Pull of a croaker on a hand line

Published 5:32 pm Friday, July 31, 2015

         Fishing with a hand line produced an exciting and very personal contact with the fish we caught as children. It also connected us with history. Rods and reels are relatively modern inventions. For thousands of years, man caught fish on hand lines, using hooks fashioned meticulously from a variety of materials.
History aside, there is nothing quite like the jerk of a nice croaker on a bottom rig attached to a hand line. And pulling in a fish without tangling the line as it came aboard required dexterity and concentration.
Size was directly relevant to hand line fishing, and a two-pound croaker produced all the pull a pair of young hands wanted.
I never was fortunate enough to catch a dogfish, or sand shark, on a hand line, but during those early years, our fishing parties caught a few, and I can only vaguely remember eating those unusual catches.
For the life of me, I can’t find a recipe to support this, but believe I recall my mother treating shark much like crab meat, and turning it into fish cakes. Whatever the recipe, rest assured that if it were brought home, it was eaten in some form. Little was wasted in those days.
But back to hand lining. It was almost as common a form of fishing in 1950 as rods and reels, which were just beginning to be available in large quantity. And rods and reels were expensive. A hand line wasn’t. All that was required was a thin piece of wood carved with four “ears” around which the fishing line was wound. Add line, a bottom rig, sinker and bait and there you had it.
The line itself was braided material. Monofilament, now pretty much universally used on fishing reels, would never work as a hand line. It would be hopelessly tangled and be very difficult to pull.
The worst thing about fishing with a hand line was stinging nettles. They would wrap around the line and then be transferred to hands and arms, and were doggoned uncomfortable.
Of course, hand line or rod, there were eels and toads. Let the tide slacken and oyster toads would — and will still — attack a bottom rig. And an eel might show up most any time.
It was all part of learning about the river and a little — very little I would learn later — about the fundamentals of fishing.
Funny thing was, I was always more interested in the boat ride than the fishing. Admittedly, I still am.

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