Tales of the Fish Patrol
Perhaps our most laughable exploit on the fish patrol, and at the same time our
most dangerous one, was when we rounded in, at a single haul, an even score of
wrathful fishermen. Charley called it a "coop," having heard Neil Partington use
the term; but I think he misunderstood the word, and thought it meant "coop," to
catch, to trap. The fishermen, however, coup or coop, must have called it a
Waterloo, for it was the severest stroke ever dealt them by the fish patrol, while
they had invited it by open and impudent defiance of the law.
During what is called the "open season" the fishermen might catch as many
salmon as their luck allowed and their boats could hold. But there was one
important restriction. From sun-down Saturday night to sun-up Monday morning,
they were not permitted to set a net. This was a wise provision on the part of the
Fish Commission, for it was necessary to give the spawning salmon some
opportunity to ascend the river and lay their eggs. And this law, with only an
occasional violation, had been obediently observed by the Greek fishermen who
caught salmon for the canneries and the market.
One Sunday morning, Charley received a telephone call from a friend in
Collinsville, who told him that the full force of fishermen was out with its nets.
Charley and I jumped into our salmon boat and started for the scene of the
trouble. With a light favoring wind at our back we went through the Carquinez
Straits, crossed Suisun Bay, passed the Ship Island Light, and came upon the
whole fleet at work.
But first let me describe the method by which they worked. The net used is what
is known as a gill-net. It has a simple diamond- shaped mesh which measures at
least seven and one-half inches between the knots. From five to seven and even
eight hundred feet in length, these nets are only a few feet wide. They are not
stationary, but float with the current, the upper edge supported on the surface by
floats, the lower edge sunk by means of leaden weights,
This arrangement keeps the net upright in the current and effectually prevents all
but the smaller fish from ascending the river. The salmon, swimming near the
surface, as is their custom, run their heads through these meshes, and are
prevented from going on through by their larger girth of body, and from going
back because of their gills, which catch in the mesh. It requires two fishermen to
set such a net, - one to row the boat, while the other, standing in the stern,
carefully pays out the net. When it is all out, stretching directly across the stream,
the men make their boat fast to one end of the net and drift along with it.
As we came upon the fleet of law-breaking fishermen, each boat two or three
hundred yards from its neighbors, and boats and nets dotting the river as far as
we could see, Charley said:
"I've only one regret, lad, and that is that I have'nt a thousand arms so as to be
able to catch them all. As it is, we'll only be able to catch one boat, for while we
are tackling that one it will be up nets and away with the rest."