Fishing at Stokes Bay
by the late Vincent Elliott

Up to about 1940 the fishing nets were made of cotton or linen with 5 inch mesh for catching trout and whitefish. Later the mesh was changed to 4 4/5 for trout and 2 inch mesh for tullibbes. At first wooden corks were used and these were sent back each year to Wiarton to have them soaked in linseed oil and baked. Later plastic corks were used which were easier to tie on the sidelines that the aluminum floats used in tillibee nets. The amount of nets put out each day was measured in “boxes.” A net-box would hold about three nets of 325 ft. each. The first nets were only about 14 mesh (6 feet) deep but by 1940 they were making nets of 35 meshes deep and by 1950 some nets were 60 meshes (20 feet) deep. The nets were supported by floats joined to sidelines with seaming twine every ten feet apart and leads were hung exactly under the floats. These cotton nets would rot easily and had to be brought in often and spread out on the reels to dry and be dipped in bluestone. Even when nylon nets were invented they still used cotton sidelines to support then until nylon and dacron lines became available. After about 1950 when all-nylon nets were used, the nets would be left in the boxes, and the big drying-reels along the shore fell into disrepair. 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. It was not until the 1950s that 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 like about 50oF or colder best and whitefish liked 54oF. Later the fishermen used Loran C equipment with fixes on the shores in two places to locate their nets. 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 a.m. and leave by 5 a.m. and run out into the lake in a certain direction for a certain time (a boat went 10 m.p.h.). They lifted nets by hand at first and later used rollers and net-winders. When the fish were taken out of the nest, they would be put back in again unless they needed to be brought in and treated or mended. The fisherman had lunch with a gas stove or baked a whitefish on the hot engine. A gang of nets, four boxes, about 1,000 feet, would be set by early afternoon and the fishermen would be back in about 4 p.m. Hook lines were used up around Fitzwulliam Island sometimes. At Stokes Bay the nets were put out in 7 to 8 feet of water around Gobbler shoals or Goodrow shoals South of Lyal Island. This was risky as a sudden storm could roll the shallow nets up into an impossible mess and the fishermen might have to buy (charge) all new nets. In Spring the nets were usually set on sand bottom in 10 to 20 fathoms (100 feet). In Summer the guided parties of tourists caught tullibees (ciscos, fresh-water-herrings) or chub (deep-water cisco). Fal was a good fishing season again for trout or whitefish and then herring last of all.
Some of the fishermen were Malcolm and Jack Graham and Kenny Murray who fished out of Stokes Bay with a tug from 1935 to 1947 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 for $45.00 and two bottle of swamp whiskey at $2.00 a bottle at Johnson’s Harbour. Then 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, Earl McArthur and Kenny McLay built a 42-foot wooden boat with a rock-elm keel from Ruben Hollers at Purple Valley. In 1953 a new steel boat was built in Wiarton by Kenny McLay, Lount Kawke and Cairns and sons Ray and Ken. It was 46 feet long and had a 671 diesel engine. It was sold to Morris Meneary 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.
One of the earliest fishermen we can remember was Harvey Golden and with his famous boat, “The Pearl”. He fished with Bob and George Golden, Carl Hawes and Kenny Murray. There may have been a steam engine in it at first but this was changed for a better Kermath marine engine. This boat was used up until about 1939.
Garny 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 an old steel life-boat. He used to go trolling with a long pole across the end of the boat with four trolls, partly supported with rubber innertubes, hanging, from the back of the end. He made his own trolls with tin cans and big hooks wrapped with red yarn and used to catch a lot of good-sized trout.
George McLay used to fish with others but then he built a wooden boat of 2x4’s pried into place in 1943. This boat promptly sank, but 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.
Seymour Knight has a boat built in Goderich in 1948. He sold this 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 abot 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. He bought a big boat in the United Sates which he later sold to John Liverance, who is using it now fishing out of Stokes Bay.

Pages 53 - 59 of Old Timers’ Tales
A History of Stokes Bay and Area
(Bruce Peninsula)
By Helene Scott