you be pulling fish out of the net as they were coming out of the lake or did you put the nets full of fish off to the side and get at them later?
Marty: No, as they came in, you took care of them. In order to set that net back in the area that it was just lifted in, on a box of nets or 1,000 feet of net you had to get at least a box of fish off of it.
Neil: and how…?
Marty: 100 pounds.
Neil: 100 pounds?
Interviewee: Duane Peterson
Interviewer: Neil Howk
Duane: I worked with my dad since I was nine years old on the boat. I was making probably a dollar a day, a dollar a day. Go on the lake with him, pick the fish. He’d let me steer the boat when he’d dress fish. I only went to grade school, didn’t go to high school.
Neil: Oh, so you didn’t go to high school?
Duane: No, went fishin’.
Neil: Oh, ok. Yeah.
Duane: Back in them days a fisherman, farmer or logger. One of the things I liked other than the money, was when I had my own boat and you couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to go out and see what you got, yeah know. And when you got your head sticking out of that gang way door watching the nets watching the boat and where it’s going and watching the fish come up (something). (Couldn’t make out this sentence). We went to Outer Island one time we stayed there, we fishing there, there was a funny looking, you can tell, a funny looking (not sure). So we said lets get out of here. So we packed up our little stuff and our three boxes of fish and got to Trout Point and it was coming pretty hard out of the north east so we’re coming out of (Anderson???) Point there was a steal spit. One of my (brothers was in the boat????) he wouldn’t be here today if he wasn’t. We started going down and there was one of those great big swells it was pushing the water almost to the top and it was going to come over. So I reached up and grabbed (a box of fish???) and I pulled him back(???). Come back up. We living on borrowed time.
March 19, 2019 interview with Dave Brunsvold
Interviewee: David Brunsvold
Interviewer: Neil Howk
David: My name is David Brunsvold. I work here at Apostle Islands as a historic preservation carpenter.
Neil: What needed to be done with the boat?
David: The roof had been leaking, was the main problem with the boat. The framework inside was rotting. The bottom two, three feet out from the keel had to be replaced… We’ve had to learn how to fix a boat. (Laughing) Nothing straight, nothing square… I’ve learned a lot about steam bending, which when it worked it was really, really exciting to do… There’s a couple of interesting things that have been a part of this project. One is talking with commercial fishermen that know these boats. This boat was rebuilt in 1980 by another park carpenter. He replaced the keel, which I had heard everyone told him you can’t do that and Alex Martin, the carpenter, he did it… One of the kind of sweet things about working on this boat was Alex Martin’s daughter came and visited the Twilight and she had pictures of Alex, who’s since died, and on his gravestone he had a picture of the Twilight engraved…which I thought was pretty cool.
Susan Larsen interview of Alex Martin, September 30, 1983. Alex talks of his work restoring the fish tug TWILITE in 1980.
Alex: The hull itself was good. The keel was, was in very bad shape. A lot of it I was able to take apart with my bare hands. And once we got inside then we found that the ribs were bad and that called for the replacement of all but four of the ribs and a new keel. Kind of got a bang out of replacement of the keel. I had no knowledge of boats, none what so ever. I went looking for help with some of the old people that had worked with boats and were familiar with them. I went to Mel Erickson asked him how you replace a keel in an old fishing boat and he said you don’t. And I told him, “but I got to”, and I got a big grin and he said good luck, boy, good luck.
Alex: But I made the new keel and the new stern post and new shaft log and opened the ribs up, that was the original ribs, opened them up and slipped the new keel in, and it wasn’t really that bad. But Mel came down, oh I suppose a couple of weeks after I got the new keel in, came down with his son Jackie who fishes out, off the dock here out of the dock. Mel looked it over and said, “I’ll be damned, you did didn’t you... looks great.” And I felt very good over that.
Excerpt from Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission video, “Lifting Nets: Gurnoe Decision” published May 23, 2017. Ron DePerry narrates the story.
Ron Deperry: (Harp and piano playing soft background music) You’d look back and reflect back on that time period of 1969. What was happening was that Indian men in particular were being arrested for hunting, fishing and gathering. I mean there was story after story not only here in Red Cliff but throughout Indian country where that was happening. Hunting, fishing and gathering has always been something that we, we did and so what else could you do. How long can this go on? Take it to the next level and say hey look, there are treaty rights. We do have them, protect them or we don’t, and let’s get it into the court system, let them decide. So we said let’s, let’s do a test case. Our thoughts then was to say, well let’s go ahead and let the newspapers know. The Ashland Daily Press, the Duluth News Tribune let them all know. In fact even let the game wardens know that this is what we’re gonna do on such and such a time and date, that’s what we’re gonna do. So we went down and set our net off the campground at nine or ten o’clock the next morning. People began to gather. We got out there in the water and ah we started to lift. Uncle Butts Peterson, Dick Gurnoe, and Phillip Gordon were in one boat. Allen Bear, Roger Basina, and myself were in another boat. And Phillip Gordon he lifted and first big thing that came out was a big sucker. And when he held it up everyone was cheering all over and just yelling and screaming, oh my goodness. The game wardens were right there by us with the loud speaker and says, “ah, you guys, you’re arrested.” There were cheers from the shoreline saying well, “where are they taking you?” So well we’re going to Washburn… However long it took to go through the court system until a final result was that it is a treaty protected right, and that decision was final. Hunting and fishing, gathering…treaty rights protected.
Interviewee: Julian Nelson
Interviewer(s): Ann - Michelle
Date of Interview: October 23, 2001
JULIAN: Julian Nelson. Born in Bayfield 85 years ago…ex-commercial
fisherman. I became concerned about the use of natural resources back
in the forties and fifties when I saw how that resource of all the fish in
the lake was being treated. And that’s what really made me kinda think
of what could happen to other resources that we have… and that’s, those
resources were the islands, the lake, and the landscape. So my decision
was based on what would do the most good for the most number of people…
and in nineteen sixty-six or sixty-seven, when the congressional hearings
on the park were held in Ashland, I took the position to support the park.
It was not a popular position. I was mayor, happened to be mayor at the
time too. But since then I can’t help but feel a lotta people have a different
view. They see what could happen. I’m very comfortable with the position
I took then and I grow more comfortable every day.
So that’s my story on the park.
Anishinaabe Ojibwemowin (Ojibwe Native Language)
Boozhoo niij bemaadisijig! Niminwedamin bii’izhaayeg omaa! Ojibwewiwag igichi’ayaa’aamin dibajimowaad, “geget mewinzhaa ingiw gete Anishinaabeg gii babamaadiziwaad iwidi Wenaboozho-ominisiniing, dash apane ezhinikaadamowaad omaa aakiing abiwin. Gakina awiiya miziwe akikaang ingii ondaadad Anishinaabewi bimadiziwinawaa. Gakina awiyaa giigoonhyag, bineshiiwag, manidoonsag, awensiiyag, manidog iwidi noopiming, Gichigamiing, gaye ishimpiing ingiw ondaadad Anishinaabewi izhitwaawin.”
Hello my friends! We are happy you all came here! Our Ojibwe elders tell us that, “truly a long time ago those ancient Natives traveled here to the Apostle Islands, however, we have always called this place home. Everything all over the land has created our way of life. Everyone (the fish, the birds, the insects, the spirits in the forest, Lake Superior, and sky) is where our culture comes from.”
Interviewee: Marvin Defoe
Interviewer(s): Damon Panek
Date of Interview: November, 2019
Yeah, Boozhoo. Marvin Defoe, elder from Red Cliff, located on the shores of Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the freshest, biggest lake in the world. And what you see there today didn’t always used to look like that.
For an example, we have stories of giant beaver. Of giant beaver on this lake, on this water. We have stories about that. And these beaver were six feet…they were six feet tall if you want to see these beaver. Can you imagine how big their tail might have been? Huge! Now that’s in our stories, that’s in our aadizookaan…our legends, our stories that we tell. That goes way back, like I said, that goes way back thousands and thousands of years. If you check with the scientists, they’ll concur, yeah there was, there was giant beaver.
And we have stories of the creation, the creation of these islands. In our language we call them Wenabozho Islands. There are stories about that giant beaver I tell you about that helps create these islands. In fact there’s a place over by Ashland, Chequamegon Bay. Well that’s the English version. Chequamegon Bay. But in our version…Amik…Shamikoon. Amik is how we say beaver. And that’s how old that bay starts.
Mardi Cole reads the text on September 23, 2019
(fade in) Sounds of water on rock. (fade out)
Mardi: The “Apostle Islands” name first appeared on a map by the French cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin in 1744. The map was based on information from Father Charlevoix, a noted Jesuit missionary, who traveled through the Great Lakes in 1721 as an agent for the French government. Charlevoix did not personally travel in Lake Superior, but gathered information on the region from traders and officers at Mackinac and Sault Ste. Marie. Based on information from these Frenchmen familiar with the area, Bellin’s map labels the group as the “Isle de douze Apostles” or “islands of the 12 Apostles.” Jonathan Carver later surveyed the region for the British in 1766 and 1767. Though other early maps show various numbers of islands in the group, Carver’s map includes twelve islands he calls “The 12 Apostles.” By the early 1800s, maps more accurately depicted the true number of islands and labeled them the “Apostles Islands”, later shortened to simply “Apostle Islands”.
(fade in) Sounds of water on rock. (fade out)
Interviewee: Marvin Defoe
Interviewer(s): Damon Panek
Date of Interview: November, 2019
Yeah, Boojoo. Marvin Defoe, elder from Red Cliff, located on the shores of Lake Superior. Lived there most of my life. I’ve a family. Utilized the lake my whole life…
But our people, Anishinabe (sp) people, we came from the east. We came from the east…the east coast is where we came from. Our stories tell us that…tell us about how we came here. There are stories that we can share about the dreams some of our elders had, “you’re going to live…your gonna go live (in) a place where there’s wild rice…where the food grows on the water.” Who would ever think food would grow on water? There it is…wild rice.
In fact we do have evidence, we do have evidence in this area of human inhabitants…could be our ancestors…five to six thousand years ago.
But can you imagine when this place was pure…you know was pure, where that water was crystal clean and the fish that were in the lake got a chance to grow in a healthy environment. You know, the fish were HUGE…they were huge. And our people knew the cycle of the fish. We knew how to survive and utilize that for our sustenance fishing. Sustenance fishing on this lake went back thousands of years.
But my point is, the original footprint…the original footprint on this land is from indigenous people.
Interviewee: Neil Howk
Sounds of waves on a beach. (fade out)
Neil: How big is Lake Superior? Really big. Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world by surface area. The surface area of Lake Superior is 31,700 square miles or 82,170 square kilometers. That is greater than the combined areas of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire. The lake is about 350 miles long and 160 miles wide. Lake Superior has 1,826 miles of shoreline, roughly the distance from Duluth to Miami. If the shorelines of all the islands are included, the total is 2,726 miles. 155 miles of that shoreline is in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. By volume Superior is the third largest fresh water lake in the world. Lake Baikal in Russia is the largest. Lake Superior contains 10% of all the Earth’s fresh surface water, more than all the other Great Lakes combined. The three quadrillion gallons of water in the lake is enough to cover all of North and South America to the depth of 1 foot. That, is a lot of water.
(fade in) Sounds of waves on a beach. (fade out)
Interviewee: Frank Montano
Interviewer(s): Damon Panek
Date of Interview: November, 2019
Neil Howk: This is Frank Montano, Red Cliff tribal elder.
Because of being born here, and my parents moving away for different reasons…it was always in my mind, and my siblings on either side, it was always in our minds to return here. Because it pulls you back, because of this place…and especially this great water, the spiritual energy of the water here…you know it’s very healing. And even the serenity of it. Even if there’s a thousand people there, the water is still there.
But the message that people should get from this place is to…experience it…but don’t abuse it. You know, find that place of caring and love for this land here, and if it draws you here, fine. And if you go back to where you’re from, take some of that back with you, the idea and the feeling, and change that place where you live. Because it can happen, you know.
So, if there are people that come here, we can only say, “welcome.” We don’t own it, so we can’t say “welcome to “our” land.” “Welcome to this place…enjoy it and…take care of it when you’re here.”
Little Sand Bay Stories
- “July 4, 1950” - Carl Dahl describes the celebration at Little Sand Bay.
- “Summer at the Lake” - Larry Bychowski’s stories from his summers at Little Sand Bay in the 1950s and 60s.
- “Them were the Days” - Tribal fisherman Franklin Basina’s stories of commercial fishing with Hermie Johnson and (Sand Island’s) Elvis Moe.
- “A Shotgun for Christmas” - Florence Hokenson describes the importance of hunting and trapping to her family (from BHA video archives).
- “Only Three Miles” - a cautionary tale from Ranger Mark McCool.
- “Don’t Let Looks Deceive You” - Historian Dave Cooper describes the shipwreck SEVONA and hazards facing boaters at Little Sand Bay.
Neil Howk interview of Carl Dahl on April 5, 2019.
Interviewee: Carl Dahl, former resident of Sand Island. My family had a fishing camp there. Every Fourth of July during the 40’s and 50’s the Town of Russell conducted an organized celebration of the day at Little Sand Bay on the grounds of Herman Johnson’s fish camp and tavern and the adjacent town ball field. That was a special day where we made up a picnic lunch and everybody got together and anyone who was on our end we would all pack in to the (fish tug) EGERSUND and head on over to Herman’s dock… When we arrived, the local Town of Russell people were already in place, had established themselves at the picnic tables, blankets on the beach, and blankets about the grounds and so on. After everybody had eaten lunch and gotten themselves kind of back together, you’d hear a general hubbub coming from around the bar, and a crowd gathering, and that was the start of “the races”, which were the main event for the day. There were races for all persons. The first ones were the little kids’ races and then there would be other races, wheel barrow races, gunny sack races, three-legged races for older people who were able to handle that. And then the grand finale, essentially, was the greased pole climb, which was down right where the boat landing is now, on the flag pole. That was totally greased from top to bottom, it was about 25 feet high and had a five dollar bill nailed to the top. Then in the evening, there was a dance. Tiny Hokenson and His Toe Tappers, which is an accordion band. That was held in the dance hall behind the bar in Hermie Johnson’s establishment. They would play polkas, schottisches, old fashioned waltzes… It seemed that at the dances we were the only kids of our age. Everyone else, the locals, the local Town of Russell kids had gone home or whatever. We had to stay there til the end because we came by boat and, you know, and couldn’t get back…
Neil Howk interview with Larry Bychowski on August 5, 2019
Interviewer: Neil Howk
Larry: Larry Bychowksi, born and raised in Chicago. I started coming up in 1948. When we would come here we would park our cars, my father, down at Hermie’s. But we’d have to walk from Hermie’s three quarters of a mile with all our luggage, then go to the house.
Hermie, when I was growing up, he was like the idol. Hermie loved children, he loved them… At his place, it was like he had the first 7-Eleven. In his area there he had gas, he had food, he had, you know, he had staples… When we were kids everybody just wooed over Aggie’s root beer floats. Hermie would be behind the bar and “Hermie I want a root beer float.” (imitating Hermie) “Oh Agg, come on (Larry laughing) you have to make a root beer float.”
Half of the house or the building where the bar was, was on one half and then the dance hall was behind that with a little stage. That’s where my family would play the music, when we’d be up here.
When I was young we had a little boat and we would make water skis, our own water skis and we’d water ski back and forth. I’d fish religiously so I was always fishing.
Neil: Did you go swimming?
Larry: Oh yeah, oh yeah, every day, every day I was swimming.
As we got older, of course, we decided on we were dating and beach parties were, “a thing”. When we had a beach party we’d always build a bonfire…
We used to put a cardboard box right in the middle of Bayfield in town there, right on Main Street, “Beach party tonight at Little Sand Bay”, you know, that’s how we did it.
Larry: And everybody showed up, everybody showed up…
Interviewee: Franklin Basina
Date of Interview: Unknown
Boozhoo. My name is Dajwaybozhinay (sp?)…Franklin Basina. Born June 25, 1914. Red Cliff, Wisconsin. Red Cliff Indian Reservation. I’m the son of Frank Basina. Agnes Soulier Basina is my mother. My dad was born in 1883. He worked as a laborer, logger, and woodworker. Mother was born in 1885, involved in tribal politics and housewife. Mother and father always spoke Chippewa to us kids at home.
I’ve been on this lake for forty years, off and on. About forty years all told. At that time when I started, I think it was around twelve or fourteen dollars a day we were getting. Then the wages started to go up. When I quit fishing for the commercial fishermen, the wages were twenty to twenty-five dollars a day.
I worked for Herman Johnson Jr. eleven to twelve years. And if you know Hermie Johnson, he’s kind of a tough cookie too. I was the only Indian boy that he’d trust…with a boat…with a motor…with his nets.
I had…when I took the boat, I was the captain. I had three or four other Indian boys working under me. I know the fishing grounds. I know how to read a compass. I learned this all…I can’t say from my Dad. I’d have to give Mr. Johnson credit…and Mr. Moe.
Our day on the lake would be from six in the morning to six in the evening. That was your day on the lake, regardless(?). Anything after six o’clock in the evening, you was paid for overtime. Like on herring season. I recall one fall we started on November the 5th to December the 23rd. I was fishing with Elvis Moe, Joe Baker, and myself. We had 28 straight lifts without a blow, and we fished 128 ton of herring that fall. And that’s a lot of fish. Them were the days…
Excerpt from Bayfield Video Archives: June 29, 1989. John Hanson and Mary Rice interview Florence Hokenson at her house on Old County Highway K.
Florence: Oh I have to tell you kind of a cute story. My uh, Eskel was always so interested in hunting, fishing… and take off anything and go hunting. He could make a lot of money during herring season, but when hunting season came along, well they’d drop everything and went hunting.
Florence: The first Christmas…I got a shotgun.
Florence: I never had done any hunting or shooting or anything else before that. But if you didn’t ah, if you didn’t like guns then you might as well go home. (Both Laughing) So then he fixed up a trap line for me, and so I trapped and I got all my Christmas money that way.
Interviewer: Is that right? What did you trap for?
Interviewer: What did you get?
Florence: Weasels mostly, mink.
Interviewer: Mm hm.
Florence: That was about it.
Interviewer: And you ran a trap line yourself?
Florence: I ran a trap line myself, on skis in the winter. Oh about, about ah, I think about three years I, I did that. That was fun.
Interviewer: Would be nice if you had…
Florence: Oh and the first winter we were married we had a logging camp back there and they landed their logs in Raspberry Bay. And they never knew when they came home for supper if they were going to have rabbit or partridge. (Both chuckling) Cause I was on the hunt continuously. (Both laughing very hard) It, it was very different from the life I’d known, but I loved it… That’s why I still, I think this is the greatest place in the world right here. (Laughing)
Interviewee: Mark McCool
Interviewer(s): Neil Howk
Date of Interview: November 7, 2019
I’m Mark McCool, law enforcement officer and search and rescue coordinator here at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. This group was going to Sand Island…from the mainland, from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island. When I was talking to the guides, the guides said that they had looked at the weather radar, and that they felt that they could beat the storm before it hit and that “it was only three miles to Sand Island”. In my career, if I could tell…I could tell you how many times that I’ve heard that from groups that we’ve rescued…”It’s only three miles.” But that three miles can be very treacherous and it’s very exposed to wind and waves.
They decided after going to the visitor center that…we looked at the marine radar…that they would wait until the storm had hit. After that it looked like it was going to be better conditions.
So the group did make it to Sand Island later that day. Their plan was to head back (to Little Sand Bay) the following day.
We had an afternoon thunderstorm come in, similar to what it did the day previous. And we got the report of seven overturned kayaks with, I think, over eleven people were in the water. It was the same group.
The guides admitted their mistake, but once again, when I questioned them why they went, the words came out of their mouth was, “it’s only three miles.”
If you can remember two things before you go out on your trip, have a marine radio with you and know how to use it. Cell phones are not a dependable form of communication here in the Apostle Islands, and if they get wet, they don’t work.
Secondly, have a PFD, or life jacket, with you, and wear it. It’ll save your life.
Interviewee: David Cooper
Interviewer(s): Neil Howk
Date of Interview: October 21, 2019
I’m David Cooper. I’m the archeologist for the park and I’m a member of the park’s search and rescue team. There’s a number of shipwrecks right in view from Little Sand Bay. The most famous one is, of course, the SEVONA, the steamer that wrecked on Sand Island Shoal September 2, 1905…and seven of the crew drowned trying to get ashore. The interesting thing about that area is, even though it is so close to the mainland, there’s really no offshore islands to break up the weather. So winds from the north and the northeast have a long fetch. And, it’s not been uncommon to have kayakers who want to launch for Sand or York Island come in late in the afternoon and get a late start. They can see where they want to get to…but once you get clear of the bay and you’re out half way between Sand Island and Little Sand Bay all of a sudden you are in those big rollers coming all the way from the northeast. And it’s difficult for people to appreciate how quickly things can go from fairly safe paddling conditions to really challenging, dangerous paddling conditions. Even though the park has boats…response ready boats at Little Sand Bay, we certainly don’t have 24 hour staffing. And often no way to know somebody is in trouble, especially if they are out there late in the day, at dusk, in the dark…. We need a minimum of three to staff a SAR (search and rescue) boat…and then you need to get to the victims, and you need to find the victims, and this is not easy. The average response time is very likely going to be several hours. Which, again, is a long time for somebody to be in the water. Don’t let looks deceive you. The lake can be dangerous, and it can change quickly. People hear that, but I think they don’t quite believe it.