On the Water

Cod Hand-line

Manufactured in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1882, this hand-line is of the type used in the 19th-century cod fisheries on Banquereau Bank, Grand Bank, and Western Bank in the North Atlantic. The wooden reel contains about 25 fathoms (150 feet) of 12-pound cotton line. A 4-pound lead sinker with brass fittings attaches to a bridle and two short lines (called “snoods”), with slot swivels at the ends. The swivels hold two hemp “gangings” and hooks. This rig saved time in removing fish and re-baiting because the fisherman could slip the gangings from the swivels and replace them with new line and freshly-baited hooks. The preferred bait for the cod fishery was frozen herring in winter and fresh herring, mackerel, alewives, and menhaden the rest of the year.

Fishermen used hand-lines when fishing from the decks of schooners anchored across the tide. They stood at the rail, all on the side of the vessel opposite from the side hit by the tide. This allowed the lines to drift out from the schooner for more effective fishing.

In “The George’s Bank Cod Fishery,” G. Brown Goode and J. W. Collins (1882) reported that when the fish were plentiful, fishermen often caught a pair of cod, one on each hook, and that a man could catch between 100 and 200 fish per day. At other times, a whole day’s effort might yield only three or four fish. From The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, Sec. IV. (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1882) p. 194.

ID Number:
16 1/2 in x 10 in; 41.91 cm x 25.4 cm