They Had To Go A Fishin'

 © Photographed February 28, 2014
Port Washington, Ozaukee County, Wisconsin
43° 23.228′ N, 87° 52.071′ W

They Had To Go A Fishin'
The lure of the lake is magnetic and hypnotizing to a true commercial fisherman. It draws him into its embrace from the time he is born to the day he is laid to rest. The lake mesmerizes him with its beauty, strength and sometimes terror. It provides an attraction that satisfies and nurtures his very soul.

To survive, a commercial fisherman learns quickly to respect the lake. He knows it can fill his nets with its bounty or send him back to port with nothing to show for his day's work. He also knows the lake can just as easily steal his nets, sink his boat and take his life. Regardless, he loves fishing and the lake through good times and bad.

Typically the fisherman's day started before dawn and ended after dark. Conditions were usually too hot or too cold but always wet and dirty. His uniform included heavy clothes and waterproof outerwear called oilers. The rocking, pounding and lurching of the boat created balance, a strong stomach, strength and stamina to endure. Even with the advent of machinery to assist in the lifting of the nets, the lake was no place for the weak of heart. Muscle strains, bruises or gashes from a slip of the knife were usually dismissed with a laugh and the knowledge that this was just part of the job.

Long days and short nights were taken for granted by the fishermen and the families that awaited their safe return. On a good day nets could be lifted and the fish dressed out on the way back to port. If the lake was capping and the boats had to pound their way in, the day stretched long hours beyond the time the mooring lines were secured and the sky had passed into darkness. The catch had to be off-loaded, wet nets replaced with gangs of dry ones and the boat cleaned up and made ready for another day on the lake.

Once dockside, these hardy fishermen often partook of a pail of beer retrieved from a nearby saloon by one of the many boys that frequented the docks awaiting their time to venture out of the harbor and take their place next to a seasoned veteran of the lakes. Or, as was the culture of the time, the crew might hang up their oilers and stop at their tavern of choice. There among their compatriots stories would flow freely, tales of the lake would be born and the men fortified their courage to face Lake Michigan not knowing what the morrow would bring.

Be she grim lover or seductive siren, a true commercial fisherman cannot turn his back on the love of his life, the lake.
The marker is part of the Commercial Fisherman's Memorial located at Rotary Park at the farthest east end of West Grand Avenue / Wisconsin Highway 32, Port Washington, Wisconsin 53074.

The Commercial Fisherman's Memorial is located at Rotary Park
in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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