The way we used to fish herring …

Online First Pictou Island Memories

I recall those many nights years ago when I as a kid would go herring fishing with my father and brother Vincent. Smaller wooden boats used for lobster fishing during those years usually had no cabin. Fishermen however would construct a small plywood cabin that could be easily installed or removed from their lobster boat for the fall herring fishing. Quit often, an old mattress was placed on the floor under the deck. We could usually get a few hours sleep each night in the cabin while waiting for the herring to hit our nets. We also could warm a can of beans, stew or fry a fresh herring or mackerel on a Coleman stove. Most fishermen usually had a small wood or coal-burning stove in their cabin. It usually would get pretty chilly on some of those September nights while waiting for the herring to strike the nets.

A wooden partition would be constructed on the floor across the width of the fishing boats just in front of the motor. This partition would stop any fish from being spilled into the cabin as the boats were being loaded.

We had no electronic equipment such as radar, depth sounders, fish finders or two-way radios 50 years ago. Fishermen usually fished two to four herring nets and sometimes made those two sets of two nets. There were two favoured places around Pictou Island where my father, my brother Vincent and others would usually set their nets. One area was known as Herring Cove by the West End. The other place was John Dan’s Cove situated around by the north side.

It would be rare to see more then six to eight boats fishing herring on any one night 50 years ago. With reference from my mother’s diaries, I bring to mind one night on September 22 1957. I was seven years old and Vincent was eleven. We had sailed around to the north side of Pictou Island with our dad in his 30-foot boat Slo-Mo-Shun and set two herring nets. We were the only boat fishing for herring on that night and had set the nets just west of where MacGee’s old lobster factory once operated. I recall the night sky being very clear with every star shinning and the water was as calm as glass. Vincent and I had fallen asleep but were awaken by our father sometime after midnight. The sight before me was incredible as I stepped from the cabin. An extremely large school of herring had hit our nets and schools of fish were skimming the water all around us. Dad immediately placed the boat under the net and he and Vincent quickly began to load the Slo-Mo-Shun. It didn’t take very long for a boat of that size to sink deeper into the water as it was being filled with fish. I remember there was probably about six inches of the Slo-Mo-Shun out of the water. There were so many fish all around the boat that I was merely leaning over the side of the Slo-Mo-Shun and scooping herring out of the water with a pitchfork.

Suddenly this bright blue ball of light streaked across the sky right above us and was going from north to south. It was so bright for a mere few seconds that it made the night seem like day. We glanced towards the island’s shore and could see every rock and tree along its bank. It was amazing and we couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a comet or a meteorite that had shot by? There was very little communication then compared with today’s advanced technology. The only means of communicating news back then was by tube radios, newspapers and crank telephones. I can’t remember if there was ever any news coverage about that strange ball of light but it sure stuck in my memory.

Mother has written in her diary that we had caught 29 barrels of herring that night. I’m guessing that would probably be a full load for a boat the size of the Slo-Mo-Shun.


Pictured brother Vincent with red cap and with lots of help loading his boat with herring 1980s.