Wildflowers of the Berkshires

Traditions and Techniques of Building New England Stone Walls

Sunset, From Titan's Pier
Sunset, From Titan’s Pier.

A Canoeist's Supper
A Canoeist’s Supper.
        Forty years ago a company was known as "The Old Sluggard" dragged the waters of the Connecticut at South Hadley Falls for shad. Other parties fished from some little islands or wharves in the stream built for the purpose; but the "Old Sluggard" had by far the best place. Here was a broad, gently sloping beach with a long, clean curve along the water’s edge, forming an almost perfect ground to work upon. There were almost forty men in the company, who lived not only at the Falls, but at South Hadley and Granby. It required twelve men to man the boat, and the members of the company took turns in working it. About one day in three was required of each man who owned shares during the fishing season, which began about the first of May and lasted nearly tow months.

A Quiet Afternoon
A Quiet Afternoon.

        Shad were numerous in those days, and when the hauls were made the beach was a lively place. The shouting, the rattle of oars and splash of water, the group of on-lookers and the peddlers and others making purchases at the big bin into which the shad were thrown, made it a busy and interesting scene. The big, flat scow, with eight or ten men pulling at the oars, goes up along the shore to the upper end of the fishery. There one end of the broad net heaped into the stern of the boat is handed out to two men on shore the bow is turned out into the current, and the boat shoots forward. The net slides into the water, fold by fold, the boat turns down stream, then shoreward, completes its long circle and touches land. The men instantly leap out and begin hauling in the net. When the inclosure of water narrows, the interest gets to white heat. There is a tumult of frightened fish breaking the surface into sudden waves, now and then there is a silvery flash as one leaps into the air. Then the net with its burden is landed, and there on the pebbly shore among the meshes are scores of shining victims. They are soon thrown into the broad, shallow boat, where they toss and grasp and find their way to some peddler’s cart of farmer’s wagon.

At the Water's Edge — Titan's Pier
At the Water’s Edge — Titan’s Pier.

        At the beginning of the century, salmon were taken here in considerable numbers, and shad were considered rather plebian fish. They story goes that folks were thought to be pretty badly off if they had to eat shad, and to illustrate this point the following anecdote is told: A certain family, having prepared a shad breakfast, were just gathering about the table to partake of the humble dish when a knock came at the door. The man of the house was ashamed to be seen eating shad, and he therefore slipped hi fish into the table drawer before admitting the visitor. But salmon became scarce and shad grew in respectability. Back in the fifties the family in this neighborhood which did not have a barrel or two of shad laid away for summer use was not considered well provided for.
        The land on which the "Old Sluggard" company fished was owned by a Mr. Lamb. This land was after a time bought up by certain parties and a new company formed, with Captain Corey Smith as leader, and styling itself "The Young Sluggard." After going through a lawsuit the old company was turned out and the twelve who formed the new company took possession. Fish rights were then very valuable, but now few shad get up as far as the Falls, and it hardly pays to get out the nets.

Wrecked Canoeists
Wrecked Canoeists.

Canoeing on Dry Land
Canoeing on Dry Land.

© Laurel O’Donnell 1996 - 2006, all rights reserved
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