Isfeld Family
of Winnipeg Beach

Gestur & Bertha

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The Book Of Life
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Taken from the Icelandic Appeal website, circa 2000.
Isfeld, Gestur & Bertha

By Robert Harold Isfeld

The Early Years

Gestur Isfeld (1911-1997) was born with friends in a house in Gimli to Ánna and Páll Ísfeld on May 20, 1911. Their lake front farm located 2 miles north of Gimli had been sold in 1910 to Winnipeg lawyers for $2000, a large sum in those days. The family bought lumber and hired a carpenter to build a 2 storey house on a 160 acre farm 2 miles north of Camp Morton and a ½ mile west of No. 9 Highway. Gestur grew up on this farm under the watchful eyes of his numerous older brothers and sisters. He attended a one room school for 5 years in Nes and enjoyed an enriched life full of rural experiences such as barn cleaning, exploring bush trails, sleigh riding, preparing hay, commercial fishing. Skinning skunks, playing music on the pump organ or the violin and fully immersed in the Icelandic language of books, letters and stories.

Fishing as a Career

Gestur left home at age 17 to work as a commercial fisherman. Later he regretted leaving since his mother died that winter. He followed his older brothers to Winnipeg Beach where they caught fish and sold the fillets to tourists as well as fish buyers from Winnipeg. He travelled to Lake Manitoba and fished during the winter a few seasons at Amaranth, Manitoba where he met Bertha Kjartanson (b. Dec. 15, 1920). They were married on February 25, 1940 and settled in Winnipeg Beach as a husband and wife fishing team.

Gestur and Bertha worked hard from early morning until late at night during the fishing season. The cotton nets were soaked overnight in a barrel with bluestone and water. Next they were hung on racks to dry, then spread, repaired and boxed. Gestur usually went out on the lake alone in a 16 foot flat bottom boat that he made himself. He would set the nets in a straight line about three miles from shore. There were buoys for markers but Gestur also had landmarkings that he memorized such as lining up the watertower and a big tree or 7th Avenue open. Two opposing landmarks were needed to establish a position. About 1960 nylon gill nets became available and these could be left in the water for several weeks unless tangled by a storm or if they needed to be moved in search of better fishing.


The Catch

In the south basin of shore form Winnipeg Beach, most fishing was done with 3 inch mesh nets 60 meshes deep. Therefore the nets covered an area extending 15 feet from the lake bottom. At one time there was a sunfish season where the minimum size of the gill nets to be used was 5 ½ inches. These nets caught bigger fish. The most valuable species caught were yellows (a.k.a pickerel or walleye), sauger and perch. Many other species were also caught such as goldeye, mullets (suckers), pike (a.k.a jack), carp silver bass (a.k.a sunfish), cat fish, bull heads, freshwater cod (a.k.a maria), whitefish, tulibee, and the occasional sturgeon. The tullibee were not suitable for eating due to worms and were usually sold at 2 cents per lb. to mink ranchers when you could find a market.

A Hard Life

The life of a fisherman had many worries. The weather was often unpredictable and sometimes a storm would blow over for days. When you could finally “lift” your nets they were often filled with rotten fish that had to be thrown away. The fish inspectors checked the nets o make sure the mesh was the minimum size of 3 inches. There were many regulations to keep in mind such as the dates of the seasons (winter, spring and fall) and limits or quotas.

In 1984….

Gestur was 73 years old and still fishing. At 5:00 am one day Robert and Jacqueline accompanied Gestur out on Lake Winnipeg fishing. “We were tossed back and forth on the water in the middle of nowhere (about 5 miles from the west shore) in his small 16 foot boat with a 25 horse motor barely seeing land, trying to find his net marker Once found, Gestur and Robert then battled the waves to pull in the fish and nets and finally pointed the boat back to a barely visible shoreline that all looked the same and slowly made our way back to the harbour. Gestur heaved the heavy boxes of fish up onto the dock like he was tossing a piece of firewood. Later that day Bertha and Gestur would fillet and package fish to sell to their eager customers.”