Donegal loch trouts
Between Malin in the far north-northwest and Ballyshannon in the south of Donegal, there are at least ten estuaries of rivers where you can flyfish for seatrout. The estuary of the River Erne alone is several kilometers in length and despite the fact that there are hardly any seatrout running up this river, there are huge numbers of seatrout in the estuary. These fish are, no doubt, attracted by the huge amount of food that is to be found here; especially in the form of sandeels. Walking or wading along the many sandbanks and gullies in this area, you will see schools of small sandeels everywhere and the seatrout love to hunt for these prey-fish.
The season is open from the 1st of March until the 30th of September and next to the seatrout, mullet and mackerel can be caught here as well.
You will see schools of small sandeels everywhere and the seatrout love to hunt for these prey-fish.
The flyrod is used a lot here to fish for seatrout, but so is the spinning rod in combination with a lure, a strip of mackerel or a dead sandeel. The larger seatrout, fish of up to four pounds in weight, are mainly caught in the beginning and at the end of the season, during the summer months it is mostly the smaller seatrout (finnock) that are caught here. Even though the whole area can be reached by walking the sandbanks, a boat comes in handy to transport your gear and to reach sandbanks in the middle of the river. Michael Patton works for Inland Fisheries Ireland, but he is also active as a guide in this area. From his house one has a magnificent view across the
delta. Markus Müller and myself eagerly accepted the opportunity to explore this delta together with Michael. To say that Michael knows the delta like the inside of the pocket of his pair of trousers, is just an understatement.
Markus and myself would start with the flyrod, Michael would use the spinning rod at first. In this estuary it is mainly intermediate flylines which are used, but floating flylines are worth a try too. Looking at the amount of sandeels in the water, imitations of these are a logical first choice. The ‘Gadget’ is a well known pattern in this part of Ireland, it is tied with a body of flat silver tinsel, a tail and back of peacock fibers and a head of the same material. Other imitations of sandeels can be just as suc- cessful though. The length of the imitations we fished I kept to about eight centimeters, because that was the length of the sandeels that we saw swimming in the water. A line tray comes in handy, because of the flow in the water, to reach some distance when casting,
Michael advised us not to wade far from shore right away. Due to the tidal currents there can be conside-
rable differences in the depth of the water and you will often find that the seatrout are hunting behind you when you wade too far! Taking care while wading is advisable too, we saw upon arrival how a spin fisherman tried to take a shortcut from some rocks towards the shoreline. The water was a lot deeper than he expected and he ended up with a pair of waders full of water. Good thing he had some dry clothes with him in the car. At first we fished along the sandbank where Michael had put the boat in the water, later we used the boat to reach hot-spots on the south side of the estuary and some sandbanks. Michael was very successful with the natural bait that he fished actively, but the lures were taken by some nice seatrout too. When fishing with a combination of a spoon and a fly, he even hooked and landed two seatrout at the same time, one of which was of a nice size. For sure a sign that there are a good many seatrout in this area. With the flyrod we had no shortage of action either, a lot of takes, quite a few fish that threw the fly prematurely, but we landed around ten seatrout between us too. Swirls and sprays of water being thrown into the air indicated that there were sea- trout present here hunting for sandeels.
Next to the Salmon License a special, local license is needed as well to fish this water for seatrout. This license can be ordered from Inland Fisheries Ireland, Station Road, Ballyshannon; tel. +353 (0)71 – 985 1435.
Donegal has the visiting fly fishermen or -women a lot more to offer in terms of special fishing waters. Lough Beagh, for instance, is situated in the middle of the beautiful Glenveagh National Park; due to the breeding season of the birds it can only be fished from the 15th of July, the season than runs until the 30th of September. From Glenveagh Castle one has an exceptional view across the water. The lake is one of the most beautiful, natural and original waters of Ireland, with numerous special plants and animals around it. It is not allowed to fish this water from the shore or by wading, but there are two boats with outboard engines that can be rented for a day. Lough Beagh is in the first place a water where one can flyfish from a drifting boat for brown trout and seatrout, but salmon are hooked and landed on a regular basis by this method as well.
The brown trout are generally small, but fish of two to three pounds in weight are caught
The lake also holds a population of Arctic char [...] by the end of the season, they often come to the surface to take a wet fly
every season. The lake also holds a population of Arctic char, few people fish for these especially, but by the end of the season they often come to the surface to take a wet fly. Some flies that are recommended for this water are: Peter Ross, Teal Blue and Silver, Wickhams Fancy, Butcher, Connemara Black, Fiery Brown and Alexandra. You need some wind to fish the Irish lakes in the traditional manner and that is, very unusual, what we had a shortage of by the end of September. Very often the water was calm like a mirror, with very light winds at some moments that kept us moving a bit. No good circumstances when you want to cover a lot of water, but lucky enough we still managed to catch some brown trout and a single seatrout from the water along the shoreline.
The Lackagh River is a short river of about three kilometers in length that flows from Glen Lough to Sheephaven Bay. A lot of work has been done in recent years to get a better access to the river and more work is planned on the river so more salmon and seatrout can move up the river and spawn here. Through Inland Fisheries Ireland you can buy a license to fish the left bank of the river (looking downstream), the right bank is in private ownership. The spring salmon will move upriver as early as January and this run lasts until the month of April. Grilse will run the Lackagh River from the end of June and this run remains in full force the full month of July. In the month of September the first of the larger autumn salmon will move
upriver. The fishing for seatrout is at its best from July. The river can be fished with both the single and the double handed flyrod, at the wider parts the double hander is the better choice when you need to make some mends when fishing back your fly. Floating flylines are a good choice here, if need be combined with an intermediate or slow sinking (interchangeable) point of the flyline or a poly-leader. Early in the season small tubes like a Willie Gunn are fished here, the Badger and different shrimp patterns are good choices later in the season. Seatrout are mainly caught at night here with patterns like the Mallard and Claret, Donegal Blue, Connemara Black or a Peter Ross; flies that are tied on a hook size 10 or 12. Like everywhere else it is advisable to make use of the services of a guide when you come to a new water for the first time. He will give advise on what equipment to use, on how to fish your salmonfly (do I need to speed it up?) and he will bring you to the best parts of the river. Often you can also pick up some tips on how to improve your casting technique, so using the help of a “ghillie” is holiday money well spend. The season runs from the 1st of January until the 30th of
Large brown trout
Glen Lough is especially famous for its seatrout fishing, but salmon are hooked and landed regularly as well. The seatrout are on average up to two pounds in weight, but fish double that weight are often caught too. The lake also supports a healthy population of brown trout, John McLaughlin - our guide - said, with a lot of these fish in weights of two to three pounds; in recent years even some fish of up to nine pounds in weight have been caught! On this water it is also not allowed to fish from the shore, but boats are available for rent.
Peter Ross, Teal Blue and Silver, Wickhams Fancy, Butcher and Connemara Black are some of the popular patterns on this water. The water can be fished as well from the 1st of January until the 30th of September; licences are for sale and boats can be rented at the same petrol station in Termon and at the Log Cabin Bar in Creeslough.
Lough Fern is a shallow lake of around 180 hectare in size that is also best fished from a boat; still the lake can be fished from the western shore as well. The water holds large numbers of brown trout, according to our guide John McLaughlin, most of which are between ¾ and 1,5 pounds in weight; trout of up to four pounds in weight are often caught as well though. Great sport can be enjoyed here all through the year, but the periods that the mayflies and buzzers are hatching are easily the best. Some patterns that are suggested for this water are Mallard & Claret, Connemara Black, Black Pen-
nell, Wickham’s Fancy, Bibio and several sedge patterns; but you can also follow your own preferences in terms of dry flies, nymphs and small streamers. The trout will often look for food close to the shoreline and around the beds of water-plants and are usually found in the top layers of the water. The season on Lough Fern runs from the 15th of February until the 30th of September.
Through the Donegal Angling Holidays website it is also possible to book a day of sea-fishing with one of the eleven charter-boat companies that are listed, these all have certified boats with which they can take a number of people out to sea. The coastline of Donegal holds large numbers of fish of a lot of different species, among others
there are cod, pollack, ling, wrasse, ray, dogfish, blue shark and even bluefin tuna to be caught here.
When you book a boat with a number of flyfishers, you can try for several of these species with the flyrod and fast-sinking lines as well. You just need to tell the skipper that a depth fifteen to twenty meters of waters is about the maximum for this method of fishing. When you have never fished for pollack with the flyrod, I am sure you will loose the first few fish that take hook on your streamer! An eight to nine pound pollack is hard to stop on a flyrod when it heads back for the rocks below... If you do not have “sea legs”, there are also numerous possibilities to fish from the shore, the rocks, piers or the beach; a fishery that is free and easily accessible. From the website you can download and print a number of PDFmaps, on these over 120 hot-spots are marked along the coastline of Donegal. For accommodation in Donegal there is a large supply of hotels, B & B’s, lodges and self-catering holiday homes, all of which can be booked through the website. You have the choice from standard accommodation up to five star luxury. This, together with the fine restaurants we came across in Donegal and the quietness, space and nature that are still available here, made our stay in this county for us more than worth the effort
A small Lough Beagh seatrout that took my fly close to the shoreline.
A selection of Erne flies.
Casting flies on the Lackagh River.
A nice seatrout for Michael Patton from the Delta of the Erne.
At the Castle Grove House Hotel you will find a quiet atmosphere and excellent meals.
Markus with one of the many seatrout that took our flies.
John McLaughlin brings a brown trout to the boat on Lough Fern.
The trout of Lough Fern are beautifully marked.