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The Mclean Family and Traditional Fishing in Sally’s Cove

June 4, 2018

This article was originally printed in the Summer 2018 edition of the Union Forummagazine.

If you have ever travelled the Northern Peninsula, you’ve likely noticed the boats, sheds and fishing gear along the beach in the tiny community of Sally’s Cove.

With no wharf to tie onto and an exposed shoreline, the harvesters of Sally’s Cove still pursue a very traditional way of fishing. They all fish from homemade flat bottom boats that they have built and fiber glassed themselves, and use homemade “launchways” or “slipways” constructed from round sticks that they cut during the winter. They use flat bottom boats because they are easier to haul up and need less water to float compared to a round bottomed boats. The launchways are built on the beach near their fishing sheds with each harvester having their own little spot to haul their boats ashore. The launchways need to be built each spring as the sea and ice destroys them throughout the fall and winter.

To anyone not used to fishing this way it may seem a bit overwhelming to have to haul your boat ashore each time you come in and push it in the water each time you go out but the harvesters of Sally’s Cove don’t mind and are quick to point out all the advantages of doing so.

“I don’t have to worry about the boat when the weather is bad, I knows she’s ok, she’s on the bank and it’s easy to put stuff aboard the boat or offload, you can back the truck right out to her,” says Keif Way, a long time harvester of Sally’s Cove.

Lobster and halibut are the only species fished from Sally’s Cove these days but this wasn’t always the case. Around 1980, Eldred “Elder” Mclean and his wife Lydia, both fish harvesters from Green Island Cove stopped at Sally’s Cove on their way home after fishing herring in Stephenville.

The Mcleans were told by some of the locals that it was a good place for herring so they decided to put out herring nets for a try. While there was no wharf, local fishermen allowed Elder to use their slipways to launch his boat. After setting their nets, Elder and Lydia went on to Green Island Cove to get a camp to stay in that Elder had made some years earlier when he fished on the Labrador. This camp was constructed from plywood and made with hinges so it could be put up and taken down very easily and quickly. It was certainly not meant for anything long term but did the job at the time.

This was the beginning of the Mclean’s history in Sally’s Cove – little did they realize they would still be there forty years later.

It turned out that Sally’s Cove was indeed a good place for herring and the Mcleans stayed there for the summer fishing herring and cod. This went on for a couple of years when Elder decided to focus more on cod and along with Lydia, his brother Selby and his wife Cicely, put out three cod traps. Selby and his wife had come to Sally’s Cove a year or two before to also fish herring, cod and lump as his brother did.

“We set traps at Green Point, Little Brook and The Bar, the next morning we had a full load of fish from the trap at the bar,” says Elder. Turns out Sally’s Cove was a good place for cod, too.

Back in that time, most of the local harvesters from Sally’s Cove fished lobster but after seeing the success the Mcleans were having with cod traps, they began using them as well.

From then on, every spring the Mcleans, Elder, Lydia, Selby and Cicely, would leave their homes in Green Island Cove and go to Sally’s Cove to fish, eventually bringing along with them their sons. They settled in quite well and built comfortable fishing cabins to stay in. Even though they were not residents of the area, they did manage to get lobster and crab licenses as well. While they continued to fish other species, lobster and crab became their main fisheries.

Elder’s son Rod and his son in-law Keif, both have a long history fishing in Sally’s Cove. “I knows I have been coming here for almost forty years and Keif been here for over thirty,” says Rod. Selby’s two sons also spent quite a bit of time over the nearly forty years fishing with their father from Sally’s Cove.

A few years ago, both Elder and Selby retired from fishing but the tradition continues. Elder’s son Rod and son in-law Keif continue to fish Elder’s enterprise while Selby’s youngest son Todd fishes his father’s. For the past couple of years, Selby’s grandson David has been fishing with Todd as well.

It certainly doesn’t look like the Mcleans are pulling out of Sally’s Cove any time soon.  A very modest crew, they don’t say much about how well they have done over the years, “we’re working away and we are making a living,” says Keif.