On this page I want to sing an ode to the Atlantic salmon in Ireland. Salmon fishing is not the same without an appreciation of the salmons’ story.
They begin life in our Irish rivers and streams,
spawned in the oxygen rich gravel beds. The fry that survive become ‘parr’
which look just like small brown trout. Soon they undergo a transformation,
turning silver and then they are called ‘smolts’.
The smolts follow an
instinctual drive to head downstream making their way to the sea, eventually
finding their way to the rich feeding grounds of the Norwegian Sea, where they
feast on shrimp, krill and fish. After a winter at sea they are known as ‘grilse’
and they begin the epic journey back home to spawn in the same streams in which
they were born.
Larger salmon which have spent longer periods at sea are known
as ‘springers’ returning to Ireland in and around spring time. We enjoy some of
the best spring salmon runs in Western Europe here in Ireland.
fishing means presenting salmon that will not eat once back in fresh water,
with well presented baits to entice them to strike anyway, hungry or not. When
you clean out a salmon caught in freshwater, you will find no food in its
stomach. The voracious feeding they enjoyed at sea has conditioned them for the
challenging journey back to the ‘redds’, where they will spawn, completing an
awe inspiring cycle, having leapt up steep waterfalls along the way.
Netting a salmon at Cong. The excitement is palpable.
mesmerizing to sit by a waterfall and watch these energetic, determined and
powerful creatures take to the air to overcome whatever obstacle the river
presents them with!
When I landed my first shining fresh run salmon following
an exciting battle which lasted half an hour, I knelt there at the river back
absorbed in wonder and admiration, internally debating whether to return this
noble fish to continue his journey upriver or to knock him on the head and
bring him home to my kitchen. I chose the latter option, but it was a difficult
speaking the runs of grilse start around June, varying slightly from river to river. The ‘springers', start to enter rivers early
in the season, hence their name.
Fresh run fish that haven’t been in the river
for too long, are the most likely to take a bait, and are the best quality fish
with ‘springers’ being larger than ‘grilse’. ‘Springers’ can grow very big,
having fed on the plentiful bounty of the cold arctic waters for a prolonged
Cong River, an excellent spot for salmon fishing. Ashford Castle in the distance.
In fact, there are already some
‘springers’ making their way upriver before spring has truly sprung. The River
Drowes in County Donegal opens the Irish salmon season on January 1st
and the season continues until late September with every fishery specifying its
own dates and conditions.
longstanding Irish record salmon is a 57lb fish caught in 1870, but today’s
fish are a lot smaller. Every so often fish of over 20lb are caught, but these
are not as plentiful as in the glory days. My own record is 12lb, an experience
I will never forget.
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Warmest regards, Colm and Susanna
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