Beliefs & Practices

Under good weather conditions, Lake Erie is not as dangerous as open waters can be, and Lake Erie fishing trips almost never last more than a day these days. Despite this, commercial fishing is still a chancy business, and Lake Erie fishermen, like fishermen everywhere, are aware of the signs that can indicate either a propitious or a risky day's work, in terms of both yield and safety. Narratives evidencing folk belief and practice provide justification for the insider's knowledge of experienced fishermen—knowledge about where to find fish, how to predict the changeable Lake weather and how to ensure general good luck or at least avoid bad (carry St. Christopher’s medals, never fish on Sunday, etc.). Whether based in biology or the supernatural, fishermen’s beliefs and practices and the narratives which support them enable fishermen to bring in the greatest possible catch at the least possible cost, both financial and human, and indicate the importance of traditional knowledge and healthy caution. Some of these narratives simply express or describe a belief or practice without providing specific examples of practice and consequence, as in the case with this example of a good luck ritual:

Most of these narratives, though, follow the classic pattern—they describe a belief or practice, its observance or violation and the consequence—as in the following example, in which the punishing agency is not God or Mother Nature but the Division of Wildlife of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Interview Transcript Excerpt

Martin Hosko: I was superstitious. I wouldn't put a boat in the water on Friday.

Tim Lloyd: Yes, to start a trip out? What happens when you do that?

MH: I lost more boats, 6 or 7 boats, speedboats, over $1,500, $1,600. But every time I would put a boat in the water on Friday, I would lose it. I got suspicious, and always put my boat that was in the water on the bank...

TL: Are these other things like that that are unlucky to do?

MH: …I'm kinda superstitious about working Sundays. I was in the business for myself all those years, and I don't believe I worked four Sundays in all the years. And I think on a fast boat the commercial fisherman is better than anybody. And the fellows, you have to work Sundays. And that's what you fished. I know fellows, fishermen, that work Sundays.

TL: What about Fridays? Do you know about people that had bad luck on Fridays?

MH: No. But Sunday is a day to rest. And Sunday, when I left the fishermen on Saturday, I didn't see them till Monday. I couldn't turn around quick enough to get out. Maybe there's nothing to it.

TL: Well, like you were saying, you had bad luck on some of those Fridays speeding.

MH: Never put a boat in the water.  Every time I think about it that's when I lost every one.

For more images of the rest of the collection, visit the image gallery and click the Lake Erie Fishermen box on the right side of the page.

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