A look at the fishing in Ireland

With An Rí Rá Montana Irish festival coming up this weekend I happened to think of a unique gift I received a couple years ago from Father Gregory Burns of Butte. Though I’m not a Catholic, Father Burns and I have had a cordial relationship going back a number of years. In fact, at the time I was retiring from my former career with the Social Security Administration, he suggested it was too bad that I wasn’t Catholic, as otherwise I’d be a good candidate for becoming a deacon in the Catholic Church.

A couple years ago, Father Burns gave me an Irish coin minted in 1963, which he’d acquired on one of his trips and thought that I should have it, because on one side of the coin it has the likeness of an Atlantic salmon. The other side has an Irish harp. As coin collectors know, the harp side is the obverse, or head side, and the salmon side is the reverse, or tail side. The coin is a “florin,” which was replaced in 1969 by the 10 pence coin.

The Atlantic salmon is depicted on the coin because the fishing industry, both sea fisheries and freshwater game fishing, is important to the Irish economy.

With Ireland’s cool, wet climate, there is a lot of water in Ireland and the various streams, rivers and lakes are the basis for a good fishery.

Many lakes have excellent pike fishing and every year anglers catch pike in the 20 to 30 pound range. These big pike, exactly the same as our American pike, are protected and it’s illegal to keep a pike of over 20 pounds if caught in a river or over 30 pounds if caught in a lake. The limit for pike is one per day. Unlike most angling in Ireland, anglers generally don’t need to pay for the privilege of pike fishing.

Brown trout are the native trout of Ireland and there are many miles of streams and rivers with a good trout fishery. In Ireland, most trout waters are privately owned or leased, so anglers have to pay for the privilege, though for a visitor, it may not be all that bad, as angling fees, according to the website, www.fishinginireland.com, run around €10 to €20 per day (that’s Euros, by the way). Some larger loughs (lakes) don’t require an access fee.

Ireland’s glamour fish are Atlantic salmon and sea trout and a large number of rivers and lakes are managed for salmon and sea trout. Sea trout are brown trout that have gone to sea, much like a steelhead, and return to fresh waters to spawn. Kirk Deeter, a field editor for Field & Stream magazine recently made a fishing trip to Ireland and wrote in the magazine’s blog site about fishing Lough Currane. Pointedly, he doesn’t tell of his personal angling success, though he does report on a ghillie (guide) who put a customer on an Irish record 13 pound, 5 ounce sea trout this past May.

Atlantic salmon have a couple peak periods of angling. In summer, grilse, or immature salmon, enter the rivers and offer excellent angling for three to six pound fish. Mature salmon return to Irish rivers beginning in autumn. A 57-pound salmon was caught in 1874 and it’s not likely that record will ever be broken. Only a few salmon of over 20 pounds are caught annually.

In addition to pike, trout and salmon there are also “coarse” fish in Ireland, with unfamiliar names to American anglers such as tench, roach, or rudd, plus the more familiar perch and carp. Though there are liberal bag limits for coarse fish, there are no closed seasons and most waters offer free fishing.

In addition to fresh water angling, there are abundant salt-water opportunities, whether it’s surfcasting along shorelines, or in small boats in sheltered bays and estuaries, or deep-sea fishing.

In short, there is a lot of good fishing to be had in Ireland, and for Irish visitors in Butte this weekend, I’d suggest they sample our fishing here in southwest Montana.