The Emerald Isle’s loughs

Irish loughs are famous for one thing above all else: their hugeness. Vast stretches of water, usually of great depth, they lie in awesome, picturesque surroundings.

Graham Marsden helps you find the fish.

The terrain of most Irish loughs is rocky, with many boulder-strewn areas covered in layers of silt and algae. But most have vast areas of shallower water that resemble English lakes, particularly the Norfolk Broads with their huge belts of marginal reed mace. Also typical of loughs are the hundreds of islands dotted all over them, some so big that they are inhabited and farmed.

Many are stocked with game fish, but they also hold heads of coarse fish, big pike predominating. Those not stocked with game fish have vast heads of roach, rudd, tench, bream, hybrids, perch and pike -with smaller heads of brown trout and perhaps salmon.

Finding the fish

You can imagine, then, that the most difficult task in these ‘inland oceans’ is finding the fish in the first place. The angler who has little experience of large waters must feel totally bewildered when faced with choosing a swim from such a waterscape. Where do you start, and how do you go about it?

Plumbing the depths If you know the habits of the different species, you can eliminate many areas according to their depth and the time of year you intend to fish. So the first job is to ascertain, in the best way you can, the depth and topography of the bottom in different areas.

By far the easiest, fastest and most accurate method is to use a boat and some sort of sonar depth finder device. It is very much in your best interests, if you intend fishing large waters on a regular basis, to beg, borrow or buy a sonar detector.

If you can’t get hold of an echo sounder or the like, and assuming you have access to a boat, you must use float and plummet and be a lot more selective about where you want to fish. It can be a long, painstaking task, particularly when plumbing depths exceeding 3.7m (12ft). If you are restricted to fishing from the bank, then a sliding float, or a timed leger drop are the only means of finding out how deep the water is. Choosing a swim Once you have at least a rough idea of the depths and contours of the bottom in several areas, you can relate this to what you already know about the habits of the fish. For instance, roach, bream, tench and hybrids are bottom feeders and unlikely to be found deeper than about 6m (20ft) in the summer months, and no deeper than about 9m (30ft) in winter.

Predators such as pike and perch are never too far away from their main food source which, in most instances, consists of the coarse fish already mentioned. But in the loughs stocked with game fish, pike and perhaps the larger perch enter much deeper water when the game fish are there.

So, in the main lough itself, make sure you are not fishing too deep, particularly where the depth is sheer rather than a gradual drop-off.

A favourite place to fish for pike is around the perimeter of islands. Such places are rife with rocky outcrops, ledges and all kinds of features that pike use to great advantage as ambushing spots.

So much for the main lough. But for most of the time the best place to fish is in the numerous shallow bays and the lakes that are connected by, and can be reached through, channels that link them to the main body of water. But even these offspring lakes can be hundreds of acres in area, and have depths exceeding 6m (20ft). A favourite swim On these large loughs, look for swims found off a promontory of reed mace. If you find a wide belt of reed mace, and a point where it juts out into the water, you can bet that the bottom continues to form the same shape. There will be a shallower ‘hump’, and a drop-off to deeper water on each side. Here it is possible to make big catches of bream, hybrids, perch and roach by fishing on, and to each side of, the hump. Yet by fishing close in to the reed mace you can also catch tench and rudd, particularly in the early morning and late evening.

Prebaiting Although a great deal of the lough can be eliminated by using the methods outlined above, it still leaves a great deal of water in which fish can be found. So what you have to do is to make the swim you have chosen as attractive as possible – and the thing that attracts fish most is an ample supply of tasty food.

Prebaiting is the answer. The night before you intend to fish, or for several nights if possible, lay a table for the fish – of groundbait and maggots, or whatever bait you plan to use on the hook. For all the species except pike, best baits are maggots, casters, redworms, lobworms, bread flake and sweetcorn. Give them lots – a bucketful of groundbait and a couple of pints of maggots are the least you can get away with. Irish fish are hungry fish, and there are lots of them. Prebaiting anywhere near the right area rarely fails to attract them to your swim and keep them there while you pick them off one by one.

Never make the mistake of dodging from one swim to another. Keep feeding one, or perhaps two, swims, and the fish will move in if you’ve chosen your spot with care.

Tackle and techniques

Swingtip and quivertip leger tactics always catch fish, using a swimfeeder or straight leger and feeding by hand. But a favourite method, from bank or boat, is to fish with a sliding float and a 12-13ft (3.7-3.9m) rod. Reel line should be no less than 4 lb (1.8kg) b.s. It can be used straight through to the hook, or to a hooklength of 314lb (1.6kg) b.s. When the fish, bream in particular, are on the feed, you can use 6 lb (2.7kg) reel line to a 5 lb (2.3kg) bottom with no problems whatsoever. Hook size can be 14s for maggot, caster and redworm, or 12s and bigger for lobworm, bread and sweetcorn.