My earliest memory of The Sheen River was as a child being carried by my grandfather around the roughty circle to see the salmon in the Sheen Bridge pool, and I do mean carried as I spent a lot of the journey up on his shoulders. I also remember just beyond the bridge there was a draft netting station and the men were hauling in the net, there was so many salmon in it that they asked grandda to help them pull it in. I never in my young life saw so many fish. I mentioned this to Dave Burke one time because Dave used to work draft netting for the estate in the summer season. Dave told me that one year they caught so many salmon that there was a glut of fish in the markets and prices fell to nothing. Keith Johnston’s father, who was the estate manager, stopped the netting altogether as it was not profitable to continue at it. That will tell you how many salmon were there in times past. I remember the arrival of the U.D.N., that terrible fungal disease that attacked the salmons skin when they came into fresh water. It was disgusting and shocking to see all the sick and dying fish in the Sheen Bridge pool, their bodies covered with open sores and clouds of fungus hanging off them with those that had died stuck in the runs under the bridge. I will never forget as long as I live that awful scene of death and decay. As far as I am concerned salmon numbers have never truly recovered from that environmental disaster. Plus of course, the government at that time issuing an enormous amount of drift net licenses which meant intercepting the salmon shoals at sea with walls of minofilament nets.
You had the poacher usually a local character about, whose escapades of pulling the wool over the bailiffs eyes were a source of much merriment. But all he poached were a few fish for the family table or possibly a pint or four. The damage he caused to fish stocks was minimal. Take the comparison of the modern poacher whose methods mirror the interceptory nets and is not happy unless he empties a pool of fish, not for food or for his family but for monetary gain with it seems a ready market of hotels, restaurants and indeed door to door selling. The Sheen, as I have reported in conjunction with all our local rivers, is close to tipping point where enough fish will not spawn to keep the numbers up, you may not be aware that if everything works out right for salmon hardly five percent will return to their river of birth. They need help protection and care
The plans of Kerry County Council and the new All Ireland Water, who want to abstract water from our rivers, would be another nail in the salmons coffin. It made me proud that, despite all the obstacles placed in their path, the local community on The Sheen had the guts to take them on and defeat them in a court of law. Now with a bit of common sense in their approach to managing the salmon resource by the Sheen Falls Lodge, thanks to new manager Patrick Hanley, the future looks a bit more positive for the river. A sensitive approach is required by management, stake holders and anglers alike because despite the drift net buyouts closing the sheen draft netting and control of fish catches by a tagging system the sad truth is that the total allowable catch on the river is approximately ninety salmon for the season, a number that would have been in one haul of the net in days gone by.
I hope that what I write is not seen as a lecture by me. Tourist anglers ask why have salmon numbers collapsed so much. The main culprit is us, human activities such as farming, domestic, pollution and industrial, and bye catches of the deep sea fishing fleet. Gravel and water abstraction hydro schemes, the list is never ending. Couple that with natural predators such as seals, cormorants and mink are no help. So there you have it is it a big ask to rebuild out salmon runs, yes it is. Can it be done? With the positive attitude of all concerned hopefully yes, but it will take time, perseverance, and patience.
The stocked lakes Barfinnihy and Lough Fada are now open for fishing and by all reports the catches are great with some big rainbows being caught. The lake permits are the same price as last year and, as such, are good value.
The brown and sea trout fishing is still slow as it is very early in the year yet but expect improvement by the next issue of The Kenmare News.
The salmon fishing is also slow with a few fish in Sneem River and a couple off The Roughty, better times ahead with luck.
The sea fishing is not good with several anglers telling me that the shorelines are wrecked, sea weed and all gone after the Winter storms. Better news in the future.