"They all gave up on it" for the week, he said Thursday of his fellow baymen, whose tolerance for hours of tonging proved to last only as long as it took for the winds to kick up and the temperature to drop. "Here's a nice full one."
With that, he dumped his haul - a couple of dozen or so oysters caught in the two curved rake heads that clamp together at the end of the device - onto the boat, where the other Larry sorted through them. Some were the size of a pork chop, others nice and compact. Still, it was slow going, the tongs taking hits from the current like a football dummy. Oomph.
"It takes a strong back and a weak mind," Hickman said with a smile.
The Mullica River oysters are a succulent breed with a rich salt content that more than holds its own against better-known varieties. And no more so than when eaten straight out of the Mullica, served on an oysterman's outstretched glove.
"That'll put some . . .," Hickman began about the aphrodisiac effect of the oysters. Well, never mind.
The river's historic oyster beds had been long depleted by disease and overharvesting when the state began an oyster transplant project in 2001, said Jeff Normant, chief shellfish biologist with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife.
"The oysters take on the characteristics of the river," Normant said. "These oysters have a really good taste to them. My colleagues on the Delaware Bay and I needle each other. The Mullica ones are better."
About 2,000 bushels of seed oysters were transplanted from natural seed beds in the river - one of the last oyster seed beds on the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey - to a four-acre parcel with a pea-gravel bottom upon which the oyster beds rest.
The restoration proved successful. A second bed, Oysterbed Point, was added, and since 2006 the state has opened up the public beds for a limited season, drawing commercial and recreational shellfish-license holders. Another season is expected to be declared in June.
"It's something you never think you'd see again," Normant said.
Hickman said he appreciated the break in his usual bayman routine. "I like the change in scenery."
The view includes the skyline of Atlantic City in the distance, the salt marshes with old oyster beds carved into them, the Nacote Creek and other Mullica tributaries, the leased private oyster beds belonging to the Maxwell and Potter families, a couple of bald eagles (if you can spot them), and a kite surfer or two heading out from Mystic Island.
The Maxwell family has harvested Mullica oysters from its leased beds for four generations, with the intrepid Donald Maxwell, 83, and his son, John, the only active harvesters left. Not limited to the state season, these private oystermen sat this rocky week out.
John Maxwell said their beds had also made a comeback in the last decade, mostly by a natural-selection process. But it's nothing compared with the late 1950s on the Mullica, when, he said, "everything was oysters."
He said the family would reopen its waterside oyster market five days before Christmas, in time for everyone's holiday needs. (Oyster stew, anyone?)
Already, on Thursday, a forlorn car with Pennsylvania plates could be seen circling the narrow Port Republic road off Route 9 leading to Maxwell's Shellfish - only to find it closed. The Mullica oysters from the Maxwells can also be found at nearby Allen's Clam Bar and the Lobster House in Cape May.
Back out on the water, meanwhile, the tonging continued aboard the Absolut. Three hours into it, the tide still low, the two Larrys and their tongs had come up with only three bushels of oysters - but they ended the day with a good 11 bushels, which they will sell for $42 apiece to a licensed dealer.
On Monday, a much calmer day, they brought in 10 bushels. Tuesday saw seven. Wednesday was a windy, rainy washout. Recreational shellfish harvesters are limited to 150 oysters a day; commercial license holders have no limits this week.
Catlett, the quiet Larry, got a bit discouraged and eased off a bit on the tonging to just stare off at the horizon, rest his arms.
But Hickman, a second-generation New Jersey bayman, who swallows an oyster every day for breakfast, kept at it with the steady enthusiasm of a young man with a destiny that suits him. The Mullica season ends Saturday.
"I'll keep at it," he said, "till my arms can't stand it no more."
Contact staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or email@example.com.