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Cowboys on the Water, Part II

Published: 9/27/2010
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By Maddy Butcher Gray

Click here to read Part I

A while back, I was watching Elijah Moore work with a horse. The horse was 10 feet behind him, but Elijah could still see her with his peripheral vision. He wanted her to stay put while he talked with me.
The horse wanted to be close to him. All horses want to be close to Elijah.
She started to take a step forward. Elijah set her back with the slightest move of his right shoulder.
His shoulder!

That’s the feel, all right. The feel he’s acquired from working with so many horses. He's wise as the hills. And that feel is one of awareness.

It took a small mistake made by Rick Hollingshead for me to recognize a similar intuition. He had just sent a trap off the sideboard and into the sea. Then he glanced at his depth finder and hauled it back up, shaking his head.

“You gotta have these traps set just right. If you’re three feet off, you won’t get lobster. What happened there was the bottom came up real quick on me. No good.”
To me, it was like all the other traps he’d set that day. I didn’t see anything wrong.
But while Rick was chatting, fixing bait, watching the current and moving the boat, he was also lining things up for this neighborhood's perfect trap setting: about 40 feet down, on a slope with plenty of rocks and kelp.
Once he had the trap back on the sideboard, he spun the boat around and placed it right where he wanted it.
“That’s good fishing there,” he said, satisfied. “Lotta hiding for the lobsters.”

[It should be noted that over the course of two full days, this was the one and only time I saw him make a mistake!]

Have you ever been in the company of great horsemen?
They notice horses’ movements and signs before the rest of us. They get more from their horses because they see the softness and see the try before the rest of us. And so, they offer the release and the reward before the rest of us would, too.
It’s thrilling.
So, too, was my time on the water with Rick.
Rick doesn’t see Quahog Bay like I do. I look at the surface and ins and outs of all the pretty, little coves and picturesque islands. I notice the wind when it blows in my face.
My vision is two-dimensional stuff compared to what Rick takes in.
  He talked to Elijah and me about the lobsters’ movement during the summer.
“Lobsters shed at 53 degrees. They come up in the channels to shed. Then they lay low, hang out, and harden up before heading back out the bay. They’ll survive on their own meat ‘til their shells get hard and they can come out again.”
Rick sees all that action in his head. He doesn't need a fancy underwater camera. And he senses the wind picking up before the rest of us see white caps forming.
After more than 30 years on the water, his trap-to-keeper ratio is quite high. He does better than most.
But he’s still always learning.
How? The lobsters and the sea show him. Just like the horses show Elijah.
If he’s not catching them, he adjusts.
As the season progresses, he will move his traps more offshore.
He might switch up his bait, depending on the trap's location or time of year.
As for the day-to-day adjustments and risks he faces, Rick says: “Common sense goes a long way. Mother Nature, she’ll beat you down.”

Spoken like a true cowboy.

Rick’s been multi-tasking and entertaining us for a few hours. He sets the bait and lets go of yet another trap. I’m thinking we’ve watch him haul nearly 100 traps so far.
“How the heck do you remember where they all are?” asks Elijah.
Rick just smiled. “You just do.”

Photo at right: Rick displays a 6-pound female lobster before returning it to the ocean.

View Reader Comments:

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10/6/2010 Nora
Great story Maddy.
11/7/2010 Mackin
I'll second that!

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