Pound Net Fishing on the Chesapeake

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By Gary Greenwood

Antipoison Creek is home to three pound-net fishermen. If you are up early, you can see them heading out to their nets in their iconic Chesapeake workboats. A couple of weeks ago my neighbor, Joe, took me out with him for their morning fishing.

Pound nets are a type of fish weir. A pound net is a collection of nets, set in a fixed location. The nets are set on pine poles driven into soft river bottom. They are designed to herd the fish into a single square net with a small exit hole. I couldn’t find a description of pound nets on Wikipedia, so they may be unique to the Chesapeake. Maryland and Virginia both have websites (see below) with the nets’ locations marked on a map.

We left the dock a couple of minutes after 5 AM. Joe’s nets were set on poles in the Rappahannock River, so we headed east, around Windmill Point, and a short distance up the Rappahannock. By 6 AM we were at the first net, and Joe and his two mates were pulling up the net using the small skiff we had towed out with us.

Ideally, the nets would be full of Croaker as they bring the most money back at the dock. But, not this morning. Mostly they caught menhaden, and not a lot of that. As part of the morning’s catch, Joe also brought in some small flounder, some sugar toads, and a snapping mackerel. These would be sold separately from the menhaden.

As soon as we tied up to the pound net, two local sport fishing boats pulled up and tied up to Joe’s boat. After the fish were brought aboard, they were sorted into bushel baskets, and each of the fishing boats purchased a couple of bushels of fresh menhaden. I think they were headed out to the Windmill Point light where cobia were rumored to be lurking.

As soon as the sport fishermen headed out, a local crabber stopped by to pick up a few bushels of menhaden for his pots. Then we moved onto the second net, and repeated the process. Not as many fish in the second net, and no buyers tied up, so Joe ended up taking several bushels back. Joe sold a couple of bushels to another crabber on his way back to the dock, and the rest were all spoken for. A small group of local residents were waiting to see what he had caught, and they purchased the flounder and other fish.

Menhaden catch from the first net.
Menhaden catch from the first net.
Selling fresh-caught menhaden on the water.
Selling fresh-caught menhaden on the water.
Back at the dock, the last bushels waiting to be picked up.
Back at the dock, the last bushels waiting to be picked up.

Maps to Chesapeake poundnets are here >> https://webapps.mrc.virginia.gov/public/maps/virginia_poundnets.php and here >> http://dnr2.maryland.gov/fisheries/pages/poundnets/index.aspx.

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