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Voices Spring-Summer, 2003:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the On Air column, “Shad Fishing on the Hudson” here.
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Volume 29

Shad Fishing on the Hudson

On AirFishing on the Hudson River in New York for shad has a long history as one of the oldest traditional industries on the coast of North America. For hundreds of years, both Native Americans and European colonists have netted American shad. Shad fishing has spawned a variety of traditional arts and occupational skills. For the New York Folklore Society’s Voices of New York Traditions, Ginger Miles spoke recently with a veteran shad fisherman.

Everett Nack owns a bait shop. He’s a gardener, a winemaker, and environmentalist. For a fisherman on any river, as Nack sees it, it’s impossible not to be an environmentalist. He recalls a conversation he had with the governor of New York.

Nack: I said, You know that if a frog jumps in your swimming pool, the next day he’s dead. I said that’s exactly what’s happening in the river. So what they did, they implemented the regulations back in 1990. Last year, the little fishes started hatching by the millions all over. It’s a lot better than it was when the chlorine was in the river. Come on, we’ll go for a ride.

Photo of Everett Nack and son launching fishing boat
Everett Nack and his son launch their fishing boat on the Hudson River. Photo: Ellen McHale.

Jensen Kill is the marina where Nack keeps his boat, just south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. As we head out on the river, the Amtrak train passes.

Nack: I got out of the service in ’53, and there was a fisherman whose name was John Bicus. I kind of like to fish a lot so I went to work for him. Back then we rowed—there weren’t many outboard motors—and we would row way up the river, throw our nets out, drift down, pick ’em up, and then row back. And you’re always rowing against the tide. And two of us rowed. After a week you think your wrists are going to come apart.

So I worked for him for two years, and my pay was the buck shad that he didn’t want. You know, I’d bring ’em home and my mother would can some and freeze some and I’d sell a few to the neighbors. And finally I thought, "This is ridiculous," so I swapped my uncle eight muskrat skins for an old linen gill net that he was going to throw away. You know, they’re like five hundred feet long and twenty feet deep. And the fish come up and they stick their heads in it, and they get stuck behind their gills. So I mended all winter, and I patched up the bigger holes, and my buddies and I went out. We borrowed an old fourteen-foot rowboat and we made enough money to buy a nylon net.

So the next winter, I worked down in the cellar and I put that nylon net together all winter. Then you had to make your buoys. Those old nets had eight-inch rings on the bottom for weights, and I got some rod and my uncle helped me web ’em together. We made our rings, we made our buoys, and we put the whole net together, and the next year I made enough money to buy a fourteen-foot aluminum boat.

Well, we fished that for three or four years, then we had enough money to buy another net, and then we finally got enough money to buy a bigger boat, and we worked our way up. We now have three eighteen-foot boats. The shad come up in the spring as soon as the weather temperature gets to the right degree. They lay their eggs and go back. They get here about the fifteenth of April. And they come up here out of the ocean to spawn because they can’t lay their eggs in saltwater. A few years ago, we tagged four thousand shad up by the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, with the Canadian government. It’s amazing. The next year we recaptured them, right at the same spot where we tagged ’em. Those shad went from the Hudson River up to the Bay of Fundy, over to the Bay of St. Lawrence, down to North Carolina, and all the way back up—and they came right back to their home river.


This interview was conducted by Ginger Miles, and is a part of the radio documentaries, Voices of New York Traditions.

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HEAR THE INTERVIEW with Everett Nack.

“Back then we rowed—there weren’t many outboard motors—and we would row way up the river, throw our nets out, drift down, pick ’em up, and then row back. And you’re always rowing against the tide...”

This column appeared in Voices Vol. 29, Spring-Summer 2003. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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