Category Archives: Salmon

Sligo Salmon

Well after spending the past 6 weeks moving house and waiting what felt like forever for broadband to be installed, I can finally write a another blog about all things fishy down this end of the country. One of the plus sides to the new house is the great Salmon River that flows 15 yards from my front door. The river in question is called the Ballisodare, and for its length of 4 miles, it meanders through pasture land and woods before hitting the town and cascading for half a kilometre down a series of magnificent waterfalls more akin to somewhere like the Zambezi than a limestone river in Ireland.

pippa 289

 The river is a true phenomenon and seems to be doing the exact opposite of most  other fisheries in this country. Before 1846, there were no Salmon running the river  as the falls at Ballisodare were impassable. Then the Cooper estate who owned the  rights to the river stepped in and developed Europe’s first fish ladders and seeded the  headwaters with brood stock from the Rhine and Moy among other rivers. The rest is  history as they say, and the river today is enjoying some of the best Salmon fishing in  Europe.

 The river is allowed to open for spring salmon fishing in February, but over the years  the forward thinking club have held back opening day to May to let the early fish  get into the river system. For the past couple of years it opened on April 1  day for some but for the lucky anglers who made the journey this year, they were  rewarded with 12 fresh run spring Salmon. The first fish of the season on the fishery  was caught by local angler John Connolly, weighing 6lbs 9oz and was taken on a  worm. The first fish caught on the fly was hooked by visiting angler Dennis Barrett,

 N.Ireland, who took the fish of 6lbs 6oz on a Willie Gunn. The heaviest catch of the  day was a fine 13lbs 1oz salmon caught by Francis Kearns, while the second heaviest  was taken by Richie Watters and weighed 12lbs for the spring run. In the past week  alone there has been a further 30 Salmon have been recorded, with nearly half of these  returned.

 The second Saturday of April saw myself get a chance to fish this wonderful river.  With most of my tackle geared towards coarse and carp angling, a bit of research had  to be done on fly patterns and to sort a suitable worm rod if the fly failed. I thought  I would have been competing with a lot of anglers seeing as it was Easter weekend,  but I was lucky enough to have a lovely stretch of river just below the town to myself  for most of the day, and what a fantastic looking place it is. Being just a couple of hundred yards from the sea, fresh fish arrive with each tide, so you always have a chance.

 The day in question had a severe north wind channelling right up the river which tested my limited fly casting skills. The club on the river promote catch and release, but this is only really possible when fishing the fly, as salmon do tend to swallow the bait when fishing the worm, therefore if you do catch one on this method your days fishing is over as to protect stocks. My plan for the day was to brave the elements with the fly even though I was having a torrid time trying to present my cascade shrimp imitation correctly with a 6# rod. I wanted to have as much time there as possible, even if that meant I might not catch a fish.

 After a while of thrashing the water to foam, thankfully the watchful eyes of the river staff and manager of Ballisodare fishing club Dermot Glennon came down to put me right with my casting and showed me where one of these spring fish might be lying and ready to have a nip at my fly.  5 hours came and passed all to quickly and with a prior engagement with fiancé and child looming, I set up one of my Harrison 2lb test rods, usually used for bolt-rigging for tench, with a couple of light bullets and a size 8 hook that looked like medusa’s head after I had crammed as many worms on as possible.

 Not 5 minutes of flicking the worms into a nice looking pool a sharp pull of a fish got the line whizzing from the clutch on my reel and tench rod doubled over. I have caught a few salmon over the years, but the strength of this fish in the fast flowing water was as thrilling as hooking any carp. A couple of minutes of heroic acrobatics

 from the fish and she was coolly netted by Dermot. At just a shade over 5lb it was one  of the smaller fish to be caught recently, but a fine fresh one with sea lice on its flanks  and a bar of silver. With tags inserted and pictures taken I sat down with the lads in  the hut for a cuppa tea and some talk of the river.

spring salmon ballisodare

Over the past few seasons, the short river has been producing well over 2000 fish a year and the numbers going through the fish counter are exceeding expectations.Although the river gets a great run of spring fish, it is the massive grilse run that starts in June that really has anglers flocking from far and wide. With the grilse averaging between 3-7lb, the sport can be hectic when the main run has started with multiple catches possible.

The fishing on the river is divided into two sections, the first being the butt of the falls, which is run on two sessions a day, from 6am to 2pm and from 2pm to 10pm, sunlight permitting. Above the main falls you have some lovely streamy water for  ½ kilometre up to the town then the river widens and flows with a more laid back  character, slower water with riffles, glides and some nice deep pools. The fishing  here extends upstream to where the Owenmore and Unshin river join to form the  Ballisodare river. Fishing here is from 7am to 10pm and you can fish right through  the system bar below the falls. Living so close I wish I could fish everyday there, but I  don’t think the family would be too impressed with me disappearing everytime I see a  Salmon jump from the bedroom window. So a stroll down the river in the evenings is enough to keep me happy when I am not casting for a any fish.

pippa salmon

2013 Hopes and Dreams

This is the time of year when I am either carelessly braving the harshest elements the Irish weather has to throw at me, trying my luck at old Esox, or sat at home beside the fire, going through my angling diaries and excitedly planning my targets for the year to come. I think all of us have some targets at the start of the fishing calendar, be it to visit old haunts that have been kind to us over the years, or to visit new places we have read or heard about or found ourselves through meticulously scouring ordinance survey maps.

Other targets may be to catch a new species, beat a personal best or to catch bumper hauls or target specimens of various fish. Everyone has their own targets and plans, and the thought of getting out away from the hassles of everyday life to attempt them are what all us anglers yearn for. I myself have been fishing in Ireland close to 30 years, and was lucky enough to have been brought out at a young age like most young kids around Dublin, to fish the canals by my father and cut my teeth at catching all range of coarse species.

80s canal

I remember our annual holiday in the 80’s when we would head up to Cavan for a couple of weeks and fish the hundreds of waters which then and some even now never see another angler. Sometimes we would hit the jackpot and catch some plump wild tench or big bags of bream; sometimes we were not so fortunate. However the memories were always fond and gave me lifelong love for the sport and a desire to spend as much time on the bank as possible.

Since those earlier years I have been lucky enough to fish truly beautiful waters all over the country and have learnt invaluable angling techniques from some of the great anglers I have had the fortune to fish with. I am by no means an expert in any sector of angling, more a jack of all trades. However I do think what I have learned over the years has given me a valuable insight to the areas of angling I tend to concentrate on these days. But show me an angler who knows everything and you will be showing me someone who has possibly lost the passion for angling.

Looking back on last year, my angling conquests were very limited. My fiancé and I were lucky to give birth to a beautiful little girl, who will know doubt be joining me on my fishing trips in the years to come. The time constraints of having a new born along with going back to college to study fisheries management left me with little time on the bank. So any angling time was utilised and had to be planned to a tee.

My pike fishing never really took off for some reason although I was concentrating on a rock hard lough of massive proportions. It seemed that the other few anglers that had been on the lake had been having it just as tough, so I didn’t count myself as too unlucky. There are not many better places in this land to spend a crisp winter day blanking, and every day out on this great sheet of water  is a learning curve for future sessions.

A couple of days on some local small waters redeemed my faith in the species and although I didn’t break the 20lb barrier, I did have a couple of doubles. I also got to witness them close up as they were in the process of spawning, a sight I never tire of. At these times I don’t even bring the rods with me, instead some polaroids, binoculars and a camera and marvel at nature at its best. After catching a pike at the end of March that a few weeks previous would have been as full as a bingo bus, but had now obviously been through the rigours of spawning and was as empty as a pub on Good Friday,I thought I’d better leave them to recover and set my sights on my summer quarry.

Spawned out pike

Spawned out pike

Tench, one of my favourite summer species, are not so abundant in Sligo where I have been living for the past few years, or so I thought, but I will get into that in another article. However there are a couple of lakes close to me that are worth having a bash and usually come up trumps for a few fish, even if they are not of record proportions.

As usual I started out for them a little early, but getting those misty mornings in and seeing nature waking up gives me a new lease of life and I know they are not to far away.  In the coming weeks I did have some cracking morning sessions bagging up to 15 fish in a short sitting, and it is always nice to get a bend in the rod. But after the initial few sessions of bagging up on the smaller ones, my mind as always kept racing, and thoughts of travelling further afield in search of some bigger specimens was the only thing going through my mind.

roscommon tench 2

There are literally hundreds of lakes within an hour’s drive from me that will produce such fish, but as always with last year, time was limited to a few bivvy sessions for them, so I needed to make the best of the precious time I had with them. In these cases no matter how much you prepare to the last minute detail, nature does rules the roost, but I did manage to get some and I also earmarked some waters that will be receiving more attention in the coming year.

The rest of the year saw me flitting around between doing some salmon and sea trout fishing on my local rivers, which have been getting some superb runs of fish. I also did some flirting with the elusive mullet that are found down the road from me and managed to winkle one out, and boy are they great fun on light tackle.

sligo salmon

My big bream hunt didn’t quite go to plan, but I was rewarded instead with masses of roach and hybrids, so who am I to complain? So I am here writing this on New Years Eve and looking at my list of targets for the coming season. Well if I wanted to do them all, I would take a decade, so I have had to whittle them down to achievable targets.

The next couple of months are going to be spent after my old adversary the pike to see if I can make amends for  last year. Reports coming from around the country don’t sound too good lately with the big girls not going on the feed. But Santa did come a few hours early to a friend of mine Mark on Christmas Eve. He went out with a couple of baits to get some time away from the Christmas madness and managed a beauty of 29.3lb.

I have a couple of lakes and rivers that are good for a big girl booked in my diary and I also have some unfinished business with that big water to see if I can break her secrets. I know they are there and they don’t give themselves up easily, but we all love a challenge.


Talking of challenges, my next target is a few wily old carp which could be just rumours, have definitely not been caught in 40 years, but have been seen once or twice and certainly don’t live in a muddy little pool. From February onwards I am going to spend as many hours as my kind lady will allow in trying to tempt one of these mythical creatures onto my hair-rigged hook. A small baiting campaign is planned at first, and if I do get to see one of them, then I do think I have a chance of catching one of these fish which could be over 50 years old.  I am not expecting to topple any records, but to do battle with one of these myths that have straightened many a pleasure angler and match man’s hook would be an unbelievable achievement for me personally.

28lb Mirror

This project will be ongoing throughout the year though whilst I also target the other species on my hit list.  I will not be letting my beloved tench away without a fight this year. I will be revisiting some old spots and others that I know have the potential to do very big fish and I am definitely after a 7lber.

cfree tench

But my real excitement is for a group of lakes that I have been searching for over the past few years from some old maps and accent stockings. The unfished waters have been found and I can’t wait to be the first to wet a line on them. But as I said earlier, that is for another article.

With the big bream that eluded me last year also on my list, I think I have an itinerary that doesn’t sound that chocablock, but will need a lot of time, effort, persistence and a sprinkling of luck. Hopefully the rewards will be revealed on these pages. If I don’t succeed at least I will have had a bloody good time in trying.