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Dying Arts Of Fishermen -Making Gill Nets #1

By Angel Nuñez

Fishermen of the past were skilled in many arts besides the art of catching fish and lobsters.  Some people might not think of catching fish as an art, but have you tried catching fish with a hand line or reel and failed?  Of course you fail many times because fish were biting but you just could not get them hooked.  That is because you failed in that simple yet complicated art for a few. I think the art of dancing and cooking is a simpler art than fishing.

Pablo Guerrero making a fish gill net

However, today I want to touch on the art of making fishing nets, which is an art every fisherman in the past had to learn and teach it to their children too and pass it to a new generation.  It’s an enjoyable and productive pastime, and with some knowledge, a supply of string, and a couple of handmade tools, you can start tying your own meshwork right in your living room or back yard. I learned the art from my father who taught me to “knit” a net that is, to build a series of “meshes” to create an overall pattern.

This art used to be a family activity because when dad got tired or bored, he suspended the knitting, and anyone would pick it up and advance in the project, that is the sons, daughter or even mom.  It was a lot of fun especially when you recalled that it is the family’s source of income or you thought of those delicious fish that would be landed in those interlocking strands that make the long gill net.
Tools for making a fishing gill netBesides string, you’ll need a gauge block or stick, and a netting needle or shuttle. Once you learn the art of making the interlocking strands or holes in the net as we used to call them, you can advance a foot or so in half a day.  Oh yes, it took a few weeks and at times months to complete a short forty-foot net.  However there were those long 2 or 4 hundred foot long nets used for the capture of bonefish or mullets.

Once the net was complete, the fishermen, I mean the artists, rigged floats along the top edge using a very buoyant wood called ‘colcho’ in Spanish or corkwood.  Then sinkers, usually pieces of lead, were rigged to the bottom of the net, and you were good to go in the art of using the net to catch fish, but that is another episode.  Stay tune to Ambergris Today to learn the dying arts of fishermen 25 years ago.

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