A season Begins

A season Begins

A Story by James Patrick Mc Intyre

This story (a work in progress) is about the opening morning of the salmon draft net season. My family were fisher folk and I grew up spending my summers working on the fishing boats.


The Christmas Eve of my childhood gave way to June 31 of my adolescence in terms of excited anticipation; sleep was sought but never attained, a million thoughts running through my mind, not of Santa and his magical presents but of boat’s, nets, crew, Salmon and the myriad of adventures that came with working a Salmon fishing season on the Erne estuary!

The alarm sounded unnecessarily  at one am, I was up and getting everything ready, extra water in kettle for flask, the toaster spat a couple of sliced batch, quick snap crackle and pop, grab the sandwiches from the fridge and out the door. Decked out in waders and with oil skins slung over my bulging lunch bag I made my way through town and towards the Mall quay. A stumbling drunk in the darkness hopes I’ll get the weather I’m expecting, A squad car slows and a Garda gives me a quick once over.

I walk a little quicker as I turn the mall corner and soon the quay is in sight washed in a newly installed street light, as I walk towards the slip I see a shadowy figure illuminated in the strike of a match “ well cub, how’s life”

“All good buck! You the first?” he takes a long draught of the hand rolled cigarette “their away up for the net, be down shortly” I ask about the boat “She’s still moored”, “I’ll get her” I  respond putting my bag up on the quay. I walk up and around the bonding yard and out along the mall park where I make my way cautiously down the steep rocky embankment. I search for the iron bar the rope is attached to and undo the massive knot in the double hawser rope pull them both tight to see which the boat is attached to and begin to pull, she resists at first but gives in and moves lethargically, and awakens ripples of light on the surface of the black still water .I take her by the head and shove her around to face the pier, she moves heavily with all the rain water she’s holding, I climb aboard and unship the pair of sixteen foot oars and place them in their pins across the boat,  Standing between them I manoeuvre the boat towards the quay with long slow pulls on the oars as I swing her around to push the stern into the slip. headlights followed by the bouncing of a trailer,  more crew are on the scene now and the trailer is cautiously reversed to the boat, the outboard and petrol tank placed to the side and the after side lug of the net is attached to the extra-long rope known as the swing the net must be boarded ready for shooting, as we board at the stern the banter is going already talk of salmon seen showing over the past while, what crews had planned to go out early and who was in the pub late and wouldn’t be showing up with their crew! Net boarded, engine on and kit packed Skip askes me “Did you cut any new towel pins?” They’re in my bag “Good Man”.

The nine horse mariner roars to life at one pull and we move away from the quay, the tide is low so we hug the rocks at the mall park to avoid the island sandbar;” She’s going like a sacred heart lamp!” exclaims one of the crew, everyone sits back, cigarettes are lit and we can chat properly, “How were the exams” “Good enough” I respond “will have to see” how was the hunting this year? How’s this one and that one?

We round Gibby point to the lament of a curlew out in the darkness disturbed in the Abby bay, Get ready to hold her there Mc; I was rarely addressed by my proper name on the channel!

Engine and tank are placed high on the shore as the tide is flooding! The skipper takes his bag out Are you putting her straight out I ask “O, yeah, sure what’s the point in waiting, Your shooting the nets again this year cub, All right?”” No bother skip!” the two lads on the bedding oar and the after oar get into their seats or taffs and unship the oars working against each other the boat swings around and sets up for a shot, I’m in the stern at the back of the boat readying the bud rope which connects the net to shore and the bud as the shore man is known as! “nice and straight now and don’t be there till your back” the net is boarded in two stacks, the back rope and its colourful corks and the sole rope with lead rope and also all the slack net between, The boat moves steadily and I throw the back rope high and the heavier sole rope over the stern its essential to keep them apart to avoid crossing them and to open out the net, we come to the burob which is the bag in the centre of the net where loose fish will be trapped when hauling, the mesh is heavier and a smaller gauge, turn her for shegus I tell the lads the boat turns as I still fire nets the whole burob is shot out. “Right, fire the anchor for the Abby bay” A moment later a loud splash sounds out of my sight,  I have to re board the net back to the burob cork marking the centre of the net, setting the anchor and putting the net into a curved L shape ready to close at the sign of fish in the net! The oars are shipped and we settle into waiting and watching.

Sitting in the stern I faced away from the net but constantly held the backrope in my hand so I could feel a fish hit the net and could keep a constant watch for a fish showing as in made its way towards the trap we had set, the oarsmen faced towards the net and would see any movement and the bud on the shore watched everything while we were here at Gibby point down the channel when we towed with the tide he and I would watch for approaching fish as we held the net! You had to be attentive all the time for signs of a fish, it could be the difference in the catch and hence pay packet and if you missed something the crew would never let you forget it!

We sat, Chatting about all things related to fishing recalling past catches, where it was what the tide and conditions were and always talk about other boats and what they had been up to.

I remember discussing a particularly good haul at the back of the foul when a sudden beating tremble shot through my hand up my arm and I reacted with an instinctive response learned over the years,” GO ON”.

This set in motion a controlled but manic response in all the crew, the anchor buoy flew at the same time oars hit the water and  men frantically pulled with strained backs sending the boat on an arc towards the shore, short fast strokes became long strong ones and the boat moved even faster, at the back I shot nets equally as fast while constantly struggling to maintain balance, back rope high and sole rope as far out as possible, arms >>> this was no time for mistakes as being dragged out with the net was an ever-present reality, as was crossing ropes or snagging Griming the net, un forgivable offences, . On the boat flew on the first shot of the season and all the more exciting. “Watch yourself Mc” Willie shouted, we were about to hit the shore, and unbraced I would be tossed head over heels, at the last second I  slowed the boat holding on to the backrope and preventing it ramming the rocky shore!

Jimmy gets out pushes the head of the boat around, I pass the backrope to Willie and clamber out and take the sole rope jimmy has moved over to where the Skip has started hauling the foreside backrope now we haul and the speculation starts, two men hauling backropes and two down low hauling the sole rope which if held high could allow fish escape the trap!

“Was he far out” I asked the skip, “right at the lug” he said, the fish had stuck in the net and was still fighting and the corks were bobbing where the salmon struggled hence the tremble in my arm.

“He’ll have company I’d say” I offered and Willie answered “if they went straight back along the shore they may have beat us, but if they headed out along the corks we’ll Have them”” He’s there” skip broke in and a boil of water the size of a coffee table was just visible in the dawn light, just then a salmon ploughed across the dull,” A ha, I knew we’d put twine on them before the sun was up” Willie laughed. “Keep them soles down lads, don’t want them getting out under them, there could be a good shot of stuff here” Just as another sheered across the mirrored surface inside the Dull which is what we called the trap we set!  Keep the burob right, we had to the burob cork in the centre so as to have a prober bag to hold any fish loose in the net so both sides were hauled evenly, “watch the soles” skip reminded “keep them Down” another fish lashed out along the corks on the fore side.

 The dull became smaller as we hauled so the fish within had less space to move around and fish hitting off the fine heavy mesh of the burob could be felt, each rap came with a woop or an excited gesture, caution was still vital and all men paid attention to the job at hand, this had been seen before only to haul nothing but a net full of water, all manner of things could happen, a badly shot net could be grimed or torn, crossed or hung up on itself.

As the burob came closer and fish continued to move looking for an escape caution grew, “easy on the backrope, get that sole in! Keep them down! Good shot of stuff! “. As soon as the sole rope was hauled into our feet the trap was shut off, now the backrope which had been left out a little was hauled along with all the slack, the salmon now in shallow water were frantically fighting and a great shock of white water was exploding with their massive efforts at escape.

“Now up with them” skip excitedly commanded. Flashes of silver darted and the net throbbed as a score of salmon beat fiercely on the shore entwined in the fine heavy brown netting! “Grab the nabber quick cub” the oar pin I threw landed at the skipper’s feet! And he dispatched each of the marvellous creatures one at a time! Willie danced a mock jig singing “Happy days are here again” Jimmy laughed “ scales in the boat and the sun not even over the town clock” I offered “ That’s the licence covered anyway”” License, a couple of them brutes will cover the licence, the rest is cash in your pocket boy” said Jimmy.

“Get that net boarded quick as ya can lads, could be more good fishing yet, that tides still flooding” I hauled myself into the stern to board the back rope, I had learned a long time ago that I only trusted a backrope when I boarded it myself, it was too prone to snagging or getting caught up and I did not want to have to deal with it when the boat was hurtling through the water around the next shot of fish! Jimmy leaped nimbly into the stern behind the net and started hauling in the solerope and slack net. As I drew in the rope and laid it in big loops so as it would run untangled Willy unravelled any hanks and straightened her out, as skip carried the fish to the boat two at a time passing comment on each as he placed, never threw the fish into the fish box.

There’s one would give you a good play on a fly rod, lovely fresh run grilse or fine c**k fish, as I worked I asked” How can you tell the difference in a c**k and a hen” Jimmy started to explain when the skip spoke over him “Hold This one” as he stretched out towards me with a fish of about eight pounds. Willie gave me a look that said, “You’ll be sorry you asked”. but I went along anyway. Now give him a good shake he said as a smirk crossed his face. Knowingly I gave the fish a good shake! “Do ya feel his balls rattling” Skip laughed loudly as Jimmy gave me a slap on the back and we all shared a good laugh buoyed up with the catch and the anticipation of the season ahead “I’ll get some other man with that one sometime” “Ya can be sure some man got him with it too”.

Net boarded no one had to be told we’d be putting straight out, I threw the bud rope to the skip and the lads lined her up, this time the net was wet and therefore much heavier, anchor set we settled back into watching and chatting as the sun rose to reveal a bright windless morning, not so good as earlier for a sticker as the net caught the light and would be a wall of neon in front of a Salmon wandering along Gibby shore and we were more likely to go on a fish showing as they approached the net or going back or along the backrope, sometimes you could see a swimmer, a distinctive v seen moving along the surface as a fish swam close to the surface! Sometimes a fish would show a good distance below the net and we would attempt to time its approach, this was always a gamble as Willy was fond of saying “one his head is down ya don’t know where he is or where he’s going” and we drew a few bags of water but always fishing hard and being in the right place at the right time with the right tactics along with the collective experience of the crew meant we were constantly the best fished boat on the estuary, always working hard and always with great spirit and banter. 




© 2014 James Patrick Mc Intyre

Author's Note

James Patrick Mc Intyre
This is a work in progress but I welcome all constructive criticism. Thank you in advance.

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Added on November 2, 2014
Last Updated on November 2, 2014
Tags: Adventure, fishing, Nature, Boyhood, night time, Ocean, River, Ireland, Tale


James Patrick Mc Intyre
James Patrick Mc Intyre

Ballyshannon, Donegal, Ireland

I am based in Donegal in the north west of Ireland. I am an adventure, nature and physical challenge addict. I enjoy writing about my adventures as a boy through to adulthood both here and around th.. more..