Bob Pierce, Life on the Westport River


Life on the Westport River, Westport MA in the 1950s/1960s/1970s
Bob Pierce with Richie Earle and Russell Walters
May 2024

Topics discussed:

Eel fishing off Donovans Lane
Cold winters
Ice skating on the river
Best time to catch eels was in winter when the water was still cold
Warmer weather made eels more oily
Eel trawls – never seen this done by anyone else
Eel trawl hook
Crushed mussels for bait for eels
Kept eels alive in the brook until time to skin the eel
Take them to Fred and Anne’s
Slime the eel – wood ash in tub to remove slime to make it easier to remove
Eels and johnny cakes was a staple back then, fry up eels in bacon fat, still wriggle after being cut up in pieces
Charlie Pierce was the police chief, brother of Bob Pierce
Eeling at night – used car lights on a battery on a clam night, the water was very clear then
Looking glasses used to see through the water

Oystering, scalloping
Set seine wrapped around north of Hix Bridge, very deep water, rowed in circle to catch the herring, lead weights on the bottom, floats on the top, catch bushels of herring and perch, sometimes smelt
Sam Tripp had a fish market in Padanaram

Oystering – no areas were closed, in the winter it never froze under Hix Bridge, Portuguese fisherman would send down a bucket with moonshine.

Oyster beds – Albert Lees I, Jim Raposa, east side of Poor Farm
Made beds out of shells, no limits on amount
$3 a bushel
Processed all that was caught
Nothing went bad
Howie Borden off Cornell Road
After Howie died, his wife called Bob, (she was in her 90s) can you take me for a ride in the river
“I’m still sea worthy”

Farming, also worked at post office full time as a mail carrier, and supervisor
Deputy shellfish warden
Delivered mail
All fishermen had other activities to sustain them, such as farming
All problems disappear when on the river, only have to worry about what to hold on to

Tonging to dig quahogs, required strength and experience
Bull rake, steel, curved teeth, long lengths of wood, weighed 50 pounds, had to be a bull to pull it up
No regulations back then
Encounters as a warden, very few
Seals in the river, “hole in the wall”, seal stayed with them
More seals now than in the past
Seals decimate the fish, no more seal hunts
Cormorants also, 1970s and 80s, old gunners called cormorants shags and shot them
The river: names of places on the river, hole in the wall, different places for oysters, Crooked Creek
Brackish water
Clams and steamers
Further north – oysters
Cadmans Neck, muddy area, eels
John Donovan, delivered milk, very strong
Town landings along river

Chape’s father Bill (Alvin) White and Uncle Jim
They were the premier fishermen, they owned this river, made it their business
Fished at the foot of the lane (end of Horseneck Road)
They loved being on the river
Bill’s son Chapin also fished, crab pots, quahoging
Green crabs
Chape had bait business
Tautog business – crabs were used as bait
Peter Luevelink
Clam measures- quart, peck
Other people on the river
Swampy Vaughan who had a shack near Hix Bridge to build boats
He brought the DDT issue to everyone’s attention
George Lake
Walter Vincent
Fred Peckham – premium bass fisherman

Tongs, locally made, belonged to Jim Hollis
Bull rake
Clam rake
Quahog rake
Scallop drag
Measures- peck for quahog, half bushel, bushel
Modern bull rake
Treading with sneakers to quahog
Unusual discoveries in the river – tropical fish, sea horses, a skull found near the Back Eddy