I started haaf netting in 1984 at the age of 18. My father haaf netted so there was a family interest. My brother Terry also fished for a number of years. I used to attend the fishing as a young teenager, talking to the ‘old worthies’ and learning from them. They had fished all their lives, were very experienced and gave good advice.
I have met many characters through the years; ‘Slogger’ and Dougie Warwick, The Turner Gang – Barry and Tony, The Slaughter House Gang - ‘Mamma’ and George Renwick, ‘Big Donny’ Donaldson and ‘Spike’, and the Dalton Gang
As a young haaf netter I remember being at the Inby, holding the beam by the end. It was slack water before the tide ran through. Suddenly the whole beam was dragged from my hand by 2 salmon at once! One was approximately 9lb and the other around 15lb! It was a heart stopping moment during my first season.
I used to really enjoy flood fishing at the Stennar. Especially if conditions are right and there was a good size of tide with new fish coming forward, you were almost guaranteed to have a memorable day.
Apart from the usual salmon, grilse, trout, mullet and flounders the only unusual catch I have had is a lamprey eel. Although I once saw my father catch a skate about the size of a dustbin lid.
Enjoying haaf netting is not just about catching fish. I enjoy the solitude of the Solway and observing the various forms of wildlife that live on or around the Solway Estuary. I love looking out for visiting species such as swallows in the early season and the geese in late season.
The negative side of haaf netting is when you get wet. When you are wet you can be very wet! There is nothing worse than leaking waders. I have questioned my sanity on many occasions when it’s a screaming gale from the South West and the waves are breaking over your head at Annan flood or the Stennar. All in the hope and anticipation of a big drag on the net from a large salmon.
Unfortunately there are no young people taking up haaf netting as a hobby. There should be a steady stream of youngsters coming into the fishery in order to keep the tradition going. Lack of fish and catch restrictions has made haaf netting less attractive to locals. I firmly believe we should be allowed a small quota of fish otherwise haaf netting, which dates from Viking times, will die out.
I have spent most of my working life with the Fire Service and haaf netting has been an ideal escape from the pressures of the job. You can relax and keep fit at the same time.
What I would say to anyone who is interested in taking up haaf netting is: Keep an eye on weather conditions and wear appropriate clothing, as it gets very cold out there even in summer. Always seek advice from experienced netsmen. Enjoy the whole adventure and experience, it is not just about catching ‘the big one’!
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