The netsman by an Angler(October 2006)

The Nets Man by an angler   

I pose the question; can more be learned about salmon fishing when not catching fish as when catching fish?

 Fishing for Salmon

A key factor in catching salmon is being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing in the right way. Remembering the experience can help us learn and improve our hunting technique next time around. Thankfully learning is a key human attribute and we can all learn from our time spent doing this and that. In angling a particular badger hair fly may do the trick over and over again because that has worked before and we learn to use it at the right time in the right way but how will we know that something else wouldn’t have worked. One overriding lesson is that no or to few fish means no catch.

I am now going to share with you a learning experience I had when I was on my annual fishing trip home this summer to catch anything at all but preferentially to be fishing for salmon. I will describe a day when I caught nothing and how I learned a little more about salmon and salmon fishing.

The old saying goes there are many ways to skin a cat and there are even more ways to catch salmon.

My story  

There was a drought, no water in the river. The prospect of fresh fish entering the river was nil and any earlier run fish that were already in the river would being lying heavy on the river bed conserving energy for spawning time in the thin trickle of  water.

I went down to the rocks in the estuary and met a kind of like minded chap trying to catch salmon. His aim and desire that day was very like my own and he was trying to catch a salmon or two. The difference was he was trying out his knowledge and skill in a different time and place than I was used to. Unlike the angling method which tries to intercept a migrating salmon by stimulating a response from a cast lure, his method was to try and intercept a migrating salmon by casting a net. The fish he was after were migrating up and down the estuary on each tide twice a day as they waited for a rain fed spate, so that they can enter the river to propagate future generations. Just like the angling method he had to use knowledge, judgement and skill. The difference is he threw his net around the shoal of fish that he thought might be there. There was a lot of waiting for a signal that the right time had arrived and to indicate that he was in the right place. All that was needed now was to do the right thing in the right way. A very fast spun lure may have got a response from the salmon in the estuary but it is extremely unlikely. In this case the right thing to do to catch salmon were to throw a loop of net about 200Meteres like a cordon around the spot where the fish are thought to be. The only clues come from past experience and from a fish seen jumping.

Patience, endurance, skill, and knowledge key factors in angling were needed by the nets man on the rock to wait for the right moment to quickly cast and haul his net. He knew low tide provides the best opportunity as it narrows the range where the fish might be. Two hauls either side of low tide may be a great days work but he may only get one chance. Out from the shore a little, his colleagues sit patiently in the old style wooden boat, safe as houses, waiting patiently for the moment they get the shout from the shore. His Father, Uncle, Cousin and close family friend are in the boat as part of the licensed team to fish for their allocation quota of Atlantic salmon by net. It is thirsty work and chat, tea, coffee, chocolate, sandwiches help break the wait. There is time to catch up on the craic. It is a beautiful July day to be out on the sea in the bay to wait and wait for the right moment. There is a bit of a depression moving in from the Atlantic and the high wispy white clouds and the rising swell add to the tension as some waves are breaking on the sand bar a safe distance away, just.

The excitement rises a little as a salmon is seen to jump. Just too far away in this case. More waiting but now with a little more expectation. Something is beginning to happen. The fish are on the move. The boat on the other side of the bay has had a cast and a haul. From this distant shore it can be seen that they have a few fish as they glisten sharply in the sunshine.

As the tide begins to flood there is today a concern that maybe they are not in the right place and that the timing may be wrong. Not much you can do if there are no fish about. Then suddenly the shout goes up loudly from the rock. “Fish of the Bow”. A salmon has been seen jumping just of the bow of the stationary boat. Rapidly the fishermen burst into life. They quickly start their outboard and the net trails neatly out of the boat in perfect sequence without any tangles as they rapidly encircle the area where the fish was seen. The real hard work was only just beginning and the adrenalin was starting to flow. Anglers feel a similar excitement when it all happens so fast that it can be hard to recall all the facts.

The four men in the boat all had a key role to play. One on the engine, one to keep and eye on the net, one to splash the water to steer the fish away from the net exit and one to throw some stones to direct the fish. The chap on the shore tightened the net and pulled a loop as quick as he could to cut of that exit route for the fish. Soon the net closed its loop. The man on the shore hands his end of the net to his father in the boat, who hauls for all he is able. The boat was now in control of the operation and two on each end haul and haul. It is back breaking work. The loop of net pulls closer and closer as the middle buoy comes within reach. Four exhausted men finally haul the end of the net over the gunnels with grunts of disappointment. There are no fish, the fish have escaped and today are not a harbingers of wealth. The tide is now too far on the flood to shoot again. The man on the shore had a long walk to meet up with his close family only to set about cleaning the net which was now full of weed. It would take an hour or two to ready the net for Monday, the last day of the season and it is said the last day of the family adventure for ever.

The Future

As a conservation minded angler I am hopeful that this will mean more fish in the river and a more prosperous hopeful future for those who fish for salmon in future years. Will the lessons of the past be adequate to guide us?  Saying that it will be vital to ensure that the fish saved do not fall in to the nets or hooks of the unscrupulous fishers who would quickly undo the gains made. All of us interested in conserving and developing the wild Atlantic salmon runs will benefit from conservation measures. There will be more fish for future generations in years to come. It would make sense that those traditionalists who truly value their future heritage support moves to improve the salmon run. The fish need to be protected from those who are not interested in being responsible for the future. We can all agree that it would be great to see more salmon. We all we want to see that the salmon run will increase year on year up to a point of sustainable surplus harvest for those who care for the future. I am optimistic that if everyone who has a vested interest in returning salmon stocks to previous abundance acts responsibly for their own future there will be a lot to look forward to in future generations of families fishing for salmon. More salmon in the rivers up to a point of surplus is something to look forward to. Conservative exploitation by those who care for the future may define a way forward. Excessive exploitation by those who fish without a thought for the future can only ruin the future of those who care. What good can come from that.

The key lesson for me is that you cannot expect to catch salmon it there are not any fresh run fish around to catch.

There are many reasons for the reduced state of salmon stocks. Some areas and river catchments are worse than others but generally good river management has helped to maintain stocks. For example the Moy district has as good a netting return as any. The river is well managed for anglers and the river habitat is well managed. The result is happy anglers and a net catch that is still three times greater than the angler catch. No other district has anything like that balance. The key point here is that what is good for river stocks is also good for the licensed nets man.

The key factors that bodies like the national Salmon Commission need to consider in addition to the banning of indiscriminate drift nets include;

Habitat Protection in the rivers and lakes to allow for spawning, fry and parr survival, river smolt run, and returning adults run.

Easy access throughout the catchment for the fish to reach their spawning areas.

Solving the problem of disappearing smolts ( sea lice, starvation, and exploitation by mackerel sieners as a by catch)

Protecting stocks in rivers and estuaries particularly during times of drought and low water flows.

Protecting the integrity of the unique genetic stock of individual systems

Engendring a common support from all those who have a desire to work towards improved salmon runs.      

Finally, I hope that you enjoyed reading my story and that future actions lead to actions that achieve the goal that we all want of more wild Atlantic salmon in the future.

Yours sincerely

Brendan Kerr

19 Swanston Gardens Edinburgh EH10 7DJ

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