Doug Norton tells stories of growing up on the Marina Wednesday, Aug. 15 during the Dartford Historical Society’s Lunch in the Park series. Ariana Hones photo
by Ariana Hones
Ask any person fishing on Green Lake and they can probably say a thing or two about lake trout.
From the lucky spots on Big Green to the miracle methodology of luring the fish in with spoons.
However, often lost in these moments of fishing for dinner is the foundational question of the trout’s very existence: How did lake trout get to Green Lake?
And what treasures lie in that local history?
The surrounding community provides a rich answer to that inquiry. More specifically, Doug Norton does.
Thirty people hauled their lawn chairs and lunches to Deacon Mills Park at noon Wednesday, Aug. 15 to listen to Norton speak on stories of the lake from long ago.
The August edition of the Dartford Historical Society’s summer lunch series featured topic was the Green Lake Marina in the 1960s.
Doug Norton, a native of Green Lake, described his experience growing up on the marina and his family’s involvement with the trout, package delivery and shoreline dinners.
“It all started in the year 1885,” Norton began. “Lake trout from Sheboygan were brought to Green Lake for the first time.”
The planter of the trout?
Norton’s grandfather, Joe.
Although there were numerous plantings over the following decades, lake trout were all but forgotten as people came to the lake for black bass and northern pike, rarely catching any trout.
In 1944, that changed.
While ice fishing, Joe Norton caught a lake trout.
He came back with more hands and caught even more.
Ice-fishing lake trout proved to be bountiful, but when summer came the trout seemed to disappear.
Then in the 1950s the spoon lure was invented that was able to better locate and attract the trout.
In 1952, thousands flocked to Green Lake to try their hand on the waters with this new technique.
The Dartford Historical Society estimates that more than 500 trout were caught that year on Green Lake.
Averaging 18 pounds, the lake trout of this decade were the biggest the lake would ever see.
Some weighed between 25 and 30 pounds, with the record holding fish coming in at 34 pounds, 4 ounces.
Then, the motor boats came.
“It changed the lake completely,” said Norton as he recounted a story of one man who always would have him hold his “lucky” boat for him. “If he didn’t get his ‘lucky’ boat he wouldn’t go out.”
At the time, Norton’s family had around 20 motors to rent out to customers, so it was often necessary for people to bring their own.
When not helping out on the dock, Norton described stories from his childhood mail route, where the Norton family would deliver packages to “almost every pier on Green Lake during the summer” via boat.
“The marina was a gathering space and everyone was friends back then.”
Community also was brought together through shoreline dinners that consisted of corn on the cob, fish fried in bacon grease and butter, fish chowder and pancakes for dessert.
“We would go out in the middle of the lake to get the water needed for the coffee because it was so clean you could drink it,” Norton said.
As the boats passed each other on their shoreline tours of the lake, with everyone full of dinner and cheer, singing often was heard from each vessel.
“Everyone was always singing,” Norton said.
The connection between Joe Norton and the introduction of lake trout, to the mail recipients going out on their docks to fetch letters and packages, and the party-goers on the dinner boat tours is not just that they all were on water.
It is that the water was in Green Lake.
That water was home.
Whether it was filled with trout or not.
The Dartford Historical Society serves “to preserve the heritage of the community, to tell a complete story of people and nature in our area, background as well as details, and showing history as a continuing movement of yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
The lunch series has concluded for the summer, but more opportunities for engagement in local history may be found on the Dartford Historical Society’s website.