Tangier Island Oyster Dredging - Leon McMann

In early February, I went out oyster dredging with Leon McMann (87) and Ed Parks (83) - the two oldest working waterman on Tangier Island. I had shot a portrait of Leon and and photographed him crab scraping for a story that I did in the summer of 2016 for Anglers Journal magazine. I called Leon the night prior to ask about going dredging with him and Ed, he was reluctant to have me onboard during the winter with the condition of his old wooden workboat 'Betty Jane'. I understood his concerns, but assured him that "I have been out on worse boats in worse weather" I also knew the other boats working the same area would be there in case of emergency. 

 I met Leon and Ed at the dock the next morning and they headed the southeast of the island to 'Area 1' near Tangier Light. This wild harvest area is opened every other year by the state of Virginia. They arrived to the 'rock' just as the sun was breaking the horizon and put the dredges overboard. Leon and Ed were right in the mix with the fifteen boats in the fleet. After a good 'lick' of oysters, they would casually throw a marker off the boat and work around it. By mid day, after dozens of loads were dumped onto the culling table, Leon decided to call it quits. He had 11 bushels in the boat, five short of the sixteen bushel limit, but him and Ed were content with the day's work. 

  Leon pointed the bow of the 'Betty Jane' to the Northwest and headed back to the island. The bay's last working buyout -'Delvin K' - was waiting for their arrival. Mickey Daly and the crew of the 'Delvin K' helped Leon and Ed hoist their oysters from the box-stern workboat onto the deck of the buyboat. After unloading, I transferred my gear to the buyboat and rode with them to Reedville where they met a crew of laborers from a shucking house to unload the boat.  

  Amber Leigh  and  Elizabeth Ashby  dredging for oysters at first light near Tangier Light in 'Area 1'

Amber Leigh and Elizabeth Ashby dredging for oysters at first light near Tangier Light in 'Area 1'

 Leon McMann runs the workboat  Betty Jane -  named after his late wife. 

Leon McMann runs the workboat Betty Jane - named after his late wife. 

Tangier Waterman - Leon McMann   -  © Jay Fleming  - 03.jpg
Tangier Waterman - Leon McMann   -  © Jay Fleming  - 02.jpg
 Leon McMann emptying the bag of the dredge. 

Leon McMann emptying the bag of the dredge. 

 Ed Parks taking a rest in between licks of the dredge. 

Ed Parks taking a rest in between licks of the dredge. 

 Red Beard sponge is a vibrantly colored sponge that grows on oysters, rocks and other hard substrate. The filter feeder thrives in the higher salinity waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay. 

Red Beard sponge is a vibrantly colored sponge that grows on oysters, rocks and other hard substrate. The filter feeder thrives in the higher salinity waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay. 

 Hard Clams caught as by-catch while dredging on 'Area 1' 

Hard Clams caught as by-catch while dredging on 'Area 1'