Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Voices from the Past: 2400 Square Miles of Trout (1873)

Ken Hedmark sent in the following excerpt from an article titled “Migration of Fish,” found in the first volume of Forest and Stream (1873). It has to be read to be believed. The text follows here:

Still, with the most plausible, theoretical accounting for of facts, it does seem singular that these immense shoals of fish, incredible in number and extent, should visit certain points on the seaboard and inland coasts, not periodically, but sporadically; and their advent is always recorded as a marvelous phenomenon of the times.

The most extraordinary of these occurrences ever mentioned was witnessed on the southern shore of Lake Superior about the 10th of June, 1870, just off the harbor of Marquette. A letter of that date, in our possession, says:

“The lake was filled by a large body of salmon-trout. They presented a front of sixty miles facing Marquette and extending out into the lake to 'Stannard's Rock,' forty miles distant from shore. A steamer was chartered, and a party of men, women, and children started for the rock; they fished for four hours, and took four hundred trout, weighing from six to forty pounds each. The next week another party started, and in four hours took eight hundred trout, weighing from six to forty pounds each. It was then discovered that there was no use in going such a distance, as the harbor was full of them. I and my youngest son took a yawl and started to try our luck in the harbor. In less than three hours we loaded her down to the water's edge. We had small oars, and rowed with one hand and held the trolling line in the other. We used a spoon. One young man went out in a yawl to see how many he could take, and he caught one hundred and fifty and then gave up.

This is no fish story, but can be authenticated in a hundred ways. The fish filled an area of forty miles by sixty in extent, and were off the harbor of Marquette two weeks. The prevailing winds during the visit of the shoal came from the southwest, with occasional thundershowers.

With regard to the feeding of the trout, it was observed that most of them threw from their stomachs, on being hauled into the boat, from three to four small herring six or eight inches long. The herring were fresh, and seemed to have been taken but a few minutes before the trout were caught. It is possible that this shoal of trout followed a shoal of herring, feeding on them as they travelled south, as that appeared to be the direction in which they were moving. The trout averaged twelve pounds each in weight. There must have been millions of them in the school.

Unbelievable! How things have changes. That is more fish than we can imagine these days. Of course, not too long before this the great naturalist John James Audubon watched a flock of Passenger Pigeons so dense it darkened the sky like night fly by for six consecutive hours without a break. By 1917 the last Passenger Pigeon on earth died less than three miles from where I write this, in the Cincinnati Zoo.

Thanks a ton to Ken for sending this our way, and sharing it with all of us!

-- Dr. Todd

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