Those freshwater pearl collectors searching Plumb Brook and other small tributaries (near Russell in St. Lawrence County) did so by the standard method of wading, hunched over, with pail in hand, and plucking clams from the gravelly streambed. The varying depths of the Grass River required more complex methods that were used in clamming operations elsewhere. Similar to how spruce-gum pickers used a spud (a long pole with a scraper attached to remove deposits from high in the trees), pearl fishers used spuds with a set of nippers that were used to clasp and retrieve clams from a riverbed. The catch was then deposited in a perforated pail worn around the neck.
In shallow currents, where visibility suffered, pearl fishers wore what was called a “glass”—a wooden box big enough to fit around the wearer’s head. While the top was open, the bottom had a glass plate, allowing the user to view the riverbed, snorkel-like, by pressing the glass-covered portion into the water. » Continue Reading.