Sunday, 20 February 2011

A Love affair with Dollaghan

I have a love affair with trout; to the non angler this may sound strange or even downright weird, but I must confess I love all wild trout but perhaps my favourite is the brown trout from Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland it

Is called The Dollaghan, a trout that I have fished for almost my entire life, and my father fished for before me.

The name Dollaghan comes from the Gaelic word dulach that means swift running and the translation of Dollaghan means ‘run of fish’ or ‘running fish’. Within the Dollaghan family there are a number of different trout that scientific studies have shown spawn separately and thus maintain a genetic isolation. Local names for these fish include Buddagh or Breddach which translate to ‘big fat fellow’ and are very similar to Ferox, there is also the Salmon Trout, a silver fish giving them a sea trout appearance. This is not the only similarity they have with their sea run relations, as like sea trout they are very light sensitive and shy, also Lough Neagh where they spend most of their life is although freshwater, like a sea the Lough itself is massive, the largest lake in the British Isles covering a vast 153 sq miles 400 sq km, I have been afloat on Neagh on Lough Neagh Fishing Tours boat and at times had to pinch myself , you can forget your not at sea as at times you cannot see land on the horizon.

Dollaghan achieve growth rates similar to Atlantic salmon while they feed in the Lough and on their return to their native rivers and can weigh from around two too well into the teens of pounds, and there are stories of bigger.

My personal heaviest to date was a large cock fish of around 10lb, but I have hooked larger and I know anglers who have been lucky enough to land some very big fish. Holding on to these big fish while you have just hooked them is very hard; you need a large helping of luck to keep them on. They have a hard mouth for a trout, and they shake their head while falling back, this is normally how you can tell you have just hooked something substantial and is the crunch time when they either stay on or are lost, to be honest most of the very big fish are lost, but in a seasons fishing I would normally catch quite a few fish over five pounds, big trout in anyone’s book anywhere in the world and there’s always some lucky angler that will get a real brute of a fish.

Tactics for Dollaghan seem to vary slightly from river to river, you can have good sport during the day, if the conditions are right, but the most successful time seems to be evening and night fishing, but if it’s a moonlit night it is often very slow, but strangely that’s often a good night for a salmon. The best conditions are thick cloud a day or two after a flood, when the water has cleared and if you know where they are the fishing can be great.

I love fly fishing at night - there is something magical about it, it’s the realm not only of Dollaghan but of bats, otters and owls, the stillness and the sounds of the river and the sights you see, for me it's wonderful. There are also some strange things that happen at night while you’re out fishing, sometimes it’s not for the faint hearted as your mind can play tricks on you, I had fished at night for years and am used to it, even so strange and funny things do happen. I remember fishing on the Sixmile on a very dark moonless and windy night, which are great conditions for night fishing, this night I was fishing with a fellow club member who had grown up on the Shankill road in Belfast and had no doubt seen his fair share of the troubles, we where fishing a famous night pool on the river when he let out a massive yell which made me almost jump out of my skin , screams in the dark when your least expecting them will make you jump believe me , even if you have fished a river for years at night, as I looked around I seen that my mate was lying on the river bank holding his face and shouting at me , some tosser hit me in the face with a stone, or it might have been, some bastard is cluding, that’s the Belfast slang, now growing up where we did we both know what its like to be hit with a stone, my problem was this was two in the morning in pitch dark, on a river bank miles from any towns, so whoever had thrown this stone was some bloody shot, it was only when I went to help my mate and picked his rod up I realised what had happened for hanging stone dead impaled on his dropper fly was a bat, which had been unfortunate enough to get caught on my mates back cast and hit the caster right bang in the middle of the face at about sixty miles per hour, the poor bat died on impact and my fishing partner had a very sore face, but we where both glad no one was chucking stones at us in the middle of the night, I always felt sorry for that kamikaze bat though at least he went quick .

Another night I was out fishing with my good friend Davy Telford and something unusual happened, Davy fishes with me a lot, he normally fishes rivers, and he wont mind me saying I sort of showed him how to night fish for dollaghan and he has got very good at it I must say, I say sort of showed as he was doing ok, I just tweaked him a bit and now he consistently gets fish at night, he fishes hard and there has been many a night I have let him fish though a pool before me only to be saying to him a hour or two latter, after he has had a couple of nice fish, Davy any chance of me having a cast, you see we take turns on certain short pools that we know that are good taking spots . This particular night Davy was wading down a pool we both like, I was sitting on the high bank above him watching, he was fishing his normal methodical way across and down ten times and then take a step, across and down ten times and then take a step and he was getting the odd take but the fish where not staying on, he was losing them, I knew this as about every ten minutes Davy would shout a curse word then tell me just lost one. I was enjoying the night just sitting there watching him and the things around me, when suddenly Davy shouted yes im in, good fish I shouted to him as I could see his rod tip bouncing in the dim moonlight, then Davy shouted God it’s a bloody monster mate and its running up the river past me, this has happed to us a few times and when it does its normally a very big fish and normally you lose it , but then Davy shouted something I have never heard anyone shout in all my years of fishing at night , Stevie he cried the bloody thing is now running up the bank on the far side above me , what I shouted , Davy cried its up the bank on dry land, and I could hear twigs cracking on the far bank , then Davy shouted its back in the water and its bloody smaller, by this time I was beside him and netted his fish and seen there was now a bit of the fish missing. It was then it dawned on us both what had happened, Davy got the take and hooked his fish which then was taken buy an otter hunting at night, the otter then swam passed him at a rate of knots and jumped onto the bank still holding the fish in its jaws with Davy pulling back the otter let go after a short run up the opposite bank and then Davy started to play his fish with a bite mark out of it. To this day Davy Telford is the only man that I know that has played a dollaghan and an otter at the same time.

Let me give you few tips on night fishing, do a thorough recce on the stretch you intend to fish during the day. And I don't advise wading unless you know the river very well, its good to know where you are walking; you don't want to end up swimming in a river at night! Wear a life jacket. For first timers I'd recommend hiring a guide. I learnt by growing up on the rivers, fishing with my father and trial and error. If you are on holiday or just visiting and want to maximise your chances of hooking a Dollaghan, a guide who knows the water and the tactics may help, if he’s any good. And if you're not used to the rivers and have never fished them at night before, a guide can help from a safety point of view as well. Also while fishing at night I do not shine a torch on the water it spooks the fish you should turn your back to the water when tying on a fly, its also good manners as there maybe other anglers around.

Tackle is very much a matter of personal preference. You could use heavy trout gear; I like a very stiff 9 to 10 foot rod. These are powerful fish I like a rod that can put a bit of pressure on them. Otherwise you can lose them in the rocks and snags, especially at night, as for flies basically they are fairly standard patterns, during the day small traditional trout flies like the Back Pennell, Dunkeld and the Gold Head Hares Ear take there share of fish. Then in the evenings I change to hair wing salmon flies or Irish shrimp flies these seem to work best at night, fished on an intermediate line and a short leader. Dollaghan will also take a floating lure stripped across the surface again similar to sea trout. Now whether Dollaghan feed on their return to the river is a point of conjecture and now I generally practice catch and release so, there are not too many stomach contents to inspect. However in the past my father and I did take our share of them and the stomach contents that I have looked at there is no evidence to suggest that these trout are gorging themselves. Perhaps like sea trout they do take the odd invertebrate. Certainly the Dollaghan do not eat lots when they are in the river and take like the salmon at times probably dew to pure aggression. Dollaghan have certain lies you will find them throughout the river system, but like any large trout they like a bit of cover - overhanging trees, undercut banks and so on. They will also lie around rocks and in deep runs and pools.

Nowadays, Dollaghan fishing is a lot more popular, and I think the attraction of these wonderful and unique brown trout is their size and that they are truly wild. While fishing in the dusk and into the darkness the excitement you feel if you get a take, not knowing if it’s going to be a 1lb or 10lb fish, or even a salmon (which happens quite often), this just keeps bringing me back night after night. In fact, the last few months of the season when the Dollaghan fishing is at its peak, is almost like being on the night shift. When my wife comes home from work at around six, I put the rod in the car and in 10 minutes I’m tackling up on one of my favorite beats watching the sunset.

In my job I have been lucky to fish in many places in the world, on many rivers and lakes, this is great and I hope to continue doing it, but it has also made me realize that what we have on our door step in the north of Ireland is wonderful and unique. Growing up on these local rivers I may have taken them and there fish for granted and I think a lot of local anglers still do, we just don’t realise what we have, but to be honest we are simply blessed. Now it’s not all rosie, we do have some problems, there’s to many houses being built along rivers, pollution from time to time , illegal netting on the Lough , just to name a few, but that said we still have good fishing and the Dollaghan still survive. If we could get the problems stopped we without doubt have one of the world’s finest brown trout fisheries. There are very few places in the world where you will catch quite a few wild brown trout over 5lb pounds every year. We need to start treasuring these wonderful fish their rivers and their Lough it would be a sin if it was lost.


Six main inflowing rivers to Lough Neagh which, are the river Maine and tributaries , Moyola, Ballinderry, Blackwater, Upper Bann and my local Six-Mile-Water. The right time can be from the end of July, after a spate, through to the end of the season on the 31st of October, email web . Pics By Davy Telford , mostly


  1. Cheers for the tag for the photos mate.
    I was glad you where there that night to see what happened with the otter because no one would have belived it when I told them. A night I will never forget that's for sure.

  2. Your right, I dont believe it. I believe its possible you hooked an otter, Its the bit about you hooking a fish Im finding hard to believe.

  3. Good post Stevie, captured the atmosphere of a nights Dollaghan fishing nicely. I have read about the great rivers of Wales and peoples exploits in pursuit of the sea trout with envy.
    Fishing the Six-Mile at night for the Dollaghan is as close as you will get in this country of ours, a special wee river. If only the people who could make a difference realised what they have on their doorstep. Potentially one of the greatest brown trout systems in the world, and that's not an exaggeration.