The putcher fisherman: Flying the flag for a dying way of life

Chris Cadogan, as the only remaining fisherman to practice this medieval method on the Severn, laments the decline of the industry he has dedicated his life to preserving. Tessa Waugh reports, photographs by Richard Cannon.

‘I’ve been a putcher fisherman all my life – it’s a way of life,’ declares Chris Cadogan, the sixth generation of his family to fish for wild salmon on the River Severn. He’s been plying his craft for 45 years.

Sadly, Mr Cadogan, who also farms sheep and cattle, is a lone voice in the wilderness, as he’s the only remaining fisherman practising this medieval tradition on the river.

‘We have a historic right to fish, but the authorities [English Heritage and the Environment Agency] are doing their best to restrict us by imposing quotas and reducing the season, which used to run from April to August and now runs from June,’ he explains.

The rationale for this decision is based on declining fish stocks, but this hasn’t stopped Mr Cadogan passing his knowledge on to his five sons and continuing to fly the flag for a dying way of life.

The ‘putchers’ are the conical baskets used to catch the fish – they were once woven from willow, but have been made from metal since the 1950s – and these are attached to frames that become submerged in water when the tide’s in.

Recommended videos for you

Putcher Fisherman

‘Twice a day, as the tide is ebbing out, we go down and check them and remove any salmon,’ explains Mr Cadogan.

This year, there are 400 baskets, but, in the past, there have been as many as 850, which can take up to four hours a day to check.

Any fish that Mr Cadogan catches go to the Severn and Wye Smokery, which sells them on to leading London hotels and restaurants, such as The Savoy and The Ritz. However, 2018 has been a particularly difficult year, possibly because of the drought.

‘We’ve caught about 60 so far and 70 is our quota. However, in the past, there were 10 different fishermen catching several hundred salmon apiece,’ laments Mr Cadogan.