Ernie Olson on commercial fishing in Lake Superior
This project chronicles the lives of Minnesota Native Americans who lived during World War II and are part of "Minnesota’s Greatest Generation." Some of the subjects discussed include growing up on a reservation; attending government run boarding schools; powwows; the Civilian Conservation Corps [CCC]; the Works Progress Administration [WPA]; enlisting in the armed forces; past and present life at the Red Lake Indian Reservation; the Great Depression; combat experiences during World War II; life after the war; the dropping of the atomic bombs; American Indian cultural identity and traditions; the American Indian Movement; and views on the Cold War and Iraq War.
...It was just a [commercial] fishing operation [after WWII]. Scott Brothers and Son. That was the way it was...[We caught] trout, mostly. Not much for herring. It was a good living. A lot of trout in the lake [Superior] in those days, although it had been fished heavily for a long time. But they sure recovered. I mean they must recover quickly because we had catches up to a thousand pounds sometimes...We had four gangs of nets we called it. Sixty nets on a gang. A little over four hundred feet each net. We had forty in a string out there on top of that bank. So we caught up to a thousand pounds. Nothing less than two hundred fifty on up to a thousand pounds a trip. That was one week. They were on the bottom so it was cold. The ones that died were preserved. No problem. They were marketable fish. We had four days per week. Four gangs like that. A hundred and sixty nets. And we covered in four days. You couldn't do it in one day. You did a fourth of it. And that's a long day. Five o-clock in the morning we'd be leaving the harbor. We'd get back about six thirty, seven o'clock at night depending on how much catch we had. We'd lift them and then set them back. Lift these whole forty nets. Pile them in the back of the boat and put them back. We'd set them back. The whole thing was about a six-hour operation. There was four hours to get out there and four hours to get back. So that was eight hours, and six was about fourteen hours from the time you left to the time you get back. Run the nets and get back. We'd clean them on the way in...We got them done...We shipped them fresh...And they'd leave during the night after we'd get back. So they were very fresh. Up to Duluth. That went on for years...
Ernest Olson (Grand Portage), Oral History Interviews of the Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project: Native American interviews. Minnesota Historical Society, 2006, written transcript 35.