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

Buoys

Exploring the coast one may notice some curious artifacts. Some are natural and others are manmade. People collect shells, driftwood or beach glass. They’re all brought in by the sea. Some of my favorite collectables are the buoys from fishing nets and crab pots. They’re usually derelict from lost fishing gear and can be found at any time, but especially after storms.

I like displaying them from trees in my yard.

Some hang from an old trawl net that I found years ago.

Some of them are very special to me, like this one that belonged to Mac Midgett.

I D Midgett is my next door neighbor and has fished all his life.

Another buoy belonged to my good friend and neighbor Eric Anglin. He still brings me fish.

Recently this gem was given to me by Steve Ryan. It was Les Hooper’s buoy. Les and Steve were neighbors. Les is gone now, but his spirit remains.

I also have a buoy from Rudy Gray of Waves. He no longer fishes commercially, but is still an accomplished angler.

A few months ago I got a call from Roger Wooleyhan who fishes commercially in Delaware. His fishing buddy, Layton Moore has another fishing friend who came across this buoy in his net near Ocean City, Maryland. It’s a crab pot buoy that belonged to my friend Asa Gray also of Waves. Asa passed away about 2 years ago, and he was Rudy’s brother.

I can only imagine how this arrived so far away. It’s reminiscent of a message in a bottle. It must have flowed from Pamlico Sound into the Atlantic, up the coast and through Ocean City Inlet and on to Isle of Wight Bay. Maybe it hitched a ride snagged to a rudder. At any rate, that’s some journey!

 

Shad Boats

Since my early days on Hatteras Island, I’ve been drawn to remnants of the times past. Old wooden boats have been particularly fascinating. Some are still operating and some lay derelict or forgotten. One of my favorite designs is the shad boat.

They were first built in the 1870’s on Roanoke Island by George Washington Creef. Designed for local sound waters and commercial fishing hauls, demand for shad boats increased. So other regional boat builders began constructing their own versions.

On June 15, 1987 the North Carolina General Assembly adopted the Shad Boat as the official State historical boat of North Carolina.

On a 1992 visit to Wilmington, I saw a newly built replica sailing down the Cape Fear River.

When I took this shot in 1980 at the Beasley fish house in Colington, surviving shad boats had long since had their sails replaced with motors.

One day the same year, I photographed the Beasley crew long-hauling Pamlico Sound at Rodanthe. They caught 10,000 pounds of fish, and bailed them by hand into a boat called Old Shad.

The Rodanthe harbor was Beasley’s base of operations. That’s OLD SHAD on the left with REDFIN rafted up next to it.

Hatterasman Michael Peele uses his shad boat for pound net fishing. I took this photo in 1982. To this day, he still uses it.

About the same time, I had a job at Mike Scott’s Buxton Woods Boat Works where we restored Lee Peele’s old workboat. More recently built, it had a hull with hard chines rather than the more traditional rounded bottom. It was beefed up with a durable West System epoxy treatment.

On the Outer Banks it’s not unusual to see a boat in someone’s yard. In 1999 while riding my bicycle around Ocracoke, I admired this beautiful boat blocked up for maintenance.

Spring of 2000, I shot an assignment for CoastWatch Magazine, concerning the Museum of the Albermarle’s restoration of a 1904 Shad Boat. It was built by Alvirah Wright, a logger, decoy maker and boat builder from Camden County.

The restoration was extensive. All good wood was left intact, but most of the boat was replaced. Today the finished product sits in the lobby of the museum as a permanent exhibit. Before that, it had been in a Wright family relative’s yard, rotting away.

In 2002 the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Manteo had an 1883 George Washington Creef Shad Boat on display. It was used as a model to build a new boat with the same lines.

The new boat was built next to the 1883 boat.

Fully planked, it was made with scarce, aromatic Atlantic White Cedar, commonly referred to as juniper.

Just before it’s christening, I saw the new boat all finished except for the bottom paint.

When I first met John Herbert, he was one of the Rodanthe old-timers. I knew him as a friend, a former duck hunter and the Keeper of Ole Buck. He was also a cook at Chicamacomico Coast Guard Station during the 1918 Mirlo Rescue. He told me how they used to have sail boat races on the Pamlico Sound and most of the time he won with his shad boat. It was a bit smaller and faster than most, and must have been a grand sight under sail. In 1985, I marveled at it, high and dry in the marsh at Rodanthe.

 

 

 

Dogs Gone Fishing

One of the best things one can experience is companionship. As pets, dogs are cherished and devoted to their owners. Years ago when I became associated with locals that fished commercially, I noticed a number of them taking dogs out on the water.

The harbor at Rodanthe was a pretty busy place back then. There were gill-netters, crabbers and long haulers working out of that spot, better known locally as The Creek. In the Summer of 1980, brothers Collins and Belton Gray ran their long haul rig out of Rodanthe. In this photo Belton, Sr and son Belton, Jr contemplate after packing out their day’s catch. I don’t recall the name of their black lab standing on the bow.

Dale Midgett ran the fish house and packed out the daily catches for Jimmy Austin Seafood Company with his loyal companion, Titus.

Another fishing friend of mine was Roger Woolyhan. He worked out of The Creek and had just begun a career in commercial fishing after moving here from Delaware in the 70’s. He bought an old wooden skiff and learned to hang his nets. I went fishing with him a number of times and got one of my favorite shots in Spring of 1977.

His female black lab was named Moose. She went everywhere with him fishing, surfing or shopping. It made no difference to her, as long as she was close.

By 1987 after I had finished building my home in Waves, a regular visitor was a young boy named Brian Midgett. He and his extended family lived on property adjacent to mine, and still do. My Chesapeake Bay Retriver named Boca loved Brian and they frequently played in the creek behind his grandparents’ place. Boca always wanted to be in the water.

Boca was a big, beautiful Chessie and I took him whenever I foraged the sound for oysters. When he found a terrapin trapped in this abandoned crab pot, we released the poor struggling critter.

Another creek in Salvo belonged to Burgess Hooper. He was born, raised and fished there all his life. With his wife Zanovah, they owned property and rental units. I used to help him on maintenance and building projects. We were pretty close and he loved his canine companion, Princess. She fished with him every time he went out on the Pamlico Sound.

Burgess was an old school Hatterasman and still fished with traditional cotton nets.

Princess anticipating catches from the bow, had sea legs. She was truly a man’s best friend… unconditionally!

 

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.