|W.P.A. photo by Frederick W. Ritter (1940).|
I was fourteen in 1949 and the winter was unusually cold in Erie. There was a lot of ice on the lake, so the lake effect snow was minimized, and there was smooth thick ice on the bay, and the perch were biting.
My father took me hunting or fishing almost every weekend of the year, and this cold Saturday morning in February was to be no exception. The only problem was that our old car would not start. That immediately damped my fathers enthusiasm for going fishing, as he detested riding the bus to a fishing place and he decided he would rather say home and be warm.
I however, was not daunted by the thought of riding the bus to the public dock, (now Dobbins Landing), so I gathered my ice fishing equipment and headed for the bus stop at East Lake Road and Andrews Park Blvd..
Ice fishing equipment in those days was not very sophisticated. It consisted of a spud (a chisel to chop a hole in the ice), a scoop to remove the ice chunks, a minnow bucket and home made fishing poles that were merely a piece of wood with a old hack saw blade attached with a line guide soldered to the end and two pegs sticking out of the wood to wrap some line around. Attached to the end of the line, was a sinker and a #6 snelled hook. The poles were carried in an eight quart splint basket, along with an extra pair of mittens, incase the ones you had on your hands got wet.
The buses on Lake Road (we lived in Lakeside) ran quite regular and on schedule, so the wait was not long, I paid my nickel, got a transfer and soon was at Perry Square. Buses to the public dock were few and far between in February, so after getting thoroughly chilled standing in the bus shelter, I put my transfer in a trash bucket and headed toward the dock. The walk down State Street took me past the Richford Hotel, the Army Surplus Store, Sitterlies Cigar Store, Brebners Ship Chandlery, the Home Restaurant and finally Hamot Hospital were I was born fourteen years earlier. At the bottom of the hill on the West Slip was Smith’s Bait Stand. “Gidge” Smith was the proprietor, a chubby little man with a big smile and a generous net to give you a bucket full of Emerald Shiners (minnows) for a quarter.
I was headed for the Cascade Docks, as there were two slips there that were usually good places to fish. That meant walking back up the hill and along the railroad tracks past the Ruberoid Factory, the Water Works, Chestnut Pool, and finally the Cascade Docks. By the time I got there, I was tired from carrying all that equipment and the heavy bucket of minnows.
During World War Two, there was a shipyard at the docks, were they made powered barges that made one-way trips across the ocean to deliver supplies and equipment to the fighting troops. My father worked there during the war, and because he had been a merchant seaman, he got to deliver the finished barges to New York City via the Erie Canal and the Hudson River. He then came home by train to begin working on another one.
I climbed over the rocks that formed the edge of the slip and walked onto the ice. Surprisingly, no one else was there, perhaps because it was probably ten degrees below zero, and any sane person would be somewhere warm. Our usual procedure was to chop one hole in the ice, drop a baited hook in and see if the fish were biting. If they were, we would chop more holes for more poles, and hopefully more fish.
I chopped my hole, dropped the baited hook and immediately got a bite and landed a nice yellow perch. I never chopped a second hole, as the fish were biting so fast and furious, I was catching one after another as fast as I could pull them in and rebait my hook. Eventually, I ran out of minnows. Spread out before me were perhaps one hundred fish, laying on the ice and frozen stiff. I thought to myself, that is enough, I’m tired, cold and hungry. I am going home.
The minnow bucket had an separate inner liner that I filled with fish, I filled the outer part of the bucket, and the splint basket and I still had fish left over. They were frozen stiff, so I thought why not just put them in my pockets. I did that, climbed over the rocks and headed down the railroad tracks toward State Street. About the time I got to Chestnut Street, I realized I was trying to carry more than I could. My fingers were frozen stiff, as I was trying to carry two things in both hands. I devised a shuttle system were I would carry two things about one hundred yards ahead, drop them off and then go back for the rest of my gear. This worked fine, until I got to State Street were there people and potential thieves of my fish or fishing equipment. I finally got to Perry Square and safely onto the bus to Lawrence Park.
The bus was very warm, and I was thinking life was great, until we got to about East Avenue when I felt a thumping in my coat pocket. The fish were thawing out and coming back to life. My basket and buckets became a wiggling flopping mass of fish. They flopped onto the floor of the bus en mass. My coat pockets thumped like my heart was outside of my skin. Women shrieked. The bus driver stopped the bus and looked at me and said, “What the hell is going on here” “Please just get me to Downing Avenue” I pleaded. He drove off faster than I ever knew a bus to go, as I tried to contain my catch and my composure. I got off the bus, not really knowing if ever got all of the fish back into my containers.
I struggle into the back door of our house, put my flopping fish on the floor and took off my coat. My father put down his book, got up from his warm chair and said. “It looks like you had some luck. You better clean them while they are still fresh” I did not go fishing by myself for a long time after that.
Reminisce about the old days in Erie, PA at Old Time Erie