In search of the elusive brown trout

FEW people forget the primal thrill of landing their first fish.

They can tell the year, the river bank, the exact time of day, the precise weight and who they were with.

And, somehow, the thrill seemed greater when the prized catch was a wild brown trout, always elusive and tricky to lure from the water.

A clever, even intelligent, fish, you might say.

Brown trout has huge appeal for Irish anglers who feel compelled to protect it from pollution and predators. They are, therefore, becoming increasingly concerned about the appearance of coarse fish, pike especially, to many traditional trout and salmon fisheries.

Only recently in Galway there was an outcry following the introduction of predatory pike to a famous salmon and trout system, near Oughterard. A cull immediately got underway to remove pike from the affected lakes.

Curraghalicky Lake, outside Dunmanway, Co Cork, was once well known as a natural brown trout fishery, but local anglers claim they haven’t caught a trout there for several years. They believe coarse fish are taking over.

The most recent Angling in Ireland Guide, published by the South Western Regional Fisheries Board, includes Curraghalickey in its coarse angling section, listing pike, perch, bream, rudd and bream-rudd hybrids among the available fishing. But there’s no mention of trout.

Pensioner Bob Bryan is the person living closest to this lake, just across the road.

He has been known to go out and catch a trout for his breakfast, or late in the evening with a black and silver fly.

“I caught my first trout in the lake at the age of seven, but I haven’t caught one there for last five, or six, years.

It’s very hard to get a trout there now. It was great one time. We used to have busloads of anglers coming from Cork, but we don’t see them any more,” Bob lamented.

The lake has a little pier and picnic area and is easily accessible to anglers, but trout anglers’ boats that were regularly berthed there a few years ago are no longer to be seen.

Anglers in the area fear that pike have also entered other fisheries, with some being caught the upper stretches of the River Bandon, for instance.

How pike and other coarse fish got into in Curraghalicky Lake is a bit of mystery around west Cork. Coarse anglers have been blamed by some people, though there seems to be no evidence to prove such allegations. The South Western Regional Fisheries Board says the introduction of coarse fish has not been in its policy for at least 20 years.

However, the board’s chief executive, Aidan Barry, says parts of Co Cork, including the Lee at Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid, have coarse fisheries which are valuable for tourism. It’s the sort of fishing that attracts coarse anglers from Britain and the Continent.

“The policy of the board is to retain native fisheries where we have them. But we try to use whatever fish stocks are in a river (coarse, or game) to the maximum benefit of local communities,” he adds.

In the sixties and seventies, bodies such as the Inland Fisheries Trust introduced coarse fishing which, it has to be said, is now a top angling attraction in many parts of the country and is actively promoted by the Central Fisheries Board (CFB). What’s more, pike can be fished all year round. Some experts even maintain pike fishing is better in winter, which suits the tourism industry more.

In contrast to coarse fishing, bringing home a brown trout and throwing it on the pan is something that appears seared into the Irish psyche. Many typical Irish anglers have no interest in pike, but the CFB reports a huge increase in the number of Irish pike anglers.

Meanwhile, it is clear that problems concerning pike in trout and salmon fisheries are not confined to Co Galway, where anglers were recently outraged after discovering pike in Lough Bofin and Lough Agraffard, two lakes in the Owenriff system which never had pike before.

When fisheries officers investigated, they discovered a significant number of juvenile pike in the lakes showing that spawning had taken place. The Western Regional Fisheries Board warned that anyone caught transporting live fish, or introducing fish to lakes, would be liable to prosecution.

Striking a balance between the needs of our traditional game anglers and those of the visitors looking for coarse fishing is a formidable challenge. But there’s a growing feeling that tourism is winning out.

In its website, the CFB says Ireland boasts thousands of lakes and several thousand kilometres of pike-bearing rivers and canals which are largely underutilised. ‘Ireland has quality pike fishing to offer the visiting angler and a supporting tourist infrastructure which will help you to catch that pike of a lifetime,’ the CFB promises.


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