Fish Tales & Memories at the History Forum

Mar 6, 2024 | 0 comments

Irene Martin. her foghorn, and me!

Today’s History Forum — our seventh! — was all about fish!  Pacific County fish tales going all the way back to the 1860s  and right up into present times.  The changes on the river and the riverbank — the methods, the equipment, the boats, and the memories — were shared by fishers who had been there, done that and loved it all!  Many of the rest of us joined in with our own memories.  And we asked questions:  “What’s a drift?”  “Where, exactly, was McGowan?”  “How did the Boldt Decision affect Sports Fishing?”

The experts were there to answer us and tell us so many things we wouldn’t have known to ask.  Irene Martin brought artifacts — a foghorn which looked a lot like a toy horn but was the only “protection” an early-day fisher had when fog shrouded the fishing grounds.  She also shared one of the earliest cans made on the river, with ends probably soldered with lead in those days.  The “opened” can (actually only barely opened and pried up — lethal looking) and an early can opener that looked a lot like a bayonet and for good reason.  Until some time after the Civil War, bayonets were exactly what were used for opening cans — until someone got inventive!

Oysterville Schoolhouse 2008 Today it wasn’t snowy but even though the heat had been turned to “comfort zone” yesterday afternoon, it was chilly around the edges!

Irene’s husband, Kent — a fourth generation fisherman with 40 years experience gillnetting on the Columbia and in Bristol Bay– explained what a “drift” was — how it was prepared, how the fishers used it, how one differed from another.  (You had to be there!)  It was a side to fishing that most of us landlubbers knew little about — and you could feel our appreciation expand!

Bill Garvin gave us an overview of his great-grandfather’s “company town” McGowan — how many year round workers lived there, how many seasonal workers, and an overview of living in a place where the only transportation out or in was by water.  Bill also had some great memories of  the McGowan of his childhood and of the stories  his mother told about growing up there in the teens and twenties.  (His mother and my mother were lifelong friends and, when I come to think about it, had many things in common, including grandfathers who had founded a town and growing up where transportation by land was the exception.)

Dick Wallace shared his boyhood memories of Derbyville which was a sports fishing summer camp owned and managed by his Grandfather Provo in the 1940s and 50s — a magical place for a young boy to make enough pennies to buy a pop at the Derbyville Store and to learn the ins and outs of boat-launching and fish-cleaning and all the other fishing lore necessary to an eight- or nine- or ten-year-old boy.  So many memories of a time along the River just west of where the bridge is now.  And so many heads nodding and that far-away look in the eyes of his listeners.  Remembering history!

Residences at McGowan, “A Company Town”

Pat Schenk shared great stories about his charter business — it, too, now in its fourth generation.  He spoke of the changes since the Boldt Decision, but not with complaint — mostly with a huge appreciation for his years in the business and the wonderful memories and fish tales he still enjoys telling.  And then… we were out of time!  I hope Michael Lemeshko will find a way to work in the Ilwaco Fish Wars next time.  I was looking forward to that.

But even so, it was a morning to remember and to share.  It was exactly what the History Forum is meant to be.  Thank you to all the participants.  Once again I felt the joy of living in a small community where we can learn from those who have lived history and so willingly share with the rest of us!  Now if only we can pass it on to those who are coming up — those whose memories will be of screen time and traffic jams and maybe, just maybe, if they are lucky, of catching their first salmon on the River.

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