by Scott Wheeler
Thinking about going ice fishing in Lake Memphremagog this winter? If so, just maybe you’ll catch one of the world famous fur bearing trout—trout that are said to grow fur to survive the cold, snowy weather that is so much a part of life in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, fur that is said to molt off come spring and warmer weather. But don’t bet on getting one, because like other creatures said to lurk in the lake that straddles the Vermont/Quebec border, the fur bearing trout is only a man-made merry myth passed down throughout the generations.
There are several different, yet very similar, stories floating around out there about the origins of this famous species of mythical fish. The following story is the one most often told:
Although Harry Richardson—probably the most prolific photographer to ever live in Northern Vermont—gave the trout much deserved attention, many old timers in the region point to another long deceased, but lesser remembered photographer, as the mastermind behind the creation of this rare breed of fish. His name was Ralph Sessions, a man who operated a photo studio in Newport, Vermont, a small city located at the southerly end of Lake Memphemagog. As the story goes, at least the shortened version, it is said Sessions was struck by a humorous idea for a picture while fishing on the international lake that spans the Vermont/Quebec border—take a perch, wrap it in fur, take a picture of it, and make postcards of “the fur bearing trout.”
Some years later, most likely during the 1930s, Sessions sold his studio to Harry Richardson. With Mr. Richardson long departed, it’s impossible to know exactly what was in his mind when, seeing Sessions’ photos of the fur bearing trout, he decided to have a taxidermist cover a fish with fur. A picture was taken of Richardson ice fishing on the west side of the lake with Owl’s Head looming in the background. Richardson then took that photo, along with the picture of the fur covered fish (also referred to as a “beaver trout”) and produced hundreds, possibly thousands, of postcards. It’s almost certainly one of the most recognized postcards in Vermont, if not New England.
No matter how the story behind the fur bearing trout came to life, the one thing that is certain, is that the myth still lives on, and probably will for decades to come.
There were many spin offs from Richardson’s trout. Don McNally, the first general manager of Jay Peak Ski and Summer Resort in Jay, Vermont, is seen fishing for “slopeside” trout on the ski trails of the mountain.
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