No, not the wheels on a plane. A quick look at some of the implements I used over the years for transferring my hard earned prizes from water to hand. This is a part of angling which has changed radically over the past few decades as our attitudes to the quarry have altered.
It is the late 1970’s and I have been introduced to the many delights of sea angling from small boats in the North Sea. I bought a cheap boat rod and a Mitchell 624 reel (remember them?). Days fishing out of Stonehaven (‘Stoney’ to us) were wondrously productive which big hauls of prime cod, the odd Coalfish and some flats. I saw a couple of 20 pounders boated but my biggest was sixteen and a half pounds. Catches were measured by the box full back then. Happy days! With so much action the skipper was often busy and you had to wait for him to come over to you and gaff the fish into the boat. I decided to cut out the middle man and fashioned a gaff of sorts myself. I still have it and a miracle of modern engineering it is!
I bought the 3 inch gaff head from Somers tackle shop in town and got my mate Allister, a mechanical engineer by trade, to weld a 3/8’BSF nut on the end of a steel shaft. To give me something to grip on to I wound a rough handle out of bright yellow ‘machine rope’, a heavy duty nylon rope used on papermaking machines. The gaff head simply screwed on to the nut on the end but in practice it often worked loose so I covered it with electrical tape. Over time, the whole lot rusted together and it would now take a small atomic explosion to separate the thing.
This thing of beauty has not been used for well over 30 years but I hang on to it as a reminder of those far off days; rods bent, banter flying across the deck and marled green cod rapidly filling the fish boxes. We caught so many one day that I was left on the pier in Stoney to fillet them because we could not fit them into the car. My late father had to come and collect me and he found his son surrounded by piles of cod fillets and boxes of fish guts.
I have a vague recollection of my first landing net, a small and weak affair which broke somewhere along the line. I saved hard, not easy when all the money I was making was from a weekend milk round and whatever flies I could sell. Eventually, I had amassed enough to buy a Sharpes extending net. It was a beauty, big enough to cope with sea trout which were then my main target. Pride swelled my teenage chest as I set off for Newburgh to fish the tidal waters for the first time with the new net. The day was a disaster, no fish, a rat ate my lunch out of my bag where I had hidden it beside the bridge and then the biggest tragedy – I lost the new net! It was hanging from a metal ring on my bag but somehow it became detached and was gone in the rising tide. I caught the bus home in total dejection. My father once more came to the rescue. The following morning he and I drove back to the bridge and we set off scouring the mud flats and mussel beds. Unbelievably I found the net lying there near the low water mark. I don’t know who was happier, me or my dad! I still have, and use, that net. Indeed, it was this net I used to land an eight pound salmon on Lough Conn this past season.
In Scotland I grew from a spotty teenager into an avid, and at times, successful salmon angler. Some fish were caught on the fly but many more fell to the charms of devons and Rapalas. At that time I carried a different weapon with me, a tailer. These days of catch and release mean such a crude tool would never be tolerated but back then it was not uncommon to see a tailer hooped across the back of a salmon fisher. It the right hands they are very effective but over the years I have witnessed so many missed attempts and even salmon knocked off the hook by poor handling of a tailer. The theory was straight forward, slip the cocked tailer over the salmon’s tail from above and give it a smooth, quick upwards stroke. The pressure of the fish against the sprung steel causes the loop to slide down, trapping the fish at the ‘wrist’ of the tail and it can be easily removed from the water. A swipe from the side of the fish often ended in disaster as the fishs tail moves from side to side and the tailer often times failed to find purchase and slid off. I landed many salmon to well over twenty pounds like this, including my best ever fish of 24 pounds. I recall one October day many years ago on the Upper Parkhill beat of the Aberdeenshire Don. A spate had thinned down and a good run of back end salmon were running the river. It was a Saturday and it seemed like the world and his brother were out fishing that day. I managed to land a wee 8 pounder early on and was wandering down the bank looking for a spot for a few more casts. A group of anglers were gathered around one chap on the Coquers pool. His rod was well bent into a good fish so I joined the throng to see what was going on. It turned out the big fish could not be persuaded to move and nobody knew how to get the beast out. I watched intently for a while then suggested the fish could be tailed. The angler liked this idea and suggested I was just the man for the job! Now the Coquers pool is very deep right up to the bank but there was a small rock just below the surface and within reach so I hopped on to it while someone else held on to me. It felt like ages waiting but eventually the fish turned right in front of me and stuck his tail out of the water. I swung the tailer and the loop tightened perfectly. With help from others both I and the fish were lifted up on to the bank. It was a fresh 19 pounder. The tailer now hangs on the wall of the fishing den. It will never be used again but it does bring back memories for me.
The tailer was replaced by a Gye net at some point, purchased from Richard Walkers old shop in Aberdeen’s King Street. Again, this piece of equipment has lasted the test of time well and is still in use when I go salmon fishing. Most salmon anglers own one of these nets and they are a joy to use. The Gye will handle pretty big fish as long as they are fully played out. A strong, feisty fish which is not tired is not a good proposition for any netting operation.
My new found pursuit of coarse fish meant I needed a net for that branch of the sport too, so on my last visit to the Edinburgh Angling Centre I bought a cheap Sigma net and a 3 metre extending handle. This has been perfectly adequate for the small roach and perch I have landed up till now but I fear it is going to be too small for anything bigger. A pike that I inadvertently hooked in Roscommon only just fitted in after some manoeuvring and I am fearful that a descent Tench or, heaven forbid, a good carp would be too big for this modest net. I have therefore invested in bigger models for the future.
My biggest net is a humungous circular drop net for use when fishing off of piers and the such like. An unwieldy brute of a thing it is next to impossible to handle on your own when fighting a fish with the rod in one hand and the swinging net in the other. But it is grand if you can use it with both hands.
I have a couple of small, knotless scoop nets for my river trouting and they are nice to use. I see some lovely scoop nets in use over in America and would love to own one of them in the future. I tend not to buy expensive gear but I could be persuaded to part with a wad of cash for a pretty bamboo handled scoop.
Even though I own this vast array of gizmos for landing fish I still normally use my hand if at all feasible. A tired salmon can be tailed out with relative ease if you have the confidence born of experience. I return virtually all of the trout I catch so if one slips off the hook while I am trying to land it by hand I don’t really care. Most of the coarse fish I catch are very small so I just swing them to hand without recourse to the meshes.
So there you go, some retired old tools of the trade and some still very much in use. I dread to think how many fish did not make it as far as the my nets or other devices over my long angling career, certainly hundreds and I suspect into the thousands. The ones which dropped off for no reason, the odd few who made it into the meshes only for me to muck things up somehow, the ones who gave one last twist and then sank back into oblivion. Sometimes we remember them more than the ones we land!