Fishin' off the Bridge
by Rod Johnson
The attached old picture prompted this recollection. It was perhaps 1957, give or take a year, when the shot was taken. Most likely one or our parents with an old Brownie camera did the job. As many of you may have guessed or recognized, the bridge is our one and only in Belgrade Lakes. And you may also recognize one or more of the kids showing off their catch. I'll identify them at the end of the story after you've had a chance to ponder.
Up through the '50s, '60s and beyond, the white perch populations in the seven-lake chain were bountiful. Every Spring the "perch run" as we called it, both in Long Pond and Great Pond's Mill Stream, created a fisherman's delight. There were so many little perch mixed with their parents and grandparents of the humpback sizes, that people from the village and beyond came daily to catch a bucket full to enjoy at the table.
After a long winter some free fresh fish from the lake was very desirable. As I recall, there was no size or quantity limit on the perch, unlike with some of their brethren like salmon and trout.
As much as we kids loved to join the catching of fish, we intermingled with the others and carried on our cottage industry of selling worms. The local bait dealer Cass French bought worms from us on a regular basis for a penny each and in later years uncle Al Johnson bought worms, crawfish, frogs and hellgrammites when he couldn't pick enough himself.
On the Long Pond side of the bridge not shown here, the now Peninsula Park was just a spit of eroded dirt and rocks, created as a berm with the spoilage when the dam was built. That area would be crowded around the perimeter with "worm dunkers," a nickname given to the perch seekers as a whole, no demeaning intended.
In amongst the crowd, a couple of old codgers who guided most of their lives named Russell Morrill and Pudge Farnham, would mingle long enough to flick their Grey Ghost or Mickey Finn streamers into the frothing water rushing over the dam as Great Pond emptied into Long. The experienced elders' hand tied deer hair flies would soon get rises from the larger humpback perch. As their pails quickly filled and the crowd looked on with envy, Pudge and Russ would pull up stakes and head on home, as the rest rebaited their hooks with worms.
As I looked closely, some of the things I noticed in the picture that brought back memories are as follows: Looking closely through the bridge railing to the lower right, we see a Belgrade-built wooden fishing boat sitting peacefully at the dock. The boat was built in the shop not 20 feet away by Ernest Soler, Ralph Stewart, or Cliff Johnson, all boat builders during the first half the 20th century. Above the boat you are looking at the windowed sidewall of the old boat shop. Just to the back of the old shop sits a wooden boat on a trailer likely awaiting repair. In the middle sits my parents' 1956 Buick Special. The old shop was torn down in 1972 or '73 and sat precisely where LakePoint Realty sits now.
For you who guessed the kids in the picture, let's see if you were correct. From left to right, leaning on bridge and facing camera is yours truly, second is Ray Barker, third is Darryl Davis, and last is Howard Downing. Looks like it's time to clean some fish and maybe Mom or Dad will cook them for suppah!
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.