‘It’s been an in­ter­est­ing life’

Cape Sable Is­land fish­er­man re­flects on decades of fish­ing

South Shore Breaker - - Wheels - KATHY JOHN­SON TRICOUNTY VAN­GUARD

Brad­ford (Baffy) Sy­monds Jr. was only a-year-and-a-half old when his mother took him to Seal Is­land for the first time.

“I’ve pretty well been on the ocean ev­ery year since,” said the re­tired Cape Sable Is­land fish­er­man. “It’s been an in­ter­est­ing life.”

Sy­monds at­tended his first year of school on Seal Is­land in 1936.

“There were about 40 to 50 stu­dents,” he says, ex­plain­ing the is­land fish­er­men all took their fam­i­lies there in Novem­ber. “Some stayed all win­ter. We al­ways came home.”

Sy­monds says his fa­ther Brad­ford Sr. was one of five lob­ster fish­er­men who fished from the East Side of Seal Is­land. About 40 more boats made the West Side their port of call, while the North Home also pro­vided a safe haven.

“There were three places on Seal Is­land where they hauled their boats up,” he says, not­ing there were four or five land­ings on just the West Side.

Sy­monds be­gan his ca­reer as a lob­ster fish­er­man in 1943 when he was 12 years old fish­ing with his fa­ther and 15-year-old brother Her­bert, first from Seal Is­land and then El­len­wood Is­land in a 35-foot boat mea­sur­ing 9.5 feet across and powered by a six­cylin­der Chevy, us­ing a clock, a com­pass and a sound­ing lead for nav­i­ga­tional equip­ment.

“Lob­sters were 25 cents a pound, wages were $25 a week. My fa­ther couldn’t af­ford a hired man, so he took Her­bert at 15 and I was 12,” says Sy­monds.

The two sons would get their ed­u­ca­tion through cor­re­spon­dence classes in the evening and go lob­ster­ing in the day.

“That was the start of it. Lob­ster­ing wasn’t im­por­tant then. It was more like a pas­time, like fish­ing is to­day. Ev­ery­body couldn’t wait for the first of June to come to go fish­ing,” Sy­monds says. “A lot of peo­ple that went lob­ster­ing in the win­ter went fish­ing in the spring.”

Fish­ing with wooden traps meant a lot more work than to­day’s wire traps. The fall would be the time of year they would “be in the woods bow­ing,” says Sy­monds.

“This is when we would get a lot of bows done. It would take 400 bows to make 100 traps and we’d knit all the heads and then we had to go to Pub­nico to get bal­last rock and load it in a dory and come into the wharf and un­load it. There was a whole lot more to it,” he says. “Then it would take you all win­ter to make 100 traps. Most win­ters the harbour would freeze over by midJan­uary so far you couldn’t see the salt wa­ter. We wouldn’t get out un­til March.”

Whit­tling wooden lob­ster plugs was another chore.

“I was prob­a­bly eight or nine when I started to do that,” says Sy­monds.

“Some peo­ple did it for a liv­ing. Then they got a ma­chine to make them. We only used to plug the crusher claw,” he says, es­ti­mat­ing lob­ster bands came in about the late 1970s.

Sy­monds can re­mem­ber the lob­ster can­nery build­ings that dot­ted the south­west­ern Nova Sco­tia coast­line in the early 1900s, but they were no longer op­er­a­tional. He says there were can­ner­ies on Seal Is­land, El­len­wood Is­land, Pub­nico and Deep Cove Is­land. Can­ner­ies also ex­isted in other places, in­clud­ing Clark’s Harbour.

“There were can­ner­ies, but they canned ev­ery­thing. There was no mea­sure. That’s why my fa­ther had to leave Seal Is­land be­cause the lob­sters were so shy,” Sy­monds says, adding once they started putting the lob­ster size mea­sure on the stocks im­proved. A mea­sure was in place by the time Sy­monds started lob­ster fish­ing in 1943.

About fish­ing from El­len­wood Is­land, Sy­monds says, “When we came in, ev­ery day the smack boat would be there, and we would sell to that smack and it would take the lob­sters to Tur­pen­tine Is­land. We didn’t hold any lob­sters. We had very few crates and you couldn’t hold a lob­ster car at El­len­wood.”

Lob­sters were trans­ported by sea to the U.S. in well smacks.

“There were no trans­ports in those days. It all went by wa­ter. Dif­fer­ent smacks would go to Port­land and there were dif­fer­ent buyers but not as many as there is to­day.”

Sy­monds went lob­ster fish­ing for 72 years, never miss­ing a sea­son. Health is­sues have pre­vented him from go­ing for the past three years.

“I go to the wharf pretty well ev­ery day,” he says. “I’m not phys­i­cally out there but I’m out there, sit­ting on the wharf.”

Be­sides the lob­ster fish­ery, Sy­monds has also fished sword­fish, her­ring and ground­fish, in­clud­ing hal­ibut, dur­ing his life­time. He re­calls go­ing sword­fish­ing in the 1950s from Shel­burne on trips that lasted three weeks.

“The first trip I made $149. The next trip I made $159 and then I quit be­cause I thought I had money enough,” he says.

Sword­fish and hal­ibut were sell­ing at 17 cents a pound in the 1950s, says Sy­monds. Pol­lock was worth 1.5 cents. “You could make money at those prices. A lot less ex­penses and wages.”

Sy­monds also did re­lief light­keeper work on Seal Is­land, earn­ing $45 a week.

“That was a good pay­check,” he says.

As a her­ring fish­er­man, Sy­monds fished through­out At­lantic Canada in the 1980s, land­ing in “pretty well ev­ery port in Nova Sco­tia.”

Sy­monds also had the chance to be part of the orig­i­nal crew for the Cana­dian Coast Guard

Clark’s Harbour Small Lifeboat Sta­tion when it opened in 1966, go­ing for six weeks of train­ing in Dartmouth, but when it came Novem­ber, Sy­monds de­cided it wasn’t the life for him. “Sein­ing and stuff, I’ve en­joyed that more than what I would have at the coast guard,” he says, adding those who did con­tinue with their ca­reers at the lifeboat sta­tion and their suc­ces­sors have done a good job.

Dur­ing the past 35 years, Sy­monds’s twin sons Kurt and Kylie have fished with him. Now the two are at the helm of the Capt. Baff.

“It’s been an in­ter­est­ing life,” he says.


Cape Sable Is­land fish­er­man, Brad­ford (Baffy) Sy­monds Jr., started lob­ster fish­ing when he was 12 years old.

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