Fishing in Eastnor
by Vincent Elliott
Very little is known about fishing in Eastnor Township before 1920. About that time, there was a big mill at Tamarack Island with a rail track running to Twin Lakes. Stokes Bay had two hotels, Henry Wardrop’s blacksmith shop, and John Rouse’s store on the corner. There was no bridge across the lower part of the Stokes River and just a little swingbridge for foot traffic. The water was so deep in 1920 that sailboats would come across what is now sand flats and up into the “river.”
In the 1920's Nathan Doran, from Southampton, was setting pound nets in Stokes Bay and so many fish were being caught that a barrel factory (a cooper shop) was built along the river and the fish were salted in these barrels and sent to the big cities. By 1924, a local fisherman, Jack (D.L.) McLay was showing off the first radio in Lindsay or driving his first car down the main street in Lion’s Head.
The “gangs” of nets had a pole at either end supported by a wooden cedar float and a long line to the bottom with a rock anchor on it. The early cotton nets would rot easily and had to be brought in often and spread out on the reels to dry. Then they were dipped in bluestone. Even when nylon nets were invented, they still used cotton sidelines to support the nets, at least until nylon and dacron lines became readily available. After about 1950, since all-nylon nets were being used, the nets could then be left in the boxes and the big drying-reels along the shores fell into disrepair.
It was not until the 1950's that any scientific fishing was done with depth recorders. Ken McLay got a maximum-minimum thermometer from a malting company and started to record temperatures. He found that trout prefer about 50°F or colder, and that whitefish like the water to be 54°F. Later the fishermen used Loran C equipment with fixes on the shore in two places to locate their nets. Prior to this, the usual method was to “run” for a certain length of time in a certain direction and hope to find your buoy.
A typical day for a fisherman would be to get up at 4:00 a.m. and leave by 5:00 a.m. He would run out into ic lake in a certain direction for a certain time... (a boat went 10 m.p.h.). Fishermen lifted their nets by and at first, and later used rollers and net-winders. When the fish were taken out of the nets, each net was at back in place again, unless it needed to be brought 1 and treated or mended. The fishermen had lunch sing a gas stove or by baking a whitefish on the hot ngine. A gang of nets (four boxes, or about 1000 feet) rould be set by early afternoon and the fishermen amid be back in by about 4:00 p.m.
At Stokes Bay the nets were put out in 7 to 8 feet of ‘met. around Gobbler shoals or Goodrow shoals south of Lyal Island in November and December. This was risky as a sudden storm could roll the shallow nets up into an impossible mess and the fisherman might have to by (charge) all new nets. In Spring the nets were usually set on a sand bottom in 10 to 20 fathoms (about 100 feet). In summer the fishermen guided parties of tourists or caught tulibees (ciscos, fresh-water-herrings) or chub deep-water cisco). Fall was green backs and white bellies. It was also a good fishing season again for trout or whitefish, with herring again last of all.
A typical fisherman of Stokes Bay lived in a perpetual state of rags or riches. Each spring he would charge about $3000 worth of nets (to Leckie’s). If the fishing was good, he would have this paid back by midsummer and then he would pay his store bill (for all winter) and put some improvements on his house or buy a new car and plan to buy another larger boat. But by Christmas, he would be broke again and running a store bill for the rest of the winter.
Some of the fishermen were: Malcolm and Jack Graham, and Kenny Murray (who fished out of Stokes Buy with a tug from 1935 to 1937 and built a net shed on the river). Kenny McLay started fishing when he was about 17 on Fitzwilliam Island and Club Island where a gravel company had left four cabins and a cookhouse. His first boat was a little one with a 1-cylinder engine which he bought at Johnson’s Harbour for $45.00 and two bottles of swamp whiskey at $2.00 a bottle. Later, he went in “shares” for a better boat, and in 1940, after getting married and starting a house in Stokes Bay, he bought a boat of his own. In 1942 Kel Burley and Earl McArthur and Kenny McLay built a 42 foot wooden boat with a rock-elm keel from Reuben Holler’s at Purple Valley. In 1953 a new steel boat was built in Wiarton by Kenny McLay and sons Ray and Ken, Lount Hawke, and Cairns. It was 46 feet long and had a 671 diesel engine. It was sold to Maurice Meneray and is still being used at Lion’s Head. The wooden boat was sold to McIver Burley but it burned at the dock at Howdenvale when he tried to thaw out the motor and gas leaked into the hold.
Garnie Hawke fished out of a little lifeboat washed ashore when the “Scott” was wrecked. He put a model T Ford engine in it and used to bring in as much as a ton of fish in it. In 1926 he bought a pound-net boat from Fitzwilliam Island and then bought a wooden boat from Bill Vickers in 1950. Lount Hawke then used the old steel lifeboat. He used to go trolling with a long pole across the end of the boat with four trolls, partly supported by rubber innertubes, hanging from the back end. He made his own trolls with tin cans and big hooks wrapped with red yarn. Even so, he used to catch a lot of good-sized lake trout.
George McLay used to fish with others but then in 1943 he built a wooden boat of 2-by-2's pried into place and edge-nailed. This boat promptly sunk. However, once the wood had soaked up and swelled, and it was properly caulked, it was a fairly good boat and lasted for years. In the big seiche of 1952 it was left up on the pilings where the bridge should have been. In 1955 George and Leighton Vickers made a steel boat in George’s front yard, from patterns on pieces of brown paper and their imaginations. George held the steel and Leighton welded it. This was an excellent boat. It was sold to Joe McLay who sold it to the diving club at Tobermory where it is still being used.
Seymore Knight had a boat built in Goderich in 1948. It was sold to McIver Burley who had been using a wooden boat from Red Bay after his other wooden boat burned at Howdenvale. McIver used this boat up to about 1970.
Harvey Kirk was another fisherman who used an old wooden boat that used to be a sailboat for about 20 years. When George McLay quit fishing, his son Joe McLay used his boat for several years, then sold it to the divers and bought a big boat in the United States which he later sold to John Liverance, who is using it now fishing out of Stokes Bay.
The main fishing families from Lion’s Head were the Tigerts and the Menerays. Captain John Tigert was fishing off Lion’s Head in the 1890's from a home-made 35 foot boat built with natural crooks for ribs. His sons Herman, Ivan (Doc), and Seaman, fished with him. They had two other boats “The Clyde” and “The Tigert Boys” about 1940 when the fishing was good. Then the fishing suddenly declined due to a disease and the introduction of smelt and lamprey to the Great Lakes. In the summer there would be as many as 50 tourist cars lined up on the Lion’s Head dock waiting to be taken out trolling by local boatmen. Graham Meneray, in his boat “Stocker,” once caught 7,200 pounds of lake trout in one day, many of them 35 to 40 pound trout.
Pankhurst Meneray was also fishing in the 1890's from Lion’s Head in his boat the “Molly S.” Emery Meneray had a boat “A. J. Meneray” in the 1940's and Maurice Meneray had the “Touche” a boat he got from Kenny McLay, and it is being used now from Lion’s Head.
John Liverance, for a while used a boat he got from Joe McLay but now uses a big one he got from Lake Erie, the “J.M. Loder.” He catches from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds about every second day.
Pages 76-78 of Benchmarks
A History of Eastnor Township and Lions Head
Compiled by The Eastnor & Lions Head Historical Society