Sunday, 13 July 2014

Salmon Fishing off Ardnamurchan

Dochie Cameron, who comes from a longstanding Ockle family but now lives in Kilchoan, is one of the few remaining fishermen who is still catching wild salmon off the coast of western Scotland in the way they've been caught for hundreds of years.  The boat he uses, called a coble, is a traditional design though these days it's powered by an inboard diesel engine.

The picture shows Dochie a week or so back as he was preparing his boat for the upcoming season.  The season's short, and the number of salmon running is few compared to the heady days over fifty years ago when hundreds of salmon were caught in nets strung all around the coasts of Ardnamurchan, and shipped down to London by train.

These days, Dochie has just one net.  It runs like a curtain from the rocky shore to a pocket-like trap at the seaward end.  When a salmon swimming along the shore meets the net it turns seaward and becomes caught in the trap, which is lifted when the fisherman next visits the net.

Dochie goes out twice a day throughout the season so the salmon aren't held in the trap for too long.  Frequent visits are also a good idea as, given the chance, the local seals are only to pleased to pillage the nets.  Dochie is seen here sitting in his front garden in the sun doing what all good fishermen do - mend his nets.

The work is hard and, through the season, time consuming.  This season, though, his son Justin, who works the Kilchoan creel boat Harvester (seen here on the slipway for repairs), is helping him, so Dochie's skills will be handed down through the family.

Many thanks to Sue Cameron for the third picture.


  1. Thanks for this article, Jon. Good to see a working coble - brought back great memories.

    Used to live & work at Fascadale back in the days when Rhody Macleod had the fishing. Worked bag nets all along the north of the peninsula, but mainly between Ockle to just west of Fascadale. The fishery was pretty productive then & we had some big catches at the peak of the 'run' with near 100 fish a day - don't tell Dochie! Good prices as well, especially for the big 20lb+ fish which fetched amazing premiums at Billingsgate as banquet 'specials' for all the top London hotels - again, don't tell Dochie!

    The fish were iced & boxed at Fascadale's icehouse, taken over for the first ferry of the morning to Tobermory, then on to Oban & the train. Waiting for the first ferry was often hilarious as the Lochnell's early morning timetable could be as variable as Alan the Pier's attendance as piermaster! There were some great characters, fondly remembered.

    I can only agree that it was hard work at times. Saturday mornings were the worst as we had to 'slap' all the leading nets (no fishing on the Sabbath!) usually with a hangover from the Friday dance (no Saturday dances to avoid dancing on the Sabbath!).

    Hope Dochie has a jellyfish & seal free season and that the bag bulges frequently.

    Moran taing.

    Alastair McCallum

    1. One of Scotland's paradises, but I'm afraid that I never worked at Fascadale, as our family had given up running the fishings there before the time of Dochie and the Macleods before him.
      I had an interesting conversation with a fine gentleman at the nearby estate farm about shooting the seals - " oh yes " they did that too down there, but very so often they would bring one in, to boil down the blubber into oil which they used to rub on the legs of injured sheep.
      Another story - Mrs Powrie made him shoo the sheep away from the nets every night. Oops, now I've given it away.

  2. Every two years I take my family ( 11 of us ) to holiday in your area.
    In the gap since the last time I have become involved in a project to build a new wooden coble, at Portsoy, the first for over 40 years. It was based on an old one rotting away, built by the Sellars family of Macduff.
    Here is Patrick Sellars looking at it in the harbour, where it is kept. The name follows the sequence of two Portsoy skiffs Soy Quine and Soy Loon
    The same family went on to build fibreglass cobles, including Iolair ( built for the MacLeods ), and Patrick was delighted to know it was still there.
    I was showing some of my family around Fascadale, including the old ice fields and the ice-house. Why is there a fireplace in the rectangular extension at the front of the ice-house. I would have thought that this was the store/workshop ?

  3. Many thanks for your comment. I have asked someone local who remembers the ice house when it was in use, and he says he can't remember a fire place in the building, The room was used to weigh, box and ice the salmon ready for transportation. Jon

  4. Somebody told me this year that Archie had a wooden leg, dating from WW1, but not a result of direct enemy action. I'm trying to remember now who told me. It might have been a Bett whose grandfather married a Powrie, and they fished Loch Ewe and Gruinard Bay.
    Another story from your own area - do you remember a salmon lesee Mark James and what happened to him ?
    Another story from further north - every 100 fish and the crew got a bottle of whisky - I can remember in the Red Point bothy that there were jottings of numbers on the cladding inside, but I didn't twig then why they were so important. Did Archie do the same ? Now sadly a ruin