The salmon driftnet season traditionally closed on August 15th, and it was always brought mixed feelings. Grateful to have a break after the rigor of 24hr a day fishing, but conscious that within a week you’d be longing to be back into the familiar rhythm of tides and currents, moon and sun, wind, rain and shine.
One of the closes I recall best was the year Michael “Spud” Murphy had come fishing with me in my own punt. T’was a season that had blurred past. Weekends couldn’t come fast enough, some indeed starting on a Thursday and finishing late on a Sunday night/Monday morning on the windy stool at Jack Meades. During the week was almost as bad, there was always a chance of drink from many of the ships anchored at Cheekpoint, either in exchange for fish, or hard currency.
That particular year we stopped short as high water was at 9pm and many crews decided to call it a season at that point. The close meant that the drift nets had to be removed from the punt, it was illegal to have them aboard thereafter. Some would fish out the ebb tide later, only to finish at 6am next morning, but t’wud mean leaving the nets until high water and dragging yourself out of bed a few hours after getting home, which sounded like a lot of hard work. Besides, getting home at 9.30 meant Jacks by 10, the place would be only getting lively!
Punts were lined up along the quay, the earlier boats in, taking plum spots beside the railings, which made it easier to get the nets out of the punt and over the jagged cement edges of the quay. We were working on the shore, so made our way to Moran’s poles, hauled the nets out on the Strand above high water mark and “tripping off” the punt, turned heals for home!
Next morning, a little the worse for wear, we started the job of “ranging over” the nets and separating them out for bringing home. Cheekpoint boats generally carried 6 nets. Sometimes a net was “mounted” individually to a rope, measuring about 22 fathoms in length. Sometimes two nets were “mounted” or “roped” together. The individual nets were then tied together to form a train of nets and the ends of each net was “sconeded” (at least I think that was the term and possibly a derivative of Selvidge, the meshs that are roped onto the nets) into each other using a piece of roping twine. To separate them out, the Head and Foot rope was untied, the “Sconding” was removed and the individual nets were then tied up. Being separated meant that carrying them up off the strand was a less back breaking task. On the quay this was also done, but fishermen there also had the choice to leave them together and hoist them into the back of a car or into a trailer.
|“ranging” the nets
Once home, the nets were generally washed. At home we filled a barrel with warm water and some washing powder, to try remove the dirt and grime of the river. They were then rinsed in clean water and hung up to dry, perhaps out of a nearby tree or even across the washing line. This practice was not as common once the monofilament netting came in the mid to late 1990’s. Many fishermen believed that monofilament was better once there was a new shine on them, and some took that to the extreme as they “stripped off” the old nets and remounted new nets.
When the nets were dry they were “lofted” or stored away in a shed, and would be taken down during the long winter months to be mended and repaired in preparation for the next season to come. The task was as much a social affair as a task, and some of the sheds were as comfortable as a kitchen, with a fire, natural light and many’s the time a drink to be had too.
All now gone since the closure of the Salmon fishing. Gone but not forgotten.