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Posted Thursday, June 3, 2021, at 4: 53 PM
The Iowa Great Lakes is truly a wonderful place to live, especially if you are a fisherman. The lakes abound with species of fish that appeal to all varieties of skills and equipment. Many people in the area depend on fish to provide them with a living. That is true today as well as yesterday and the following article is about one of those individuals – Delos Peck. (1891-1981)
The life of Delos Peck is fascinating to follow — it is difficult to comprehend his diligence in pursuit of success. His youth, by today’s standards, would almost be impossible to comprehend. A common factor Delos Peck had in all his ventures involved fish.
The following is an article from the Spirit Lake Beacon, Nov. 19, 1970:
Once a lucrative, proud profession, the era of fishing guides has past. And only one veteran—Delos Peck of Francis Sites—remains. Pearl Fronk, another pro at directing fishing expeditions on the Iowa Great Lakes passed away on Sept. 3, 1981.
Delos Peck recalled how “I lived out on the lake (Little Spirit Lake) in a seven by eight foot ice shanty from December until the last of February. I lived just across the state line in Minnesota, and I ran a trap line around the lake. I speared snakes (northern pike) and sold them.”
He displayed a hand-carved, hook-less lure shaped like a small pan fish with fins fashioned from a small piece of tin. The paint had long ago worn away. The center was filled with lead.
“I made that decoy when I was 13,” he said. “I’d sit on a box and bob it up and down through a hole in the ice and through a trapdoor in the floor of my shack. When a northern would come up to look at, I’d use my spear. I used to spear 700 to 800 pounds of fish every week with that decoy.”
He would sell them for 4 cents a pound to Fred Knight, who’d come around with a bobsled and pick them up.
Wasn’t it cold living out there on the lake in winter?
“Hell, I didn’t mind. I’d like to be there now. I had a good time. I’d run my traps in the morning and get a lot of furs; then I’d open up the trapdoor and spear fish to beat the devil the rest of the day. Then at night, I’d skin the furs.”
Peck continued spending his winters on the ice of Little Spirit Lake for five years. He constructed a wooden ‘shack,’ the lumber purchased on time from a local firm and moved it on to Little Spirit. The seven by eight foot shelter was equipped with a cot that folded down from a wall and an oil stove.
“I’d go home every Saturday night and get my other set of underwear from my mother,” he recalled. “Then I’d go downtown (Spirit Lake) to old Jim Farr’s barbershop under the Antlers Hotel. I could get a bath, shave and haircut for 50 cents.”
Peck says his summers were spent rowing and guiding fishermen around the Iowa Great Lakes
“There weren’t any outboards around here then,” he recalls. “I was one of the first guides to work in the area.”
He charged $2.50 per day for guide service, and he did all the rowing.
“Fishing was a lot better then. Sometimes we used five-gallon buckets to haul them out of the boats.”
The house where he now resides has been his home and headquarters for 55 years. (Stoney Point-East Okoboji) At one time he had 20 boats for rent. Now he has just two boats to rent and two cabins.
Would he want to go back to living that way again? He replied, “God yes! I’d like to go right now!”
Sock’s (Nickname) story really begins when he was an elementary school student. Seems that during the year he was in fourth grade he and another lad worked out of a boat livery on the south shore of Big Spirit Lake.
The occupation was at its height just after the turn of the century when anxious fishermen would come to the region for an extended stay. Many other men attempted to develop techniques of the established guides, but never quite reached the caliber of Peck, Mr. Fronk, E.E. Holtz, Bud Daniels, Ed Andreas, Ben Reed, George Caple and Elmer Hinshaw: all Masters of the trade.
One might think the occupation of the fishing guide was not lucrative—their services in demand only from the opening of the angling season in May until early fall. Actually these men, who knew every fish haven, could determine ideal weather conditions, effective lures and bait, etc., and realized handsome incomes. Their clients were men of money from Omaha, Des Moines, Sioux City, Cedar Rapids and other out-of-state metropolitan areas. They flinched not at $4 and $5 per day fees charged by these pro fishing guides.
These men would embark on daily “fish hunts” with their party about 7 a. m. Outboard motors were not yet to come, so they handled the oars—passing slowly over rock reef or other secret sites on the lake known to be frequented by lunkers. Walleyes were most sought, but perch and crappie often time the target.
If the group had been successful during the morning hours, it was an added treat to pull ashore at Marble Beach, McClelland's Beach or Stony Point area where the guides would prepare a lunch of fried fish, potatoes, bread, eggs, etc. over an open fire. However, the guides – along with monetary remuneration – were guaranteed their noon meal, and if the party had been “shutout” on a morning, the retainers were required to pick up the noon luncheon tab at Crandall’s Lodge or other cafes around the lakes.
But because these guides seldom failed to satisfy their customers with stringers filled to capacity, their jobs remained secure until the advent of the motors and the laws permitting trolling with same. Delos paired with another fellow, and they netted jumbo rough fish that averaged about 50 cents a piece.
At the season’s end, however, each man had netted $1,200. That’s what really put Delos on his feet financially. He paid off the lumber company and bank and things really were looking up.
This “grubstake” and his other ventures allowed him to purchase the lakeshore property that became his home space on Francis Sites, East Okoboji – Stony Point Boat Livery and Cottages. There are still several stone pillars that mark the spot of Stony Point Boat Livery.
The old-time fishing guides and their rowboats no longer operate in the Iowa Great Lakes Region, but they will always remain a part of the heritage that created this popular sport of fishing.
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