Port Washington in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
Those That Fished
Orlando "Butzie" Decker's family moved to a farm on the south bluff of Port Washington in 1918. When Butzie was still quite young he built the first of many open boats and slid it down the bluff to reach the lake. With farm work and a lot of rowing he developed the stamina necessary for setting and lifting perch nets by hand. Butzie would set his nets north or south of Port one day and go out and lift the nets the next. A small outboard motor later complimented the oars. He would fish in weather that kept most of the fish tugs tied to their moorings. From time to time Butzie formed business alliances with other fishermen, but usually he fished alone. In one particularly violent storm he did not return to shore. Fishermen set out the next day expecting the worst, only to find
Joseph Cayner fished out of Port Washington for 32 years. The Austrian native arrived here as a youth of ten and was soon working for his father who was a cement contractor. In 1930 the father and son bought out Pantazes and Joe become a partner with Bossler-Lodde. Two years later the business and the steam tug FORTUNA were his. Joe Jr. was an aggressive fisherman and businessman. He bought a "tinned off" wooden tug in 1934 and renamed her the JOE CAYNER SR. After World War II he had the MAR-SU built in Kewaunee, WI. Joe had learned the fishing trade working with many of the old timers. Not a risk taker but just an excellent seaman, Joe shared his skills with the many men that worked for him over the years. In 1959 the MAR-SU was converted to a trawler with an open stern. Joe died on Valentine's Day, 1962 when he was lost overboard.
One of the most colorful of Port Washington's commercial fishermen was John "Jeep" Wildhagen. As a child, Jeep immigrated from Hanover, Germany, with his family. He moved to Port Washington when he was fourteen and worked at various times for the Ewigs, Kleins, Smiths, Cayners and Bosslers. He quickly graduated from shore work to deck hand and fished on most of the tugs. Following
Harry, Gilbert and George Klein formed the Klein Fish Company in 1943. They purchased the W.R. BUSCH and began fishing for trout with hook lines. Unable to find a suitable site near the harbor, they trucked their hooks, nets and fish out to Knellsville where they set up their processing plant in an old cheese factory. Typical work days started before sunrise and weren't over until 10 p.m. In 1948 the Kleins moved their operation north to Houghton-Hancock on Lake Superior.
Fishing flourished in the waters off Port Washington throughout the 1920's and 1930's. As many as 15 to 20 fishing boats filled our harbor basin. In 1935 nearly one million pounds of whitefish, perch, herring, chubs and lake trout were caught by our commercial fishermen. The supply of this renewable resource seemed endless.
Then, unfortunately, a combination of factors hastened the decline of commercial fishing on Lake Michigan. Most species had been over-fished for years and all but disappeared. Exotic sea lampreys found their way through the St. Lawrence Seaway and decimated the lake trout population. Alewives, also an unwanted ocean import, competed for the spawning grounds and food used by the perch and herring.
One by one the fish tugs and their rigs were laid up or sold to other fishermen scattered around the lakes. Career fishermen and the shore workers were forced to seek other employment. By 1970 only the tug OLIVER H. SMITH still fished out of our harbor. No longer does the lakefront resound with the din of several hundred workers. The markets and processing plants, net sheds and smoke houses closed their doors and fell to the wrecking crew. As a new century dawns only one fish house remains standing on Port Washington's lakefront. The distinctive Smith Bros. net shed, no longer used for its intended purpose, is the only reminder of an industry that contributed so much to our city.
Picture captions: (top) Albert Remitz and co-worker; (bottom from left to right) Joe Cayner and Eugene Bay; Fish Tug MERLEEN, Fighting the Ice; Fish Tug JOE CAYNER (Marker Number 5.)
Location. 43° 23.231′ N, 87° 52.06′ W. Marker is in Port Washington, Wisconsin, in Ozaukee County. Touch for map. Marker is located in Rotary Park which is at the end of East Grand Avenue. Marker is at or near this postal address: East Grand Avenue, Port Washington WI 53074, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Of Valor and Sorrow (here, next to this marker); A Lakefront in Transition (here, next to this marker); The Art of Commercial Fishing (here, next to this marker); They Had To Go A Fishin' (here, next to this marker); a different marker also named Those That Fished (here, next to this marker); Port Washington State Bank Centennial Pavilion (a few steps from this marker); Lake Michigan Habitat (within shouting distance of this marker); Sidewheel Steamer Niagara (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Port Washington.
More about this marker. The marker is part of the Commercial Fishermen's Memorial.
Categories. • Industry & Commerce • Waterways & Vessels •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on September 22, 2015, by Devon Polzar of Port Washington, Wisconsin. This page has been viewed 159 times since then and 30 times this year. Last updated on September 23, 2015, by Devon Polzar of Port Washington, Wisconsin. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on September 22, 2015, by Devon Polzar of Port Washington, Wisconsin. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.