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  • We had to make the most of fall fishing. Plenty of years the catch didn’t pay off the debts and the credit the wharf extended until spring was well into as much summer as you can expect in Maine during May and early June. But, by then, the lobsters had started to crawl into the rocks to shed.

    All through late June and early July the radio chatter was nothing but one sad story after another as fishermen remarked on massively poor hauls. Some years, to add insult to seasonally poor luck, the fishing in Canada or down south would flood the market and drive the price of lobsters so low it almost paid to leave the boat on the mooring. That was time to haul traps out to dry out enough to kill the seaweed, barnacles and marine worms. Time to haul the boat out and paint. Time to get ready for fall fishing.


    Fall fishing, after the bugs had shed and were hungry and active, was the big payola. You wanted all your gear out, the boat ready, and prayers out to every god you knew to please let the weather treat us right this year. Some fishermen plastered the shores and the broad reaches where the tide poured in and out of the bays with traps. Dickie never fished more gear than he could haul in a day. Some fellas fished twelve, fifteen hundred traps back then before trap limits came in, they hauled 4-500 a day and let the rest set. Not Dickie. We hauled every trap every day when the lobsters struck. For as long as the run lasted hauling was the number one priority.


    No point leaving them set over when the bait don't stay, Dickie said some days.


    Other days he pause with a bait bag in his hand until he had my attention.


    Now, would you crawl in for a bite of that, he said holding out a bait bag full of foul slime before dumping it over the side to the delight of our faithful following of screaming gulls. Let them set overnight and do just the same as if you let them set a week, he proclaimed. This, he stuck his nose in and took a noisy sniff, this will just drive the bugs out.


    I held back a gag and tied a fresh bait bag in.


    Fall fishing is a short and precious season. We latched on with both hands and made all we could of it. You never knew when a hurricane might sweep through and stir the bottom up giving the bugs the urge to seek out deeper waters. A big blow could turn the water column on its head even where it was 100 feet deep and more. After a big blow the traps that were left would come up full of weed and kelp. Big winds and big tides could strew your gear from hither to yon. We spent days untangling enormous snarls of traps buoys and rope after a blow. Days putting strings of traps back in order. Days like that together with the toll of smashed and scattered traps all went in the debit column and sent a fragile system of economic checks and balances right down the crapper. One big blow and the season could end as the lobsters felt the changing seasons and left the rocky bottom inshore and started their trek offshore. Profit and loss in the lobster business is and was a clear and constant concern.


    One September and October and all the way into November we hauled 75 days straight. Only reason we broke the string was Dickie had to go to the bank. He spent the next week cursing bankers and their hours.


    3:30 the next morning as I dropped off the ladder onto the deck, he started in.
    Nice and bright out Benjoy, he joked. Wonder what them fellas at the bank would make of it?


    Later as daylight left us with strings still to haul and he switched on the searchlight mounted on the cabin roof for us to haul by he turned to me, a red and white bouy cradled in his arm.


    Them fellas at the bank are in their stocking feet now, getting ready for supper, he said. Would you trade places with them, huh. All this fresh air and sunshine.


    And finally as we putted along home at just over an idle while we scrubbed and cleaned and washed her down he got political about it. He wrung out his gloves and slapped them down on the bulkhead then peeled off his suspenders so he could dig in his pocket. I watched him wondering what he was up to.


    He pulled out a dime and held it up in his thick meaty fingers.


    See that Benjoy, he said. Every time a republican gets in they put the squeeze on the working man. Bankers, he said it like a curse.


    He regarded the dime and for a moment I wondered if he would pitch it overboard but he carefully slipped it back in his pocket, gave it a gentl pat, eased his suspenders back in place and we got back to it.


    Politics, economics and history. All pretty clear and simple aboard fishing boat
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