The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
New York Times, August 23, 1886, page 5

Full Text
Fish-Yarns From Point Peninsula And The Bay
Is The Lack of Bites Due to Alewives Or The Tackle? - Something About Fish habits

Point Peninsula, Aug. 21. - Jutting out into the waters of Lake Ontario and to the south of Cape Vincent is a huge triangle of land about seven miles long. Its width at one place - the base of the triangle - is more than three miles. The apex connects with the mainland in an isthmus about 60 feet wide. To one side of the triangle and inclosed between it and the jutting arm of the mainland is an indentation called Chaumont Bay.

Nobody here, however, thinks of calling it Chaumont. It goes by the name of Shamo, with the accent on the o. There is a village near the exterior point of the triangle which is called Point Peninsula, or the Point. This village consists of a tavern, two stores, about a dozen houses, and a church. The nearest railroad station is Three-Mile Bay, on the Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad. This is 10 miles from the Point. Cape Vincent is about six miles further off, but there is a good road connecting it with this place.

The village tavern is quite an institution. it is kept by one George Putman, a very clever and obliging host, who comes nearer the ideal of one of the jolly old English landlords that one is apt to meet in the course of a year's journey. Putman isn't old, however, except in experience and in his aptitude for making folks feel comfortable. Village life centres at the tavern, especially in the evening, and the chairs ranged on the long porch are usually well filled after nightfall. The talk one hears is mainly about fish and fishing. Chaumont Bay was in times past one of the best fishing grounds in the world, not only because of the quantity of fish obtained but also owing to the variety prevalent. Just think of taking from one water tremendous black bass, white fish, trout, pike, pickerel, enormous eels, muskallonge, perch, sturgeon, cisco, and a dozen other kinds!

A sturdy old fellow who frequents the tavern is old Mr. Mayhew, who has lived on the peninsula more than 60 years, and whose age is well up in the eighties. He was telling the other night of how the fish used to be in the bay. "We put out a net one day right out yonder," said he, pointing to an old dock jutting out about 50 feet from shore. "the net was about 250 feet long, and we rigged up a windlass arrangement to draw her in. When we got ready to pull in the net we found it so full of fish that we could not haul it. So a number of men went out with big baskets, right out into the net, and began to pull them in. In that one haul we had just 70 barrels full, each holding about 200 pounds of fish. That made, you see, about 7 tons of fish. I ain't seen any such fishing sence. " (cq)

Of the smaller fish the cisco was remarkably numerous. These fish, properly salted down, make a dainty that appeals to many palates. They take the place of herring in divers places. Barrels and barrels of them were taken up and shipped all over the country. One ingenious fellow at the Point some years ago thought that ciscoes would make good bait for trout. and he resorted to what was then an entirely new way of using them for the purpose. He caught a number of the little fish, inserted a quill in an opening in the skin, and then proceeded to inflate them like bladders.

A little wooden plug was put in the fish to prevent the escape of the air and then the ciscoes were hooked and hung out attached to a long line secured by stakes driven into the bed of the bay. The inflated ciscoes floated and bobbed on the surface of the water all one evening. Next morning the fisherman went out to look at the yield. he found a big trout attached to nearly every hook. Then he repeated the experiment, using more hooks. He caught so many trout that he set folks to wondering how he did it. Finally he was prevailed upon by offers of reward to let some others into the secret, and after a time the method became common property. So many got to fishing this way that one farmer made a great clamor because the fishermen had whittled up his cedar fence to make plugs with.

A ton of black bass being taken in a single haul of a net, tremendous quantities of sturgeon, one of them weighing 120 pounds, being fished up in the same way, nearly 800 pounds of lively, squirming eels being scooped up at a time, and other yarns to the same purport form part of the staple of conversation when the subject of fishing is broached. But the little fish, especially the ciscoes, were as a great a source of profit as the larger ones. Mr. Putman vouches for the story of a man catching at odd times during September 900 barrelfuls of ciscoes.

The man was greedy. He was offered $9. 50 a barrel for his catch, but he wanted just 50 cents more to make up an even $10. There was considerable haggling, which ended in the would-be purchaser going away. The fisherman hung his property until the fish became tainted, and then he threw them over his farmland for fertilizing purposes. He never got another chance to do as well as he might have done with those ciscoes.

Black bass, in traveling along the lake, use to come in great schools to Chaumont Bay. They would turn around the peak of mainland into the bay, keeping just outside of the shoals, and would follow the shore around the bay. The net fishermen have taken advantage of this fact. By a very curious bit of sharp practice in the Legislature the bay has been exempted from the operation of the law regarding net fishing directly off shore. The result is that the fishermen who make a business of it have come to this bay and set up their nets here, going out hundreds of feet off shore.

These abominations known as trap nets are set in nearly every available spot and they give no show to the black bass. Still, despite this fact and the difficulties attending trolling under such circumstances, the fishing remains pretty good here. The shadines or alewives are not here to stuff the bass and prevent their biting. Two of us trolling within 100 yards of the shore caught 18 lively black bass within an hour. The fish ranged in weight from three-quarters of a pound to two pounds and three-quarters each. Most of them were over one and one-half pounds weight. They were caught as fast as the nine-ounce rods used could bear. The fish were caught in from 20 to 30 feet of water, some 60 or 70 feet of line being out. The boat was given just the least perceptible motion and at times was allowed to drift with the current.

Mr. Seth Green, in a letter to The Times, seems to hint that the lack of success in fishing at Cape Vincent and around the neighboring islands is in no wise due to the presence of the alewives, but is owing to the fact that the proper means of fishing for black bass is not resorted to. The experience obtained by our party in fishing mover more than 40 miles of river and lake surface does not bear out his theory. Year after year the black bass bit at minnows, and they do so still in bays where the alewives are not found.

That the bass will bite as well when their bellies are full of the alewives as when they are hungry does not find credence among fishermen, either amateur or professional, whom one meets up here. Flies, trolling spoons of different varieties, minnows, crabs, toads, crickets, grasshoppers; young perch, and even worms have been tried here to my knowledge, but the live minnow as bait has yielded the best results. The minnows are natural to these waters, the bass are accustomed to their presence, and when the little fish are properly hooked - that is, through the mouth and out under the gills - they swim about lively in the water. There is nothing about their appearance to indicate that they are not swimming naturally about in the water. Comparing the experience of our party with that of others we have found the same state of things. It is experience - our experience - against theory.

As to using the alewives for bait the objection is that the things won't stay alive. They are easily caught, and attempts have been made to use them, as bait. There is no doubt that they would make good bait, but on one at the Cape or here has yet been able to make them last. Mr. Green also remarks that people "fish over the same ground too much. They want to spread out and find places where a line is not trolled every 15 minutes. " Again, as to this, our experience has been different from Mr. Green's. We have obtained the best results by going over and over the same ground. All we looked out for was a lee shore and a rocky bottom. And the best results came from using the same tackle over and over again on the same ground.

"The fish," says Mr. Green, "know the tackle as well as the fishermen do. " Do they? If that be true how comes it that when one bass is hooked another will jump forward to catch a bait near where the other bass is struggling on a hook. We never failed to catch a second bass when we threw out a minnow close to where another was hooked. If there ever was a time when the bass should be familiar with the tackle it would seem to be when he sees a brother struggling fiercely to get rid of similar tackle which as hooked him. I have known of a man fishing with a hand line dropped over the side of a boat and catch bass after bass with the same little crab attached to the same hook. There would seem to be a discrepancy somewhere.

It is known to every fisherman here that the black bass have not been biting lately as they did before the alewives were put in the stream. It is also known that the bass gorge themselves with the little fish. Is it not more reasonable to suppose that they refuse to bite because they are so full that they don't care for more? This, at any rate, is the prevailing idea on the subject among fishermen at the Cape and along this peninsula. H. L.

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Column 1
Date of Original:
August 23, 1886
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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New York Times, August 23, 1886, page 5