Musings from Mistakes
by Dennis Damon
So, here’s a question for those of you who hauled before cages. Have you ever gotten rope in your wheel?
I have. It happens real quick and it’s quite a mess. If the propeller cuts the warp you can continue on with a little vibrating nuisance, but if the rope isn’t cut the mess can fetch you up and a tow is in order.
I got rope in my ‘wheel’ again the other day. I was mowing the back field. Yes, Gladys, senators mow their own grass— at least one ex-senator does. I was mowing in a spot I probably shouldn’t have been. I was in the tall grass between an old derelict boat and the big spruce tree out beside my garage/barn when my trusty old Husqvarna riding mower came to a sudden halt. She’s about 15 years old and has seen some hard going so I don’t blame her when she balks once in a while. This was different.
I bought her new from Putt in ’96 and every time I stop in to get another part for her he just shakes his head and says, “Time for a new one ain’t it?”
“Naw,” I say. “She’s still good. Just needs some fixin’ now and again.” My friend’s father used to say, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” You see, he, like my father, lived through the Great Depression and that experience got people thinking differently about a lot of things than we seem to now. Might be time to revisit some of that frugality.
It turns out that my mower stopped because I got rope in my wheel. Years ago, after Dad died, I cleaned out his cellar and brought most of his gear up here to my house. Seems I had tossed a coil of pot-warp on the ground by that little spruce tree beside the garage. That’s what I happened onto in the tall grass, and that’s what ended up in my mower blades.
While I was working under the mower deck; cutting, pulling, prying and unwinding the mess, I couldn’t help thinking how similar that snarl was to the others I had removed in the past while I was grounded out. Here though I knew I wouldn’t have to wait for the tide to refloat me.
The coil of rope was Dacron. It was some of the last type Dad used before he stopped fishing. It sinks. Floating rope was just coming in then. It was kind of a novelty. Those who used it said you didn’t need toggles, either glass bottles or corks, to keep the line off bottom. The rope itself would stay off bottom. Dad stuck with toggles.
Before the Dacron he used sisal and before that, hemp. They were organic fibers, like cotton twine was, and over time they would rot and part.
Clearing his rope from my wheel got me thinking of him and got me thinking of the changes that have come about in fishing, lobstering in particular, since his passing.
He built his own traps. They were made with oak laths and bows when he could afford oak.
They were made from soft wood when he couldn’t. Although I don’t recall him using spruce bows cut directly from the tree, I do know he did that before I came along. He also knit his own heads and pockets. He hand hewed his cedar buoys on a makeshift rig on which he could sit and pull the draw-shave toward him while the log piece stayed pinned between two upright posts. And he gathered ballast rocks from the shore to secure into the bottom of each trap to sink it. All this work was done in the winter when trips to haul became less frequent.
Is it any wonder then, with all this effort that he never fished more than a couple hundred traps!
I suppose another reason for the relatively few traps was that he hauled by hand. Well he didn’t actually haul strictly by hand—he had a winch head to assist. After gaffing the buoy and guiding the warp through the snatch-block he would quickly take three turns around that constantly turning winch that protruded from the bulkhead just below and to the right of the wheel. Then hauling the line hand over hand with the help of the winch, he would pull the trap, or pair of traps, from the seabed to the washboard.
Over and over, all day long, every time he could go out, he would do that. Hauling 150 to 200 traps in a day was a good day’s work!
Seems to me, the single invention that has had the most dramatic influence on our lobster fishing industry, the one that has necessitated such unimagined regulations as trap limits, limited entry and required apprenticeships, is not wire traps, it’s not floating rope, not artificial bait, nor escape vents … nope, it is - the hydraulic hauler!
I know we can’t go back. But stop and think for a moment if we did not have that one device. Would we have more people fishing? Perhaps, although I don’t think as many would stay with it for as long. Would we have more gear in the water? I don’t think so, although the wire trap would allow for bigger strings and perhaps longer sets. Would we see the level of profitability we do now? Certainly not the big numbers we now see, but with less expense perhaps the income/expense ratio would improve.
And the other side of this coin is, if we were not forced to further regulate the lobster fishery because of the over-fishing that was taking place in the 1990s, would we have the abundance that we have today?
All this from some rope in my wheel. I think I remember seeing an old tub of trawl in the back corner of the garage under a pile of hand-hewn buoys with “L DAMON 6511” carved in them. I better go and see.