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Commemorative Fishing at the History Center

By Wayne Hastings

My perception of my great grandfather Charles Ervin Wall has always been intricately tied to fishing. According to family lore, he was an expert fisherman who was commonly seen frying a dozen or two panfish even before the sun fully came up. If bluegills could talk, I am sure they too would attest to his skill and passion. A combination of stories and photographs of his prized trophies has kept the memory of him alive and vivid within our family. Without having ever met him, I feel like I have known him my whole life.

The Monroe County History Center also has a collection of commemorative fishing objects that help keep memories of fishermen and women alive. Most commonly we have photographs. Here is a woman showing off a string of panfish that would have undoubtedly been fried. Ironically, we do not have a name, place, or date to remember her by so her story most likely lives on solely through her family.

Collection ID: 2009.071.0086

Commemorative fishing plaques are usually more thoroughly documented such as this taxidermied largemouth bass. This fishing “trophy” gives us the name of the fisherman, the fish species, and the weight. I am sure if you had inquired, Ellis would have indulged you by further explaining how he caught it, where he caught it, and how an even bigger bass got away.

Collection ID: 2011.011.0216

Interestingly, this style of commemorative art leaves the length of the fish to our imagination. Luckily, we have fisherman rulers like these to tell us ‘exactly’ how big our catches really are. This gag ruler from the old Schmalz’s Department Store reminds me of how much mythologizing is in fishing stories. One of my grandfathers once told me he had caught over a foot long bluegill from Lake Wapehani. Without any corroboration, it is hard to believe whether that is true or not.

Collection ID: 1984.026.0083

Luckily for younger generations, everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times. Be sure to document your fishing trophies this summer not only as proof of your catch, but also as a way to preserve your own legacy. Your future grandchildren will thank you, as well as the History Center where your photographs may eventually end up.