Fishtown

Driftglass was always the special find. Blue glass was the pinnacle. I had bottles of the stuff. Some call it beach glass. It comes from broken bottles, usually. Weathered by wave and sand action it takes on a dull frosted look with just a hint of the true color. When wet the true color shines.

Walking the beach, especially after storms was a pure joy. Treasures to claimed. Fantastically fishnetdivergedtwisted drift wood, bark stripped clean, wood polished by the sand and bleached by the water and sun. Once I found a message in a bottle. On occasion, more often then seems likely, we would find gill net floats. Small aluminum, ribbed cylinders, that had come off the nets. The nets deployed by the boats coming out of the small fishtown down the shore, some eight miles away. One could take the floats there and the fisherman would pay you a quarter for each. Or so I heard. I kept my collection.

Fishtown was my favorite place to go. The buildings, the docks and boardwalks looked dried and ancient. Built where a river joined the lake. A dam was at the far end of the little harbor. Water constantly ran down the spill ways. fishtown1A water fall. The sound a constant backdrop. That and the smell of smoked fish. Every little shop there had a smoker. And smoked Whitefish was the main attraction. I don’t think we ever got home with freshly purchased smoked fish without unwrapping it and devouring it. The smell was intoxicating.

I loved the boats. Squat stubby looking things. Purpose built for fishing the great lake. One boat would take mail and supplies out to the islands some twelve miles off shore. Back when people still fishboatdivergedlived there. The islands later became part of a National Park. So no more living there. Residents got life leases if they choose to stay. We hitched a ride on that boat once. A memorable day trip.

Today, commercial fishing isn’t what it once was. When the sea lamprey invaded the Great Lakes through the Welland canal, it devastated the larger fish in the lakes. This collapsed the fishing industry. With the larger fish gone another invasive species, the Alewife, reproduced into insane numbers. Every year there would be a die off and the dead fish would wash ashore and pile into rows at the high water mark. Sometime several feet deep. They would cover the beaches. The worst year I remember the surface of the lake was covered with dead fish as far as we could see. It made for a spectacular sunset with the light bouncing off the millions of silvery bodies. It was strangely beautiful. Odoriferous though. Salmon were introduced to help combat that and there has been something of a revival of the industry.

You can still get smoked white fish in fishtown but most of the small shops are now touristy places. Alongside the dam a hotel and restaurant now stands. You can sit there, eating your dinner and watch Salmon try to climb the spillways in season.

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