Workboats all lined up and ready for dredging at a marina in Chance, Maryland, way down at the marshy islands on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It was a windy, rough day and the watermen didn’t go out, providing a dockside view of their winter gear and oyster mud.
Dredges are still a common tool for oystering in the Maryland part of the Chesapeake, even though they’re a gear type introduced in the 1840’s. Blacksmiths and gear netters make the frames and the rope “baskets,” just as their fathers and grandfathers did.
Oystering, the oldest Chesapeake fishery, still represents a seasonal portion of the waterman’s livelihood, with some of the strongest intact traditions, methods, and technology. Although simple and sturdy, these dredges represent an integral and dwindling part of the Bay’s iconic heritage.