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Posted by Coalman , 08 June 2012 · 439 views

Great Bay is an inland sea. I grew up on the banks of Wheelwright Creek a tributary of the Squamscott River. My hometown is where the fresh water of the Exeter River meet the Squamscott River, a tidal river feeding Great Bay.

Clemson Fabrics operated a textile mill where the freshwater met the saltwater. As a kid growing up you could tell what color fabric the mill was producing by the color of the river. It was never hard to figure out when it was low tide. It smelled like a sewer.

The Clean Water Act changed everything. A waste water treatment plant treatment was built at the mill. Exeter had to construct a sewer treatment plant. Of course on the banks of the Squamscott River.

As a teenager the river started looking and smelling fresher. The eel grass, an important vegetation for juvenile fish made a great comeback.  The rainbow smelts returned in record numbers. To this day with good solid ice the Squamscott River and the four other fingers of the hand of the feeder rivers of Great Bay support an impressive rainbow smelt fishery. Shanty towns popped up each winter in the coastal towns. There were no smart phones and IPads then. Neighborhood kids competed to see who could build the biggest but lightest smelt shacks. Those were good days.

I remember the last of the commercial smelt bow netters. Even after the legends had past the bow net stands decorated the salt marsh. Sadly today there is no sign of them ever existing. But I still see them.

Great Bay is my summer play land. It has been since I was 15 years old and dragged my 10 wooden row boat, with a 5 hp outboard engine I rebuilt in mechanic shop,  to the banks of Wheelwright Creek and went on plane with the outgoing tide to Great Bay. I will always remember passing under the railroad trestle on that trip and hitting a steady NW wind. The sides of the rowboat were battered and shaken by the rolling white caps. I hastily retreated to the safety of the river. But I knew I would be back.

That was 37 years ago

Fishing Great Bay for striped bass came early since a kindly neighbor took us after school bass when I was 12 years old. The water was erupting with striped bass. After landing a 24" I was hooked for life.

A waterman is in my upbringing. The bounties of the Great Bay are delicious.  My appetite waters for shellfish. Soft shell clams and oysters are native to her waters. And so are American Lobsters.

I've been recreational lobsterman for the the past 16 years and have been documenting Bugs and Bass since 2008. There is a lot of history in those years. From pulling full pots to blanks. Many a peck of clams and bushels of oysters have been harvested over the years.

The USS Coalman is ready for her first serious outing on Great Bay tomorrow at sunrise. Our quarry won't fly but rather swim.
The salt has returned to my veins.

It fills the time till bird season.

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