Back in the late 60’s my family moved to the small coastal town of Castine Maine. The first house we moved to was a small cape on Green st. Later we moved to a twenty room, three story house on Main st.
There wasn’t much to do in a small town, there was an old British fort, complete with redouts, but it was really nothing more than dirt mounds thrown up, the fort itself was long gone. The other thing was fishing in the bay, which was the summer pass time of every young boy below the age of 12.
There was a pier standing out over the bay and to one side was a floating dock attached to the pier so it could move with the tides. I don’t remember just how big the dock was, but let’s say it was about 15 ft wide and 25 ft long.
Every day during the summer, the outboard side would be packed with boys, and sometimes a few girls, there was hardly any room to get a good cast of your line.
At the time, I had turned in enough bottles to buy myself what we called a drop line. This was made up of four dowels, two with holes drilled in to allow the other two to fit through, forming a square of about six inches. This was then wrapped with a heavy line, bigger than most nylon line at the time, this was almost rope.
To use this contraption, you would unroll a few feet of line, bait your hook, and toss the line out as far as you could, then slowly pull it back in. It wasn’t near as fast as a rod and reel, but it worked.
I was probably 7 or 8, before the summer I cut my finger off. (That’s another story for another day ) We were all down at the dock fishing, when the tide was coming in. An adult up on the pier had hooked something big, we could tell by the way his rod was bent almost in half.
Soon his catch got close to the surface and we, and I suppose he, realized he had hooked a dogfish, or sand shark as we called them. He managed to haul this shark all the way out of the water and even a few feet into the air before his line broke and it went splashing back into the bay.
I think every kid on the dock got the same idea at the same time. We’re going shark fishing!
Now you have to remember, this was back when kids ate breakfast and left the house telling their parents they would be back by supper. There was almost no parental control, we were free range kids of the first order, something you hardly see in this day and age.
We knew the tides, knew that when it came in it brought the minnows, and following them were Mackerel, feeding. Behind the Mackerel came the sharks.
So the next morning we showed up at the dock ready to fish for shark.
Someone brought a cage like contraption to catch the minnows. After we had enough, those with a real rod would cast out for Mackerel.
Now here’s where the drop lines come in.
After we felt we had enough bait, we would cut off the head of a Mackerel and, using a large hook tied to a drop line, we would throw the whole mess as far as we could hoping to hook a shark. I don’t think we ever hooked one, I think the shark would swallow the whole mess and the hook would catch inside.
I will remind you here that there wasn’t any kid there above the age of 12, and no adults around to tell us we probably shouldn’t be doing this.
Yes we caught a few, hauling them close to the dock before someone brave enough would get as close to the mouth of a really pissed off shark to cut the line. We went through a lot of hooks and drop lines that summer.
One day about mid summer, one of the older kids wanted to bring one up on the dock and see what was inside.
Yes, you read that right, he wanted to cut one open and see what was inside it.
Well we were all for that… So the next one caught was hauled right onto the dock. Boy was it pissed, it was probably around five ft long and to us it was all mouth and teeth.
We stayed far back from it until it quite thrashing.
Now don’t go getting all soft on me, remember, this was years before the movie JAWS and sharks were still feared, so nobody cared like we do now. Now we still fear them, but at least we understand them, and now I wouldn’t harm a creature intentionally for anything.
Once the shark stopped thrashing around, the older kid that had suggested we cut it open, stepped forward and sliced it open.
Everything spilled out, including about a dozen babies, with yoke sacks still attached.
Dogfish don’t lay eggs, the young hatch inside the mother and develop, then she gives birth to live babies.
Well to say we were in shock would be an understatement, this was something none of us had ever seen.
Now some of us were unset, we had killed a mother with babies.
Kids started throwing the babies into the bay, only to watch as other sharks grabbed them up.
Yeah, I know, snacks…
I happened to have brought a bucket with me and dipped some water out of the bay. I tossed in one of the babies and took it home to shoe to my mom.
Not once, mind you, did either one of my parents ask where I had gotten a baby shark.
My dad took a large trash can, the old metal type, and filled it with seawater from the local swimming hole.
Nobody realized that the shark still having a yoke sack wouldn’t live long. I think it lived almost a week.
After that, our shark fishing days were over.
Sometimes I wonder how none of us got hurt or killed that summer, though there was a plethora of hooking accidents, someone would throw back their rod to cast and end up hooking someone’s cheek or ear. The boy would cut the line and go home to get the hook removed, returning shortly with a bandaid or even a stitch or two.
And that my friends is just one of the crazy stories of my life.