Spearing and shooting fish a South Hero spring ritual

Islanders have been catching fish with spears and guns since those tools have been around. Ronnie Gentile is shown above using his spear to lay down his own design of white square “plates” which help him see fish as they swim over. Photo by Jenna Marcotte.

By Samuel Wiley Liversedge, Folsom School 8th Grade Student

SOUTH HERO – When you hear “fishing,” you typically think of the classic fishing rod, or even a fishing net. But there are many more ways of catching fish than that.

Islanders have been catching fish with spears and guns since those tools have been around. And while that may sound unorthodox to some of us, learning about these fishing techniques and the techniques used around them is quite intriguing.

A spear is an interesting fishing tool both in how it looks and how it is used. The spear is sort of like a flat rake. It usually has six prongs (though occasionally more) and is very long. But what’s more interesting is how it’s used, because you’d need to be relatively near to the fish to spear it, even though the spear is long.

Randy Tourville, an experienced Spear Fisher, would walk along the bank of the river at dusk (because that’s when fish are most active)w ith a spear in one hand and a lantern in the other.

When he saw a fish nearby, he’d stab it, and lift it out of the water. If Randy managed to hit it just under the head, he’d have paralyzed the fish. Making it a clean catch.

A funny story about spearfishing is once, a younger David Gardner had the idea to put his lantern right on a block of concrete he’d brought. Then, a beaver came, burnt its nose on the hot glass of the lantern, and knocked it into the water. There was no more fishing that night.

Spears donated by David Gardner are on display in the “Because we live on an island…” exhibit at the South Hero Museum at 317 US Route 2. Ronnie Gentile is a diehard spear fisherman who has been living and fishing in South Hero for over 50 years. He makes all his own spears and gives many away. Photo by Terry Robinson, South Hero Museum President.

It might seem obvious how to catch a fish with a gun: you just shoot it. But unlike hunting something like deer, it is a little more complicated than that.

If you shoot the fish directly, the sheer force of  the bullet will tear the poor animal to shreds, and nobody wins. What you want to do is aim right under it, for two reasons. One, even if you don’t hit the fish, the concussive blast will stun it, and two, those same shockwaves will push the fish up to the surface, and make it easy to collect.

I had the opportunity to talk to Randy Tourville and David Gardner and I realized that life in South Hero has changed from when they were my age in the mid-60s to today in 2021. They would be gearing up for the spring when the water would be flowing through the crick.

Before Route 2 had been rerouted there was much more water flowing from Keeler Bay down through the marsh to White’s Beach. Randy and David didn’t have video games and they looked forward each day to finishing chores and heading down to the crick or the marsh to fish.

David’s house in Keeler Bay had a direct route to the crick down the railroad bed. He pioneered the popular technique of putting a reflective plate of aluminum on the bottom of the riverbed to determine the size of the fish.

Every weekend in the spring, David would spear at least a couple fish and bring them back so his mom  could have Sunday supper for all the family. He had a very large family of siblings and cousins etc. This spring you’ll find David Gardner and Ron Gentile out fishing if you want to drive by the crick!

For more information, check out this youtube video of David Gardner, Randy Tourville and John Roy, Sr.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6FnzroUBE

Reprinted with permission from the April 28 Islander, the weekly community newspaper for Grand Isle County and surrounding communities

Categories: Environment

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