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Fishing on Spiritwood Lake, 1895


For many, fishing has always been one of the joys of summer, while others claim not to understand the sport. Maybe Henry David Thoreau said it best when he wrote: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

On this date in 1895, a Bismarck Tribune reporter told about a fishing excursion to Spiritwood Lake, sixteen miles northeast of Jamestown. He believed in the “manifold beauty of angling,” noting that the people of Jamestown enjoyed “many pleasant hours . . . on the water[s]” of Spiritwood Lake. Two others, W.O. DePuy and M.W. Hutchinson, accompanied the reporter on an early-July fishing trip.

The reporter described Spiritwood Lake as a “delightfully located body of water, irregular in shape and winding about in a sort of half-circle for a length of 3 miles,” and “perhaps a half mile across.” Groves of leafy shade trees bordered the lake, and the rocky shoreline featured “stones and boulders” all around, placed there by Providence, “as regularly as though the beach had been” designed by landscape-architects and laid by master stonemasons.

The cold, clear water was reportedly teeming with fish, notably walleyes, northern pike, and perch. The perch were jumbo perch, averaging “a pound” in weight. The walleyes varied in size from one to four pounds. In 1895, Spiritwood Lake had not been fished out, as were other popular fishing spots in the region, providing highly interesting sport.

The three men fished for only three hours, using minnows for bait, and landed thirty-eight fish, including walleyes, northerns, and perch. Their largest fish weighed four pounds, but DuPuy lost a big one that broke his line and swam away with his hook, line, and sinker. DuPuy said this big northern pike weighed somewhere between 10 and 25 pounds, but he believed it was a 25-pounder, because of how far it bent his fishing rod, though it remained unseen, staying deep below in the choppy waters.

The happy anglers brought their catch back to Bob Wallace’s resort, where they cleaned their catch. Altogether, these fishermen found the “manifold beauty of angling” – and plenty of fish to fry from the bountiful waters of Spiritwood Lake.

Today’s Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “A Day At the Lake,” Bismarck Tribune, July 19, 1895, p. 3.

Thoreau in “Overheard,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, June 22, 2005, p. C12.

“Spiritwood Lake,” North Dakota Lake Finder, www.lake-link.com, accessed on May 29, 2013.