Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Catching the Tide

These images are taken from Catching the Tide, a long-term project documenting the lives and work of Scotland’s last remaining coastal netsmen, fishermen who use centuries-old methods to fish for salmon.

The project’s aim is to capture the essence of the work, the relationship between the salmon fishermen and their social and natural environment and to build an archive which could be used by future generations as a visual memory of the past.

The photographs were made at various netting stations around Scotland’s long and varied coastline and feature a number of men who have been associated with salmon fishing for generations. For the last 30 years the industry has been in sharp decline, due to falling fish numbers, harsh economic circumstances and an aggressive policy by angling interests to buy out the netting companies and individual fishermen.

The images featured below are from the early part of the project, from the mid-1990s through to 2003. Two years later, a film celebrating the project was made. Originally broadcast on Scottish Television, Catching the Tide has since toured film festivals and been shown on television in a number of countries.

Since then, I have continued to work with the fishermen and have staged a number of exhibitions across Scotland featuring the work. A permanent collection of images also now resides within the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland and in London as The Forman Collection.

A salmon netter hauls salmon from a 'jumper' net at low tide on the sands at Kinnaber, Angus during a May hailstorm. Salmon net fisherman James Mackay in his coble at Armadale, Sutherland, preparing to fish his bag nets. A team of salmon netters working on the construction of the fly net on the rocks at Boddin, Angus. A salmon netter from Joseph Johnston & Sons of Montrose, recovering fish from a fly net on the sands at St. Cyrus, Aberdeenshire. Veteran salmon netter David Pullar, working with his tractor at Lunan Bay, Angus prior to fishing his jumper nets staked out on the sands. A salmon netter heads for the shore as the tide comes in as his fellow netters finish the construction of the fly net on the rocks at Boddin, Angus. Salmon netters pulling their nets ashore while fishing by sweep netting using a coble (boat) on the river North Esk, Kinnaber, Angus at sunset. Walter Davidson, the last full-time salmon netter on the Solway firth in south-west Scotland, fishing one of his stake net at Creetown after checking the pocket for wild Atlantic salmon. Salmon netter Ian Falconer carries netting across the foreshore at low tide during construction of the fly net on the rocks at Boddin, Angus. Salmon netter Ian Faconer steers a coble on the way to emptying bag nets in the waters off Boddin, Angus. A wild Atlantic salmon caught in a poke net, staked out on the sands of the Solway, in the south-west of Scotland. Salmon netter Ian Paterson, pictured in the kitchen of his bothy at Portskerra, Sutherland, shortly before he reitred after 35 years working catching wild Atlantic salmon. Salmon netter Dave Pullar pictured standing at one of his bag nets drying at his netting station of Fishtown of Usan, Angus. A salmon netter at Scotland's last fishing station on the River Tweed at Paxton in the Scottish Borders. Salmon netters Bob Ritchie (left) and Jim Mitchell head home along the sands after fishing 'jumper' nets at low tide at Kinnaber, Angus.

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4 Responses to “Catching the Tide”

  1. Brought to book | Document Scotland

    […] Colin’s work with the fishermen began in the mid-1990s when the fisheries were still principally owned and managed by great companies which had exploited the salmon for over a century. Firms such as Joseph Johnston & Sons owned the leases to many profitable netting stations and employed hundreds of men. With dwindling fish stocks, the flooding of the market by cheaply-produced farmed salmon and an aggressive buy-out campaign by angling interests, the days of salmon netting seemed numbered. It was this which spurred Colin on to making as complete a record as possible of salmon netting which has lead to many years travelling and photographing the fishermen and their stations from the Solway in the south to the north west tip of Scotland in Sutherland. Companies such as Johnstons are long gone, but the record of their fisheries is in part preserved by Colin’s work. […]

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