These frame style line baskets were used all around the coast of Scotland for line fishing. Sometimes they were made quite roughly of willow, as can be seen in examples of ones used in crofting areas of the west coast.
This example is from Lewis and there is an example from Skye in the gallery. In other areas, like villages on the east coast, where fishing was the main income for families, line sculls were often more finely made. More recently rattan was used instead of willow.
As Linda Fitzptrick tells us in her article there are two types of line fishing. Sma’line or small line fishing was done in inshore waters in the winter between herring and gartlin (great line) seasons. The line could be up to a mile long and had up to1200 hooks. It was usually the women who were responsible for baiting their husbands line with shell fish or small fish. As the line was baited it was coiled in the basket with layers of grass between the line to prevent it from catching as it was fed out at sea.
The sculls were oval frame baskets, with gaps for handles at the sides that were usually shallower at one end to make it easier to feed the line out. The design however varied from region to region.
Some sculls like those that you can see being used in the picture of Auchmithie were nearly flat at one end and just slightly raised at the other. Another scull form was similarly very shallow, and was known as the Gourdon or the Arbroath scull. This has a bent wood frame mirroring the almost engineered quality of Arbroath rips. Its base is set with wooden struts, possibly to keep the scull off the ground so it would last longer.
These finer rattan woven sculls probably replaced willow ones in the 20th century. Rattan is stronger and lasts much longer than willow even if it keeps getting wet.
The shallow sculls used in this area contrast with the sculls used in Cromarty and Portnockie which were shorter but deeper at both ends.
Liz Balfour explained that there was always a reason for the design of baskets and the different designs of these sculls was probably to do with the type of boats used. Most line sculls used on the East coast were somewhere in between these extremes. For example others in the Anstruther Fisheries Museum were quite deep at one end but nearly flat at the other. Other places like Pittenweem had sculls that were made all of wood.
It seems that similar sculls were also used for the gratlin or great line fishing before large stake and strand baskets became popular for this purpose. Gratlin fishing took place in deeper waters further offshore, when fishing for bottom fish like plaice and haddock. These lines could be 15 miles long and have up to 5000 hooks on them. They were baited by the men while at sea with small fish that they caught on their way out.
Before being baited the lines needed to be stored unbaited in the sculls. To prevent the hooks getting tangled in the line they were stored by fixing the hooks over a thick rope or piece of cork that was fixed round the edge of the scull.
by Julie Gurr
See alsoFrom Creels to Quarter Crans: the form and function of baskets used by the Scottish fishing community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries