A Celtic Fishing Legacy – Century Old Gear

Cape Cod Life  /  Annual Life 2022 /

Writer: East End Eddie Doherty

Inspired by the stories he was told as a young boy, his love of fishing & Ireland, East End Eddie Doherty relays the story of his heritage.

John T. Brady

If you walk down the Cape Cod Canal service road this month, don’t be surprised to see some happy Leprechauns celebrating St. Patrick’s Day while rock-hopping along the sloped banks of the big ditch. Just like most anglers, the legendary Celtic charmers are scouting for new hot spots and sharpening their hooks for the arrival of striped bass in the spring.  

My great-grandfather loved to fish. I never knew him, but his daughter suggested that his DNA was the likely source of my addiction to surfcasting. John T. Brady, born in Ireland not long after the potato famine, came to America as a young man along with his mother in search of a more promising future. Their pockets were almost empty as they boarded a ship bound for Canada and said goodbye to their native soil on a dreary Galway morning. His imagination must have been sparked as he stood on the heavy wooden deck while peering through the misty fog to view the vast ocean that he was about to cross. The golden land of opportunity was calling from the other side of the pond as the cold Hibernian wind filled the enormous sails which set their journey in motion.

John would grow up in Massachusetts, marry Bridget Reilly and raise a family in Taunton. He worked as a molder and enjoyed fishing the local rivers and streams for trout which he would keep in the fishing creel hanging from his shoulder. The creel still contained the reeds that he used to line its bottom when it was given to me many years later by his daughters, my great aunts Elizabeth and Helen. They also gave me his ancient wooden bobber, weather-worn and shaped differently than any modern float. I remain grateful for those gifts, but my most prized inheritance is my great-grandfather’s magnificent Shakespeare fishing reel. The nickel silver model GE Wondereel DeLuxe still has the old fishing line that he put on many years ago and the level wind continues to perform to perfection! The smooth drag feels brand new and I can still hear the distinctive click that my great-grandfather heard alerting him to action below. The most impressive feature on this reel, however, is the date 1922 stamped into the side plate! The reel turned 100 years old this year and can still catch fish! Shakespeare has always manufactured reliable fishing equipment, but going strong for a century adds new meaning to the definition of dependability!

I worked in the Massachusetts court system where one of my responsibilities was the authorization of search warrants, usually for a criminal defendant’s home, as well as arrest warrants that were primarily served in felony apprehensions. Crime never stops so police detectives would routinely come to my house for warrants after the courthouse closed. Massachusetts State Police Detective Sergeant Chris Dolan, a Cape Cod resident who was assigned to Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn’s office, was one of those officers. Chris is a great guy, an honorable man and an outstanding detective. One night Chris called to ask if he could come over to present me with a search warrant affidavit. I immediately agreed, but told him that he would have to maneuver between unpacked boxes all over the floor as my family had just moved into our new home earlier that very day. The affable trooper made his way through this obstacle course noticing that the walls in every room were still bare with paintings on the floor leaning up against furniture. The only exception was in the family room where he spied one item that had been placed in a solitary position on the wall. The cherished family fishing creel was already hanging in a special location right next to the fireplace. I approved the search warrant as Chris smiled and commented that he wasn’t surprised at my decorating priorities. 

It was always nice to see Chris during busy court sessions and later at my retirement party that was put together by my family, friends and staff. Chris knows of my strong connection to my past through the symbolism of family keepsakes so when he learned that we had moved to our retirement condo he laughed and said, “I’m sure that you found another good spot for the fishing creel!”

I’m proud that I inherited the fishing gene from my great-grandfather and extremely appreciative for these beautiful family heirlooms, so they have always been displayed prominently in our home. Even though he left this world long before my hands ever held his gear, I think of my great-grandfather sometimes when I’m alone with my thoughts while landing a lure on the backside of a breaking wave, salt spray in my face and a warm gentle breeze at my back as I gaze out over the vast Atlantic he had sailed across so many years ago.

Doherty fished the east end of the Cape Cod Canal so often that other anglers called him East End Eddie so a pen and nickname were born. He is a retired Massachusetts District Court Clerk-Magistrate and author of SEVEN MILES AFTER SUNDOWN.

East End Eddie Doherty