22nd September

The Drowes Salmon Fishery

Brendan Connolly

Straddling the border between Counties Leitrim and Donegal, the Drowes Salmon Fishery runs just five miles from Lough Melvin to the sea at Tullaghan. Yet, those few miles represent one of the best and most easily accessible rod-and -line salmon fisheries in Ireland. The manager of the Drowes Fishery is Shane Gallagher, who, for many anglers, must have the perfect job.

Lareen Estate

Luke White, initially a penniless immigrant from Scotland, amassed a fortune by running a lottery in Dublin in the early 1800s that allowed him to buy 26,000 acres centered around the Drowes river and Lough Melvin.

Angling advice in the tackle shop. Photo Brendan Connolly

Angling advice in the tackle shop

From 1810 onwards, he developed the Drowes as a salmon rod-and-line fishery, and built Lareen Lodge as a shooting and fishing lodge. Subsequently, Lareen Estate and the Drowes Fishery changed hands a number of times.

For generations the Gallagher family owned a water mill on the Drowes just up-stream of Mullinaleck Bridge, also known as the Bridge of the Four Masters. Traditionally milling grain and flax, Shane’s father, Thomas Gallagher operated sawmill and in 1978 bought Lareen Estate and the Drowes Fishery.

An accessible salmon fishery

Despite living on the banks of the Drowes River as a child, Thomas Gallagher was not allowed to fish there. Salmon fishing was quite exclusive, being the preserve of tweed-clad gentry.

Undeterred, Thomas Gallagher changed this and opened up the fishery to visiting and local anglers alike, charging very moderate fees. Shane joined his father in 1998 to run the fishery, and following his father’s death in 2002, he took over sole responsibility.

Shane Gallagher very much follows the approach taken by his late father, of making the salmon fishery accessible to anglers. For example, anglers under 18 years-of-age are allowed to fish for free if they are accompanied by an adult.

Lareen Estate comprises 10 self-catering cottages set in woodland on the banks of the Drowes; lake boats can also be rented for fishing on Lough Melvin. In the tackle shop, surrounded by many photos of happy anglers with some very fine salmon, Shane supplies permits, flies, and baits.

Building on the work carried out by previous owners, the Gallaghers reinstated groynes that had fallen in disrepair, creating a series of pools and increasing the holding capacity for salmon in the river. They also constructed wooden walkways along the riverbank to facilitate anglers’ access, and maintain the gravel spawning beds on an ongoing basis.

Thomas Gallagher had seen how Mullinaleck Bridge, when it was blown up during the Irish Civil War, formed a new weir with a substantial pool upstream.  This pool was very good for fishing until the bridge was rebuilt. So, when he bought the fishery, Thomas constructed a new weir just upstream of the bridge, which now forms the Mill Pool and is one of the best pools on the Drowes.

Catch and release

The annual salmon catch on the Drowes is approximately 1,000 fish. With the increasing trend for catch and release, roughly 40% of the rod catch is now returned to the river.

The salmon run is solely the result of natural spawning in the Drowes and in the feeder streams of Lough Melvin, estimated to be between 280% and 300% of the conservation limit.

This short river is truly a phenomenon in terms of its salmon population. The Drowes, however, is not known for its seatrout. Shane tells of the odd seatrout reaching the Mill Pool. This is in contrast to rivers and beaches in Donegal Bay either side of the Drowes that are known for their seatrout fishing.

While 2012 was a very good year for grisle on the Drowse,  Shane concludes that it is too early yet to assess the full impact of the salmon driftnet ban on its salmon population.

Continuing the policy started by his father, Shane allows all methods of salmon angling — fly-fishing, spinning, as well as worm and shrimp fishing — thus increasing accessibility to salmon fishing for more anglers.

Younger anglers, for example, are more likely to take up fishing if they can start with worm fishing, to perhaps progress to fly-fishing at a later stage. Shane, who himself talks, eats, and sleeps fishing, hopes in this way to broaden the circle of stakeholders who have a passion for preserving the environment.

This, he feels, is necessary if future generations are to enjoy and appreciate magical natural phenomena such as the Drowes River and its salmon run.

For further information visit: www.drowessalmonfishery.com


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