Bill Fetzer: Bayman

Bill Fetzer is an independent bayman from Bayville who works in Oyster Bay harbor on Long Island. He is active in the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association. The North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association was part of our Waterfront Heroes exhibit. View videos about our Waterfront Heroes here.

“I first started clamming with my dad and grandfather like most families with a scratch rake, wire basket, and a rubber inner tube tied to my waist at the age of five,” he said. “Those were such great times; three generations of Fetzers.”

But Bill didn’t think of it as a career until the mid-1980’s. In 1984, Bill was attending college and working at a local florist. While making a floral delivery in Center Island, he saw a sight that changed his future. “Coming back out of Center Island, I saw men on old wood and fiberglass boats breaking circles in the frozen bay, close to the beach. They were clammers making a hole so they could shellfish. It was a bright, cold, and windy day. I remember them throwing their rakes in the hole they just made with their boat and having the sun reflected off their clam sections. Right then I was hooked. That spring I bought a 16 ft. aluminum Jonboat, a rake, a pole, a basket, and licenses.”

Although a bayman’s life is hard, Bill loves the freedom that he has on the water. “I love the bay, I see so much life out here; seals, eagles, foxes, and more wildlife than you would think. I see deer swimming across the harbor, and many things you don’t see in an office. The change of seasons, the beautiful fall colors that nature gives us that most people do not get to enjoy because their lives are too busy.  It’s a way of life and not an easy one at that. It becomes your soul.”

Bill is a regular and beloved participant in our Maritime Arts in Education programs, where he instructs children on how to use clam rakes and describes his daily life on the water.

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