Monday, 3 November 2014

The Bann, the Big Cut and salmon fishing

Under the bridge over the River Bann at Coleraine, as it looks in August 2014

Here we have the new bridge over the River Bann at Coleraine.  While it may look like the stereotypical shopping trolley was placed there as a prop I can assure you it got there without my assistance.  The white horse you might just be able to make out on the opposite bank, having a drink.  The bridge was opened in 1975 to cope with the increase in traffic which went along with the expansion of the town at that time.

The bridge is just a few hundred metres downstream from the famous Cutts, or Salmon Leap, which was of primary importance when Coleraine was being planned during the Plantation in the early 17th Century.  Here's an old photograph of my mother, looking rather stylish - taken sometime in the 1950s when she was a lass.  Must have been winter judging from the trees across the river near where Mountsandel Fort lies.  I must take a recent picture from here just to compare.  I've a whole series of 'then and now' photographs brewing in my mind - with a bit of luck I'll actually get round to doing something about that...

Mother at The Cutts, c1952

Around 1600 the River Bann was between 300 and 400 feet wide at Castleroe, and a huge rock of basalt extended across the river which rendered it too shallow to navigate.  It was decided to cut through the rock, primarily so that timber could be brought to Coleraine from the woods to the south.  "The Big Cut" was started in 1611, paid for by The Irish Society at a cost of £1200.  Several cuts were required to finish the job, and so we have the local term 'The Cutts'.  Interestingly, the main use of this part of the river after that appears to be for the catching of salmon, hence the alternative name Salmon Leap.   In one day it was reported that 62 tons of salmon were netted here.  Most of the stone removed was used in Coleraine for building - at that time no quarry existed close to the settlement and transportation of rock was expensive and difficult.  Early 17th Century export records for Coleraine show the value of the work done - Salmon exports from 1612-1615 were second in value only to Hides, with a value of £1118.

The Lower Bann and its tributaries including The Agivy and Moyola still offer some of the best salmon fishing in the country - catches numbering around the 450 mark for the last few years, although a mandatory catch and release policy is enforced nowadays.  The Honourable The Irish Society, founded in 1613, still have a presence at The Cutts and continue to maintain their interests throughout the whole of the county of Londonderry - they will sell you day fishing licences, for example, should you fancy outwitting a River Bann salmon.

It's years since I went fishing - my grandfather and uncle used to take The Brother and me manys a year ago.  Mostly we went to the Roe, near Limavady.  I remember a lot of tramping up and down the riverbank and not a lot of fish being caught, although it was a very pleasurable day out in the fresh air under Binevenagh.  Of course the term 'fish' was reserved for the King of fish, a salmon, and catching one of those was a rare event.  Mostly we returned home tired and maybe with a few trout if we were lucky, or even a plaice or two.  If no fish were throwing themselves at us Grandpa sometimes managed to liberate a carrot or two from the neighbouring farmer's fields - oops!

Some not very large trout, as caught, weighed, snapped and printed sometime in the 1970s

Grandpa, probably after a day's fishing, snapped and printed in the 1970s complete with period dust

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