Back to the blog after being away. Every year I get up to Donegal for a week with the family, this really is my favourite place in the world, beaches all around, forests, hills and of course plenty of rivers, streams and amazing hill lochs. The fishing was strange this July, there didn’t seem to be any salmon holding in the usual places, the great pools that usually have a good stock of salmon seemed to be vacant, despite several drops of fresh water, more than enough for good angling chances the river just seemed different this year. A few fresh fish would arrive with every tide, unless you saw them you would swear there wasn’t a fish in the river, but if you found them, got in front of them they were certainly keen to take the fly.
Fishermen are forever saying that its not like it used to be, starting to feel that way even myself sometimes.. The sea trout fishing this area was once famous far was nonexistent this year, I didn’t see one single fish! It wasn’t that long ago that we would have encountered a few each night, as ever, many things play on your mind as to what is the reason for the downfall. Fish farms? More predators inland and around the estuaries? Has the angler overfished them? Something is definitely going on. One big problem I feel is right on the horizon and its going to have a huge impact over the next few years across all of Ireland.
Forestry! The pine forests that were planted all those years ago for the timber industry are almost at their harvesting level across the North West. Every time I get over now there is another patch being harvested. A wasteland left exposed to the elements and often in the nursery grounds of our rivers. Once the trees come down the water washes tonnes of silt into the rivers, clogging the spawning gravels making good habitat even harder to come by. Much of the terrain in the west of Ireland is rough, unfit for farming so you can see why they were ideal sites for forestry. With drainage improving and the harvesting of this crop we are seeing the rivers rise higher than ever and fall so fast you almost have to start fishing as soo as the rain begins to ease. Perhaps a buffer strip along the waterways with indigenous trees and grasses would be a way to soak filter out the silt and hold back a bit of the water?
Drainage alone is having a huge impact on all the waterways. With landowners wanting to make use of what they have. But where things better back when there was less pressure being put on the land? Any of the roads that take you past an traditional bog will show you how the land used to be managed. These bogs are like giant sponges, reservoirs of water, look into an old cut and you will see the water lying in the troughs, seeping away slowly into the rivers, being filtered out by the moss and grasses leaving that lovely stain all Irish anglers appreciate. A big problem facing the spawning gravels is the modern method of cutting turf. When the industrial revolution caught up with the turf industry I am sure it was a welcome sight and saved hours, days and even weeks of hard labour. The machine cut turf essentially takes 18’ out of the bog in one big swoop,”clear cutting” the bog leaving nothing but dirt. Some of these sites are right up in the headwaters of Irelands most famous rivers. Take a look at the photo below and you can see the raw earth and all the drains leading away from it. This particular site is on top of a mountain in one of the wettest parts of Ireland. Tonnes of silt are sitting waiting to be swept away, into the drains and into the feeder streams.
Sediment is a natural occurrence in any river, but its this mass injection of loose material that ruins the gravels, turning the spawning beds into the equivalent of concrete for the fish to try making a redd in. Are we losing our salmon before the journey can even begin?
Is there a solution? We certainly are not going to be able to stop the timber industry, we can’t force people back into the bogs with a turf spade, do we keep loosening up the gravels in the spawning sites each year or is it a matter of planting in a buffer zone along the drains, ditches and streams.