Anyone who plies the waters of the Chesapeake Bay for 33 years is bound to have some stories to tell.
Fifth-generation Shady Side waterman Tommy Hallock has more than a few: the time he caught more croakers than his boat could handle. Or the times he netted a dead body, and a shark.
One of his favorites is sinking his boat at age 15, and nobody believing his pleas for help because it was April Fool's Day.
"Fishing is in my blood," said Hallock, 47. "Since I was a little fella, there was never any doubt as to what I wanted to do."
Today, Hallock will share tales and remembrances of growing up and working as a waterman in Parrish Creek at a luncheon hosted by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society Inc. at the Capt. Salem Avery House Museum.
The luncheon is the fourth in a winter series designed to preserve, collect and document local history and culture. Museum officials learned of Hallock when he was interviewed for the oral history library started by Mavis Daly, a past president of the society.
"I was overwhelmed by his Shady Side history, and knowledge of the waters around here," Daly said. "He is a part of the history of this community. There are a dwindling number of watermen in this area, so we are trying to capture his special knowledge."
Hallock's family history is intertwined with the museum. The house was built in 1860 for Avery, a Long Island fisherman who came to Maryland to work on the Chesapeake Bay. Hallock's great-great-grandfather, a fellow Long Island fisherman, came along. Since then, five generations of Hallocks have followed and worked those same waters.
Hallock became a waterman at the age of 13, after his father died. He left school and fished year-round for rockfish, perch and bluefish.
"I liked the independence part of it," he said. "I enjoy being out in nature, and it's a challenge. Every morning I'm excited to get up and go to work."
On a typical day he rises at 3 a.m. and leaves the dock by 4. He nets fish for three to five hours, then unloads the boat and takes it to market. His day ends by 2 p.m. After having worked that way for more than three decades, he doesn't recommend it to most folks.
"I'm a waterman. That's my lot in life," he said. "I get to see the sun come up about 350 days a year. But if asked, I would tell kids to stay in school and get a real land job."
As a youngster, he said, there were more than 50 fishermen in Shady Side; now there are only seven or eight. He attributes the decline to economics.
"Watermen are self-employed. They don't have benefits, and no retirement," he said. "It's hard work. It's cold and miserable in the winter, and hot and muggy in the summer. You have to really want to do it."
As part of his job, Hallock works with the Department of Natural Resources on fish studies.
The studies are done to help the department gain a better understanding of striped bass populations and their movement in the Chesapeake Bay, said Eric Durell, a fisheries biologist for the department for the past 11 years.
Watermen, like Hallock, help cut the costs of performing research on the fish population, Durell said. The watermen have complex nets that are costly and difficult to maintain, he said.
"We would never be able to keep them up or afford to purchase them," Durell said. "The watermen catch a steady source of live fish in the nets, and that helps us to do our research."
To do the studies, the watermen catch the fish, and the department biologists tag them and release them back into the bay, Durell said.
"Then when they are recaptured, we are able to determine the mortality rates of the fish, based on the number of tagged fish that are caught," he said.
Hallock is concerned about the state of the Chesapeake Bay.
"There are water-quality issues that are caused by development, pollution and sewage," he said. "People always want to put a Band-Aid on it, and they don't fix it. The state is trying to get more oysters in the bay, but you can't ask an oyster to fix a problem man has caused."
In addition to speaking about life on the water, Hallock will be talking about life in Shady Side, he said.
"Like any small town, everyone knew everybody," Hallock said. "People used to stop and talk when they saw someone on the street. Now everyone is chasing that dollar bill, and they don't have time to stop and talk."
Today's lecture will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the museum, 1418 E. West Shady Side Road, in Shady Side. Lunch will follow. The cost is $15. 410-267-0654.