The forgotten fishery of the Lower Shannon

The forgotten fishery of the Lower Shannon – the former salmon beats on the stretch of the river between O’Brien’s Bridge and Killaloe. This area of the river was the subject of Roland Southern’s 1928 paper ‘Salmon of the river Shannon, 1924, and 1926’. This fishery is now submerged under the reservoir created by the Shannon Hydroelectric scheme.

Southern’s paper presents the results of scientific study of salmon in the river prior to the Shannon scheme and involved collecting details of rod caught salmon in the area of the river between Killaloe and O’Brien’s Bridge. This paper gives a fascinating insight into the salmon stock in the River Shannon at that time, and particularly in this part of the river – an area which is now a large artificial lake.

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The stretch of the River Shannon Shannon between Killaloe and O’Brien’s Bridge, historical mapping.

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The stretch of the River Shannon Shannon between Killaloe and O’Brien’s Bridge, modern aerial photography showing reservoir.

The salmon stock in the 1920’s was very large with runs that almost certainly exceeded 100,000 salmon per year.  Today the run through the Shannon dams is down to hundreds. The salmon runs in the 1920’s were also dominated by early running large spring salmon, whereas today the Shannon salmon stock is dominated by small later running grilse. Southern (1928) noted that “The most important group by far is that of the large spring fish, which have spent three winters in the sea, followed next by the small spring fish, which have spent two winters in the sea”. Spring fish in 1924 comprised 87.2 % of the fish caught near Killaloe on rod and line, as compared with 12.8% summer fish. The spring fish comprised of 87.9% of the sample in 1925, and 97.9% of the total in 1926!

The Southern paper also demonstrated how the large salmon on the Shannon prior to the Shannon scheme did not just spawn at Castleconnell, but migrated upstream past Killaloe and into the upper Shannon. Southern noted that “it is probable that spring fish are running into the River Shannon throughout all the winter and spring months. The appearance of the fish caught at Killaloe and the degree of erosion of the scales indicate that many of the spring fish have been in the river for some time. The number caught there in February is usually small, and the majority of the large early running fish probably lie for some time about and below Castleconnell, only moving on to Killaloe as the temperature of the water rises, and the water conditions are suitable“. He also commented on the large grilse runs to the River Mulkear which existed prior to the Shannon scheme, which to some extent have persisted.

The largest salmon in the 1924 collection were two 40Lb fish, and several fish over 35Lbs were also recorded during the study. Southern also collected samples from salmon caught at the Lax weir in Corbally that were in excess of 50Lbs.  Today, only a handful of salmon over 20Lbs are caught, and none over 30Lbs are seen. To catch a salmon in the Killaloe area today is an extremely rare event.

Old eel weir Killaloe

One of the eel weirs that were present on the river downstream of Killaloe, prior to the Shannon scheme.

This picture was published by Fred Buller in the Journal of The American Flyfisher, Fall 2013, and shows a salmon catch on the Lower Clare Water, Killaloe, on the 25th August 1928, just before the completion of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme in 1929.

This picture was published by Fred Buller in the Journal of The American Flyfisher, Fall 2013, and shows a salmon catch on the Lower Clare Water, Killaloe, on the 25th August 1928, just before the completion of the Shannon hydroelectric scheme in 1929.

The Killaloe to O’Brien’s Bridge fishery is unfortunately long gone and lies underneath the reservoir impounded by Parteen dam. Likewise the run of large multi-sea-winter salmon described by Roland Southern has vanished with the stock of salmon reduced to few percent of its former size, and grilse now dominating.  However, when you look at some of spring fish still taken today at Castleconnell, you can see the deep body and shape of the fish of the past. Despite decades of impacts from Parteen hatchery, the genetics of the large Shannon salmon is still out there perhaps waiting for a chance to come back.

Southern noted that juvenile salmon grew so fast in the Shannon catchment that most of the smolts went to sea as one-year-olds. It is noted that this is still the case and when the ESB released unfed fry into areas of the upper Shannon in the 1990’s (e.g. Boyle River) they predominantly went to sea as 1+ smolts. With some enlightened management we could allow these salmon to complete their life cycle and restore a self-sustaining run of salmon to the upper Shannon again.

For further information please see the following links:-

If we give them a chance they will come back. We can have a salmon run back to the upper Shannon that would have some resemblance to the stocks of the past – perhaps not as large and as abundant but having several thousand grilse and a few hundred spring salmon running up to the Suck, Brosna, Inny and Boyle catchments each year would certainly be achievable.

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