Fish Weirs and Squid Jigs

The fish weir is working off of the Wianno Club in Osterville, inshore of Collier’s Ledge. Fisher, Pete and me motored up to it on Saturday afternoon, keeping clear of the mooring lines that angled away from the fyke to temporary anchors. A flapping little American flag was tied to the sapling branch that held up its corner of the netted pen.

The weir goes up every May, right when the squid are spawning off the 20 foot line in Nantucker Sound. It catches scup, squid, mackerel and sea bass for a few weeks, but stops when the voracious bluefish arrive around May 13th.

“Think they have to fly that flag by law?” asked Pete as we motored past the 50×100 foot oval pen or fyke. There was a line of grey saplings — pounded into the sandy bottom in 15 feet of water — running off to the north for a quarter-mile, a black rope tied with turk’s heads running like a phone wire from tree to tree. I guess there was another net below the surface, making the weir look like lollipop with the end about a mile off the beach, and the fyke, or fish pen, directly south like the candy.

By Christina Allen Painting by Christina Allen

This is probably the most, if not one of the most ancient forms of fishing. Archaeologists have found vestiges of river weirs, generally made of stone with reeds woven between poles to deflect the fish to a pen where they could be harvested by hand.

There are only a few weirs left on the Cape, one near me in Wianno, the others past Point Gammon towards Harwich and Chatham. I’ve never seen one emptied, but they are very temporary looking affairs that go up for a few weeks every spring and come down long before the summer folk arrive.

We jigged up a dozen squid in the middle of a huge fleet of fellow squidders. Every boat’s hull was mottled black from the squirting ink. Pete and I fried the squid into calamari. They sucked.

In 1867 the Barnstable Patriot reported:

“(Advt.) NOTICE. The Centerville Fish Weir Co. having completed their Weir at Squaw’s island near Hyannis Port, are now able to supply Fishermen with FRESH BAIT. The signals, when they have Bait, is a White Flag on the Weir, and an American Flag hoisted on the shore. Apply at the weir.”


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