Welcome To The River Ilen Angler’s Club.

A Brief history of the Club

The River Ilen Anglers’ Club has been in existence since the mid-fifties and manages a large portion of the river which provides angling for both Salmon and Sea Trout throughout the season.

The river itself is found in beautiful West Cork with its source 500 metres up on Mullaghmesha Mountain North-West of Drimoleague and flows for about 33 kilometres southwards through the town of Skibbereen to the sea at Baltimore and the islands of Sherkin and Cape Clear.

As a river it can be described as a medium sized largely spate river with the season starting on the 15th. of February and closing on the 30th. of September for both Salmon and Sea Trout. Angling would begin in a serious way in March when spring salmon begin to run but of course these much prized fish have become so much scarcer in recent times and anglers are always urged by the club to keep conservation in mind if they are fortunate enough to encounter one.

The main runs of salmon (an bradán) can be expected in May, June and July and these Grilse/Peal, which make up the majority of the catches, average 2kg. (4-5lb.), though it must be noted that there was a significant and very welcome increase in weight in the 2009 season with fish of 4kg.(8-10lb.) regularly being taken. It would be hoped that this was a direct result of the ending of the nets at sea and the added spawning from these larger fish should significantly improve future runs. Later, towards the end of August and into September, there has been a tendency for what can be described as a late or autumn run to appear and some really fine Salmon, often up to 7kg. (15lb.) are not uncommon and one fish of 11kg. (23lb.) was taken from the well-known “Carrigs” pool in 09. Analysis shows that most Salmon are taken on the spinner (44%), with the worm a short distance behind (38%) and the fly trailing in in third place (9%). Tackle need not be too heavy, rods of 8/10 ft. will do fine and all the standard spinners/lures will do the job. As the statistics show, fly fishing for Salmon is a minority activity, perhaps as much of the banks are fairly heavily tree-lined but a salmon on a 10/11 ft. rod and a floating line is a joy in itself. Again, use the traditional flies but locally, the “Thunder Stoat”, “Willie Gunn” and shrimp patterns etc. won’t disappoint. However, it must be stressed that the use of the real prawn and shrimp, as opposed to the feather and tinsel kind, is strictly banned in the interest of conservation, especially as regards those dark stale fish that may be tempted in low water conditions.

The Sea Trout, or “White Trout” (an breac geal) as they are often better known as locally, start to appear in March and April and many of these early fish often prove to be some of the finest to run the river as they can average around 1kg. (2lb.) but many will weigh in at up to 2kg. (4lb.+) having spent the whole of the winter at sea as opposed to the “juniors” that return to freshwater after just a few months. These smaller fish find their way in from late June onwards and can offer great sport on light tackle. The majority of Sea Trout angling takes place at night due to the very shy nature of the quarry though the larger one-sea-winter maidens can be taken by day on spinner or worm, especially in higher water. The fly is the favourite method at night armed with a 9/10 ft. rod, floating line and the traditional patterns such as the “Bloody Butcher”, “Peter Ross”, “Alexander” and “Teal Blue and Silver”.

Whereas Brown Trout (an breac) can be found in the Ilen they rarely exceed ½ lb. and are not actively fished for and really form the basis for the migratory Sea Trout instead. Therefore we would encourage that all Brown Trout be returned unharmed.

The Club itself is comprised of an average of 60 members, with Mr Maurice Burke of Bantry as President, and officers and a committee who regulate and run the affairs from year to year. An A.G.M. is held in February, reports from the Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer are made and adopted, fees are set and angling regulations and such matters are debated and decided on. The Club has its books audited annually by Mr. Frank Kelly and all of the proceedings are governed by the Club’s own “Rules and Constitution” which were updated recently. Insurance is taken-out through our national body, F.I.S.S.T.A. and is very comprehensive as it includes personal accident, personal employers and public liability so there is no need for worries for either angler or landowner. However, it is essential to have a valid, completed and paid for members’ card or period ticket to be covered before entering Club waters.

Full membership is open to all residents of West Cork who live within the catchment area of the river which broadly stretches from Durrus in the West, north through Drimoleague and down to Connonagh in the East and this constitutes a more than generous stretch in comparison to the river size. Outside of this, anyone from Ireland or abroad can purchase a day/weekly ticket etc, without restriction whatsoever, subject to Club and State rules of course. A State Licence is a legal requirement and all anglers are urged to keep fully up-to-date with both Club and State regulations.

Over the years the Club has always been proactive in trying to improve and develop the river as a community asset. There has never been any sense of a “closed shop” mentality where the privilege of angling for Salmon or Sea Trout would be tightly controlled or jealously guarded by a minority for their own benefit. To that end, the Club commissioned a scientific survey of the river under the stewardship of Dr. Paddy Gargan of the Central Fisheries Board in 1992 to assess how it was performing and to help set out an enhancement program for the future. With financial help from the E.U. Leader 1 program this first phase was completed at a cost of £32,000. A follow-up survey was done by Dr. Willie Roach, also of the C.F.B., in 1997. On foot of the recommendations made in these two reports several thousands of hard, manual, voluntary hours of work were carried out, mainly in clearing obstacles to the Salmons’ migration, improving spawning beds and nursery areas as well as better access for angling with styles and ladders and maps and brochures by of tourist promotion.

One of the recommendations of the surveys was to allow access to a potentially excellent stretch of spawning water that was upstream of an impassable falls on the Dromore River near Aughaville on the road to Bantry. This was a huge undertaking as steps had to be cut out of the rock in the form of small pools to allow the Salmon to move upstream, from one to another, especially in times of high water. The Department engineers and the help of the South West Board were critical to its completion. Subsequent to that Salmon fry were transplanted above it so as to get things started.

The next large development by the Club came to fruition in the year 2000 with the opening of the Disabled Anglers’ Stand at Ballyhilty Bridge. The stand was originally the idea of Mr. Derry O’ Donovan of Castlehaven who, as the owner of the piece of land on which it was subsequently built, suggested to the Club that it would be ideal for such a worthy project. It took over twelve months to complete as precise plans had to be drawn so as to get the perfect gradient for wheelchairs, extensive rock breaking was necessary as well as landscaping and providing safe parking. The cutting of the tape was very fittingly done by Mr. Brian Crowley, M.E.P. and representatives of those organizations who supported the project such as The Dept. of the Marine, FÁS, Cork Co. Co., Skibbereen U.D.C., the Irish Wheelchair Association, the South Western Regional Fisheries Board, the Skibbereen Lions Club, Cope and CoAction, along with other guests and dignitaries were in attendance. Access to the stand is free of charge to disabled anglers as long as a club ticket is completed so as to comply with insurance regulations.

Therefore, the philosophy of the Club is to be as open and accessible to as many people as possible, given the size of the river and ever increasing restrictions placed on the sport of angling. Decisions are based on what is best for the river and so help maintain and hopefully enhance the nation’s priceless asset of its wild stocks of Salmon and Sea Trout which have faced so many challenges over recent years. Not alone is it essential that all Club and State rules and regulations are fully adhered to but we would also wish that those who would fish the waters of the River Ilen would judge their time spent there, not simply in terms of the fish they had or hadn’t killed, but rather in terms of a privilege in itself from being able to pursue such a noble and much fabled quarry. Aside from this, there are also so many other sights and sounds along the river that can delight and even brighten what may have been an otherwise dull day. A sighting of a Heron, motionless and statuesque as it waits for its lunch, a Mallard Duck and her flotilla of small chicks in tow behind her, the darting flash of a bejewelled Kingfisher as it skims along from pool to pool or perhaps late in the evening, the flit of a bat hunting for insects as well as the tell-tale sign of the line of bubbles moving along a pool from an Otter should be treasured memories to be taken home along with those of a purely angling kind.