Northern Ireland Stillwaters

There can be few parts of the British Isles so well blessed with lakes as Northern Ireland. All but the smallest ponds are known as loughs. Almost without exception, they are teeming with fish and many have never seen an angler on their banks. There are many more in the Province than appear in the Fishing Guide section below simply because organised fishing on most is still far from the rule.

The tip for the visitor whenever he sees an uncharted water of this kind is simply to ask the owner’s permission to fish. It will be rare for him to meet with a refusal. Latterly, many waters have been developed by the go-ahead Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, some as trout fisheries, some as coarse fisheries. All waters of this type appear in our Fishing Guide.

The biggest still water in Ulster, Lough Neagh, is also the biggest in the British Isles. It is little, if ever, fished with rod and line simply because the fish are much easier to catch in the many streams and rivers which flow into it. First of the bigger waters in importance must come Upper and Lower Lough Erne. As these are very much part of the Erne river system, the reader’s attention is directed to that part of our Guide for greater detail about these wonderful waters. It should be added that wherever a lough is closely linked to a river system in Ulster, the same rule has been followed. Trout abound in many Ulster still waters and so in many cases do coarse fish. Of the latter, roach, bream, perch and pike are predominant.

The Duke of Abercorn of that period was extremely proud of the pike in the three lakes. Loughs Catherine, Fanny and Mary, and he cultivated them with loving care, both for sport and for the table. Hearing that pike were partial to roach and that the latter were only found in Ireland in the Cork Black-waterway down in the south of the country, the Duke prevailed on British army detachments moving between the two areas at the time to bring him roach, 200 at a time, to introduce into his lakes. To no-one’s surprise, not all those roach ended up as dinner for pike. Instead, they thrived to becomethe principal species in the lake.

In October 1929, there came a rainstorm in this country of rain so severe it lifted the Baronscourt lakes over their banks and with the flood went thousands and thousands of those roach. As a result of this event, roach are today found throughout the Foyle system and in the Erne – not in thousands but in countless millions! They have already moved well down the Erne into Eire and there are sugges- tions that they might soon be finding their way into the upper Shannon via the disused Ballina-more and Ballyconnell Canal.

It is the offspring of these roach which has led to the army of quality fish to be found in the Mourne near Strabane and in places like the Fairy Water where in the late ‘fifties, an English migrant, the late Nat Holmes, formerly of Stafford, is said to have caught a roach of 4 lb. Sadly, this fish was fed to a cat at the local cinema, able to demolish only part of the meal. Had this fish been properly verified, it would have been one of only two in excess of this weight ever seen in the British Isles.

The current resident of Barons-court, Lord Hamilton, is just one more Irishman who makes anglers welcome, which means that that army of roach (now mostly consisting of small fish) can still be caught. For this reason visitors would be wiser to concentrate on the big bream which shoal in the lake and the specimen pike, believed still to include some of the biggest in the ProvinceC DT:ARO (Estate Office, Baronscourt, Newtownstewart) x OMAGH Lough MuckC

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