Haaf netting is a traditional and long-established method of fishing for salmon and sea trout in the Solway Estuary.
This type of fishing was once carried out in many of the estuaries on the Solway Coast but is now limited to the Nith and the Annan in Dumfries and Galloway and the Eden in Cumbria. Catching fish in this form of net may date back thousands of years to the introduction by Viking invaders, ‘haaf’ being the Norse word for channel (or sea).
The Haaf net consists of a rectangular wooden frame which supports the net and divides it into two pockets or ‘pokes’. The middle leg, of the three, is extended to allow the fisherman to carry the beam and also tip the beam up to trap the fish.
The local custom (on the Nith at least) for deciding who gets the best position in the water involves the haaf netters drawing straws. Whoever draws the short straw gets to choose where to stand in the line.
Fishermen walk out into the flat, shallow waters of the estuary and place the Haaf Net in front facing either the incoming (flood) or outgoing (ebb) tides. As soon as a fish swims into the net the legs of the frame are allowed to float to the surface thereby trapping the fish in one of the pockets.
The haaf net season lasts from late February to early September but it is generally too cold to start until April.
It is extremely difficult and dangerous to fish in this way and skill and local knowledge would have traditionally been passed down the generations. Nowadays very few fishermen still practice haaf net fishing.
In Cumbria haaf-net fishermen and women are licensed by the Environment Agency to help protect fish stocks with only a limited number being issued. The Solway Haaf Netters Association can be contacted through the website.
Dumfries and Galloway
On the Nith most of the fishing on the river is owned by the Caerlaverock estate who traditionally gave the estate workers and those living in the villages of Glencaple, Bankend and Sherington permission to haaf net. There is currently a Catch and Release restriction placed on the River Nith salmon fishery and although numbers of haaf net fishermen on the river are low they still continue this traditional form of fishing.
For more information on fishing on the Nith contact the Chairman of the Nith Estuary Haaf Netters Association through the Caerlaverock Community Association website
For more information on haaf net fishing on the Annan visit the Annan website