If Lake Shafer or Lake Freeman were drained to the original river bed of the Tippecanoe, one would find rock formations known as weirs.
Weirs are fish traps that are formed in a circular pattern that rise barely above the water level. These fish traps had a narrow opening. When fish would swim into these traps, sticks closely packed together were used to close the entrance. The fish would get wedged between the sticks and it was an easy task to catch the fish.
There were hundreds of weirs along the Tippecanoe and the early settlers would build their own weirs.
Since the days of the Pottawatomie and the arrival of the first settlers to the region, the Tippecanoe has been an inexhaustible food source. A book titled, “Biennial Report Commissioner of Fisheries and Game for Indiana,” published in 1907, states, “The Tippecanoe River is emphatically the sportsman’s stream of the State.”
The banks of the Tippecanoe also had natural springs that would provide clean water for the Indians and early pioneers. It is little wonder so many people settled on the banks of the Tippecanoe in White County.
Once the roads, bridges and railroads were built, White County became a mecca for fishermen. Prior to the dams being built, the waters of the Tippecanoe were crystal clear. A flood of out-of-town fishermen invaded the area. With this influx of fishermen, savvy businessmen began stocking items to sell in their stores.
Imagine going into a jewelry store today and finding fly fishing rods and reels and other fishing paraphernalia. There were tire stores selling boat motors and Roth Brothers on North Main Street went so far as to build rowboats.
When the Forbis Hotel opened at the corner of Harrison and Main Street in 1901, the majority of their clientele were out-of-town fishermen. When the Norway Dam was completed, the onslaught of fisherman increased exponentially. At this time, Lake Shafer became a destination location not as a result of Ideal Beach, but for fishing.
There were those with an entrepreneurial spirit who decided to build fishing camps. A large fishing camp was started by Oscar William Gano shortly after the Norway Dam was completed.
Prior to building Gano’s Camp at the mouth of the Big Monon, Gano did odd jobs and worked as a farm hand for Earnest Kellenberger outside of Reynolds.
Gano purchased an Indian motorcycle in 1917 that would attain speeds of 70 mph. Of course, in 1917 there was no way any vehicle could travel on the roads at this speed during this period.
Gano was born in 1896 in Clinton, Ill., and went to high school in Reynolds. Gano served as a soldier in World War I and was stationed at Camp Knox.
After being discharged from WWI service, Gano attempted to join the Navy in August 1918. He was disappointed that he failed to pass the examination.
In July 1919, Gano married Miss Madge Welte. After their marriage, they moved to Buffalo. Many of the older readers will remember Madge. She worked at Holder’s Drug Store. Oscar and Madge were divorced and in 1963 Madge married Kenneth McCuaig.
One of the more interesting fish stories to come out of Gano’s Camp happened in August 1941. Gordon Long, of Kokomo, while fishing on Lake Shafer near Gano’s Camp, notice a fellow fisherman struggling to land a fish. Long offered assistance and the pair managed to get the large catfish into the boat. They hastened to Gano’s Camp, where the fish tipped the scales at 38½ pounds.
The catfish was hooked on a yellow weasel bait. Mr. Long, in lifting the fish into the boat, ran his forearm down the throat of the fish and for several days he carried the marks of its teeth around his arm.
Mr. Gano developed a prospering enterprise but would sell Gano’s Camp in 1946 to Thomas Pulliam, who would die of a heart attack in March 1947.
Gano would die in New Buffalo, Mich., in August 1965. He lived in New Buffalo for 18 years and managed a golf center. He had one son, Russell, who lived in Monon.
Another successful fishing camp was owned and operated by Frank Wenzel Fiala. His fish camp was called Frank’s Lodge.
Fiala was born in Kankakee, Ill., in 1875. In 1917, Fiala was working in the cigar manufacturing business in Lake County. In 1920, he was a cigar sales representative.
In the late 1920s, he began building his cottages for fishermen on Lake Shafer. Fiala named the fish camp Frank’s Lodge. The camp was built near Tall Timbers and close to the Big Monon.
The lodge was an instant success. The majority of the anglers staying there were from the Hammond and Indianapolis areas.
Fiala died at age 86 in April 1962. He had been ill for several years. Fiala resided on Lake Shafer since 1926 and ran Frank’s Lodge until 1938.
Clarence “Pappy” Fee would purchase the property from Fiala in 1938, who would keep 240 feet of lake frontage where he would live out his life on Lake Shafer.
Fiala was an instrumental board member of the Lake Shafer Welfare Association. He is buried in the Calumet Park Cemetery in Merrillville.
This week’s column includes several pictures of the two referenced fishing camps. The White County Historical Society has many additional photographs of these two businesses.
And we shall close with this: Remember, “If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.” — Doug Larson, American journalist