South Connemara Fisheries Report 2017
There are 4 main systems from Furbo to near Rossaveal in South Connemara namely the Knock, Boluisce, Owenriff (Inverin) and Crumlin systems.
In times past, there were substantial stocks of salmon and sea trout running into these systems but for a variety of reasons, in the past 2-3 decades, these stocks have suffered a serious decline. The main causes are from a lack of marine survival and to a lesser extent, problems in the headwaters of these systems.
In the marine environment, the number of returning salmon has declined from 25-30 per 100 smolts in the 1960’s and ’70, to 3-5 salmon per 100 smolts returning today. There would appear to be a number of factors at work, ranging from warmer sea water temperature, increasing acidification, difficulty in locating former feeding grounds which have moved with colder currents to more northern latitudes, over fishing of other food fish stocks and diseases and lice from salmon farms.
Within these river systems, up until recently, there has been a lack of active day to day management. Large stands of coniferous forestry were permitted in the head waters. With their maturity, there is poor water quality arising from acidification due to the effects of the tall trees taking salts from the air, shading and canopy affecting insect/ fish life and rainfall on the acidic pine needles flowing into the streams. The water is now highly detrimental to the survival of salmon and sea trout.
Besides water quality issues, there is a continuing need for good spawning habitat and the input and maintaining of suitable gravel there. Due to the on- going construction of wind turbines in the Boluisce headwaters within the Cloosh valley, this important fishery development work had been carried out by Inland Fisheries Ireland and for the past two years has been on hold. With the recommencement of wood harvesting from 2018, development works can be restarted. Another factor affecting water quality is the run-off from both domestic and commercial turf cutting which can cause spawning beds to be covered in turf silt and the destruction of spawning beds and the loss of this important habitat.
After many years when these fisheries were closed to the public, I had the opportunity since 2015 to lease a number of them and offer angling to the general public. At the start, angling effort was light, as was to be expected and, as we, both myself and anglers, sought to access the quality of the fisheries and some-what to our surprise, we learnt we had a rare jewel as we will see below.
So how was 2017?
Firstly it has to be said that weather conditions on the whole did not suit and was a difficult year for angling. The spring was cold with north and easterly winds which kept fly hatches down, there was a dry early summer period from mid May into June and was then followed by daily showers from mid July to the end of September which never let the loughs drop their water levels and did not seem to allow the fish to settle.
The early season was spent fishing the nearby Lough Corrib and angling activity was slow with poor hatches of the early Duckfly in late March, patchy Olives in April, followed by hit and miss hatches of Mayfly.
There was a lack of consistency and the only bright spot was the catching of a 4lb wild brown trout in Mogan’s bay in the middle Corrib during the height of the Mayfly season. Our angling clients had mixed results so thoughts were turning to sea trout fishing on the South Connemara systems.
I put a small boat on Knockalough on the Knock system for the first time this year. This system has a conservation limit of 132 for salmon but is not reaching this and is closed for salmon angling. It is unlikely to open in anything like the near future, if at all, given the sad state of wild salmon stocks and their many problems.
The weather conditions during the summer, with high water most of the time in late summer, were poor, fishing pressure was light and only a few small brown trout and one sea trout of 2.5lbs to report.
This system needs careful care and attention but could be brought back if the installation of wind turbines, due to commence shortly, leads to access to spawning areas, the input of gravel and the clearing, on a permanent basis, of the coniferous forestry in the headwaters. Some regulations will have to be brought in by government to regulate the large amount of turf cutting so that the waters are not polluted by the silt laden run-off from the many domestic and commercial holdings being actively worked along its banks.
Next is the Boluisce system. Some of its fishery owners, as a conservation measure, have asked people not to fish its waters as it is closed for salmon angling, not reaching its conservation limit which is 594 salmon. There has been welcomed ongoing development works, carried out by Inland Fisheries Ireland, for the past number of years, namely the installation of a fish counter at the mouth of the river at Spiddal and spawning gravel inputted at the top of the system near Seecon and other tributaries. There has also been more intense protection policy with positive results leading to court appearances and fines for offenders poaching the system.
During the early summer from mid May to end of June there was a dry spell and a number of wild fires in the Cloosh valley which has 2,400 hectares of coniferous forestry, the largest concentration in the country. It is believed to have a major negative impact on the water quality of the system and the resultant loss of a large amount of valuable spawning and nursery areas of the system. The fires destroyed 800 hectares and Coillte is finalising plans to replant 400-500 hectares over the coming 4-5 years, if permitted.
Owenriff (South Connemara)
Moving westwards, we come to the Owenriff (Inverin) not to be confused with the Owenriff at Oughterard. It is mainly a lough system with small rivers flowing between them and rises high up in the Connemara bog complex. It used to get a run of summer salmon and sea trout when high waters allowed them to progress up the system but due to pollution poaching and lack of active management has meant that this system now holds only stocks of small brown trout. I had only a few people fish the upper loughs which are a bit of a walk ( ½ an hour each way) across bog but are ideal for the person seeking solitude and the wilderness. I hope to put a small boat on the bigger lough in the future.
And so onto the Crumlin system.
In the past this was a private and noted sea trout fishery, mainly fished by the owner and his family and friends. Since changing hands almost 20 years ago, the present owner had concentrated on the neighbouring Costelloe system and so until I leased it in 2015, no-one knew how the Crumlin was performing. The spawning beds had been well developed and the water quality was good with little forestry in its headwaters but a large bog complex nearby which had some run off flowing into the system from major turf cutting.
Because of the lack of angling opportunities in South Connemara, there was little or no anglers with recent knowledge of the various systems and the effects of inshore salmon farms had decimated sea trout stocks for the past 30 years including those stocks in Galway Bay. However in the past number of years, the number of salmon farms in the near vicinity had declined and the government had forced the operators of salmon farms in mid Connemara to improve the control of lice, particularly in the spring period when sea trout and salmon smolts were leaving rivers and heading out to sea.
The result of this improvement of lice control meant that sea trout stocks in South Connemara systems, like Boluisce, Crumlin and Costelloe and Fermoyle have staged a recovery.
On Crumlin, in 2015, I had 5 rod days and 13 sea trout. In 2016, a major development, with 16 rod days but 79 sea trout of varying sizes, the best 7lbs. There were unbelievable days, like of yore, with the few anglers fishing getting 10,12 and 15 sea trout in a day.
So onto the 2017 angling season. There had been greater angling pressure later in the angling season in 2016 with late August and September providing the best catches. So too this year and while the number of anglers was higher at 43 rod days, the number of sea trout caught was lower at 35 with the best 4lbs.However I believe that two factors were at work in 2017.
Firstly we had a dry late spring in mid May and June when the smolts would need water to go to sea and secondly we had continuous high lough levels from mid July to the end of the angling season, the sea trout seemed to be unsettled with many fish rising to the fly but not taking it and there was more above average size fish and less smaller finnock than the previous year and this is reflected in catch statistics for 2017.
Overall, anglers got to fish the waters of South Connemara in 2017 and we look forward to more anglers and more fish in 2018.
Brian E. Curran Ireland West Angling 8th November 2017