Hill walk routes to climb in SW Scotland - also coastal paths and National Scenic Areas with maps, pictures and other useful information based on extensive local knowledge

Haff net fishing on the River Nith

From an information board near Glencaple
Return to walks on the East bank of the River Nith

Twice a day the tide floods into the wide estuary of the River Nith, rapidly covering the sand and mud flats. Fish, especially salmon and flounders, come and go with the tide. Generations of fishermen have been attracted to these dangerous flats to trap fish in tidal nets. Many different methods of trapping have been used but the one unique to this part of the Solway is haaf netting.

Haaf Net Fishing

Haaf net fishing was a way of life for many local men living in Glencaple and Kelton. As the ship building industry declined in the mid 19th century it became a full time occupation, continuing for almost 100 years.

This ancient method of catching salmon is thought to have been introduced by the Vikings, "haaf" being a Norse word for channel. Haaf netting requires strength to control the large pole net, lightning reactions and above all local knowledge of the tidal currents and shifting channels.

Haaf netters stand in a line chest deep in the channel of the river, on both the flood and ebb tides. Their fishing net consists of a 4 metre long wooden pole, which supports the net and divides it into two pockets or "pokes". The net is held against the running tide and when a fish is felt tugging the net, the frame is lifted and the fish is trapped in one of the pockets. The haaf net season lasts from February to early September but it is generally too cold to start till April.

The local custom for deciding who gets the most favourable position in the water involves the haaf netters drawing straws.Whoever draws the short straw gets the "pile" - they get to choosse where they stand in the line.

National Scenic Area

The constantly changing land and seascape of the Nith Estuary is recognised as being one of the most scenic areas in Scotland. The sand and mud flats provide an important habitat for wintering wildfowl and wading birds, in addition to forming a vital link for migrating birds.

The caption on the top picture says "Haaf netters in the river Nith between Kelton and Glencaple 1960's"

The lower left picture says "Tramping flounders at Glencaple 1965. This method of tramping "flukes" in the Nith and Urr estuaries involved wading through the shallows with bare feet feeling for fish underfoot. The fish would be speared with a pitchfork or other specially made tool".

The lower right picture says, "Paidle nets on the river Nith at Glencaple. These small stake nets are specially devised for catching flounders. The arms of the net lead the fish into the trap or 'paidle'".