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It’s Summertime – and the Fishing ain’t Easy!

The 2008 Salmon Fishing Season Report on
Blackwater Lodge Salmon Fishery on the Cork Blackwater.

Adapting a line from George Gershwin’s famous song,  Lodge proprietor Ian Powell looks at
the catch statistics and explains how changing tactics helped to ensure great catches.


Floods of this magnitude in summer are becoming a more regular occurrence.

Fishery Records Tumble in 2008!

2008 will long be etched in our memories as
three long-standing all-time records were beaten this year.

August Catch
The first was the total catch for August which was 422 of which 209 were released.
 The record had stood since 1992 and was 377.

One Day Catch
The second was the total catch for one day, which we broke on September 13 when no less than 55 salmon were caught for the day – 26 of which were released alive. The previous best day was 52 in August, 1992.

First Ever Salmon Caught
The third was the number of anglers who caught their first salmon.
This was 61 which beat the previous best of 52 in 1998. 
The number of first salmon caught expressed as a %age of the total rod days for the season 
was also the highest ever recorded at 3.25, beating the previous record of 2.9 in 1992.

 


Season Summary
2008 was actually a very good season. The total number of salmon caught was 1,024.  Of these, 527 were released alive.
This was the second highest total recorded in the last 10 years, and the eighth highest since 1986 (23 years).
There were so many stories of great experiences on the river this year that we could never recount them all.


The highlight was probably the Van de Laar party from Holland
who had just one day fishing guided by Glenda Powell. 
None had ever salmon fished before and four of them had never even fished. Starting fishing at almost mid-day, every single one of them had
caught their first salmon by 3pm., two of them had caught two each & even
the driver who was chauffeuring them for the day had caught one as well!


Then there was Fay Voysey-Moore & her son James from Devon
who were here for a week in September. Neither had ever caught a salmon before,
though were quite experienced anglers. It was Fay’s dream to come to Ireland to catch a salmon. And she did – 11 fish to 12 pounds for Fay and 10 for James.
Her dream came true in style!


Table 1. Catch Statistics by Month  1986 – 2008
This gives the actual numbers of fish caught by month, plus a number of averages.

YEAR

Feb.

Mar.

Apr.

May

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

TOTAL

1986

19

13

23

  6

  48

  87

207

347

  750

1987

   7

20

14

20

  43

  81

  74

120

  379

1988

10

18

17

43

293

383

315

409

1,488

1989

13

35

48

35

255

135

265

370

1,165

1990

13

28

22

31

  76

  34

  54

  97

  365

1991

  6

  7

18

40

  57

  75

  39

  86

  328

1992

   1

  6

  8

33

145

222

377

590

1,511

1993

15

18

26

53

255

280

150

367

1,164

1994

  8

14

23

82

255

130

147

218

  878

1995

  2

23

23

28

191

117

  44

190

  619

1996

  3

14

15

72

210

163

276

333

1,086

1997

  -

13

  8

24

184

140

138

326

  833

1998

  1

  3

10

25

160

296

268

352

1,115

1999

  3

15

17

41

129

  79

173

266

  723

2000

  1

  3

12

51

215

264

130

283

  958

2001

  2

Closed F&M

31

160

118

208

254

  773

2002

  2

  4

  6

  9

132

137

197

282

  769

2003

  3

13

  9

49

  80

162

  94

143

  553

2004

14

  8

22

23

  49

  86

353

524

1,079

2005

  5

  6

  6

29

  70

114

108

309

  647

2006

  1

17

38

39

  50

  61

  47

407

  660

2007

  1

  5

12

  8

  43

115

273

333

  804

                   

Average 1986-2007

  6

13

17

35

141

149

179

300

  848

10YA 1998-2007

  3

  7

13

31

109

143

185

315

  808

10YA 1999-2008

  4

  8

14

30

  95

125

201

322

  799

5YA 2003-2007

  5

10

17

30

  58

108

175

343

  749

5YA 2004-2008

  5

  8

18

24

  47

  99

241

398

  843

2008

 5

 4

14

22

 21

117

422

419

1,024

 

We can conclude from this:
- within the lottery that is spring fishing, catches appear to be holding their own.
  Our gut feeling would be that the spring run is improving slowly, but other factors such as   number of rods fishing and river conditions belie this fact.
- there is a continuing downward trend in number of fish caught in May & June.  Here again, number of anglers plays a very significant part.
  Decimation of the grilse run by the nets discouraged a large percentage of visiting anglers. Obviously, we are expecting a resurgence of grilse now the nets are gone -
  but with these fish being predominantly 1/1 (one river & one sea year), we will have to wait until 2010 for the progeny of the 2007 run to return.

Grilse and autumn fish
- It was blatantly obvious in 2008 that grilse run was even later, and in fact peaked at the end of August.  This helps to explain not only the good catch figures
  for August and September, but also the very poor ones for June, which was   when one would normally have expected these fish to run.
- Over time, there is a definite improvement in catches, especially in the latter part of the season. The 5YA & 10YA figures for August & September are growing steadily.
  However, this year, the majority of the fish caught in September were not autumn fish. Not withstanding the high water levels throughout the summer,
  we only started to see our fresh autumn run fish making an appearance in the lower beats on the last two days of the season.
  One angler on Beat 3 caught six sea-liced fish all on fly on the last day.

Obviously, catch statistics are affected by not only the number of  salmon returning to run the river, but also the rainfall & river height, plus of course the number of anglers actually fishing. In order to see the trends in recent years, here are a couple of tables of statistics.

Size of Fish

Table 3: Average Size of Fish by Month.

Year

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

Total

10YA 1997-2006 (Nets)

7.3

7.5

7.6

7.9

5.1

4.2

4.7

5.6

5.3

5YA 2002-2006 (Nets)

7.8

8.4

8.0

8.3

5.6

4.5

4.8

5.6

5.6

2007

6.3

7.6

9.6

8.0

6.9

5.7

5.9

6.2

6.2

2008

7.5

8.8

8.4

7.3

8.0

6.0

5.2

5.7

5.7

% change cf: 10YA

3

17

11

-7

57

43

10

2

7

% change cf:   5YA

-4

5

5

-12

43

34

9

2

2

% change cf:  2007

19

16

-13

-9

16

5

-12

-8

-8

The above table shows that the average size of the fish in June & July increased even further in 2008 relative to 2007 and the averages for the previous years.
In August & September, it was still above the 5YA & 10YA up to 2006 when the nets still operated, but fell below the 2007 figures.
This was due the late grilse and autumn runs.
 

Weather and River Conditions
We thought that 2007 was a wet summer, but there was actually 54% more rain fell in 2008 compared with 2007. 

Table 4:  Summer Rainfall in mm for 2007/8

Year

July

Aug.

Sept.

Total

2008

113

98

91

302

2007

106

56

34

196

This obviously reflected even more in the river height.
 

Table 5: Average River Height in cms by Month for Recent years

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

2008

168

89

84

49

35

39

113

98

91

2007

135

121

122

35

29

35

61

56

36

Average  2004-2006

121

75

73

66

59

39

30

39

58

2006

127

57

76

60

83

42

25

21

61

2005

130

74

56

74

53

40

33

27

37

2004

105

93

87

64

41

34

31

68

75


During early summer & the backend, we can observe the following trends:
- Lower levels in April, May & June for the last 2 years.
- Very much higher levels in July, August & September this year.
- In 2007, the levels were higher than normal in July & August, but not to the same degree.

This explains why last year, we had such excellent results on the fly in August & September, as the river came down to a lovely fly height during this period.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case in 2008, as the water level was just too high at this time for good fly-fishing.

Table 6: Percentage of Fly-caught Fish by Month & Year

Year

Feb.

March

April

May

June

July

August

Sept.

Total

10YA 1997-2006

2

22

17

21

23

31

16

11

17

2007

8

29

67

63

48

20

38

37

36

                   

% Change for
2007 cf: 10YA

285

31

304

192

111

-36

136

234

109

 

               

 

2008

40

25

71

14

10

38

8

19

18


Whilst we had a high percentage of fly-caught fish in July 2008, this was definitely not the case in August and September, when fly-fishing was virtually impossible.

Table 7: Average River Height by Month in cms

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sept

2008

168

89

84

49

35

39

113

98

91

2007

135

121

122

35

29

35

61

56

36

Average 2004-2006

121

75

73

66

59

39

30

39

58

2006

127

57

76

60

83

42

25

21

61

2005

130

74

56

74

53

40

33

27

37

2004

105

93

87

64

41

34

31

68

75


This shows that the river level throughout the summer in 2008 was way above normal.
The figures for 2007 were not nearly so high, which explains the difference in the number of fly-caught fish.

The extremely prolonged wet period required a change in our thinking – we had to re-write the fishing handbook,
so to speak. Normally, we would say that fly-fishing was best below 0.65m on the gauge, and spinning best below about 0.80m on the gauge. At heights greater than 1.10-1.20m, we would have not considered it worthwhile going out,  as the water was just too damn high. 

 


The highly successful French Silver Bullet spinners

 Fishing is a wonderful sport, and woe betide anyone
 who thinks he knows it all!  Fortunately, we were not
so dogmatic, and persisted fishing in what we would
have thought previously were impossible conditions.

 We were helped by having a new style spinner in stock
 in our shop – the French-made Silver Bullet –
 which fished superbly well in these high water conditions.

 It was with a black & silver 22g one of these
 with a very large blade that I hooked a huge fish
 on August 13th. last.

 I had refilled my spinning reel with 19lb. nylon
 just before leaving the Lodge, and fished our Beat No. 5
 - Inchinleama – on the lower river.

 In the early afternoon, I hooked a very large fish which
 I played for 25 minutes before the spinner came out!
 Four other anglers witnessed the event.
 The fish was reckoned to be in the 20-30lb class.
 That's fishing!

But what about the fly in high water – I hear you say?
Not quite such an easy proposition as  much of the river is best fly-fished by wading – which becomes next to impossible at gauge heights of 0.65m or more. 
We are however, looking to the future on this, and hope to be doing far more fishing with Shooting Head Lines,
which lend themselves much better to sunk line high water bank fishing.

Courses:
Glenda ran a course on Shooting heads last February with her fellow Loop No. 1 Pro Team colleague Thomas Bergren from Sweden with great success,
and they are planning a further two in the first week of February 2009. Contact the Lodge if you’d like to book a place.

Looking forward to 2009 and beyond……………………

The 2008 season started badly when we were given the news day before the 2008 season opened  that a spring quota and brown tag system
would be in operation up to May 12 on the Blackwater. This put off a lot of (Irish) anglers from taking out their licences in the spring.
The administration of the system blatantly didn’t work, and we are assured by the CEO of the Southern Board that it will not be in existence for 2009.

It’s about time that those in charge came to their senses, and made a change to our season.

If we genuinely wish to preserve spring salmon, the best way to do it is to delay the start of the season until March.
The bag limit per day also needs to be revised. The grilse running in June & July need to be conserved,
so a bag limit of one fish per day would make much more sense. 
With the bulk of the salmon now running in August and September, this would be the better time to allow a 3 fish per day limit.
Serious consideration should also be given to changing the season to allow us to fish on into October.
Many rivers in the UK close much later. The number of anglers who fish in October and November would help to provide a great economic boost
to an industry that has suffered greatly in the last eight years.
The Blackwater has superb late runs of fresh fish which could well be exploited – even if it was on a fly only and perhaps catch and release basis for a trial period.

But for now, the rods are stored away, and we can but sit and wait to see what the powers that be will have in store for us for the coming season.