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Thread: Wooden Lobster Pots

  1. #1

    Wooden Lobster Pots

    Forty years ago, before clad wire took control over wooden lobster pot construction, this is the way it was done. Here in southeastern Connecticut one would visit a local lumber mill. White oak (sometimes called "piss oak" because of its uric acid smell) was the wood of choice. White oak is a true marine wood as it has very good natural decay resistance and, then as now, seems to grow just about everywhere. A verbal contract was made for the length of slats desired and the size of the frames. There really was not much in the way of standardization as the lumber mills would be more than willing to cut whatever was desired. The frames were provided with simple, but strong mortise and tendon joints as shown. Galvanized pot nails (sometimes called lath nails) were used to put the pot together. A single nail would lock a tendon joint together. Three frames were needed for each pot, and the oak slats were attached with two nails wherever they passed over a frame. The hinges for the door were 1" by 4" strips cut from junked automobile tires. Oh yes, commercial lobster men practice recycling long before we went green. Wilcox would have a barrow-full of these strips. Since the slats were somewhat flexible, no bungee cord or latch was needed to keep the door closed. One would just flex a slat and let the lip edge of the door slip under the slat. The netting was mostly done by hand until somebody figured out how make the netting up using standard flat netting with a offset circular section cut out of the middle. No special escape openings were needed since the spacing of the lower slat could be attached leaving enough space to meet the escape vent requirement. A couple of well known problems with wooden pots is they would soak up water and become very heavy to handle. Another problem was the wood borers. White oak is rot resistant but not wood borer resistant. It was a common practice to soak wooden pots in a chemical vat (I forget what was used but I doubt if one could buy it today) to protect the oak or simply pull the pots when the borers first became active. The life of a wooden pot was fairly short being just a few years, perhaps slightly more if they were cared for. When the wire clad pots first made their appearance, the transition phase was fairly short. Some believed that the wire pots would work better on the rocks while the wooden pots were better on the flats. I gave up on wood very quickly as wire was cheaper, no problem with borers, lighter weight than water soaked wood, less water resistance in current thus less weight was needed, lasted several times over that of wood, and they worked.
    For those of you who wonder why the Maine lobster men went to the classical rounded top pots as compared to the lower New England box like pot think about the viscous currents they have up Maine's way. It was entirely possible for pots to walk and be flipped over as well. With the rounded top, eventually the pot would end up right side up and continue to fish which is a far more stable position than being upside down. Occasionally I still see wooden pots so somebody must still be using them but wire has definitely won out with one exception. The Conch fishery still uses oak conch pots. Wire is also used but most of the conch men I know use wood. While I do not target conch, I do take some of them in my wire scup pots. Conch pots are not very complicated so I think it is more of a personal preference as to how one slaps them together.

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    "Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go" by William Feather

  2. #2
    I think we should nominate Scup as NBS Marine Historian, Anyone care to second it?

  3. #3
    NBS Member Copeland's Avatar
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    Jul 2010
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    White River Jct, VT
    Scup has a P.H.D. in "Marinefishboatshellelectricalrigpumppolish" with a second degree in "Baitstinks" and a minor in "Everythingelseyoumightliketoknowaboutfishwaterorb oats"
    Sportfishing Forums | Saltwater Fishing, Deep Sea Fishing, Big Game and Sport Fishing Reports; for the serious Sportfisherman.

  4. #4
    I forgot to mention that I stunk at catching lobsters. Never could make a buck at it even when they were all over the place. A lot of hard work, with very little in return. I finally gave up on it and turned in my commercial lobster license but kept my commercial fin-fish license; at least catching fish was more fun. I am not doing too great at commercial fishing either as the regulations are killing me. Just went over my log books for tax purposes for last year and while I ended up in the black, I figured I averaged around $1.25 per hour commercially fishing. There is no money in blue fishing when the prices drop to less than 50 cents per pound. Striped bass are a no no, fluke fishing in CT waters tends to be fuel intensive and with fuel moving toward $5 per gallon, well you get the picture, the wholesale price of scup last year bottomed out to new low levels, and the only thing that saved me from going into the red were the togs. Just got an email from the CTDEEP that they reduced my daily quota from 25 to 10 fish, given me a short season, and upped my size limit to 16 inches. Being a pot man, 85% of the togs I catch in my pots are less than 16 inches, and the few times I might be able to hit them good with rod and reel this coming fall, it would not make much sense for me to even check my pots because of the 10 fish limit. Just a few years ago, the recreational tog limit in NY was 10 fish. I read somewhere that there are only five CT commercial lobster boats left that are considered to be full time, if you wish to call it that. Pin hookers like myself are a dying breed, with every operational cost going up and having to contend with the severe limits, short seasons, and harsh regulations placed on landings, we are being squeezed out of existence. The only bright spot was the conch fishery (open access so anybody could get into it) so I was thinking of giving that a try. That was until I tried to lift a sack full of conch at the wholesaler's. I could not even get it clear of the deck. As far as I am concerned, the conch fishery is better left to the young and strong, a man my age has no business to be messing around in that fishery. I did purchased my expensive packet of licenses and commercial registrations needed for my skiff and rowboat for this year knowing full well that my ability to operate in the black are probably over. I decided it was still worth the cost, however, to be able to row out of small quiet CT cove, decide if I wish to fish commercially or recreationally that day, record my intentions in my log, and catch fish without some CO breathing down my neck. So what else does an old man have left to do but think of what had been and to tell others how it was as he pulls hard and straight on a set of ash oars as his rowboat slips quickly and quietly over the marshes he so loves.
    Last edited by Scup; 04-06-2012 at 11:31 PM.
    "Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go" by William Feather

  5. #5
    NBS Extreme Angler JackC's Avatar
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    May 2007
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    Interesting Post (as always)

    Another fun post. Scup - the wood pots were treated with creosote. I used to dip them in my parents back yard back in the 80's. I pulled them by hand in the recreational lobster fishery for about 5 years before I changed boats. Pots make a mess of your boat and I gave up lobster fishing due to the mess it made. I miss the fishery but obviously it is on hard times in the southern part of the range. (Mirrors winter flounder from my perspective.)

    If you have a commercial type skiff the mess is fine, a sportfishing boat takes a pounding pulling commercial gear. Even 10 pots for a sport lobsterman makes a huge mess on a clean white fiberglass deck.

    Sportfishing Forums | Saltwater Fishing, Deep Sea Fishing, Big Game and Sport Fishing Reports; for the serious Sportfisherman.

  6. #6
    NBS Extreme Angler seahunt202's Avatar
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    May 2007
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    East Hampton/ Mystic
    Scup should write a book.
    Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged wimmin'.

  7. #7
    I think some one wrote it already. I think it was titled the Ole man and the sea...... LOL Scup if you do write a book please do my one favor add in more paragraph breaks I find it hard to read without them. Scup, I have a possible title for it.

    The history of the a New England fishery

    or maybe

    Tales of Scup the man and the fish

    or maybe

    The life and times of Scup

    Yea I'm messing with you, but I love to read the things you write.

  8. #8
    Senior NBS Member bassarama's Avatar
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    Dec 2007
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    Small town in CT and RI
    I too have always enjoyed reading your posts/things you write. Those who can articulate words in a way you do should write books, IMO you have "Great Sories To Tell"

    Sportfishing Forums | Saltwater Fishing, Deep Sea Fishing, Big Game and Sport Fishing Reports; for the serious Sportfisherman.

  9. #9
    Thanks guys!

    Now that you jogged my memory, Jack, creosote was used as a wood preservative, even our telephone poles were treated with it. It really worked well but was banned about the same time they banned tin based bottom paint. If I recall correctly, they took it off the market because of its longevity.

    How is this for a paragraph break Captain Scott? I always indented my paragraphs but the NBS software somehow removed them. It never occurred to me put in a line break till you mentioned it.

    I would rather go fishing than write a book!

    The main reason why I started this post was because a fellow NBS member was interested in wooden pots. I tried like hell to post a picture of them in a private message, but either the software would not allow me to do it, or more likely, I did not know what I was doing. However, adding a picture to a post was easy, so I posted a picture and added what I remembered about the days of when I stunk at trying to catch lobsters.

    Here is another true story and why I am so fond of NBS. Around Thanksgiving time several years back, I was corresponding with Capt Scott using NBS's private messaging. The Captain warned me about my carelessness and risk taking just before a horrible boating accident occurred in Rhode Island waters. A lone clam digger managed to get his anchor rode tangled around his propeller, took on water over his stern in rough seas, and his swamped craft capsized. A cell phone call for help did go out, but I do not believe his body was ever recovered. The Captain and others spent days trying to do what they could as a rescue mission shifted into a recovery mission. Just days prior to this accident, I became careless on a rough day and managed to do exactly the same thing the lone clam digger had done. My own rode locked my propeller solid! My stern turned into the seas, the strain on the rode in an instant rose to unmanageable levels. A skiff can slip through the ocean quite easily when tied off to the bow, not so easily when tied off to the stern (outboard's propeller). The strain on the rode was so great that when I touched it with a boat hook it felt more like a steel cable than a nylon line. My tangled propeller seemed to be just out of reach and not only is the engine useless with its fouled/propeller, but even trying to raise or lower it becomes next to impossible because of the rode's tension. I crapped in my pants because I could still hear Captain Scott's warnings and knew I was in big time trouble as water started to come in over the stern. Probably the only difference between what happened to the clam digger and me was that while we were both terrified, I was aware of the mess I created all by myself and never took the time to send out a call for help via a cell phone. Those few seconds saved proved to be just enough time for me to break away from my anchor rode. Once my propeller was free of the anchor rode, the skiff turned broadside to the seas, as I drifted away from the rode. I always have a lobster pot float tied to the end of rode just so I do not have to make the very type of mistake I had just made. Anchor, rode, and lobster float was left where it was, as I had no intentions of pushing my luck a second time. It could be retrieved the next time I am out there when conditions are more placid. My engine started first pull and I was headed home to safety.

    The night after that lone clam digger died, my mind went into overdrive as I tried to fall asleep in a warm comfortable bed. Even though I never knew or met this person, I could relate to him. Thanksgiving was coming, guests would be attending, and the highlight of the dinner would be fresh RI clams for all. The seas were nasty, but still manageable, so why not. I have done the exact same thing myself time and time again, so why am I sleeping in a warm bed and a fellow clam digger rests in Davy Jones' Locker. How could such a horrible thing happen when one’s intentions could only be to provide a treat for his family and guests? We made the exact same mistake with different endings. Was it just luck, the Captain's warnings driving me to a near panic stage, perhaps I had just a tad more experience in realizing there was no time to waste when damage control was needed, or are there such things as guardian angels? The more I thought about the why of it all, Captain Scott's warnings and luck (good or bad) had determined the differing outcomes. I am not sure about my guardian angel having a hand in it, but the impossible tangled mess did seem to clear away faster than if only my hands were undoing it. Even with the added time, if luck or something else had not intervened, I still would not have been able to free up my tangled rode. I will never understand how Captain Scott could have foreseen the trouble that I would have created for myself, but I guess in his line of work he has seen it all.

    At this joyous time of the year, I still remember the lone clam digger whom I never met or knew, as I said a prayer for him at the 8 PM evening Mass held at St. Mary's Church in Stonington CT. Christians, this Easter day, will celebrate it with egg hunts, colorful baskets, and perhaps by taking Mom to a fancy restaurant. We should not forget, however, that Easter is also celebrated because it was a joyous time when our Lord showed all that sin and death can be beaten. I do wish all a very happy Easter, grateful that Captain Scott and those like him do what they do, and pray that all those on the water this season be careful and safe.
    "Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go" by William Feather

  10. #10
    Scup, while I'm truly pleased at the outcome, I feel you give my words far to much credit. Don't stop doing the things you love and most of all don't stop writing. Your knowledge, wisdom and experience are brain food for many and just enjoyable to read.

    As for the clamer Chester Kidd, he was recovered about 5 months later.

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