Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Herring Run on Mattawoman Creek

Nowadays, the herring population is depleted, but I remember a fishing excursion in the late seventies when you could practically reach your hand in Mattawoman Creek and pull out a fish. Herring are anadromous fish, meaning they live in the ocean but come into freshwater creeks to spawn.
In those days, in the early spring you could tell when the herring were running by numerous cars parked on the side of the road where the highway crosses Mattawoman Creek. Gordon and I spotted this one day and decided to catch some fish. We rummaged in Gordon's barn for an old herring net that his grandfather had made. It was big, at least six feet tall and shaped like a fish. Two cedar branches were connected by their small ends at the fish nose and then bent around until they crossed to make a fish tail. A third branch also went from nose to tail, looping out, to give the net some depth. The whole thing was covered with rusty chicken wire. We picked up Gordon's mother, Hilda, and went down to the Creek.
There was a path along the shore that we had to follow until we got to a spot that hadn't been taken yet. The way I remember this trip, it was at night. There were a lot of campfires that we walked past and numerous jovial crowds with all kinds of nets. Some looked storebought, but most were very homemade looking. A popular type seemed to involve a Y shaped stick in the ground with a long stick with a net attached to it balanced in the crook of the Y. The people would use the stick like a lever dipping it again and again. Each time they brought it up there would be fish in it. There was so much excitement in the air - never was it so easy to live off the fat of the land! We dipped our net into the water, holding it by the tail. Immediately you could feel a bump in the net. Lifting it out, sure enough there was a fish! Hilda was beside herself with happiness. We dipped again and again, putting the caught fish in our bucket. After a while we made our way back down the dark path, all aglow with our success. In the years since, I have tried to recreate this experience a couple of times, but so far have never succeeded.
Despite my inability to recreate my old time fishing success, Mattawoman Creek remains the best fish nursery in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Mattawoman Creek is seriously threatened now by the Charles County Connector proposed highway. Find out more about how to help preserve this resouce at the Mattawoman Watershed Socity website at
Gordon has posted instructions on how to make the net at

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