Category Archives: commercial fishing, boat, pamilco sound, gillnetting

Asa

I was originally attracted to Hatteras Island because of the pristine, uncrowded beaches. It was the perfect place for a young surfer. The locals had been here for generations and much of that in relative isolation. They were a unique self-supporting people. It took me a little time to assimilate into the community and I soon realized it was so much more than just about the beaches.

The people became a big factor in my love and appreciation for the island. Over the years, many of those folks have passed on and my feelings have evolved with those losses.

I first met Asa Gray in the early 70’s, out in the waves surfing. Everyone called him Buddy. At the time he must have been 14 or 15 years old. Long haired, lanky yet stout, his surfing was noted for its power and daring to take off on waves that didn’t seem makable.

Earlier this month, Buddy passed away at the age of 60. The realization of not seeing him again is unsettling. Even though I hadn’t seen him surf in years, only until recently I could drive down to the harbor in Rodanthe and see what fish he caught. He had commercial fishing in his psyche and an old-school Hatterasman attitude to go with it.

This scene of the Rodanthe Creek was taken during the passing of Hurricane Charley in 1986. It reminds me of the morning I went to the harbor to see if any fishermen went out to their nets. Northwest winds were gale force as I watched an incoming boat skipping over the tops of the foamy waves and getting blown sideways at the same time. It looked as if the vessel would flip over as gusts got up under the pounding hull. He had pulled all his nets in the boat and was loaded to the gunnels. I never saw such a harrowing approach from that channel. As the boat reached the shelter of the harbor and settled down, it was Buddy Gray, soaked and glad to be back ashore. I’ve never seen any thing like it since.

Buddy was pulling a rockfish onto the beach in Rodanthe when I took this shot in 2004.

Rest in peace my old friend. Things will just not be the same as they once were.

The Writing on the Wall

Growing up as a Navy dependent, I was almost always near the ocean. Yet I never met a commercial fisherman until I moved to Hatteras Island. My first encounter was in 1974 when a new found friend, Bruce Midgett, took me along to fish his gill nets off Bay Landing, south of Salvo.

I brought my Yashica camera along and took a few shots. I’ve always been excited looking at this picture of Bruce holding a speckled trout. It revealed another world to me and I’ve embraced the small commercial fisherman ever since.

Early one morning in 1978, 65 year-old Burgess Hooper took me fishing on the Pamlico Sound. I was impressed at his knowledge and vitality out on the water.

                                My favorite shot came later that morning while Burgess hauled in his favorite cotton net, made for catching bluefish. He always took Princess with him. She was just as anxious to see what was caught. Burgess passed away about ten years later, and a week after that Princess died.

In 1977, my good friend Roger Wooleyhan was also fishing the Pamlico Sound and he always took his faithful black lab, Moose.

Calm water usually means not much of a catch, but the glassy conditions always make for a pleasant boat ride.

                              A 1985 assignment for an Outer Banks Magazine story, hooked me up with crabber Scott Bridges pulling his pots near Hatteras Inlet.

The labor of a commercial fisherman never ends. Maintenance of gear is a constant. I happened to visit Bruce Midgett at home in 1982 as he was mending a pound net.

In the Fall of 1982 I was driving by Bay Landing and stopped to watch Raymond Midgett and his son Robin, also known as Tater, hauling in after drifting a gill net.

The Spring of 1980, I tried a stint at commercial fishing and did okay. As I was fishing a net, Burgess Hooper dropped by to say hello. A week later my motor broke down and he had to tow me in. The commercial fishermen looked out for one another and generously gave fish to their friends and neighbors.

Today with commercial fishing, the writing is on the wall. Times have changed. They are being more regulated and eventually their livelihoods will be jeopardized, if not gone. I’ve been a witness to something that will not happen again as it did decades ago.

 

Selby Jr.

Looking back, some of my most endearing photographs were portrait shots of locals. If I had it to do all over again, I would concentrate on environmental portraiture more than I did. I guess it’s fortunate that I captured anything at all. Life is full of regrets. Most of the time we have only one chance at something, then the opportunity is gone forever.

One of my favorite portraits was taken in 1980 as I accompanied my fishing friends setting up a pound net. It’s a labor intensive process, cutting the stakes from a forest, transporting them out to the Pamlico Sound and jetting them firmly into the bottom. The wooden stakes are the framework to support the net system. The pound net is an old, yet efficient method of catching fish. Fish follow a line of net that leads into a rectangular pound where they are trapped alive, until they are bailed out by the fishermen.selby jr

Selby Gaskins Jr. was a young man then and willing to pitch in to help. Mischievous at times, he always seemed to have a good time and not cause much trouble to anyone. In this shot he was taking a break after applying his weight to force the pole down as it was pumped into the bottom. He was obviously enjoying himself as I took some pictures. For me this photograph typifies the carefree lifestyle when I moved here, no shoes, no shirt, no problem.

Later in life Selby was stricken with MS, and over the years has slowly lost much of his physical capabilities. It’s been heartbreaking to see this happen to a friend. He’s spent years restricted to a motorized wheelchair, yet used it to get to the post office or go to a friend’s house. The community has come together to help in a number of fundraising events. Much to his appreciation, some of us have brought him fish and oysters. I’ve always been amazed at his courage living with this relentless, debilitating disease. His life is a tough one.

The Creek

Back in the day, I used to love hanging out at the Rodanthe Creek. Originally built as a Pamlico Sound access for the Coast Guard, it was bulkheaded and was one of the few protected harbors for local fishermen to use. It was always fascinating to see what they were catching.

It was also a good spot for honing my photography. I bought Kodak Panatomic-X black and white film in 100 foot spools and rolled my own 35mm cassettes. Then I’d develop the film at home in the darkroom. The creek was only a few hundred yards away from my house.

I’ve never shown these photographs from this period before, and it’ll never be like that again.

Dale A young Dale Midgett ran the fish house. He had an entrepreneurial spirit and packed fish for wholesaler Jimmy Austin.

derelicts Derelict boats were part of the landscape.

derelicts 2 John Herbert’s sail skiff sat high and dry on shore. It was one of my favorite boats with classic lines, and was featured in my New Inlet and Skiff photo, shot in 1979.

mojon Harry Midgett’s trawler was at the dock for much needed maintenance. He eventually took it shrimping to the Gulf of Mexico, where I heard it sank and was lost.

boat I don’t know who owned this workboat, but I admired it’s design and narrow stern.

nets bruce m                  Bruce Midgett prepared his nets at one of the fish houses on the north side of the creek.

pound net Bruce and Dale set up pound nets a mile out in the sound.

Bruce Bruce loved fishing the pound nets.

Jobob                                                            Joe Fegundes, known as Jobob, was also fishing from the Creek.

Corley Ed Corely was an avid fisherman. I helped him for a few months. It was hard work. Ed moved to Coos Bay, Oregon to work on an ocean trawler. On a New Years Eve, he went down with the boat and was never found.

Selby jr                                                             Selby Gaskins, Jr. was always helping out at the fish house.

GlenMartin Maestas and Glen Boykin were gill netting from this Privateer. Fiberglass boats had become more common than the traditional wooden boats. Glen married Selby Jr’s sister, Teresa, and I shot their wedding.

Irvin                                                             Irvin Midgett was another young fisherman, and still fishes some today. He runs a successful campground and is always willing to help others.

Dale net dale m                 Back then, Dale Midgett made a decent livelihood as a fisherman.

Mac's rig One of my favorite shots was taken of Mac Midgett’s haul seine rig. In a way, it symbolizes the best of times.

New Inlet

One of the first places I explored on Hatteras Island was New Inlet on Pea Island. The old remnant bridge that’s still there, was built after the storm of ’33 cut an inlet from sound to sea. As a result, traffic was interrupted on the sand road, so the state began construction of a bridge to span the troubled spot. The new inlet filled back in on it’s own, and the state halted construction before it was completed.

I used to walk out precariously on that deteriorating, unfinished bridge to catch hard crabs on baited strings. It wasn’t uncommon to come home with a few dozen nice ones. Since then, New Inlet has always brought me a feeling of wonder and tranquility.

I wasn’t the first one to get enjoyment there. Long before, there were fish camps where locals could hunt and fish for sustenance. It must have been a beautiful, bountiful outpost.

skiffOne of the first photographs that I made at New Inlet was taken in 1979 as I was testing a brand new 400mm Novoflex lens for the first time. I parked my truck on the shoulder of highway 12, stood in the bed and made 4 handheld, identical exposures to see how the lens worked. The shot later became a somewhat iconic image as the cover of Hatteras Journal, written by Jan DeBlieu.

bridgeI took a similar shot in 1982. John Herbert’s sail skiff, once again, served as a crucial element in the composition.

St. ClairBy January of 1985, the fish camp once owned by St. Clair Midgett had dropped from it’s foundation into the water. Later that same year, when Hurricane Gloria blasted through, it took what was left, completely away.

fish campIn May of 1985, I shot this smaller camp just northwest of St. Clair’s. It too was taken out by Gloria.