Annan Haaf Nets

Fishy Tales

Some anonymous comments ...

I remember once watching a fellow fisherman being washed away. I was fervently hoping he would not drown (thankfully he didn’t). I remember feeling helpless because there was nothing I could do to help him.
As a young teenager I remember going out to the Solway with my father and his small syndicate and learning how to pockle the draw to get the best haul. It was a fine art form, the only thing was – all the other gangs were trying to do the same thing.
I have witnessed some full scale arguments between fishermen that stopped just short of blows.
I remember fishing on a dark tide around 2am in the morning when suddenly the back of men went silent as a strange light in the sky stopped dead in front of us. After a few seconds the light shot skywards and disappeared. There was silence for several minutes before someone said “did anyone see what I just saw”? We all agreed what we had witnessed. It was certainly an Unidentified Flying Object as far as we were concerned.
Three clowns (two brothers and a brother-in-law) who fished at Gretna but lived in Annan decided, at the end of the season, to sail their tiny rowing boat from Gretna to Annan. All went well until they hit swell about a mile from Redkirk point. Within seconds the boat was engulfed in water. The water was neck deep but one of the brothers managed to take the rope from the boat’s prow and headed for the land pulling the boat behind him. The other brother grabbed the red-hot outboard engine and headed for the shore. The final failed sailor grabbed his slippers and moaned continually that his wife would kill him when she found out!
I was always taught to keep tight lipped about what fish were being caught but fishermen always ask for information. On a number of occasions I can remember ‘lying through my teeth’ saying that ‘no not a scale was caught’ at the same time knowing that if M… A…… had been fishing, then the whole of Annan Ex – Servicemen’s Club would know what was caught anyway.
The closest I have been to being washed away was fishing a hem. It was about a 45 degree angle into the water with the sand sloping sharply. I had tested my way in and the sand was firm. Five minutes later I got a tug from a grilse and lifted. As I lifted I took one step back onto nothing, I was up to my neck in water. Somehow I managed to force myself back up using the one leg I still had on firm sand. It was a good job I was young and strong.
My dad’s last tide was in the flood in front of the Snab net. I was deep, he was shallow. He caught a big salmon in his deep tail but was too frail to throw it over. I had to kill it for him. He knew he couldn’t do it anymore and did not fish again. Many a haafer will fish into their old age but time eventually catches up with us all.
I can remember not long after I started fishing feeling my way on the edge of a hole. The sand edge gave way and I went for a swim in the hole.
Bizarre things can happen on the Solway. I was fishing once, on a dark foggy night, about a mile out from the shore. I was near the edge of the water, holding the beam by the end, because it was a deep hole. Although I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me I could hear someone’s footsteps walking over the sand towards where I was fishing. Suddenly a figure holding a shotgun appeared out of the mist. He got a fright when he realised I was there and said “What the f… are you doing here?” Answer – “Fishing, what the f… are you doing here? We both laughed and he disappeared off into the dark and I carried on fishing.
I remember a moonless, stormy night at Gretna in the mid-seventies. Two brothers attended the draw but were unsuccessful in gaining prime positions in the back. There was no love lost between different gangs of haafers and it was commonplace for beams nets and boats to be vandalised. The two men in question always kept to the view that sneakily damaging another man’s gear under the cover of darkness was an activity they would never stoop to. However this particular night, as an act of revenge, they silently took up positions only fifty or so yards in front of the back. By standing in front of the back, they hoped to intercept fish before they reached the fishermen behind them. Strictly forbidden! Two hundred and fifty yards between backs was the norm! Silence was vital and dispatching fish and putting them into bags noiselessly was very challenging, but with a little imagination they managed to catch a large number of fish undetected. When the night’s fishing was over and dawn was breaking, the two blackguards were spotted walking to their car with heavy bags. Threats of violence rung out in the night air, but the guilty pair denied all knowledge of bad practice and laughed off the protestations. However they made sure they took their beams home with them. If they had not, they would definitely have been vandalised.
In the old days when some of the men haafed for a living we fished two tides a day. Most of the money went to the wife but we always kept some ‘skin’ for the pub on Saturday night.
One day, when fishing, a wooden ladder floated down. It had been washed down, in a flood, from the caul on the river Annan where men had been working. It is still in my garage.
A haafer, who was a bit tight, was fishing with an old net. He had two salmon burst him and instead of putting on a new net tied another old net on top of the first. The next salmon burst straight through the double set of rotten nets. Three salmon lost, he was forced to buy a new net.
Two of us discovered that conditions in Seafield were such that it was possible to shoal fish at about four hours ebb. We fished Seafield successfully for weeks without any other haafers knowing. One night however two other haafers came walking down to the shore simply for a stroll and spotted the two of us in Seafield. Insults rained down on us as we fished. ‘Idiots’; ‘old fools’; ‘you will never shoal fish in those conditions there’s not enough run and it’s too clear’. We took the banter on the chin. The two observers did not know that two salmon were buried in the sand away from prying eyes. Or that another salmon was caught after they had left. Sometimes the Solway does not understand the rulebook! And sometimes old fools are not so daft!
This was before my time, but the older fishermen used to tell me that because so many were poor some couldn’t afford the haaf licence. So long as you were a genuine fisherman you could fish until you caught your first salmon then go and pay your licence. This wasn’t official policy but it was accepted practice.
There was an old group of fishermen (Slogger, Old Willie and Whist) called ‘The last of the Summer Wine’ after the TV programme. They were past their best but enjoyed their fishing and the patter. Whist started fishing in his sixties and could be a bit naïve. Slogger found a round bit of scrap metal in the sand and claimed it was a Roman coin. Old Willie kept up the pretence, the two of them not letting Whist see it. The story grew and the coin became more and more valuable every time Slogger and Willie discussed the topic; much to the annoyance of whist. He never did find out the truth, and to his dying day he thought a rare Roman coin had been discovered by his fishing mates. Another time, Whist caught a grilse when holding the deep haul. He was told to put it in Sloggers bag which he went to do, but inadvertently put it between the bag and the oilskin. Cries of “Whist, it’s not in the bag!” led to the three of them tramping the area behind where they fishing for about half an hour. They never did find the fish; less beers for the weekend.
When all the stake and poke nets were operating it was quite common for salmon to be found lying on the sand after being washed out of the nets. It always paid to keep your eyes peeled for gulls pecking at something in the distance. Usually by the time the carcass was found the eyes would be gone but the flesh was fresh. Better to feed a human family than a family of gulls. The luckiest fisherman who ever found a salmon was Eric Fulmer. He found a salmon curved around a solitary abandoned metal stower once used to support poke nets. This was in the channel, in a strong current. The salmon must have just floated down seconds before he arrived and if he had been seconds later there is no way that fish would not have been washed away. Not only that, it was in perfect condition. There are no poke or stake nets any more. There is also less fish so the chances of finding a dead fish lying on the sand is now minimal. If you did, you would have to leave it to the birds because conservation regulations make it illegal to carry of such a find.
I fished with many characters, including Bennie Mackie, who I knew, from previous experience collecting logs for winter firewood whilst at school, could eat for Britain. Fishing the backwater at Thornie Pool at Redkirk during a raging fresh, which was very good for catching trout, Bennie was sharing with six others. The backwater could last for days so Bennie was sent to ‘Nando’s’ Café for a fish and chip supper each. On the way back, Bennie had a problem with his motor and was stuck. Rather than waste the meals, he ate 7 fish and chip suppers, one after the other!

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