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A Day in the Life of A Lobsterman

Richard Patch has been hauling traps in Swampscott for 40 years. On Wednesday he shared some of his lobstering tales in the Fish Tales from the Fish House lecture series.

 

The longtime lobsterman hauls more than crustaceans from his 250 traps and pulled plenty of questions from his audience Wednesday at the

Richard Patch launched the Fish Tales From the Fish House lecture series with his day-in-the-life account of a lobsterman.

Richard’s day starts at 5:30 am at, a nice and peaceful time when you see more herring gulls than people.

He suspects that’s the attraction for him and fellow lobsterman.

He's been lobstering 40 years. Before that, as a high school kid, he fished the Saugus River. 

“It’s always been in me,” he said.

Richard held the floor in the cozy light of the Fish House lounge overlooking the harbor.

Bottles and ice clanked and rustled at the bar.

Framed photos of great fish decorated walls and a couple lines of burgees, triangular yacht club flags, stretched below the ceiling like clothes on a backyard clothes line.

Richard knows of only one Swampscott fellow who fishes fulltime. Everyone else is a part-timer. Many fishermen work other jobs, he said.

When he first started coming around Fisherman’s Beach to lobster he was an outsider to the regulars.

“When I started they didn’t know my name,” he said. “Took 10 years to learn my name. They use to call me ‘the hippie.’ Now they call me 'the old man.'”

His life’s work was in the classroom, too, teaching high school physics for 35 years.

One of the audience members, Bill Cobbett, told the crowd of 50-60 people that Richard was a good one, too.

“One of the best,” he said.

When it came time for Richard to explain how deep he sets his traps he said about 10 fathoms. He spread his arms to show a fathom.

For many people that’s six feet, finger-to-finger tip, except for a shorter person such as himself, he said, when it’s about five feet.

The lounge was of good cheer, and latched on to any opportunity for a laugh.

A great ship's wheel strung with electric candlelight hung in the center of the room. Overhead fans whirred slowly.

Richard baits his traps with skate, a ray-like creature with wings.

It lasts longer than herring in the bait bag, which he tends to stuff fully, he says.

Lobstermen will haul an occasional fish that has swum into their trap but the oddest thing he has pulled has been golf balls.

Some people apparently like to drive balls into the ocean and the current carries the balls into the trap’s hole.

The oddest marine life he sees are basking shark, a big floating fish, and sun fish, which are disk-shaped and have a dorsal fin.

Richard eats lobster once or twice a year. He boils them because it doesn’t take as long as steaming.

How long? Until they are done.

That’s maybe 15 minutes.

The biggest lobster he’ll pull from his traps is a six or seven pounder.

Breeding stock such as this go back into the ocean. 

The biggest lobster he has heard of anyone catching was 42 pounds.

There were some in the audience who remembered coming to Fisherman’s Beach as kids. They would watch fishermen stretch gill nets on rolling drying racks and ply their needles to mend broken netting.

Less affluent fishermen rowed their boats from trap to trap hauling about 100 by hand.

Richard runs a 10-trap trawl on his lines. That's 10 traps on one line, marked by a tri-colored buoy. They are wire traps, which weigh less and last longer than a wooden trap.

The lobsterman rewarded each question with a bright red knotted ball that you can hang from a key chain.

He called them monkey’s fists and asked people to look up the meaning of the word when they got home.

A monkey’s fist is a kind of knot that is tied to the end of a rope. It acts as a weight and makes it easier to throw a line.

Sailors would use the knot as a weapon, too, called a slungshot, according to Wikipedia.

Richard was introduced by Anne Driscoll.

Anne said the next talk in the Fish House series, June 6, will be on the Lynn Beach Painters.

They were a group of American Impressionists who painted on the North Shore in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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