ROD & GUN: Conditions have been excellent for fishing

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With the wind fixed firmly in the West, fishing has been excellent.

The heavy rain on Monday left the Mourne a wee bit high but Lionel Knobbs was delighted with catches this year.

Lionel said with the cold weather, fishing was a bit slow at the start with fish arriving about three weeks late. But the past fortnight has made up for all that with good fish being caught on Lough Agency waters. Lionel said anglers were happy with what they were finding on all LA rivers especially the Mourne and Finn. He said a lot of anglers were catching two or three fish a day, mostly on fly.

When I was talking to Lionel on Wednesday he told me the Mourne was fining down nicely and should be in prime condition this weekend.

Another happy man on Wednesday was Drowes proprietor Shane Gallagher. And no wonder for he had just seen Paul Magowan catch four grilse that morning. Paul, who had been fishing with prawn below Lennox’s Bridge, released two and retained the other two. Philip McGrath had a 6lb grilse on prawn from the Mill Pool. Another successful angler was John Parkinson with an 8lb fish on prawn from the Meadow Pool.

Sean said there had been a good run of grilse into the Drowes and, again, fishing is expected to be excellent at the weekend. Fishing had been good on Lough Melvin before the gale force winds kept many anglers off the water.

The news from the Bush was very good and less good. John Kane, Bush senior fisheries officer, told me there had been an exceptional run of smolts heading out to sea from the Bush this year. He said 29,000 had been counted on their way out. I am told from another source survival at sea is not what anglers would wish to see.

Some Bush fish had been seen as far North as the East coast of Iceland and the Norwegian Sea, presumably in search of food. One deep sea fisherman told me he thought there had been over-exploitation by industrial interests of what salmon feed on, forcing fish to travel further North for their food.

All this is important because I understand that if Bush management targets continue to be achieved, catch-and-release regulations might be eased slightly by 2017.

Fishing was also good on the Cork Blackwater with a fine run of fish this month; one rod caught two very fresh fish including the best of season so far. Prospects are looking excellent for the coming weeks.

As I write this column my son Daniel has come in to tell me that a jackdaw has swooped down and seized an adult robin only yards from my backdoor and carried it off to its nest. This was one of a pair of robins that my grandchildren used to watch as they flew back and forward building their nest. I do hope that the young robins survive. It seems now to be a choice between robins and jackdaws and, unlike the antis, I know which family my money is on. I hope to see a lot of young robins sitting on the shaft of my spade next spring.

Those who live or work in the countryside or enjoy its traditional sports, know that if predators and raptors are allowed to increase and multiply and kill at will then the death toll in vulnerable species like robins, larks, blackbirds, thrushes, ducks, geese, pigeons, lambs and all ground nesting birds will run into many hundreds of thousands every year.

In a lifetime spent close to nature, I have seen game birds like grouse, partridge, and pheasants disappear from their natural environment. It is the same with our butterflies where you rarely see any butterflies in meadows where they once were there in profusion.

It is no overstatement to say that organisations that are rolling in money have been indirectly responsible for the loss of so many of the species so admired by country dwellers.

If you were a small boy living in the Glens of Antrim and wakened one morning to find your mother - a former teacher and a dedicated friend of wildlife – in tears at the discovery that two more of her geese had been seized off their nests by badgers, leaving a trail of feathers leading to the setts on the braes near the shore, you might have taken a more balanced view of wildlife, especially of that red in tooth and claw

In last week’s column I paid tribute to Sir Ian Botham for the work he has done to help and protect his good name. Now Gerry Francis was quoted in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph as speaking out strongly on behalf of pigeon fanciers.

Gerry has been losing hundreds of valuable pigeons from lofts at his Surrey home to sparrowhawks and peregrine falcons and he blames the ‘inflexible’ RSPB for not engaging in discussions about the problem posed by raptors.

Gerry is fronting a campaign by the Royal Pigeon Racing Association which wants to see a proper appreciation of the problems posed by an influx of sparrowhawks and falcons into urban areas, In an in- depth article by Peer Stanford in the same issue of the Daily Telegraph, columnist Robin Page says: “Many feel that the RSPB is in a state of denial about what happens in nature. They are ignoring the evidence of farmers, foresters and shepherds as well as gamekeepers because practical conservationists haven’t got degrees and are, therefore judged ignorant by the designer conservationists at the RSPB. In the shrinking countryside of Britain you have to be prepared to manage the environment and manage species that eat weaker creatures and the RSPB too often appears to be reluctant to do that.”

I am afraid we have not heard the last of the wood pigeon canker which caused the deaths of hundreds of pigeons from Christmas right up to early April.

I had reported a farmer finding two dead peregrine falcons where pigeons were dying but when I checked with a man who knows all about these things, he said the canker would not affect dogs, foxes or raptors.

I had been in Belfast for some weeks and lost contact with what has been happening on the ground recently. As usual, I will tell it as it is. On Tuesday of this week a school teacher told me he had come upon a buzzard which was unable to fly. It was still alive but was cut about the head. He said he thought it had been attacked in its weakened state by other birds.

That same day a farmer that I had talked to some weeks ago about the possibility of raptors being affected by the pigeon disease. He said he had found a dead buzzard in one of his fields near the Glendun river. Because of a right mix-up the bird was not sent away for forensic examination, something I deeply regret.

In a previous article I had mentioned that a dead buzzard had been found near Cushendall. I had never previously heard of three dead buzzards or two dead peregrines being found in a relatively small area. On Wednesday of this week a learned professional man told me he thought the canker might have mutated into something quite different.

Blakiston-Houston Estates Scottish Woodlands, assisted by the Northern Ireland Labrador Retriever Club, is holding Labrador trials at Altarichard, Loughgiel, tomorrow, starting at 9am. Proceeds will go to the Alzheimer Society.

The trials will be held under Kennel Club rules with an impressive list of valuable prizes. First prize will be the Scottish Woodlands Cup, second, the Kingsmill Cup and third the Glens Farm Supplies Cup.

Note: I regret that many of the usual items will be missing this week because of a computer glitch. Hopefully, normal service will be restored next Saturday.