This article is based upon the experiences of Jimmy Linton, who had the concession for salmon fishing from the Crown Estates.
“I started the salmon fishing the 1950s, it having been done by Johnston’s of Montrose before then. I paid £5 per year to the Crown Estates for the right to fish for salmon in the sea between Kirkcaldy and St Monans.
This was the way the fishing was done. There was the leader-net, which stretched from high water mark at right angles to the beach out in to the sea. It was probably 100 yards long and at the sea end of it, just below low water mark, there were three nets. The salmon would swim round the coast and were creatures of habit, always returning to the same river to spawn every year. They would come down the North Sea from the direction of Greenland and arrive in the Forth Estuary. They would cling to the shore and swim up until they got the scent of the river which was their home river, as it were.
The Tay salmon would swim along the shoreline and they would come across the leader-net. Rather than try to get through it they would turn seawards and follow the net trying to get round it. However, when they got to the end of the leader-net they were enticed into a chamber with largish opening and then into a chamber with smaller opening and then one with a very small opening. Once they were in the last chamber they had difficulty in finding a way out and they were effectively trapped. About two hours before low tide the fisherman would go out in his boat and get to the end net where the salmon were trapped. He would open the top of the net and remove the fish with a net on the end of a pole, stun the fish with a priest, or the like, and then harvest them. Sometimes, if the tides were very low, it was impossible to get to the nets by boat so we used to climb on the leader net and have to hold a rope and scramble along the top of the net until we got to the basket net and fish them out there. I think my best year was in the early 70s, when I had about 2,500 salmon in the one season.
A friend of mine had the other concession from St Monans to Tentsmuir. I had a net staked out in West Bay, just at the bottom of the cart track across the golf course. I had two or three in Largo Bay, past Ruddens Point, and then two nets in middle of the bay. Some of the fish were as big as 30lbs and biggest one 34 and a half pounds.
I would sell them to the wholesalers in Anstruther; Young’s Seafood and Bonthrone would take them as well, mainly for deep-freezing but also for smoking. I would also sell them round the local hotels. Every time the tide went out we harvested the nets, but they were supposed to be shut on Sundays. There was a water bailiff, whose job it was to supervise what I was doing, but he lived in Doune so I did not see very much of him and to give him his due he always told me when he was going to make a call. I would sometimes get a telephone call from him asking if I could put a salmon in a bag, address it to someone and put it on the next passing bus.
The main predators of the salmon were the seals. I would lose a lot of salmon to the seals, which would find a way into the netting and remove the catch. I would sometimes arrive at Largo Bay to find half chewed carcases of fish along the shore line and I would know that the seals had been feeding. The only way I could deter them was to shoot them. I did not often hit any but I had a license for a .303 and I mind the time I sat on the rock a whole day just firing my 303 every time I saw the seals getting closer. It was effective because I got 100 fish that day. Because it was quite close to the golf course there were a few complaints about a man with a rifle disturbing the golfers!
Sometimes the porpoises would find their way into our nets and I would have to get into the water and guide them out of the nets or from the boat. They did not seem to eat the salmon. I would lose some nets to the high seas but the worst problem was seaweed after a high tide or storm – it used to get caught in the nets and took a lot of effort and time to cut the seaweed clear of the nets.
The fishing died out in the late 70s when the salmon started to get this disease and, together with over-fishing, it no longer became viable. The steel pins which held the nets in place are still in West Bay and Largo Bay, but other than that the poles and nets have gone.”
Jimmy Linton 2011