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Virtual Tour: Fishing Life
Commercial fishing on the North Shore was an arduous and often dangerous life. Fishing was often a solitary task, and required that fishermen brave the frigid waters and unpredictable weather of Lake Superior to set and pick nets. Onshore work was endless and nearly as demanding as the fishing itself. Even for the exhausting work and constant hazards, this life had one overriding advantage, the freedom of working for oneself.
Fishing was not an easy life. Herring nets were picked daily and if the catch was heavy, this could take nearly all day. Picking herring out of a gill net in ice cold water with soaking wet wool mittens was a test of purpose and endurance. The weather of Lake Superior is legendary for its fickleness, and without warning, calm waters could become a raging storm.
Back from the lake, the work day was only half finished. Fish were dressed and iced, frozen or salted depending on the season and the quantity of the catch. Large runs of herring required many hours of backbreaking work splitting and salting the small fish. The entire family worked together to process the fish before they spoiled.
The formidable amount of shore work was a shared family responsibility. In preparation for the fall herring runs, nets had to be cleaned, hung to dry on net reels and then hanked up and laid in net boxes. The net corks were dunked in boiling linseed oil, later to be rubbed and dried by children.
Chores continued into the winter with making fish boxes, seaming and mending nets and repairing skiffs. Bulk netting was ordered and dark winter days were spent seaming new nets and mending old ones.
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