Donegal loch trouts

Sportfishing Adventures - - CONTENT - Text and pho­tos by Ru­dy Van Dui­jn­ho­ven

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.

Ex­cep­tio­nal na­ture

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.

Ea­si­ly ac­ces­sible

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.

Fox­hall house.

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.

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