LIMA — As the unusually warm winter of 1877-‘78 officially gave way to spring, the thoughts of many Lima residents turned, as they often did, to warm days at their favorite fishing spot.
And, as with almost anything, the Allen County Democrat had an opinion. Under the headline “Fisherman’s luck,” the newspaper on April 11, 1878, wrote, “It’s time now to go fishing, and we venture the remark that the styles and results and peculiarities of the pastime will be the same as heretofore. The business man, longing for a day’s recreation, and the loafer, sighing for a change from the dull monotony of his calling, will ‘gather at the banks of the great Reservoir’ to try their luck.”
And luck, the Democrat observed, seemed to favor “the man that uses a pole that he cut in the woods, in conjunction with a piece of chalk line.” That man “will capture all the big bass he can carry on a forked stick, while the scientific gentleman, with a silver-mounted bamboo rod and a silk line, will be seen coming home up a back alley when the evening shades descend, with a two-ounce bull head in a fancy bucket.”
The newspaper concluded, “However proficient he may be in solving the difficult questions that enter into subjects of finance, politics, religion or any of the arts or sciences, this mystery he is never able to explore with any degree of satisfaction to himself, unless he goes back to first principles and accounts for it on the simple theory that it’s fisherman’s luck.”
The warming weather of spring was awaited by fishermen eager to try their luck in the region’s reservoirs and rivers. “Soon the time to sit on the reservoir bank, and patiently look to see when the cork goes under, will be here,” the Democrat wrote on April 1, 1875. “We shall be ready for a grand fishing expedition to St. Marys.”
St. Marys (Grand Lake St. Marys) and the Lewistown Reservoir (Indian Lake), both constructed in the 19th century to feed the Miami & Erie Canal, were popular fishing spots. Oil man John D. Rockefeller, the ultimate businessman, reportedly often fished the Lewistown Reservoir. “Not a summer passed without him spending two or three weeks there,” the Lima Daily News wrote in 1906.
On Jan. 3, 1908, the News citing an account from the Wapakoneta Republican wrote that the St. Marys reservoir was so loaded with bass that two of the fish didn’t bother waiting to be caught and jumped into the boat of a local man. “He discovered later that the water was literally alive with them, and that they varied in size from five pounds down. Had net fishing been permitted … he could have made big money.”
At Indian Lake, money was being made. On June 16, 1906, the News reported in a front page story that “one of the most noted of inland fishing resorts” was plagued with illegal net fishing. State game wardens often were threatened by the illegal fishermen operating from the lake’s many islands, the newspaper reported, while local residents had been intimidated into silence.
The fishing, legal and otherwise, was good in the area and fish stories popped up in the local papers like flowers in the spring. Typical was a story in the June 27, 1890, edition of the Lima Daily Times. The newspaper reported that a boy sitting along the banks of the Ottawa River in Lima noticed a “disturbance of the peaceful waters of the stream.” Soon, he told the newspaper, a fish over three feet in length appeared at the surface. “Several boys are trying to capture the prize.”
“Fish stories are at a discount, owing to an overstocked market — for the stories, not the fish,” the Times wrote several months later. “Hereafter we will not print any big fish stories unless we get some of the fish,” the Lima Times-Democrat jokingly threatened on July 12, 1906.
Newspapers did continue to publish the stories, gladly. “Thank goodness it won’t be long now ‘till a six-foot fisherman from Russells Point tells a seven-foot fish story,” the News wrote on March 13, 1914.
The widespread use of photos in newspapers ended the fish stories, some of which, the photos would prove, were not stories at all.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.