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This is the right way to fish
On The Water With The Baldree Brothers
June 2003

"We just love it out here …

“It’s so peaceful in the early morning when nobody is flying up and down in boats and jet skis.”

That’s the way Johnny Baldree describes the time he and his brother, BT, share on the water as dawn breaks out with quiet tides.

Johnny (left) and BT head out fishin…

Johnny,a retired aircraft mechanic, was trained by the Air Force to work on B-52 bombers. After his stint in the military, he parlayed that experience in a second career as a mechanic at Cherry Point.

BT Baldree
BT, Johnny’s senior by 15 years, left the army after World War II and became a restaurateur in Chicago, a long way from Pamlico County. BT ended his 55 year absence from his Arapahoe homeland in 1998 following the death of his wife.

Johnny, 65, and BT, 80, probably spend more time together as brothers now than they did growing up. Johnny calls BT the engineer on their 18 foot outboard. "That way I get to blame him for everything that goes wrong," Johnny quips.

Not long after I boarded their vessel for an educational cruise about net fishing, Johnny turned to me as he edged the boat just slightly above idle speed. "We like to take it kind of slow," he said. "But that’s just because we’re old," added BT.

Soon after dispensing 400 yards of small mesh net designed to catch spots, Johnny gave the order to BT to lay out the chain they drag which sort of rustles fish toward the net. When BT failed to respond right away, Johnny called out the command once again. BT looked at me with a grin and said, "He puts me in charge of too many things at the same time."

Johnny Baldree
The gentle camaraderie between these two gentle souls was as exciting to watch as it was to anticipate what the catch would be as the net was pulled out of the water, occasionally bringing forth a spot, a menhaden or a croaker. The gentleness of their nature was also extended to the huge turtle trapped in one of their nets. Johnny disentangled the fierce looking reptile, allowed him to catch his breath in the boat and then released him back to the water.

As each net was hauled out of the water, Johnny and BT tried to predict from the character of the floats, how they were drifting in the water, if a fish would soon be forthcoming. Their anticipation was not unlike what I experience every time I put a piece of exposed photographic paper in the developer. I try to predict how the print will come up and appear, just as they anticipated what or if a fish would come up with the net.

                Pulling in the nets in the early morning light

The flounder nets produced the greatest catch of the day, but the less than one dozen fish caught that were of legal size did not merit a trip to the market that buys their catch.

Was there profound disappointment in a morning’s work that yielded no financial return for the investment of fuel alone? Not one bit. Johnny said, "We have come out here and gone home with not even a fish for supper. This rain is bound to have some effect on the fishing now. But we keep at it. We’ll go crabbing tomorrow."

I had been wanting to go fishing with Johnny for some time. I have always been intrigued by the work of the commercial fisherman. I have always had romantic notions about what it would be like to earn a living being on the water. Since so many of us turn to the water for recreation, we probably don’t appreciate what it is like to work on the water.

I learned from Johnny and BT that working on the water can indeed be a form of recreation, if not a renewal of spirit and faith. It is faith and faith alone that can drive a man to put out a net with it being a totally unknown as to whether or not a fish will stop by.

I thought I would write a story about the techniques of setting nets by local fishermen doing this as another career after earlier careers. I was more fascinated with the genuine brotherhood I experienced than with the same techniques of fishermen that have gone on for thousands of years.

Johnny and BT Baldree are the kind of men who give commercial fishing a good name, a very good name. I witnessed two men with a love for the water and the harvest from it, and a respect for the care of the water and the creatures within it.

And a final note. Johnny and my late brother, Mitchell, were class mates. They fished these local creeks by walking through the woods to favorite honey holes with poles. They had no boat.

I got another glimpse of my brother by being with Johnny.

Without question, it was a morning of brotherhood.


As well as directing PR for Pamlico Community College, Ben Casey is a photographer and photo essayist. You can learn more about Ben and his books at www.bencaseyphotos.com.