Harvesting the River
Harvest Transport History

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"From time to time we came upon monstrous fish, one of which struck our canoe with such violence that I thought it was a great tree, about to break the Canoe to pieces." -- Father Jacques Marquette, 1673.

The River
The central part of the Illinois River contained many small lakes, marshes, sloughs, and ponds until the 1920s, when agriculture was expanded through the building of levees. The lakes were fed from rainwater and springs in the low-water season, and during the floods their volume increased by as much as one hundred times, inundating the area. The frequent and prolonged flooding provided wetland habitat and food supply for many species of fish.

The Illinois River was also interesting because of its slow fall -- averaging only three inches per mile. From the central region at Banner to the river's mouth, the fall of the Illinois averaged only 1.5 inches. This caused the speed of the water flow to average only 1.5 to 2.5 miles per hour.

The slow flow of the river, the siltation, and the shallow fall provided habitat for bottom-feeding fish such as the channel catfish, the common carp, and the smallmouth buffalo. These fish also survived some of the increasing pollution from upstream that took place in the twentieth century.
Fish Catch, Meredosia
Fish Catch, Meredosia Lake, 1925.
Meredosia River Museum Collection.

Commercial Fishing
Commercial fishing was a major industry between Havana and Meredosia. Each town had fish markets that processed and shipped hundreds of fishermen's catch to large Midwestern and Eastern cities from the 1890s to the 1950s. A narrative by a Meredosia resident details the history of the fishing industry.

Channel catfish, common carp, and smallmouth buffalo made up the greatest portion of the fishing catch. In addition to the bottom-feeders, both largemouth bass and gizzard shad (used for bait and smoked for shipping) were commercially viable species. Fish was a popular local food as reflected in scored carp recipes. Fishing supported much of the small towns' economies for over forty years, as illustrated in the fishing timeline chart. Go to image of chart

Tools and Techniques
Commercial fishermen's tools included a variety of handmade and manufactured nets, traps, and other tools with which they harvested their catch. Museum collections include objects such as boats, motors, nets, and traps from this industry. Archival photographs and films document use of these tools and techniques.

Images Videos Audio clips

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