The Beauty of Old Fishing Nets

My friend Jack Dudley in Swansboro recently sent me a package of historical photographs from the North Carolina coast and I’d like to share a few of them with you today.

Fishermen either mending or hanging a haul seine at one of the last shad and herring fisheries, possibly Avoca in Bertie County, on Albemarle Sound, ca. 1930. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Fishermen hanging a haul seine at one of the state’s last shad and herring fisheries, possibly Avoca in Bertie County, on Albemarle Sound, ca. 1930. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Jack is one of my favorite coastal historians. I’m especially fond of his book Swansboro: A Pictorial Tribute, which I find a model of how to use historical photographs to tell a town’s story.

Net house on the Roanoke River, ca. 1950. This may be at the Ben Everett fish camp. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

Net house on the Roanoke River, ca. 1950. This may be at the Ben Everett fish camp. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

I am finding that something about living through this coronavirus pandemic has me looking at the world a little differently.

Roanoke River, probably near Jamesville, ca. 1950. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

Roanoke River, probably near Jamesville, ca. 1950. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

Far more than I usually do, I am noticing the beauty in even the smallest, most everyday parts of my world.

Father and son drying gill nets ca. 1948, place unknown. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Father and son drying gill nets ca. 1948, place unknown, maybe Currituck Sound. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

This poor, confused, beaten-up world where right now everything seems so fragile and vulnerable and precious.

Fishermen sitting on stern of his crew's boat. This may be at a mullet fishing camp on Bald Head Island. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Fisherman and gill net sitting on a boat’s stern. This is by a fish camp near Southport, N.C., either on Bald Head Island or Caswell Beach. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

When I opened Jack’s package, the photographs of the fishermen and their nets stood out to me more than all the rest.

'm not sure, but I believe that this pair of fishermen are mending net at one of the mullet camps on Bald Head Island, ca. 1948-55. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

A pair of fishermen are mending a mullet net at a fish camp near Southport, N.C., probably on Bald Head Island, ca. 1948-55. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

The prayerful women in their backyards mending nets, the silent old men sitting on the dock, net needles in hand.

Woman mending probably a gill net, Sneads Ferry, N.C., ca. 1938. Photo by Charles A. Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Woman mending a gill net, Sneads Ferry, N.C., ca. 1938. Photo by Charles A. Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

The gill nets dangling down from net spreads, their floats looking as beautiful as the beads in black women’s hair.

Working on a purse seine, Southport, N.C., ca. 1940s-50s. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Working on a purse seine, Southport, N.C., ca. 1940s-50s. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

The herring nets spread out in a river bottom forest.

A fish camp on the Roanoke River, ca. 1940s-50s. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

A fish camp on the Roanoke River, ca. 1940s-50s. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

The pogie fishermen and their purse seine at the end of a long day.

Menhaden fishermen gathering a purse seine at the dock, Southport, N.C., ca. 1948-55. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Menhaden (“pogie”) fishermen gathering a purse seine at the dock, Southport, N.C., ca. 1948-55.  You can see a row of pogie boats in the background. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

A purse seine wrapped around a net reel for the night.

Menhaden nets drying on a reel, Southport, N.C., ca. 1948-55. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

Menhaden nets drying on a reel, Southport, N.C., ca. 1948-55. Photo by Bayard Wooten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library

The bow nets that look like giant butterfly wings in the morning light.

Man fishing for herring or shad with a handmade bow net on a creek apparently off the Roanoke River, probably in Martin County, N.C. in the 1950s. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

Fisherman with a handmade bow net on a creek near the Roanoke River, probably in Martin County, N.C. in the 1950s. Fishermen typically made the frames using green ash wood. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

As I Iooked through the photographs,  I was aware that I was seeing them with new eyes.

Salter Path, N.C., ca. 1937-40. Fishermen often used their old nets to build chicken coops and garden fences. Photo by Charles A. Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Salter Path, N.C., ca. 1937-40. Fishermen often used their old nets to build chicken coops and garden fences. Photo by Charles A. Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina

Usually I would think about their construction and purpose, their length and mesh size and where and how they were being used.

Bow nets on the Roanoke River probably in the 1950s. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

Bow netting for shad or herring on the Roanoke River, 1950s. Courtesy, Jack Dudley

But not this time. This time, when I looked at these men and women and their nets, I just thought to myself: how did I not notice before now their frail grace and luminous beauty?

4 thoughts on “The Beauty of Old Fishing Nets

  1. Bayard Wooten is a great aunt of mine! Thank you for sharing these photos! She loved to document “common” life in the early 1900’s. She took many in the mountains around Ashville and coastal area around New Bern (her home) and Charleston.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am a devoted fan of her work, Dr. Barden. An extraordinary woman and photographer. Thank you for writing. David (alumni, Graham A. Barden Elementary School, Havelock , N.C., 3rd-5th grades)

      Like

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