Annan Haaf Nets

Annan Haaf Netters

Ian Thorburn

Ian ThorburnI was born in the 1950’s, son of Joseph Thorburn, who haafed with a Loch & Dornoch licence. We always seemed to have salmon or trout in the bath at home from dad’s exploits. During the summers I was regularly at the waterside playing with other sons, while our dads fished, particularly with Iain Jardine, son of Johnnie, at Redkirk or Stormont.


I first haafed aged 14 years old at Dornock, catching two trout and a 17lb salmon, after that, I was always likely to fish seriously, but at that time, was more interested in school sport, so didn’t fish again until I was working, in 1976.


To begin with, I fished as an endorsee on my father’s L&D ticket and wasn’t allowed to take a draw. My younger brother Stuart also haafed and we all had English tickets, so there was no problem, with where or when we fished. I did earn my own L&D ticket through working on the nets during the early part of the year. That was an education for any youngster, meeting much older men and being part of a team.


Fishing with my dad and on occasions Stuart, we fished hard, often being in the water from 12pm on a Sunday and only finishing at 12am on the following Saturday, as well as squeezing in a full weeks work. It was hard graft, in those days, but generally worth it.


I fished using both licences until 1987, when the L&D were bought out by the North Atlantic Conservation Trust. For the 1988 season I applied for my usual English ticket, but as the English Authorities were trying to restrict English participation to only 250 licences from around 350 issued in 1987, they tried to stop anyone having two licences and so refused my application. I appealed and eventually regained my English ticket after winning a case of Mal-administration through the Local Authority Ombudsman. My father also regained his licence.


From 1989 until circa 2012, I fished with only an English ticket, which was nerve wracking, as we were often on the Scots side, trying to avoid any Bailiffs, but it kept you alert. My dad eventually stopped fishing around 2003, at the age of 74. His last tides were at the Brow, where his favourite hauls were the big stone or the ditch. Great memories and great fishing.


During the 12 year period from 1991, we “split” with Roy Martin and Ginner Bird, to avoid falling out over a particularly productive piece of ground at the back of the Brow net. Great fishing and ridiculous memories for anyone who remembers Roy in his pomp!


Following the move by the English Authorities, to restrict haafing to the daylight hours, which didn’t suit anyone fishing at the top end of the Solway. I was going to retire, but was persuaded by a good friend Mama Johnstone to take out an Annan ticket, which I’m proud to say, I still hold.


Annan fishing is totally difference from the top end, or even Dornock. There’s no ebbing until the “salts out,” or the fish run out of water. I love fishing when it’s overcast and its lowing. That’s when you can see where the ground is. Or as the sun is going down and the fish start to work. Annan is deep and the water clear, so everything is in the fish’s favour.

I was asked to give some favourite memories, so I’m listing a few below, from 40 odd years of fun and games, in no particular order. –

My first job at the Nets was peeling bark off tree trunks to make net stowers.


Being so cold tying the bottom fly’s to prods that the only way to get your hands to work was to put them on the heat from the tractor exhaust.


Working in knee deep water with George White on a two man pneumatic hammer, when the decrepit air hose detached, blowing water into George’s eyes. He let go of his side of the hammer and I stumbled about in the water holding the very heavy hammer by the handles only on one side – mental!


Taking turns to get some sleep whilst fishing for trout at Redkirk. I was dozing in the car with the window open, when licked on the face by a cow. Some wake up, but what trouting.


Dad made his own beams, but my fist was a former woman’s beam, which I could manage at the time. All beams have their own characteristics. We used heavy beams for standing hard run at the top end and big rangy beams for Dornock, where you would be carrying a long way, hopefully also with a big bag of fish on your back.     


I don’t personally like whammeling, but sometimes you need to, but shawling is very probably the most fun you’ll ever have.


I’ve seen my Dad shawl salmon between 12pm and 1am at Dornock in black dark, using the street lights between Dornock and Eastriggs for illumination. Also seen him lift a salmon in chest deep water at the Brow. I have chased and killed a short fat salmon after it burst two other haafers on a shawl, after chasing it for several hundred yards, with a full bag on my back. I was too exhausted to kill it myself and had to wait till Stuart got to me to kill it.


I’ve killed my share, but everyone goes through periods when they can’t catch a cold.


I’ve always thought that people fish too deep. When I was young, I always fished on the shallow side of my dad and usually caught more than him. He always said you need to cover your shallow. My best single lift was in 1984, waiting for a draw at Dornock. I was standing in shin deep water and when lifting to come out for the draw, I had four salmon and three grilse sitting in my net, which hadn’t given me a touch. It’s only the daft ones that you catch.


My biggest fish was a 26.5lb cock salmon, which must have frustrated my dad, who despite being a much better fisherman only had a 25 pounder as his best.


I’ve had some narrow squeaks, like all haafers. Always wade at an angle was drummed in from the start and feel your way in. I’ve had several instances where we had to get off a piece of ground quick, when a much bigger tide than expected comes in with a storm or a flash flood comes down.


Once fishing with Alec Thorburn, I left a shawl at Dornock, when the tide was due, but couldn’t see 10 yards due to a heavy fog. I set to walk off, which would be over a mile, but got to what looked like the main channel which I didn’t expect. Flapping, as I knew the tide was due, I walked into the water to see what way it was running. It wasn’t, so I waded further and came out onto an area I’d not seen before. Thankfully, I’d walked in an arc to Annan, but I’ll never forget the feelings.

Tons of other memories, especially the ones I can’t put into the public domain, as it wouldn’t be politically correct. Loads of characters like Alec Thorburn and Duker Nelson. George White, Bennie Mackie and Mick Beattie. Geordie Steele, Roy Martin and Birdy, before I met any of the Annan men, who I now enjoy passing the time of day with.


The fishing isn’t the same, but there’s still nothing to compare to looking down the channel on a beautiful evening or even one not so nice, with the chance of a pull.




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Project funded by Dumfries and Galloway CouncilProject funded by Scottish Government and Marine Scotland