Those that Fished

© Photographed February 28, 2014
Port Washington, Ozaukee County, Wisconsin
43° 23.228′ N, 87° 52.071′ W
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Those that Fished
Andrew Lodde was working on fish tugs by the time he was sixteen in 1888. He started with the Van Ells in Port Washington, then off of Jones Island and back to Port when the fish company relocated here. In 1913 Andrew formed a partnership with the Bosslers and captained the FORTUNA. The business was called the Lodde and Bossler Fish Company. Lodde was considered the preeminent fish "dresser" and "net spinner" (net mender). He passed these skills on to a young man named John Bernick who later had the distinction of being Port's last full time shore hand.

Orlando "Butzie" Decker's family moved to a farm on the south bluff of Port Washington in 1918. When Butzie was still quite young he built the first of many open boats and slid it down the bluff to reach the lake. With farm work and a lot of rowing he developed the stamina necessary for setting and lifting perch nets by hand. Butzie would set his nets north or south of Port one day and go out and lift the nets the next. A small outboard motor later complimented the oars. He would fish in weather that kept most of the fish tugs tied to their moorings. From time to time Butzie formed business alliances with other fishermen, but usually he fished alone. In one particularly violent storm he did not return to shore. Fishermen set out the next day expecting the worst, only to find Butzie asleep in his small boat tied to a pound net stake. Butzie died of a heart attack March 30, 1968. Only 50 years old he was already a local legend.

Joseph Cayner fished out of Port Washington for 32 years. The Austrian native arrived here as a youth of ten and was soon working for his father who was a cement contractor. In 1930 the father and son bought out Pantazes and Joe become a partner with Bossler-Lodde. Two years later the business and the steam tug FORTUNA were his. Joe Jr. was an aggressive fisherman and businessman. He bought a "tinned off" wooden tug in 1934 and renamed her the JOE CAYNER SR. After World War II he had the MAR-SU built in Kewaunee, WI. Joe had learned the fishing trade working with many of the old timers. Not a rish taker but just an excellent seaman, Joe shared his skills with the many men that worked for him over the years. In 1959 the MAR-SU was converted to a trawler with an open stern. Joe died on Valentine's Day, 1962 when he was lost overboard.

One of the most colorful of Port Washington's commercial fishermen was John "Jeep" Wildhagen. As a child, Jeep immigrated from Hanover, Germany, with his family. He moved to Port Washington when he was fourteen and worked at various times for the Ewigs, Kleins, Smiths, Cayners and Bosslers. He quickly graduated from shore work to deck hand and fished on most of the tugs. Following the fish and the opportunity to make some money, Jeep fished out of Port Washington, Milwaukee, Kenosha, Waukegan and Racine. He eventually went into business for himself and owned and operated the OVER-THE-TOP and later the ROY K. A prolific story teller, Jeep could entertain all within earshot with stories of the lake and his escapades. Fact or fancy was never known, but to the end Jeep was one of a kind, a real character, an enterprising businessman and an avid promoter of Port Washington.

Harry, Gilbert and George Klein formed the Klein Fish Company in 1943. They purchased the W.R. BUSCH and began fishing for trout with hook lines. Unable to find a suitable site near the harbor, they trucked their hooks, nets and fish out to Knellsville where they set up their processing plant in an old cheese factory. Typical work days started before sunrise and weren't over until 10 p.m. In 1948 the Kleins moved their operation north to Houghton-Hancock on Lake Superior.

Fishing flourished in the waters off Port Washington throughout the 1920's and 1930's. As many as 15 to 20 fishing boats filled our harbor basin. In 1935 nearly one million pounds of whitefish, perch, herring, chubs and lake trout were caught by our commercial fishermen. The supply of this renewable resource seemed endless.

Then, unfortunately, a combination of factors hastened the decline of commercial fishing on Lake Michigan. Most species had been over-fished for years and all but disappeared. Exotic sea lampreys found their way through the St. Lawrence Seaway and decimated the lake trout population. Alewives, also an unwanted ocean import, competed for the spawning grounds and food used by the perch and herring.

One by one the fish tugs and their rigs were laid up or sold to other fishermen scattered around the lakes. Career fishermen and the shore workers were forced to seek other employment. By 1970 only the tug OLIVER H. SMITH still fished out of our harbor. No longer does the lakefront resound with the din of several hundred workers. The markets and processing plants, net sheds and smoke houses closed their doors and fell to the wrecking crew. As a new century dawns only one fish house remains standing on Port Washington's lakefront. The distinctive Smith Bros. net shed, no longer used for its intended purpose, is the only reminder of an industry that contributed so much to our city.
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.

Port Washington Port Fish Day ("The World's Largest One Day Outdoor Fish Fry")

The marker is located at Rotary Park.

 The marker is located in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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