An afternoon with Donie, an uncrowned King of the Shannon

At last the sun has begun to shine and the explosion of different greens that we see each year across our fields and meadows has now taken place. Our trees have now got back their full summer plumage and with all this the change from winter to summer has taken place on Ireland’s loughs and rivers.    The myriads of coarse fish are now engrossed in the annual spawning ritual and can be seen in their many thousands moving into shallower rivers and lakeside margins.    As an avid coarse fisherman I find it most fascinating to watch as the fish, intent on what they have to do, ignore all that is taking place around them. I have to say that if possible I do my best to avoid catching fish in full spawn as it does seriously interrupt what is taking place and in many instances can totally abort the spawning process. Having said that many anglers are reporting bumper catches in May.    Bill Ansel from London reported excellent bags of fish from the Shannon and some local lakes. Bill is 78 years young and a regular visitor to these shores. Steve Moran had excellent sport from the hot water stretch at Lanesboro again. Large bream and hybrids came to his net in a five-hour session. Anyone visiting the hot water stretch take note. If the power station chimneys are not smoking don’t bother getting your rods out of the bag. When the station is not operating the water cools down very quickly and so do the fish. If the water is not warm the fish just do not respond.    Taking a different tack I recently spent a very pleasant couple of hours talking to my very good friend Donie Conlan. Donie is the owner of the Marina at Carnadoe. He is one of life’s true gentlemen and also, when it comes to Shannon related matters, one of the most knowledgeable.      Donie moved to Carnadoe at Easter in the year 1959. The house he moved to and still occupies was the manager’s house of the creamery that once operated there. He tells me that his marina was once just swamp ground and through much endeavor and painstaking work he developed it into what is there today. The man has instant recall and as we sat he told me of the good old days.    Donie is an expert boat-builder and enthused about the times when he and the late Brian Kennedy built extremely fast 27 and 29ft racing yachts. Brian Kennedy was a design genius and during the last war helped in the development of the Spitfire fighter aircraft. Donie recalled how in 1968 they displayed a 27 foot boat at the Earls Court Boat show in London. Sir Francis Chichester, who sailed around the World single-handedly told them that if he was ever to purchase another boat it would be of the type they had brought to the show.    I asked Donie how he viewed the fishing, both past and present. ‘It certainly is not what it was,’ he told me. Quick as a flash he recalled how in 1960, a gentleman by the name of Tony Fallon purchased fourteen rowing boats which he hired out to visiting anglers. ‘They were always pre-booked and if you didn’t do so, you didn’t get one,’ he said. He told of how he often stood on the bridge which spans the Carnadoe river. The Carnadoe river links the two great Lakes, Kilglass and Grange to the Shannon system. It appears that in the early days vast shoals of large Rudd and Bream could be seen patrolling the sparkling clear water. ‘Alas, they are all gone,’ he said. My next obvious question was to ask why.    Donie has many theories and if he expounds then I have no reason to question any. Pollution from many different sources is one of his prime concerns. Intensive farming with over-fertilization, septic tanks and developing industry all came into the conversation. The release of mink into our countryside in his opinion has not helped the situation either. The ever-increasing inland Cormorant population is also another worrying problem as they devour vast quantities of small to medium sized fish on a daily basis.    I brought up the subject of the infamous Zebra mussel and asked if he regarded them a problem for anglers. I pointed out that our Fisheries Boards lay blame firmly at the Zebra mussels door to lack of sport and low catches. ‘I think that is total rubbish,’ he said. ‘Years ago when the fishing was regarded as still very good we were removing literally hundred weights from the hulls of cruisers. These days we remove almost none.’ Nature is a great leveler and there are certainly far less Zebra mussels now than there was a good few years ago.    My final question was to ask if he saw a light at the end of a troublesome tunnel. Before I gave him a chance to reply I told him that I thought things had improved recently and catches were on the up. A wry smile spread across the old boys face.      ‘Believing things are improving does give some comfort and in a small way I suppose they are. Unfortunately I can never see it coming back as it was. Let’s all hope that I am wrong!’    What I know of my friend Donie suggest to me that he is never wrong. Let’s hope on this occasion there is an exception to that rule in relation to Mr. Conlon!