Fishing Gear and Boats

Fishing Gear

Fishing gearGear

The ropes, blocks, and tackles of a particular sail or spar. In more general terms, gear refers to any arrangement of machinery. Gears are also wheels, disks, or shafts with teeth cut to mesh with teeth of another gear, to allow machinery to run in either direction and to transmit force and motion, such as inside of a capstan or part of a windlass.
may be lowered from a boatBoat

A small watercraft used for transportation, fishing or recreation. Some boats are powered by sail, some by motor, and some by paddles or oars. A boat is small enough that it may be lifted onto a larger vessel. But submarines are also called boats.
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, set in one place (static gearStatic gear

Fishing gear which traps fish. It may be nets, weirs, or traps like lobster traps.
), towed or dragged behind a vessel, or dropped around a school of fish. Gear used depends on the fish.

Most basic is a handline Handline Hand line

To fish by hand with only a line and a hook. The line and hook used to do so.
with a baited hook. Hand lines used with bottom fish had two leadersLeader

In fishing, a line that can be fastened between the hook and the fishing line itself. Often made of wire to keep it from being cut.
, or gangingsGanging

In fishing, fastening a number of hooks to the same line. A gang of hooks. The leader from the trawl line to an individual hook.
, with hooks, on each line. Fishermen jiggedJigging

To fish from the deck of a standing vessel, first throwing "chum" (chopped bait) over the side to bring the fish near the boat. The fisherman would throw over a line with a hook that had a thick metal shaft. He would then move the line up and down. In the excitement of feeding the fish would bite at the shaft and be hooked.
for codCod Gadus morhua

A food fish of the cool water of the North Atlantic: Gadus morhua. The species that was the major attraction for European fishermen to come to America. The stock is now severely overfished with total collapse and closing of the famous cod fishing grounds off of Newfoundland.
from the deck of a schoonerSchooner

A sailing vessel of two or more masts, all fore-and-aft rigged. The Thomas W. Lawson, built in 1902, had seven masts. In comparison to a square-rigged vessel of comparable tonnage, a schooner is better for coastwise sailing.
, sloopSloop

A sailing vessel with a single fore-and-aft rigged mast.
, or doryDory

Flat-bottomed open rowboat, characteristic of New England, whose planking run fore and aft, the length of the boat, with high sides, a V shaped raked or angled transom, and sharp, graceful sheer.
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, bobbing the line up and down to attract the fish.

Handline, sinker, and hooksThe Hand-Line Cod Fishery


Trawl linesTrawl trawl line

1. A line, sometimes over a mile long, anchored and buoyed, and having hanging from it many closely-spaced lines bearing baited hooks. 2. A great net shaped like a flattened bag for towing on the bottom of the ocean by a boat.
, now called longlinesLongline long-line, trawl line

In fishing, a longline is a line suspended by buoys and weighted down onto which smaller lines (gangings) with baited hooks are fastened. Modern monofilament long lines can extend for miles and have thousands of hooks. Older long lines were called trawls and were around 1800 feet long.
, became popular after the Civil War. Trawl lines are usually 300 fathomsFathom

A measure equal to 6 feet, normally used to measure depths.
(1,800 feet) long, made of quarter-inch thick tarred cotton line with hooks on gangings or leaders tied every fathom. In dory fishing, each fisherman worked about six tubs of trawlTubs of trawl trawl tub

Tubs in which a trawl line would be coiled. A dory could carry from two to four each with about 2000 feet of line.
, or six lines. Carried to the fishing grounds by schooner, fishermen left in dories and set their trawls, usually at night, to be brought in the next morning. During the day they baited the hooks and prepared the trawl, as well as splitting, salting, and stowing the previous day’s catch. Fishing remained self-limiting, powered by wind and muscle, with limited access to capital for building vessels. The hook and line fishery had the additional benefit of being selective and not disturbing the habitat.

Tub of Trawl The Bank Trawl-Line Cod Fishery


The Gill-Net Cod Fishery

A gill netGill net

A net which captures fish of a certain size that swim into one of meshes and get caught by being unable to swim forward due to its size or to back out due to the size of its gills.
is a fixed net set on the bottom, with a mesh size designed to catch certain fish. When fish of the targeted size try to swim through the net, their gills are caught in the mesh. Gill nets have been used for inshoreInshore

Near shore. In fishing the area considered to be fishable in a day's trip from shore. Formal definitions have these as 6 nautical miles from land.
cod and salmonSalmon

A marine and freshwater food fish, inhabiting North Atlantic waters near the mouths of large rivers. Salmon are anadromous fish, entering rivers to spawn (lay eggs.) In Maine, salmon fishing was once a commercial, then a sport fishery; now wild salmon are an endangered species. Many are farm-raised.
fishing and for offshoreOffshore

In fisheries, fishing conducted further than 3 miles from land. These generally require larger vessels for overnight passages and work.

Fish living in the open ocean or seas rather than in waters adjacent to land or inland waters.
fish. A floating, non-fixed version of a gill net, used for catching pelagic fish, is the drift netDrift net

A long net buoyed up with floats and held down with weights or a weighted foot rope which hangs vertically in the water like a curtain, generally set near the surface of the ocean.
. Drift nets can be miles long and are blamed for killing many marine mammals, including whales and dolphins.

The Mackerel Purse-Seine Fishery - Seine-boat and crew


Atlantic mackerel is the species found in the North Atlantic. A schooling, bony, oily, strongly-flavored food fish, green above with dark blue bars and silvery color below. The commercial stock has rebounded since near collapse in the 1970s. Without ice they spoil quickly. They are caught in purse seines which produce relatively little bycatch and no bottom damage. Today most of Maine's mackerel fishery is recreational.
and herringHerring

Perhaps the world's most important food fish; there are sixteen species, with the Atlantic herring the dominant North Atlantic species. Fished heavily for centuries, today herring is caught in Maine waters primarily for lobster bait with some going to sardines. With new fishing technology there are serious concerns about overfishing.
swim in schools near the surface and are easy to see. They were caught with a a net called a purse seinePurse seine

A net gathered at the bottom like an inverted drawstring purse. It encircles a school of fish. A rope runs through rings along the bottom to draw it together. The fish are then pumped or dipped out of the purse. If the purse is small the net may be lifted to deck and the purse opened.
, perhaps a thousand feet long and fifty feet deep. A seine boatSeine boat

Seine boats are used to set the seine around a school of fish. In the past these have been rowed. American seine boats were 35-foot double enders, rowed with 6-8 oars, large enough to carry the net. Now they are powered.
, towed by a larger fishing vessel, sets the net around the school of fish, with the beginning and end of the circle at the schooner. Floats at the top and lead weights at the bottom keep the net in place. A line pulls the bottom closed like a purse. As the line is pulled and the net brought in, the school of fish is corralled, and fishermen use dip netsDip net

Net affixed to a handle which can be used to dip fish out of a trap.
to scoop fish out of the seine net and into the boat.

The Mackerel Purse-Seine FisheryThe Sardine Industry


A weirWeir

A fence-like structure placed in water and usually constructed of stakes and brush to form one or more enclosures into which fish are led and trapped.
is a fixed net, built from shore to catch herring, mackerel, and salmon where there are large tides. A line of piles is driven out from the shore in a loop or heart-shape. Branches woven together fill the spaces between the piles. When fish enter the weir they swim in circles, not knowing how to get out. At low tide fishermen in small boats set a purse seine net within the weir and scoop fish into their boats. Weir fishing was the common method used to catch small herring for sardines in Washington County.

Lobster traps, using bait to attract lobsters, are today’s main form of fixed gear.

Otter Trawl Net

At the end of the nineteenth century the British introduced the beam trawlBeam trawl

A trawl or towed net whose mouth is held open by a long beam.
, a beam hanging out over the side of the fishing vessel with a large net attached which was towed along the bottom. It was not well accepted in America. Its successor, the otter trawlOtter trawl

A large towed funnel shaped net whose mouth is kept open by otter boards which are angled to pull the net out.
, did become popular, when combined with the steam engine to tow it behind the trawlerTrawler steam trawler

Formerly a term used for vessels that set line trawls, it has come to be the universal term for any fishing boat or vessel that tows nets. Dragger is the common New England term. The first trawlers were steam powered, but as soon as large enough internal combustion engines became available in the years after World War I, they converted and all new trawlers had gasoline or diesel engines.
. The net is a giant funnel, wide at the opening and narrow at the other end, called the cod endCod end steam trawler

The end of a trawl or towed net in which the caught fish are retained. If the net were a sock, the cod end would be the toe.
. Its mouth is pulled open by vanesVane

1. Rotating device which is used to indicate direction of wind. Also called wind or weather vanes.
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or doors as it moves through the water. Usually the otter trawl is set to run along the bottom, catching cod, haddock, flounder, and other bottom fish. Scallop dredgesDredge

In fishing, a cage made of bars and chain towed over the bottom to capture shell fish like oysters or mussels.
or nets work on a similar principle, but just use an iron bar to hold the net open. Large trawl nets are used in mid-ocean, and sometimes are towed by two vessels, in pairs fishingPairs fishing

Pairs fishing or pair trawling is done by two vessels, each of which tows half of a large trawl. Otter boards are not needed to keep the net open and the net can be much larger than that towed by a single ship. Pair trawling can be bottom trawling or midwater, in the middle of the water column.

Motorized fishing vessels that towed large nets changed the fisheries; fish could now be actively pursued, eliminating the need for bait. After World War II, growing engine sizes, a revolution in electronics, and access to easy capital in the 1980s gave fishermen the potential to catch nearly everything. By 2004, only 4% of the weight and value of Maine's fish were groundfish.

Click here to view images of groundfishing from PMM's photo collection.

Boats: From Oar to Sail to Engines

Matinicus Island Double-ender (peapod)

A fisherman’s boat is transportation to the fishing grounds, a fishing platform, a processing facility, and a temporary warehouse. The kind of boat depends on the location of the fishing grounds, the fishing gear, and the targeted fish.

Inshore fishing usually required only a pulling boatPulling boats
pull, pulled

The nautical term for rowing is pulling; thus a pulling boat is a rowed boat.
or a small sloop. Inshore craft included the double-enderDouble-ender peapod

A double-ended rowing and sailing boat, pointed both bow and stern. Length averages 14 to 18 feet. Used by lobstermen, who typically rowed them standing up and facing forward. Boat is very stable allowing fishermen to stand to haul in traps. Also called a peapod, which is now its common name. Smaller ones in 13-14 foot range are built for recreation. It was developed around the Penobscot Bay in the late 19th century, possibly around North or Vinalhaven or in the Owls Head area.
, or peapodDouble-ender peapod

A double-ended rowing and sailing boat, pointed both bow and stern. Length averages 14 to 18 feet. Used by lobstermen, who typically rowed them standing up and facing forward. Boat is very stable allowing fishermen to stand to haul in traps. Also called a peapod, which is now its common name. Smaller ones in 13-14 foot range are built for recreation. It was developed around the Penobscot Bay in the late 19th century, possibly around North or Vinalhaven or in the Owls Head area.
; the dory; and the wherryWherry

On the Maine coast a wherry is a transom-sterned rowing boat with a flat bottom board as a keel. A special variety was developed for the salmon fishery.
. In early days small schooners were also used in the inshore fisheries.

Eastport Pinky Sloop Model

Offshore fishing required overnight trips from a few days to a few months. The schooner was the most popular design. Schooners changed over time, for a while emphasizing speed, and later emphasizing safety and carrying capacity.

Before the Civil War, most fishing was done by hand line from a boat or vessel. Afterwards, new techniques included trawl line fishing and purse seine fishing for mackerel. These techniques resulted in the use of larger schooners that could carry a number of dories on deck or tow a 38-foot seine boat. They also required increased capital that Mainers did not have and resulted in Maine’s declining offshore fishing fleet.

After 1900 the demand for fresh fish grew and was met by the availability of mechanically-produced ice, better transportation via rail and steamerSteamer steamboat,steamship

A mechanically-propelled vessel in which the principal motive power is steam, as opposed to a sailing vessel or motorship. Steamboats traditionally were the sometimes sizable coastal steamers, while steamship referred to ocean going vessels.
, and a new fishing method: draggingDragging dragger

In fishing, towing a net called a trawl along the bottom. In New England a boat that drags such a net is called both a dragger and a trawler.
a large net . Dragging, which came to be called trawling, developed in Europe with sailing vessels and worked best with powerful engines. Steam trawlers needed lots of fuel and an engineer plus assistants, and were not popular in the United States.

Motors For Fishermen! Knox Engines Sintz marine gasoline engine


It was not until the 1920s that internal combustion engines large enough to efficiently tow nets made dory trawling from schooners obsolete.

On the Maine coast the introduction of internal combustion engines changed lobster boats from sailing sloops to motor boats, first narrow open boats with spray hoodsSpray hood

A canvas hood stretched over a frame that keeps spray off the crew of a boat. Found primarily in small power boats.
, to wide, large vessels up to 45 feet long. These boats now have permanent deck housesDeck house

Any structure built on the deck of a vessel.
, large engines, and all the latest navigational electronics. Lobster boat construction has evolved from wood to fiberglassFiberglass

The generic term for a rigid solid made by taking woven or matted fibers of spun glass or other materials such as Kevlar and carbon fiber and saturating them with a liquid resin that hardens over time. It is more accurately described as Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) or fiber reinforced polymer (FRP).

Fishermen made a rapid switch to engined boats, over a period of only a few years. In 1902, engined boats were not counted in New England fishery census reports. Two years later motor boats exceeded both sail and rowing boats in value. By 1908, the number of engined vessels exceeded sailing vessels; and of small boats, about half were engined and the rest mostly rowed.