The varieties of fish in Lake Erie have varied from time to time but there has always seemed to be one particular kind that the fishermen depended on for their money. They referred to it as their “pay fish”. Back in the earlier days the fishermen prospered on the great herring run. In the early 1920s the industry underwent one of its periodic changes in species which has been so characteristic of the lakes. It was then that the blue pickerel for a time seemed to be the most plentiful. Other common fish caught were yellow pickerel, whitefish, bass and perch.
For a time the pound-netters here continued to depend for their survival on the blue pickerel but with the coming of the smelt that changed. The pickerel disappeared. There were many theories why fishermen believe the smelt have killed the blue pickerel. Some are of the opinion that since smelt are salt water fish, the blue pickerel, after eating the smelt were unable to digest them. Lake Erie being the only lake with blue pickerel, they now have no source for restocking the lake.
Like any other business, markets for your produce have to be acquired. In the early days most of the fish were loaded on steamers, such as the “City of Dresden,” right out at the pound nets. This boat, at that time would take them to Clevelend or Sandusky in Ohio. Later when contacts were made with New York the fish were brought to shore, packed in ice and transported by team and wagons and later by trucks in Ridgetown. From here they were shipped by the Michigan Central Railway through to New York City. Some fish, at all periods of time, were sold locally to fish markets or fish peddlers. This, however, accounted for only a small portion of their market.
Fishermen traditionally cut their own ice from either the lake or Rondeau Bay. When this would be done depended upon the weather but it was usually February before the ice would be thick enough. This ice was cut into squares and stored in large ice-houses which were insulated with saw dust. The fisheries seemed to be able to store up enough ice for the next season’s needs as well as have some to sell to cottagers and area people for use in their ice boxes. There were no refrigerators then! In 1945 the Bates’ fishery installed an ice-making machine, as did the Colls’ at a later date.