He had powerful arms, shoulders, and hands.
Pulling and hauling on nets all of his life, his hands were huge.
He was a waterman.
— Howard Shenton, age 67 (1986)
Fishing has been a year-round occupation for the waterman even as populations of fish species have waxed and waned. During World War II, Bay watermen enjoyed huge "weak fish" harvests, perhaps because U-boat scares kept travelers off the ocean waters, allowing more fish to make it into the Bay. The 1950s and 1960s saw record harvests of herring and shad. The once-endangered rockfish made a comeback after a five-year moratorium on its harvest in the 1990s.
They had to take these nets up after the spring fishing was over. They'd take the old net off and put a clean net on. When they brought the old nets in, they would take them up on shore and lean them and mend them. Now they did a lot of mending...say, for example, a boat ran into the net while it was set out in the Bay, they would have to patch the holes it created.
— Howard Cheeton, age 67 (1986)
Pound Net Fishing
Pound nets are fish traps staked into the bottom of the Bay. They are much like the weirs Native Americans were using on the Bay when European colonists arrived.
In 1870, George Snedike
of Long Island brought the pound net to the Chesapeake, dramatically increasing daily fish harvests and turning many farmers into fishermen. By the mid-20th century, West River watermen were fishing as many as 30 pound nets. Pound nets continue in use today, though much fewer and smaller in size than in decades past. Pound net fishing is costly in materials and labor, and has declined along with the Bay's fish populations.
Gill Net Fishing
To catch fish with a gill net, watermen stake, anchor, or drift their nets with the tide at night. Fish swim into the net and are ensnared by their gills. the colder the weather, the better the catch. In the winter, near-dormant fish congregate in deep water and are more easily caught. Traditionally stored in wooden net boxes, gill nets are made of cotton, linen, nylon or monofilament.
A Pound Net Fisherman
Captain Bernard Hallock of Shady Side was known for the number and productivity of his pound nets — licensed for 14, he used them to harvest 3000 to 3500 pounds of shad in one day's fishing. According to Marine Police Commander Howard Shenton, Captain Hallock "certainly did put a beautiful pound net out in the Bay, and, when I say beautiful, I mean the stakes were in line, straight you know, and maintained in very fine condition!" Captain Hallock fished his nets from the decks of the Princess — the forerunner of the Edna Florence.
That's My Living — Following the Water