A common question asked of lobstermen is “How do you find your traps?” While navigational aids and landmarks help to a degree, it is the brightly colored Maine lobster buoys which are the key marker. These bullet-shaped flotation devices rest on the surface of the water, attached to a line of rope which leads to the fisherman’s trap. A shoreline littered with a kaleidoscope of different-colored lobster buoys is one of the most beautiful and iconic images of Maine. While these picturesque seascapes make for great postcards, the buoys also serve a very vital role in the life of a lobster fisherman.
Each fisherman has a distinct buoy color and pattern to distinguish his traps from those of his fellow fishermen. Buoy colors range from traditional reds, blues and greens to bright pinks and electric yellows. The brighter the buoy, the better the chance of it being visible through the thick fog which often overtakes Maine shores during the summer. Sometimes, a buoy color pattern will be handed down from one generation to another within a fishing family. For example, my grandfather’s buoy color was orange with a blue stripe. When my grandfather finished fishing, my brother took over that color pattern and still uses it today.
Like many other fishermen, my father has always taken great pride in his buoys and I was taught early on to paint each red stripe with precision, avoiding any splotches or paint runs. When I have time, I still enjoy painting a few of my father or brothers lobster buoys…though I don’t miss having to make my way through the hundreds of buoys which awaited me each spring during my youth!Painting lobster buoys is one of the first jobs handed to the son or daughter of a fishermen when they become old enough to help in the family business. I began painting my father’s buoys around the age of eight. Each spring, I would gather up bunches of buoys from our backyard, brush off any sea growth and pin the buoys to one of my mother’s clothes lines. I would then work my way down the clothes line with my brush and bucket, painting the buoys one by one. Each buoy would get three stripes of red paint along with a number. It would then dry in the sun before being bunched back up, tossed into the back of my father’s pickup truck and taken down to the wharf along with a trailer full of traps.
To read more about my lobster fishing heritage, click here.