A Story by Charlie Dennis
Noel Francis was one of the true oyster fishermen that fished oysters in the different oyster beds in the Bras d’Or Lakes. During most of the oyster season, he and his son would be fishing in Malagawatch and River Denys Basin. At times, he would fish alone as the boys would be doing something else.
Noel was very creative in finding ways and techniques in harvesting oysters. I remember one year when I was fishing oyster along the Boom Channel (north of Malagawatch). The wind had picked up, so it was very hard to do any fishing. I am one of those fishermen that loves to pick oysters when there is no wind and the lake is flat calm. That day the boat was blowing everywhere, so I just gave up and drifted along to shore and hoped the wind would die down. While resting on the shore, somebody all of a sudden shouted to me and said “you can’t make any money while you’re sleeping!” (In Mi’kmaq of course). Here was Noel, drifting along in his boat and eagerly picking oysters.
I asked myself, “how is he able to do any fishing in this wind?” Anyhow, he landed his boat alongside mine and we decided to boil some water and make some tea, and have some graham crackers (he loved these special brand of crackers). As we were chatting, I noticed a pair of socks hanging over the sides of the boat, one up on the stern and one at the bow. Jokingly I asked, “what invention have you come up with, Uncle” He explained that he was having problems with the corn oil–every time he would throw drops of the oil, the wind just carried it away. So what he did was, he took his socks off and went to shore, filled his socks with beach sand, then he filled the socks with Mazola oil. The end result was that no matter where he went, the effects of the oil gave him a clear vision and no ripples all around his boat. I had to laugh when he told me his new invention, although that wasn’t the end of the story! Well, I couldn’t resist asking the next question “How come your boat wasn’t getting tossed around by the wind?”
Noel laughed, and with a chuckle asked me to have a look on the side of the boat. I noticed two pieces of rope hanging towards the bottom, so I took a closer look. He had tied a few rocks to the end of the rope! He had salvaged some old pieces of net along the shore and made two bags of rocks, one on each side of the boat. It took me a few minutes to figure it out. Noel was dragging these bags of rocks along the bottom and in turn, the rocks were slowing down the drift of the boat. When we finished our tea and graham crackers, he said “well, my son, I have to make some money–and shoved his boat out and slowly moved along the shore, picking up oysters. Of course, being a rookie, I waited for the wind to die down and would head back to camp, but kept the ideas he had in my head and eventually did use them.
Talk about traditional knowledge! Noel was an excellent oyster fisherman, neither rain nor wind slowed him down–but when it came to cards, the oysters often had to wait, as Noel was an excellent poker player as well!
Sadly missed by everybody, my good friend, Noel Francis.