Musical road to a fishing castle (Part 2)

Paul Smith
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Last week's column ended with me chewing the fat and drinking black coffee in front of a smouldering peat moss fire in Balynahinch Castle, Connemara, Ireland.

I particularly admired the 15-foot split cane spey rod, complete with vintage Hardy reel that hung over the massive wooden mantle. The pungent peaty smoke stung my nostrils as I felt its texture and craftsmanship. The reel seat was engraved immaculately with jumping salmon and a name I couldn't quite decipher, no doubt some past aficionado of the long rod. It was nothing less than a work of art.

I studied each and every framed black and white photo that adorned the dark oak paneled walls. They were of smartly dressed split cane-toting anglers holding their prizes, stone dead and ready for the castle kitchen, I imagine.

This was long before hook and release. My modern fishing attire seemed shabby by their standards. It was a different time - makes me wish for a time machine.

Imagine sipping a smooth Irish whiskey in front of this very hearth; warming yourself after a long, chilly spring day chasing those silver-sided beauties. The tantalizing aroma of sizzling salmon steaks in the downstairs kitchen wafts through the castle's main floor.

Simon's cellphone rang and snapped me back to reality. He had an early supper commitment, so we'd best start casting.

The river was lovely, nestled in the Twelve Bens Mountain Range, and surrounded by lush pasture and forest; sheep graze peacefully along the river's banks. It's very serene.

Balynahinch meets the sea in Bertraghboy Bay near the town of Roundstone. There are stone fishing piers built out into the river, strategically located for casting on the best salmon holding pools; talk about convenience. They were built by Maharajah Ranjitsinji, a former owner of Balynahinch Estate, who had a taste for salmon fishing but an obvious dislike for getting his feet wet. If he could only try out my modern breathable wading gear, he'd be impressed, I'm sure. He must have been quite a character: an Indian prince with a fishing castle in Ireland.

There's an inescapable irony here, me rigged with breathable waders and graphite rod, the latest factory-made salmon fishing technology, casting from a stone pier, built over a century ago for anglers from another age.

This place is steeped in history and tradition. Simon Ash and I are modern anglers in every sense. Simon is a progressive thinking, conservation-first angler and manager who is dedicated to restoring Balynahinch River to its former glory. Its abundant salmon and sea trout runs were decimated by disease from nearby aquaculture projects. Thankfully the farms have been shut down and the fish are rebuilding.

Another irony is blatantly obvious to me. Although the Irish government closed down fish farms to save a priceless pristine river, just last week our federal government put $4 million or more into aquaculture in this province.

I am well aware that jobs are critically important, especially in rural Newfoundland. Senator Elizabeth Marshall told VOCM News that the aquaculture industry in this province employs somewhere around 700 people and is worth an estimated $120 million annually. That's great stuff, and I applaud it. But we have to be wary of jobs and prosperity at all costs. Don't ever forget what caused the demise of our northern cod: unbridled lust to make more money.

All I'm suggesting is that we consider our wild stocks of salmon and trout while we steamroll forward with salmon and trout farming. It is well documented that salmon farms have caused the demise of many wild stocks of fish around the world.

The only foolproof way to farm salmon and trout without adversely affecting wild stocks is to utilize a closed containment system. That means that the water used for aquaculture is treated before being returned to the ocean. That way the pathogens and parasites that result from holding thousands of fish in close quarters don't get transferred to wild fish in the surrounding ecosystem.

The open sea cages that have been traditionally used are a breeding ground for disease and are responsible for barren rivers in Ireland, Scotland, Norway and elsewhere. Closed system technology exists and is being piloted in partnership with the Canadian-based Atlantic Salmon Federation. That's another story for another day.

The fishing at Balynahinch went quite well. Simon and I landed dozens of fat silver sea trout, all the size of herring. There were no big ones like in the old days. Several year classes were annihilated by sea lice infestations passed to them from the fish holding cages in the river's estuary. Simon hopes that, given the fish farm closure, trout and salmon stocks will continue to rebuild.

I hooked my first Irish salmon on a dead drifted Brown Bomber, Newfoundland style. It was the first salmon that Simon had ever seen take a fly on the surface, likely the first on Balynahinch River. It's not accepted tradition in Ireland to float dries for salmon. I left him with a few samples. I wonder what the proper anglers in the photos would think.

My next fish came to me after supper in a much more traditional manner. Simon had cautioned me to appease the ghosts that walk the castle's hallways before leaving. He explained to me the intricacies of his favourite pool just above the estate bridge.

I swung a Green Islander across a lovely riffle as the sun hung low over the Twelve Bens Mountain Range. A salmon struck hard right at the end of my presentation and immediately impressed me with an aerobatic display. A fine hen came to my hand after a short but heated battle. I broke down my rod and called it a day.

I returned to the hall of the castle and looked once more upon the faded photos of fish and anglers past. If I could only yarn with them by the fire, hear their tales of mighty fish and learn their secret offerings of fur and feather.

But I could only imagine as I twisted and turned my way back to Galway.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard's Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at


Organizations: Simon's, VOCM News, Atlantic Salmon Federation

Geographic location: Ireland, Balynahinch River, Bertraghboy Bay Roundstone Newfoundland Scotland Norway Galway

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