Fish mattered. Of course in those days fish were dinner every Friday night and all of Lent, but it went far beyond religious obligation… fish were important. Men and children fished. Oh, yes the occasional woman fished, but none that I remember among the King wives, they happily (well…) cooked the fish their husbands and children caught but the wives were not fishers.
Because fish mattered, boats mattered, and outboard motors mattered and docks mattered and ponds mattered and water quality mattered. Fishing was serious business, not social business. Fishermen usually went out alone or with just one person to fish. Fishing took time, trolling slowly across the lake or walking along deep inlet on slippery rocks in early Spring. Or fishing happened early when no one much was awake and there was some time to go to Mud Pond for rainbow or if you were lucky Brook Trout. In any case the long hours alone on the lake or in the woods meant food for the family.
Fish had to be stored in freezers if they weren’t eaten fresh. Best to flash freeze them and wrap them tighly in waxy freezer paper, dated and labeled for the long winter months when there would be no fishing.
Men dropped by with fish as gifts, offering a fresh catch, often still to be cleaned. Often on Friday afternoon, and more often as people aged. Bullheads were a great gift in the spring when they were still sweet and plentiful. Later in the season it was mostly trout. Trout were plentiful and easy to catch, though some people had a taste for other varieties, something I never understood.
Children caught “perch” from docks and the beach, these little striped fish would grab a bare hook and hang on tight. They catch and release and catch again and again often the same perch that they could watch come up to the hook hanging in two feet of water just off the dock and swim maddeningly close to the hook time and again before taking the tail off the worm or chewing the bits of worm around the hook until they got too greedy and bit and ran, hook in mouth; all this in plain view because the still water was so clear. These perch taught the patience a fisherman needs.
The gear was simple, the gear could be expensive. Fancy was not necessary, reliable was important. Uncle Fil liked to troll a line or two off his boat moving slowly around the point toward Floyd’s camp, staying near the big boulders where fish could hide or when the lake warmed a bit in summer, trolling in the deep water where it was always cold deep down where the big trout went to keep cool enough.
Lake trout were a real prize though they did not taste as good as a nice 3 lb rainbow trout. A 1 pounder would feed a person, a three pounder was a prize.
The old men would tell of the “Frostfish” that Dick King wrote about. These were round lake whitefish, most likely. They are in the same family as trout, but have small mouths are so are difficult to hook. They were supposed to taste better than trout but were gone long before my time, though the fish and game people of New York claim they are still there in the lake. There were salmon too, land locked salmon, native or wild Brook Trout and the occasional Brown Trout. After the state began stocking there were loads of Rainbow, the most fun of all to catch because they will leap and dance and tease; they’ll hold a hook in their mouth and run until a fisherman is sure they have him then lket the hook drop and fly up out of the water to flash victory over the poor fisherman. There is nothing like a Rainbow Trout if you ask me. Grandpa Howard and I used to fish for them at Mud Pond with a boat someone left there. The boat didn’t leak too much and most days there were fish to be caught.
Not all the King men were fisherman. Sullivan had no patience for it; Exford was too busy between his job and the Grove; but Howard and Fil made the time to fish. All the boys, and their sisters too, had fished as children. The girls had made a small business of cleaning fish for tourists and enjoyed making the money, except for Valeda, who hated cleaning fish with a passion and did what she could to avoid it. The boys fished with nets, and with set lines, checking to see what came while they worked at other things.
None of this was unusual among the people at Chazy Lake. The lake was probably overfished by the 1950′s but the state stocked it well. The popular and aggressive Rainbows pushed out the native trout, the white fish were all eaten up or hiding deep in the lake, the other varieties were plentiful enough that it could be hard to notice the losses, but the old timers did and often commented longingly on old days when there had been (of course) more and better fish.
Someone can tell what they caught in wintertime, by my time there ice fishing was not something my fishing Kings did as much; Uncle Fil had a ice fishing house for a while, others did also around the lake. They have tales to tell which I can’t.
Men drowned because they were fishing when the lake went wild and big waves caught them before they could make shore. Storms would come and phones would ring “Is Filly there? He was on the lake. Did he come over?” When there was a catastrophic summer storm the boys would go to the homestead almost as if it was still home. They’d gather and wait or check in with Sullivan. Even as old men, and gone so much their separate ways, they’d go home in a crisis,.