When Ulster Scots came to Maine in the early 1700s, the harsh conditions here in many ways echoed those they had left in Northern Ireland. Some resources in the American colonies were more abundant, some less, but one was completely familiar to them. That was the Atlantic Salmon who coursed from the sea, to Merrymeeting Bay and up the Androscoggin River to spawn, just as they had done on the Atlantic shore along England and Scotland.
Just as they had in their homeland, the Ulster Scots set nets in the shallow mouth of the river to catch the teaming silver fish. Perhaps the nets were knitted during the winter months in anticipation of the late spring salmon run. Corks sewn along the edges of the nets would sink below the water’s surface under the weight of the fish, alerting the fisherman of his bounty.
Other’s preferred a more casual, perhaps recreational method, which was to catch the fish with a dip net as they jumped the falls during their return to the river where they themselves had been spawned.
One fine spring day when the trees along the shore unfurled fresh green leaves and black cormorants sunned themselves on a floating log, a fisherman sitting on Middle Rock saw his net corks sink, suddenly and completely. Slowly he maneuvered his net to shore, a net that must have teamed with huge, mature salmon. Surely such a quantity would be enough to cure in the smokehouse for his family’s winter larder, perhaps with some left over to trade for nails or maybe new shoes.
Imagine the man’s shock when his “live and kicking” bounty revealed itself to be Capt. David Dunning, who had toppled into the rushing water while reaching his dip net into the falls.
Perhaps after bringing his laughter under control, the fisherman re-set his net, confident that his would be the best fish story for years to come.
Next Blog: The French Connection
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