Service to mark start of salmon fishing season

First published on: 11th February 2019

On a cold but beautiful February morning, on the banks of the River Tweed, the Revd Rob Kelsey announces: When the time comes for me to stand in the river, if I appear to be walking on the water, thats because Im standing on the ice!

This was the annual blessing of the salmon, a service revived in recent years marking the start of the salmon fishing season. It is led by Rob, Vicar of Norham.

Were standing by the River Tweed at about ten to eight on a very frosty morning, says Rob as he is joined by a large group of people for this special occasion. And were going to bless the River Tweed, bless the new fishing season, and cast the first line on the river.

The ceremony takes place at Pedwell Landing, one of the many landing stations along the Tweed where, for about 1,000 years, net fishing for salmon was a major part of the local economy until its demise in the 1980s. In the past, the Vicar of Norham would say prayers of blessing at midnight at the start of the new season and part of the tradition was that if a fish was caught during the first landing of the nets, it was given to the vicar.

The service dates back to the time when there was net fishing on the river and it was revived about five or six years ago by a chap called Jim Blyth who lives in the village and who is a keen fisherman, so were sort of reinventing the past if you like, adds Rob.

Jim Blyth remembers watching the net fisherman on the Tweed as a child.

He says: Ive lived in Norham all my life and as a child we used to come down here and watch the fishing going on. In actual fact, we used to row the boat out to try and catch some fish. We used to come down at midnight to bless the fishing and the vicar used to come down, bless the river and if there was a salmon caught the vicar would get the first fish. That closed in 1987, so we had a lapse where we didnt have any blessing of the river. When we got our new vicar, we decided to re-enact it. Its something that should be kept going.

Simon Ormerod is a landowner who owns a mile and a half stretch of the Tweed through Norham.

Last year we caught just over 90 fish on the stretch. The last two years, the fishing hasnt been so productive because the fish just arent coming in. Theyre having to go further out to sea to get their food. But last year the water was very low and if the water is low, this beat is very good. The Tweed is the best salmon river that we have in England and Scotland.

The salmon fishing here is a very important part of the local economy. Not only do we employ gillies, there are bed and breakfasts, the shops who sell rods and flies, even here in the village of Norham, the butcher sells his sandwiches. We get people from all over the country and the world to fish on the Tweed.

As for the vicar getting the first salmon caught in the first casting of the nets, Rob adds: Thats a bit of a problem because Im a vegan, but a salmon has never been caught yet in all the years weve being doing this, so I think its probably okay. But if one were to be caught, Id either give it to someone else or put it back in the river.

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