Perch Fishing and Foghorns

We’re going out on the river tomorrow: ending up in Ionia. I just asked a guy at an AA meeting if he knew where that was. “Yeah,” he said. “I was in prison there.” I expect we’ll be eating lunch at the Alibi in Ionia around 1 pm, after a 3-hour+/- paddle from Lyons. Join us if you can . . . we’ll be the swashbuckling pirates.

Joe Writes . . . 

These are my earliest memories of the Grand River, starting in about 1960 I suppose, when I was five years old, and beyond.

Perch fishing. Our cottage was a mile north of the channel, where the Grand enters Lake Michigan between Grand Haven’s north and south piers. We knew at a glance if the perch were biting because even from a distance we could tell whether the pier was largely deserted – perch not biting! –  or if the fishermen were lined up shoulder to shoulder. Fishermen fighting for a spot on the pier, of course, were a sure sign the perch were biting.  Perch fishermen were not an unfriendly lot – they always invited us to look in their buckets when we asked them “Catch anything?” – but they spread way out across the pier for some peace and quiet  unless the perch were hitting good.

Walking to the channel on the beach after a storm, the sand washed smooth and hard. We scooped up silver cylindrical fisherman’s floats, floats which before the storm had been used to hold up fishing nets.  I haven’t found one of those floats in ages but they were plentiful then. As far as I can tell commercial fishing is pretty much ka-put on southern Lake Michigan now.

In those days there were only a few houses on the beach past the Hartgers’ place. A few old, weather-worn classic cottages. The Caldwell cottage is the one I remember; it was straight out of a Cape Cod landscape painting. By the time I got to high school that stretch of beach was still deserted enough to provide cover for a couple of kids looking to be alone. Now? Forget about it. Get a room. (I defy anyone to identify a better summer love song than ‘So Much In Love’ by The Tymes.)

The foghorn was on the south pier, as it still is today. An early and comforting memory is of being gently urged to consciousness by the old-fashioned “AH-OOO-GA” of the foghorn on a rainy, misty morning. I probably wasn’t much older than 10 or 12 when the tone switched to an electronic ping; I think that’s what is still used now. I’m sure the new sound was safer and more detectable by the various ships at sea, but it wasn’t nearly as romantic. An electronic ping urges no boy to adventure. “AH-OOO-GA!”

Oh, and freighters entering the Grand or exiting back to the Big Lake belched black smoke from their stacks in those days. Coal smoke? I should know. Haven’t seen a freighter belching smoke in a while. Are the engines all diesel now? Again, I should know.

There have been many changes in the past 50+ years, but the river and the lake remain largely the same in my mind.

– 30 –

Hey, do me a favor; ok? Take the river’s side whenever you can. Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends already. Having stumbled across our blog, please recommend it to a friend. You will also find us on Facebook. Contact us by leaving a comment here or by email (, Join us on the river some day, we’d love the company but you must BYOC (bring your own canoe).


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1 Response to Perch Fishing and Foghorns

  1. Pingback: What Happened to the Perch? |

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