April 28, 2017 — It’s been a while since Red Bridges paid me $1 a day to bait lobster traps. Nine years old and not especially tall, I couldn’t reach deep in the bait barrel, so Red would pitchfork the redfish into a bushel basket for me. Between his having to do that and my eating half his lunch — unless he brought cold bean sandwiches — I was probably getting 99 cents more than I was worth.
Another benefit was cussing. Red was by no means vile in his use of language but he could cuss with the best of them and if, for example, our gear wound up with another fisherman’s, he would let loose with a stream I would later reprise for my friends. Of course, on the rare occasions his wife came along for the day, sitting in her lawn chair on the back deck, you’d have thought we were a couple of altar boys.
This was the 1960s. Lobstermen at Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, fished a couple hundred wooden traps, if that, from wooden boats. They built their own traps and knitted their own heads. Bait was $5 a barrel and the bait man delivered twice a week. Electronics typically consisted of a flasher, and not everyone had a radio.
Some things haven’t changed. Lobstering has always had pirates who harvest shorts and v-tails or regard buoy color as a notion whose significance varies with the visibility. In years past the state of Maine was seldom called in to adjudicate disputes. Fishermen sorted things out on their own in accordance with local tradition. In some cases, a word to the wise was enough, particularly if delivered by someone who might have been described as an “elder statesman.” Sometimes more assertive remedies were necessary. Occasionally, a dispute could result in an all-out trap war.