Putting that quandary aside for today, one of the last fishing days of the year, the mullet fishermen continue to stalk their prey up and down the beach until nightfall, intermittently fishing and trading stories about flat tractor tires and stalled motors. By the end of the day, they will have netted 10,300 pounds of mullet. At the end of the 2005 season, the total catch amounted to just 72,000 pounds, which, split among the two dozen fishermen, came to about $1,200 each.
That's a far cry from the good old days when one pull could beach 50,000 pounds of mullet. "The mullet population is not in decline nor overfished," says Pate, but seasonal haul-seine fishing now competes with year-round methods. Still, a small band of fishermen keeps coming back for the blow every fall. "I don't want to disappoint my granddaddy," says Matthew Frost, Henry's 28-year-old grandson, a constrction worker. "It brings us all together." He gets up at 4 a.m. to drive an hour and a half from the mainland to fish with his family.
As for Henry Frost, himself, he remains undaunted. "I don't make no money anymore," he says, "but I'll do this as long as I live, for the fellowship, the laughing and carrying on."
Carolyn Kleiner Butler is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.