Friday, November 29, 2013

Hokenson Fishery - A Step Back in Time

Early on in our vacation this past summer, Glen and I were at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
We were looking for something to do in the morning before our boat ride to the Islands in the afternoon, we decided to check out Little Sand Bay. In the process, we stumbled across the beautifully restored and maintained Hokenson Brothers Fishery, which is part of the National Parks System.

Leo, Roy and Eskel Hokenson operated a family-owned commercial fishing business at Little Sand Bay for more than 30 years. The three brothers, sons of Swedish immigrants, grew up in Bayfield. As young men they started out as dairy farmers on the family homestead, but found the cold climate and poor soil didn't yield enough to support three families. In 1927, the brothers began their fishery, entering an industry that had thrived in the Apostle Islands area since railroads linked this remote region to the markets in Chicago and New York. They used skill, strength and courage to profitably harvest fish from the largest expanse of freshwater in the world.

Glen and I were fortunate enough to have a personal tour of the fishery buildings, given to us by one of the volunteer Park Rangers. It was so wonderful to step in history and see the various equipment used at a fishery in the 1930's.

The house was built in 1940 for Roy and his wife. Having one of the brothers on site provided peace of  mind during stormy nights. It is now used as employee housing.

The Twine Shed
The Twine Shed was an absolutely lovely place to photograph in, the light coming in through the side windows gave the place such a wonderful feel.

In this barn-like building, named for the twine used in the fishing nets, nets were prepared, repaired and stored. The bulky pound nets are arranged along the wall.

Pound Net Boat
Flat-bottomed so fishermen stand and haul in lines without capsizing, a pound boat would be maneuvered around the pot to raise the net and scoop out the fish.

The Twine Shed was more than just a storehouse for equipment. Machinery, spare parts, and lubricants share the south end of the building.

Rings, anchors and other tools could be made or fixed at the forge, sometimes by using the scrap metal stored under the bench.

A workshop and storehouse, smitty and junkyard, machine and carpenter shop, the Twine Shed embodies the assortment of skills commercial fishermen had to practice to get their catch from the lake to the market.

 The Dock and Herring Shed

The dock was the first structure built at the fishery site. It's "L" shape afforded boats some protection from storms.

In the Herring Shed, wives, children, and hired hands awaited their arrival - each with a separate job in the assembly line process.

The fish were untangled from the net, rinsed in the wooden tank, gutted and beheaded, rinsed again in the other tank, drip-dried on the rack, salted, and stacked in a barrel.

As you stand on the dock and look out over the lake, the scene is the same as it was when the fishery was operating, but the story has changed. Commercial fishing was a vibrant industry when the Hokenson brothers began their business in 1927. By the time they retired in the mid-1960's, the Lake Superior fishery had drastically changed. Sea Lamprey, a parasitic fish, invaded Lake Superior in the 1940's. By the 1950's it had nearly decimated the lake trout and reduced the number of whitefish. Another exotic fish, smelt, may have reduced the herring population. 

Today's few remaining commercial fishermen have had to realize that the profits of the business are limited not just by skill and stamina, but by the need to conserve and share the resource.

**information source The National Park Service

I hope you have enjoyed tagging along on our tour of a historic fishery.

Joining Helen at a Flash of Inspiration for her tribute to Vintage Week with a Vintage Photo Walk.


  1. Merveilleuses photos et belle aventure !
    Joli post!
    Have a nice week-end! Cath.

  2. you have the coolest adventures, these are superb photos and super interesting post!

  3. What an interesting trip. Your photos are stunning - I equally love the exterior shots and the goodies inside! Thanks for your support during my Vintage Week. May you have many more adventures!

  4. Thanks for another interesting post. What a shame about the fish today. Hope you had a wonderful thanksgiving.

  5. So interesting Sarah and your photos really capture the essence.
    I found this song called Herring Girls, it's a traditional folk song.

    Herring girls are knitting, gathered round the harbour seats,
    Hands that are never idle, always busy for the fleet.
    Their working clothes are ready and their fingers wrapped so neat,
    But it doesn’t stop the salt from seeping through.

    Early every morning with the sleep still in their e’e,
    Two lassies for the gutting and the packer makes it three.
    Herring girls are waiting on the Peterhead quay
    To welcome the fishermen home.

    It’s down into the herring yard ‘til late into the night,
    In their leather boots and aprons with their head-scarves fastened tight.
    A shilling for a barrel, an extra tanner if it’s right,
    From Buckie all the way to Whitby town.

    They drag the boats and launch the boats and keep their menfolk dry,
    They fetch the fish and salt the fish and sell the fish forebye.
    With dignity and pride although the pay is never high,
    As they chase the silver darlings down the coast.

    They gut the fish and pack the fish from Aberdeen to Shields,
    Some lassies at the pickling, some working at the creels.
    There’s coopers there and curers there and all the canny chiels
    Who buy the herring landed on the quay.

    Jenny loves a fisher lad, who has a quarter-share,
    And every time his fleet moves on you’ll find young Jenny there.
    Peggy’s always combing out the tangles in her hair,
    And Marie wants to be the herring queen.

    On Saturday there’s dancing with the working week behind,
    On Sunday there’s the mission hall for bread and holy wine.
    But on Monday you go back to dousing herring in the brine

  6. What great photos...what great history!

  7. Love the knife and cutting boaord picture.

  8. I would love to have spent hours photographing that storeroom. What another wonderful selection of photographs, thank you for sharing such amazing insights

  9. Wonderful vintage walk! I love the first picture in the twine shed. You captured such beautiful light on the net. Those nets remind me of the Apostles fishing and Jesus causing their nets to fill to capacity and more!

  10. wow, what a life they must've led. lovely photos, and thank you for the tour! ;)

  11. Great info and awesome processing. I believe the last two are my favorites.

  12. Once again, thank you for honing in on the details that entrance me in a place like this. The human touch, seen in inanimate objects. I love old tools and workbenches for that reason. Great processing too!



Thank you so much for visiting today and taking the time to read my thoughts on life. :)