The Biggest Fish Ever since 1986?
On September 15th. last, Tony Murtagh from Co. Dublin
landed & released a fish estimated at approx. 25lb. weight.
This huge fish was taken on spinner on the Island Stream on
Beat 6 - Lower Kilmurry. The fish was rather coloured but fin perfect and very well conditioned – being very deep bodied & broad-backed. It was quickly released without even a picture
 being taken as they had no camera & no weigh net!
It measured 96cm (38") long with an estimated girth of 50cm (20").
Some of our recently caught fish were measured for comparison:
A 13.5 pounder measured 81cm, a 15 pounder was 85cm
& a 19.1pounder 89cm.
The gillie that released this fish said that he could only just get his thumb & forefinger of both hands around the wrist of the tail, which was definitely much thicker than the 19 pounder.

 

Heaviest Weighed Fish of 2009 (left)

On September 18 last, Paul Rosier caught
the heaviest weighed fish on the season
on prawn at Gorman’s Pool on Kents – Beat No. 4.
The same day, they saw literally hundreds of fish
on the beat, including at least a dozen which they reckoned were the same size as the one he caught
– it was the only take of the day!

Heaviest First Ever Salmon of 2009 (right)

On September 8th., Belgian anglers
Guillaume Verlings  & Jean-Paul Hendricks
both caught their First Ever Salmon!

They were both taken on spinner on the Castle Flat
on Beat 3 - Ballinaroone & weighed 16.6 & 9.8lb.
Both fish were sea-liced!

 


In 2009, there was much talk about drastically reduced numbers of salmon running into many rivers.Here on the Blackwater, whilst the spring run wasn’t so good,
from May on we saw good numbers of fish running. May in fact produced the best number of fish caught  (53) since 1996 and was in fact the third best ever total
for the month since I started accurate records in 1986. It was only beaten by 1994  (82) & 1996 (72).

Whilst it was certainly not a year when the number of salmon caught for the whole season was outstanding, there were a couple of factors which help explain
the lower catch figures for the backend & consequently the total season catch.

This was in part due to less rods fishing ( a consequence of the recession) which is a major factor which is often not taken into consideration when looking at catch statistics. 
The other startling factor in 2009 was the behaviour of the fish themselves. Whilst there were large numbers of salmon in the river, especially in August & more particularly
 in September, they displayed a startling reluctance to take any offering. This was a phenomenon which was observed throughout Ireland this last season.

As an aside – 43% of the fish caught  in 2009 on the Lodge Fishery were released. This is well above the national average of 38% as recently published in the
Central Fisheries Board Wild Salmon & Seatrout Statistics report for 2008 Our guests released 52% in 2008.
This report also states that 12.9% of all fish caught & released in Ireland in 2008 were on the Blackwater– the highest in the country for rivers which were not C&R only.

The table below shows the catches since I took over the Lodge in 1986.

Blackwater Lodge Fishery - Salmon Catch Statistics.

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

1488

1989

13

35

48

35

255

135

265

370

1165

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

1511

1993

15

18

26

53

255

280

150

367

1164

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

1086

1997

-

13

  8

24

184

140

138

326

  833

1998

  1

  3

10

25

160

296

268

352

1115

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

  2

13

  9

49

  80

162

94

143

  553

2004

14

  8

22

23

  49

  86

353

524

1079

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

  44

115

273

330

 788

2008

  5

  4

14

22

  21

117

422

421

  1025

2009

  1

  5

11

53

  51

87

197

208

    613

 

Catch per Rod Day

A far better judge of the quality of the fishing
is to look at the average catch per rod day.
This table shows these figures
for the last 3 years on the Lodge Fishery,
which corresponds to the period
since the drift nets were banned.

It is interesting to note that in fact
August is the best backend month,
which wouldn’t be apparent from the catch statistics
for the number of fish caught by month alone.
In August, there are actually far less people
fishing compared to September.

 

Dramatic increase in larger fish.
The Blackwater has always been better known for its prolific runs rather than
the size of the fish. I must admit to having concluded myself in the first 2 years without drift nets (2006 & 2007) that there was an increase in the size of fish
coming into the river, but accurate analysis of the weight of fish caught
doesn’t actually bear this out.

This graph illustrates the percentage (of the total catch each year)
of fish caught by weight class. Please note that for this 8lb. represents fish
between 8-8.9lb, 9lb represents fish of 9-9.9lb etc.

For simplicity, I have only included the figures for fish in the 8-14lb class which is where the biggest difference can be seen.

Fish in this class accounted for 33% of the 2009 catch
compared to only about 18% for the period 2004-2008.

The graph gives data as follows:
- The average percentage for the years 2004-2006
   i.e. the last 3 years when drift nets operated.
- The average percentage for the years 2007-2008
   i.e. the first 2 years without drift nets.
- the figures for the 2009 season.

We can conclude from this that there was actually very little difference in the size of fish caught in the 8-14lb class for the 3 years before & 2 years after the drift net ban.

 

There is however a dramatic difference in 2009.
The true difference is perhaps not adequately illustrated in the above graph.

To better show the real increase, this graph show the percentage increase
in each weight class by pound compared to the average figure for the period 2004-2008.

 

From this we can conclude that:

- The proportion of fish caught in the 8-10lb. class increased by ~50%
- The proportion of fish caught in the 11-13lb. class increased by ~150-200%
- The proportion of fish caught in the 14lb. class increased by ~400%

 


Looking Forward to 2010
It will be very interesting to see what will happen next season.
In the early ‘90s we carried out our own scale-reading study of fish caught on the Lodge fishery.

                                  
Grilse:    We concluded that grilse were almost exclusively 1/1 i.e. spent one year in the river & 1 winter at sea.    
                                                   Therefore we can expect to see the return of a lot more grilse in 2010 – the progeny of the 2007 run – the first season without drift nets.

Larger multi-sea-winter fish:
   These were 2/2 to 2/4. We would expect the first of these to return in 2012, but it will be very interesting to see
                                                   if the increase in 8-14lb. class fish will be sustained next year.

Prospects for a great season’s sport for anglers for whom size really does matter!