1892 – Fishing in Lough Neagh and the Lower River Bann


Lough Neagh Freshwater Lake

Lough Neagh (Loch Neathachis) is a large freshwater lake in Northern Ireland. The Lough Neagh Basin is a depression, built from several tectonic events which date as far back as 400 million years ago.

With an area of 396 square kilometres (153 square miles), it is the largest lake in the British Isles.  Indeed it is the 15th largest freshwater lake in the European Union.

It supplies forty percent of Northern Ireland’s water. It’s main outflow is the Lower River Bann. This outflow runs for sixty kilometres (35 miles) from the top of the Lough, near Toome, up to the barmouth between Castlerock and Portstewart, where it discharges into the sea.

Table: Some Quick Facts About Lough Neagh

Surface Area
Between 380 – 400 km²
Length of shorelineApproximately 125 km
Maximum length30.5 km (between South-West and North-East shores)
Maximum width12.1 km (between the West and East shorelines)
Average depth8.9 metres
Maximum depth30 metres
Catchment Area
Total Lough Neagh catchment area is about 5750 km²
Inflowing RiversMajor Tributaries: Blackwater, Ballinderry, Moyola, Six Mile Water, Main and Upper Bann. Minor Tributaries: Glenavy and Crumlin.
Outflowing RiverLower Bann (flowing up from Toome, through the Bann valley and reaching the sea near Portstewart)
Old Industries
In bygone years, the Lough was used for coal, linen, diatomite, willow basket making and reed harvesting.
Current IndustriesIn modern times, there is fishing, agriculture, tourism, recreation, peat extraction, sand extraction and water extraction.

Lough Neagh has flowed up this natural valley to the sea since the last ice age.

Although less than twenty miles way from our farm, I don’t ever recall our family ever being on, or near, the Lough. But the River Bann, now that was a different story.  The river runs up the Bann valley and through, or close to, most of the villages and locations that were predominant in my life – Portglenone, Kilrea, Coleraine and Portstewart.

In June 1892, a London fisherman and writer, Mr. C.W. Gedney, wrote a fascinating article for an English journal, on the virtues of fishing on the Lower Bann.  His experiences were based on his time on the river in 1890 and 1892.  I hope you enjoy!

IRISH FISHING QUARTERS

The River Bann i.e. the Lower Bann

Having regard to the splendid fishing resources of the Emerald Isle, it is surprising that more of our English anglers do not avail themselves of the grand sport which can there be had, even without asking.

Speaking broadly, trout-fishing is free all over Ireland. There may be exceptions, but they only go to prove the rule; and I have never met with them in my twenty years’ angling experiences of various parts of Ireland. If asked which was the river in Ireland which produced the best trout, I should say without hesitation that it was the River Bann; and that river only ranks second to the Shannon for big salmon.

The want of knowledge as to where to go is, no doubt, the chief deterrent to English anglers, and it is my present purpose to afford some information on the subject.

Lough Neagh
River Bann meets Lough Neagh

Getting There

To begin with, the Bann is the river most easily reached from England and the best route is via Euston, Liverpool, and Belfast. If you take a map of Ireland, you will find that just beyond Belfast is the southern end of Lough Neagh, a splendid sheet of water, twenty miles long by twelve miles wide. This mighty lake is said to be 200 feet below sea-level, and into this natural basin drains the whole of the county of Antrim and a consider able portion of Derry.

The River Itself

There are no less than eight rivers of considerable volume running into Lough Neagh, besides innumerable small streams, and the only outlet by means of which all these accumulated waters can get to the sea is the River Bann. So much for the source of the river to which I now want to introduce you. It is a river of considerable breadth, but the length is only about thirty miles from sea to lough, and there are several weirs to bar the upward progress of both salmon and sea-trout.

The lower reach of the river is at the “cuts” of Coleraine. These “cuts” are salmon-traps, into which the ascending fish push their way and find themselves in a wooden cage some twelve feet square, out of which they are netted by a man on the bridge, and packed off to the English markets.

The fishing for both salmon and trout below the “cuts” is free, and from the “cuts” upwards to Kilrea – about twenty miles – the salmon-angling belongs to a club. They generously allow free bank-angling for trout throughout the whole of their length of water, and they issue weekly tickets at the cost of a guinea, which give visitors the right to fish for salmon and trout from a boat, the hire of which, with a man, is five shillings per day. There is a navigable channel in the river, but it is never used, and in this slow-running water the spoon is largely employed in going from one cast to another.

The members of the club reserve to themselves for salmon a length of the river (which you may assume is not the worst), but there are times when the men on the upper ticket-water get the best sport, especially in a season of big floods.

The trout-fishing is splendid, and a dry-fly man can make grand baskets of fish from 1 lb. to 3 lb. in the aforesaid navigable channel, when there are good evening rises, and plenty of sedge-fly on the water. For trouting, however, the Bann is not a duffer’s river, because, except at the weir tails, it is too slow for the “chuck and chance it” style of fishing to succeed.

Kilrea is My Headquarters

I make the village of Kilrea my head-quarters, on the Bann, and in the farmhouse apartments of John Blair, at the bridge, I have found all that an angler needed in the way of clean quarters and such wholesome fare as would have contented dear old Isaac.

Speaking broadly I should say that the Bann was at its best for salmon in the autumn, when there is a run of late salmon from the sea. My best scores have been made at Kilrea in September and October, but there are wet seasons when the fish get up in high water much earlier in the season.

Avoid August and the Smell of the Flax Pits

This district is at its worst in the month of August, when the Bann reeks with the foul odours of flax pits, that exceed in nastiness even the sewage laden boats one meets on Chinese rivers.

It will be gathered from these remarks that I recommend others to do as I do go to the Bann early for trout and late for salmon. Sea trout do not get up to Kilrea – except a few stray specimens – they turn off into the tributaries of which there are several rivers of considerable size which help to swell the volume of the Bann.

Bait: The Best Flies to Use

The favourite salmon flies are Lord Randolph, the Dunkeld, black and gold, orange and claret, green and grouse, blue and claret, and the Crottell. The champion fly-tier of Ireland lives close to Kilrea and to this past master of the art I refer you. His name is Mr. Dan O’Fee, and his abiding place is Rasharkin, County Antrim. For trout, large olive duns, Wickham fancy, sedge, are amongst the best, and there are some local patterns to be got from the aforesaid “Dan,” if he can be induced to supply them.

My best day on the Bann was made (two years ago) at the close of the season of 1890, when five fish ranging from 10 lb. to 20 lb. were brought to gaff and several were lost. That was, of course, an exceptional slice of luck and a man should be content with a salmon per day on this river. That top score above referred to, was preceded by a morning call on one of the most accomplished lady anglers in Ireland. Asked as to what salmon fly she recommended, as being most in favour on the length of water I was going to fish, she produced her angling diary and there stitched to the leaf was one of Dan’s black and gold, with tho entry beneath, “This fly killed fourteen salmon.”

Black and Gold Fly

Perhaps you will suppose that I at once mounted a black and gold? But the perversity of the angler in matters such as these is proverbial, and both myself and a doctor friend obstinately stuck to the patterns with which we had been killing higher up the river. We cast the cream of the water down, without raising a single fish, although we knew it to be full of big fellows, and our boatman was almost in tears at our drawing a blank on such a lovely stretch of fly waters. I then changed to the black and gold, before starting to fish the next “catch,” and was almost immediately fast in an eighteen pounder. We went to the bank and killed him, pushed off again, and in a minute or two I had another big fellow on the same fly. He shared the fate of the first fish, after a very severe fight, as did a third, before my companion could he induced to change his fly.

In fact I had to cut off his orange and claret and substitute a black and gold, and he was actually cross with me for my high-handed proceeding. The result of the change was magical, for he was fast in the biggest fish of the day, before he had made many casts, and brought him safely to grass.

Truth to tell, he possessed a very gorgeous new gaff, which had been the object of some chaff, and nothing would satisfy him short of grassing his big salmon with this highly-burnished implement. The wretched thing snapped asunder like a piece of glass when the fish was “clipped,” and the only wonder was that we got him after all.

The caprice of salmon in the matter of flies is as great on the Bann as elsewhere, and whereas they were mad on the black and gold and Lord Randolph in 1890, they would not look at them in the corresponding period last season (1891), although the conditions as to atmosphere and height of water were precisely similar.

Going back to the trout-fishing for a moment, I ought to say that any kind of bait is allowed to he used, and the bulk of the local anglers rely upon the harmless necessary worm.

Decreasing Numbers of Pike

There are some pike in the river, but their numbers have greatly decreased of late years, since so much spooning has gone on in the navigable channel and slow-running deep reaches. I have taken several up to I81b., and one that fell to my rod last autumn took seventy yards of line out when struck and then made a flying leap so like a salmon that I never doubted his being a “fish” until the big brute came to gaff.

On another occasion, when the river was very high I had poled a cot up the foaming weir pool, with the aid of three men, and by the expenditure of an hour’s hard labour. There is a slack pool in the midst of this wild race of rushing water, where ascending fish rest awhile, and there I fully anticipated scoring a runner. With treble gut and a large fly, we were armed to do battle under conditions where the odds are very heavy against the angler, and we had not long to wait before a brute of a great pike took the fly, with a fair head-tail rise, and bolted down into the weir race like a rocket. I hung on like grim death, but it was hopeless to try to turn him, and there was nothing for it hut to follow him down. We killed the freshwater shark half a mile below where he was hooked, and the language bestowed upon him by the boatmen was enough to turn the rod rings green.

Getting to the Nearby River Maine

Anglers staying at Kilrea, can fish several other trout rivers within easy reach, the best of these being the Maine. A mail car between Kilrea and Cullybackey runs morning and evening, and the driver will drop the fisherman off on the river’s hank and pick them up again, when his day’s work is done. The distance is ten miles, the fare is half a crown, and the Maine is a charming river, running through pretty surroundings, an ideal trout stream.

There are times when the tidal portion of the Bann itself contains lashins of sea-trout, and good fun is got by spinning for them, the worst part of this sport being that many fish break away, for they are very tender-mouthed.

There is a line of railway from Kilrea to Coleraine, so that anglers can run down for a change, with very little expenditure of time or money, and Portrush and the Causeway are but a little distance further on.

The River Bush at Bushmills

The River Bush, at Bushmills, is also worth a visit from anyone wanting a change from the Bann. There is a flytier in the little village of Bushmills, who can put you in the way of getting sport.

Lough Neagh Fishing

Another string to the angler’s bow is Lough Neagh which can be fished by going up to Toome Bridge, where fair accommodation will be found, and if good luck attends you, one of the big lake trout may fall to your lot.

I am not fond of lough fishing myself, and so have not had much personal experiences of the angling resources of Lough Neagh; but that it holds leviathan trout I know full well, for I have seen them netted. The secret of the enormous size to which the trout here attain is the presence in the lough of myriads of “pollen,” a very delicate little fish, which is classed as a freshwater herring and is very good eating.”

By C.W. Gedney, June 1892

 

 

Trudger

"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

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