I started haaf netting in 1989. It was a family tradition. I can remember granny knitting haaf nets. She would tie them to a door handle to start them off. I started fishing later than I would have wished as there were no licences available for a number of years. When I did start, I was lucky to work at Chapelcross because shift patterns made it easy to fit in with tide times.
I have heard stories of fishing and fishermen all my life. I can well remember my uncle, great uncles and grandfather discussing the Solway and its fishermen. There were many old men who had spent their lives haaf netting. They could have told a few tales about their experiences. I particularly remember my father telling me that after service in the Korean War he couldn’t find a job so he had to rely on haaf netting to support himself and his family. When I was a child my father worked 12 hour shifts (7am to 7pm) at the Weyroc factory in Annan. He would drop mam, me and the rest of my brothers and sisters off down the shore before work, picking us up when he finished. We had food and drinks for the day and spent the time playing and exploring down the shore and watching the fishermen.
The summers always seemed to be hot in those days and many other Annan families spent their summer days by the shore. I spent my teenage years helping my uncle fish his stake nets and helping my father and other uncles set and fish their poke nets.
When I first started fishing there was more fish and bigger fish about. Many salmon were between 15 and 20 pounds weight. The Solway had better channels to fish in. The poke and stake nets created those channels but since they have stopped the Solway, has sanded up, is flatter and there are fewer places to fish.
There is nothing like the adrenalin rush you get if you are successful in netting a fish. I like shoal fishing because pursuing a fish in shallow water is a real challenge. I also like flood fishing because you are constantly moving. Ebb fishing can be monotonous at times.
I haven’t caught anything unusual but I have seen others catch cod, a cuttle-fish, dogfish, gurnard and a baby seal. Probably the most unusual catch I have witnessed was of a dead Alsatian dog. It had been in the water a long time and started to fall apart as the fisherman cleared his net.
You always have to be careful fishing. Once, whilst fishing at the Gowkie, a fellow haafer ‘Big Nickers’ ran out of water on the shallow side and went to take a haul behind the back. Unfortunately for him he walked into a submerged hole and momentarily went completely under the water. Only his hat was left floating on top of the water! Seconds later, he reappeared spitting out water and made his way to safer ground.
My scariest moment was when I was a ‘New start’. I had helped put in the stake nets and had a ‘Fred’s or Liberty’ ticket. I was fishing on my own one day and found a good piece of ground above a stretch of flow holes. I went back the next day expecting to again get it to myself, however I had been spotted the previous day and another fisherman was already in the water early. There was a lot more water than when I had fished it, and you could not see the flow holes. I told the other, much more experienced, fisherman that I thought we should be another hundred yards up in front of the flow holes but he insisted we were fine. The shallow haul was too shallow and I was told to go round to the deep and that the sand was firm. I did go into the deep but as soon as I put my beam in the water the sand on the deep side collapsed. I couldn’t hold the force of the current and then the sand under my feet dissolved. I was washed away, but luckily was pushed into the side some 50 yards downstream. A valuable lesson learned; always test your way into the water, you can’t see under the surface!
I enjoy carrying on the tradition of haaf netting. Also the challenge of reading the water to discover the best place to fish, and the anticipation of catching a salmon or sea trout. I love being outdoors, the scenery, the sunrises, sunsets and the banter between the men. I don’t enjoy the cold or when the water is running really hard or when there is dirt and weed and you have to constantly clean the net.
Nowadays there are less fish, fewer haaf netsmen and more restrictions. The Council allows fishermen out with Annan to fish to try and keep the tradition going. Those interested in taking up haaf netting would be well advised to find a mentor and to listen to what other fishermen tell you. Never underestimate the power of the Solway tides. Don’t expect to catch fish all the time, you will mostly come off the shore empty handed.
I am looking forward to seeing the exhibition of photographs and reading about the history of the fishing. The people of Annan need to be reminded how important haaf netting has been to the people of Annan.
Are you interested in taking up a Haaf Net Licence? Find out more and APPLY HERE
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