Slapping the leaders

The law required that the nets be made inoperable from mid day on Saturday until 0600 on Monday. This restriction of the fishing was described as a conservation measure but was understood by the netsmen as a legal device to allow more fish into rivers for the anglers to take. The weekly closure was extended in the 1990s to start on Friday at 1800 at again end on Monday at 0600.

The nets were made inoperable by the removal of the leader. This was know as “slapping”

At Fascadale, to make sure the six leaders were all out by noon, the working day started at 0700, rather than the usual 0800. This was particularly hard for the crew as the big social events in Kilchoan, the dances, took place on Friday nights and lasted through to the early hours of Saturday, so not much sleep and often a hangover.

The routine on the Saturday morning was to take the six “slapping lines” out to the boat and then set off for the nets. The “slapping line” was a length of quite heavy rope, about 18mm, the length of a leader, so about 100 metres.

On arrival at each net position the net was first fished in the usual way but the headpole was not pushed back into position. Instead the “net ends” of the leader were untied from the head and replaced with the slapping line. The leader was then hauled into the boat over the bow, pulling the boat towards the shore with the slapping line being paid out over the stern. When the bow of the boat reached the land end of the leader the leader pole was removed from the net and taken onto the boat. The net was then untied from the land end rope and the slapping line tied to the land end rope. The leader pole was then tied to the slapping line and left floating in the sea.

This all sounds fairly straightforward but it certainly was not. Hauling the boat 100 metres and getting the net onboard was hard work. The boat and the nets were heavy and it was a lot more difficult if there was any wind. It would take two of the crew to haul, one to bundle the net as it came aboard, and one to manage the slapping line.

The slapping line served two purposes. It allowed the boat to be controlled as the leader was being removed: the boat was held in place by the net coming in over the bow and the slapping line being put out over the stern. It was also used as the leaders were being replaced on the Monday. the new leader was tied to the head then paid out over the stern as the crew pulled the boat using the slapping line into the land end. The leader was tied to the land end as the slapping line was removed

The leaders were often full of weed and jellyfish that just added to the weight. If the jellyfish were reds they would leave their stinging tentacles all over the net that the crew were hauling: no rubber gloves in those days. Hauling the nets was a wet messy business so the crew would always be in their full frock, non breatheable, oilskins, perfect for heavy physical work on a hot day. And remember this was on a Saturday morning, often after a “dance Friday night”

When the six nets had been fished and the six leaders “slapped” it was back to Fascadale to unload, pack the fish and spread the leaders out on the green. There are photos here of the nets being unloaded