What did people think about lake trout on the table back in the late 1800s?


Over the past twenty years that I’ve been guiding, the topic of lake trout on the table comes up a lot.  Many of us anglers have heard it all, ranging from people who think they’re terrific eating to those that don’t think they’re good at all.  Some of this talk depends on the where you’re fishing.  I know on Lake Ontario, a lot of people don’t care for them.  Of course a lot of people don’t care for eating steelhead or salmon up there either, depending on who you talk to.  Alaskan salmon are a different story – nearly everybody loves Sockeye Salmon from Alaska as well as Silvers and Kings.  Halibut is loved by everybody, and I think it’s because it’s white, firm and tasteless.  It tastes like the butter you cook it in.  Many people love tasteless fish.  I’ve often heard people ask (regarding fish,) “Is it fishy?”  What’s that supposed to mean?  Does it taste like fish or like nothing?  I understand that spoiled fish gets a “fishy” taste, but I don’t think that’s what people mean.  They don’t want any flavor other than the salt, pepper, lemon or tartar sauce and breading that the fish is usually covered with!

One thing I noticed shortly after moving here, and I’ve touched upon this in the past, is that peoples’ opinions vary a lot from lake to lake.  Talk to anglers on Keuka Lake and Skaneateles Lake and most like eating lake trout.  On Seneca Lake and on Canandaigua, most people also really enjoy them.  Cayuga Lake fishermen are divided and I think a lot of Owasco Lake anglers don’t care as much for the Owasco Lake fish, although I’ve heard some people call them terrific eating.  I haven’t been around Lake George or the Adirondack lake trout much, but I’d imagine people love eating them up there.  On Lake Champlain, people tend not to like them.

We hear the debates on wild game too.  Venison good, venison bad.  A lot depends on where the game is taken, how it’s taken, what they were eating, the age and condition of the animal and perhaps most importantly, how it was processed, preserved and then prepared.

All that aside, let’s look at what was written about the table qualities of lake trout back in the late-1800s, courtesy of the book “Fishing In American Waters/1888.”  It is a collection of essays from the 1800s – both scientific and written by anglers.  The book was compiled/written by Genio C. Scott and published by Castle Books in 1989.

On page 263, there is a section of “The Trout of Seneca and Canandaigua Lakes.”  It says, among other things:

“It’s qualities, outlines and superficial marks are as varied as are its edible qualities. All anglers know that these depend much on the quality of the water they inhabit and the food they eat.  In the latter particular, they resemble all animals and fishes.  There are salmon-trout (aka lake trout – JG) in nearly every lake within the State of New York;  but the fish of Seneca, Canandaigua, Skaneateles and Long Lake are infinitely superior, both as game and for the table, to those of Lake Ontario and the other great lakes.”

Lake trout are revisited on page 480 of the book, this time with some more interesting observations:

“I therefore (after talking about the geography of the fish – being found primarily in the northeastern US, Canada and Alaska – JG) – and for other reasons- believe all lake trouts to be non-migratory, and to partake of peculiarities produced by habitat.  For example, the Seneca and Canandaigua lake trouts are far more beautiful and finer flavored than the Cayuga Lake trout.  The reason may be that the two former lakes are more profound and of mineral bottom, while the latter is shallow, with vegetable bottom….The trout of Moosehead Lake and of a few lakes in New Brunswick are said to be the best for the table.  They are scarce, and are never found south of the Boston fish markets.  

Food for thought here for sure!   One takeaway we can all agree on, clean cold water produces fine eating fish!

Interesting book that should be available online at the very least!