Two hundred years ago life in Connah’s Quay revolved around the riverside.
The town crest shows a wooden sailing ship and three salmon, reflecting the importance of the River Dee.
Most families had some maritime link, whether fishing, working on the sailing ships and steamers, loading and unloading freight between railway and ships at the docks, working in the shipyards, chandlers shops or the shipping companies.
In the early 20th century there were many fishermen in Connah’s Quay and the stretch of river was renowned for its salmon fishing. It was a hard life – the river was notoriously difficult to navigate, with its shifting sands and uncertain weather. It took the lives of many fishermen.
Whole families got involved, with young children helping to land the nets and sons working alongside their fathers from an early age. If fishermen were lost at sea, their womenfolk sometimes took on the work too.
The opening of John Summers Steelworks widened the opportunities for alternative employment. By the 1960s more than 10,000 were employed at the plant.
By then, few people fished full-time but many continued to fish on a part-time basis, working shifts at John Summers and fishing on their days off.
The Rock was the base for many of these fishermen who moored their boats below and met in a small building on the top.
The salmon fishing season ran from March 3-August 31 with flounders and shrimps the main autumn catch. January and February were spent around the Rock, repairing and repainting the boats, knitting or mending nets, tarring them and spreading them to dry.
Nowadays, a visitor passing through Connah’s Quay town centre might be puzzled at the ‘Quay’ in its name as there is little to remind them of its maritime heritage. However, down at the riverside, it is a different story.
Although few earn their living from fishing now and it is much more peaceful without the working docks and railway, numerous boats are still moored at the water’s edge, including small wooden fishing boats. Boat lovers painstakingly restore old boats and there are usually one or two people fishing with rods.
The Quay watermen are keen to reconnect the town with the riverside and to celebrate the stories of the river and those who worked on it.
Keith Marland, chairman of the Quay Watermen’s Association, has fished all his life and was one of the last local fishermen to hold a salmon licence. He no longer fishes for a living but remains passionate about it.
He reminisces: “It was physically hard work but I really enjoyed it. I love the challenge of fishing, using your natural instincts to read the estuary. You need to be there every day to begin to understand the changing channels, the tides and weather.
“During the salmon season I would be out seven days a week. For four days I was salmon fishing, working for 17 hours each day to catch both tides – going home to sleep for a few hours between the tides then out again, with just three to four hours sleep. On the other days I was shrimping or fishing for flukes and other fish.
“There’s nothing quite like being out in a small boat, watching a magnificent sunrise or sunset, looking at the beauty of a few feathers floating on the water, or enjoying the peace and silence. I feel privileged to have seen things that others will never get a chance to see.”
There is always lots of banter among fishermen and plenty of humorous tales. Do you fish or were any of your family fishermen? The Quay Watermen would love to hear your ‘fishermen’s tales’. FROM THE EVENING LEADER.