The Tay Salmon Fishery

The Tay Salmon Fishery

An extract from Tay Salmon – Net Fishing Memories

Dave Scott recalls the net fishing for wild salmon once based around Newburgh in north Fife

Net fishing on the Tay started several hundred years ago and, by the mid 1700s, had become a huge business, with exports to several countries. Trade blossomed further when ice (stored in ice houses) was used to preserve the fish while in transit abroad.

The Tay Salmon Fisheries Company was established in 1899 and it became one of the biggest such operations in the country. Net fishing was a major industry in the area until the 1980s when salmon numbers in the river began to decline. At the same time, the popularity of salmon farming boomed.
With coble and net fishing being seasonal, an army of summer workers was needed each year. Many of the vacancies were filled by men recruited from the Western Isles.

As the salmon stocks dwindled, so did the pay-rolls. Restrictions on net fishing on the Tay began upstream in the 1960s. They were extended later to Perth itself and to the lower reaches in the mid 1990s. The regular crews knew the end was in sight. The final net was pulled in on 20 August, 1996.
Gordon Farquhar began work as a student boatman in 1981. ‘It was really a unique job in that you were always following the tides,’ he recalls. ‘You would start at, say, seven o’clock the first day, the next day it may have been 7.45 or eight o’clock depending on high water’. As a boatman, Farquhar would steer the boat, watch the net going over the back and, once it had dropped in the water, head to the hailing [beach] and bring in the net on a winch, controlled by the gaffer.

‘Once the net closed and swung round a bit, your next job would be to hail the ground rope. You would pull the net in and put it on to the barrow. You would then collect any fish and the gaffer or the towman would chap them on the head before they were put in boxes.’

Farquhar progressed from boatman to boatman/towman and was gaffer at Pyerod, evenutally getting his own crew for his final two years. Many friendships were struck up in the bothies, where the crews occasionally made some ‘home-brew’ and played cribbage and other card games. ‘There was never any trouble, hassle or arguments between anyone. There was always good fun, plenty of laughs and wind-ups, but no malice.’

Extracted with permission from a 64-page booklet of photos and recollections compiled by Dave Scott entitled Tay Salmon – Net Fishing Memories, available from the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company (, 01738 636407) priced £9.


1. Ravi Nair21 Dec 2019, 12:21am Report

Stumbled across this article and sure did bring back memories. First went to the 'fishing' as a fifteen year old student. Auld Jeck ,AKA Jack Scotland the shore manager, says to my Grand Father 'We'l gie him a try' and my first posting was to Earn Mouth station. This was the beginning of many student job seasons. Back then in the fifties we boat-men used rowing boats which was excellent exercise for formative teenagers . As I remember the next season was at a station called 'The Bush'. Then posted to an island station 'Mugdrum ' just across from Newburgh. The first season as boatman along with school pal Peter Clark-hi Pete. During the night-shifts we would lie back on the boat seats at the shot-head and count shooting stars while the other boat crew finished hailing their net. The next season was on Mugdrum again only this time as a Tow-man. This was an interesting process since the tow path was a submerged sand bank ! This was overcome by the use of a 'bermundy boat'. This was a cobble modified by having roller posts stern and bow over which ran a rope tethered at the shot-head and other end at the 'hailing'. The tow-man would stand in the middle of the boat and pull on the rope to keep just ahead of the 'hent-end' of the net. As students we worked for only about the last two months of the season however the back-bone of the work force were the Highlander and Islanders (off season whalers some of them) who referred to the TSF as dry-land fishing! On this station a catch of 400 salmon, 800 grilse and the sea trout were not recorded that two month period. As I remeber it the next season I was sent to a station two or three miles down-river of Newburgh. This was one tough tow path depending on the state of the tide-very long and in mud. The boat-men had it easy since by now the rowing boats had given way to motorized vessels with their redoubtable Lister diesel engines. I could go on reminiscing for pages-Happy Days!

Post a comment

RSS feed of these comments