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Bill Hurst

Bill Hurst

William “Bill” Hurst grew up along the shore of Masonboro Sound, where the tangled lines of fishing nets, crab pots and handcrafted boats wove their way into his life, his work and his heart.

“It was a simpler time,” Hurst explains. The octogenarian is off the boat today and is spending a few hours participating in “Seafood Appreciation Day.”

Though officially retired, Hurst maintains his commercial fishing license, fishes several times a week and delivers his product to area businesses, including Seaview Crab Company.

It’s something he has done all his life, though fishermen of his ilk are in small number along the North Carolina coast.

“We didn’t have a television, all we had was a radio because Father wanted news,” he explained. “So, you had your own entertainment. We had community baseball teams and because I lived on the water, I fished.”

“We didn’t have a television, all we had was a radio because Father wanted news,” he explained. “So, you had your own entertainment. We had community baseball teams and because I lived on the water, I fished.”

Until he was old enough to take the boat out alone, he was given the job of bailing the boat – a chore that falls to the youngest member fishing. Hurst well remembers the time when, as a young boy, he finally fished a net by himself.

With the easy vernacular of a born fisherman, Hurst says he “poled the boat about two hundred yards south of the landing and ran the net straight out from the shore.”

From his perch, he could see the corks bobbing and when he touched the net, he could feel the tug. He didn’t know how long to leave the net, so he just gathered it up quickly.

“I had about sixty pounds of spots, but when I reached the landing I found out that if I had left the net a little longer, I would have had around 100 pounds.”

Hurst said, that when he was growing up, making huge hauls from the beaches was not unusual.

“They had to have help, so there was about fifteen or so strong men helping to pull it in,” he explained. “But that way of fishing has about gone because there aren’t many places left with room to land a net.”

Growing up, he spent many hours hanging nets, but he also learned how to make and mend gill nets.

Net-mending is a time-honored craft, and Hurst honed his mending skills with Louis Hardee of Southport. At one point, he taught net mending at Cape Fear Community College (when it was still Cape Fear Technical College), but said that the interest from young people waned over the years.

So many things have changed over the years and Hurst says that a small recreational group is putting a lot of pressure on our resources.

“We have regulations now, and we need some of those regulations,” he said. “But some of them are stupid.”

Hurst still lives near the cove where he first net fished as a child and fishes several times a week.

“Commercial fishing has always been an uncertain livelihood and a dangerous one. Still there is something about it that makes you keep going back. I guess it gets in your blood.”

(Bill Hurst has written a small book about his time growing up on the Masonboro Sound and some of the information in this article comes from that publication.)

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