Sea Fishing Donegal Bay
(Glen Bay to Mullaghmore)
To the west of the early Christian settlement of Glencolumbkille, named after the 6th century Saint Columba, lies the picturesque Glen Bay (1, see map below). The coastline on the northern side of the bay is quite precipitous but there is good shore fishing from the much shallower rocks on the southern side. Here spinning accounts for mackerel, pollack, seatrout and occasional garfish, while casting out over sand in depths of around 6 metres will yield flounder, dabs and occasional ray.
Rathlin O’Beirne Island (2) which stands at the northern outermost corner of Donegal Bay has gained a place in Irish sea angling history, because it was here on 5th October, 2001 that local charter skipper Adrian Molloy broke the Irish record for bluefin tuna with a gigantic fish of 440kg. The huge fish took a trolled artificial squid and smashed the previous record of 240kg from the year before. Since then several 200kg plus fish have been caught in the area.
General boat fishing in the locality is also of a very high calibre with ling and cod to 9.5kg, pollack to 4.5kg, and ballan wrasse to 2.5kg being just some of the species on offer.
Tucked away between Malin Beg and Rossarrell Point is the beautiful Trabane (3) a steep beach of pure white sand with two waterfalls tumbling into the sea. Flounders are abundant at the mouth of the streams and can be caught on small sandeel or crab baits. Dogfish are also common on similar baits at night and mackerel can be taken while spinning from the beach in summer. Beyond casting range, dabs, ray and turbot can be taken by small boat anglers, with the period two hours either side of high water being best. 16km to the east beyond some of the highest cliffs in Ireland at Slieve League is the Fjord like Teelin Bay (4). From the pier in the western corner, dabs, flounder, coalfish, mackerel, and dogfish can be taken, specimen conger to 25kg have also been recorded there at night.
Water to over 20 metres deep is accessible from the rocks on the seaward side of the pier for pollack to 4kg and cod to 3kg.
Small boats can be launched from the slipway beside the pier, to fish under the cliffs for cod, pollack, mackerel, gurnard, coalfish, and flatfish. In some years whiting and haddock are also plentiful.
For many years Teelin has also been the home port to a number of charter boats and this is the nearest setting out point for the tuna grounds at Rathlin O’Beirne. There is, however other top class boat fishing locally particularly over a huge reef at Teelin Knowl, known to commercial fishermen as the “Big Fast”, an obvious reference to the fact that over the years many sets of trawling gear have been lost there. The Knowl is a large area of rock, compared in size and dimensions to a football stadium, rising from 80 metres at its deepest point to just short of 50 metres at its height. Quality fishing is to be found there for pollack and coalfish to 5kg, cod to 9kg, ling to 11kg, and conger to 18kg. A large array of artificial lures work well over the reef, particularly baited, luminous “Devil Rigs”, baited chrome pirks, and shad type lures presented on “flying collar” rigs.
Some 5km south east of Teelin is Muckros Head (5) where spinning from the rocks produces pollack, mackerel and coalfish. Float fishing, using crab baits can be very rewarding for wrasse from one of the many natural rock platforms. In the eastern corner of Muckros Head is the small beach known as Tralore (6) and from there dogfish, dabs and occasional plaice and turbot can be taken, while to the south of the beach is a small quay where coalfish, pollack, corkwing and ballan wrasse are available. Some 4km east of Muckros is another small quay at Shalway (7) where small pollack can be taken in numbers at high tide, mainly on float fishing tackle. Dabs and flounder are also present some 55 metres out over sandy ground.
About 5km outside Killybegs, below the R263 road, is Fintragh (8) which is a popular beach with holiday makers. There is a large car park behind the beach which also serves the local GAA ground and from there it is a short walk over the dunes to the strand. During summer, Fintragh is almost impossible to fish during daylight due to the large numbers of people who congregate there. But at night the beach produces turbot, dogfish, dabs, and occasional ray and bass. Fishing in the channel at the eastern end produces flounder to over 1kg, and a slow moving sandeel bait is particularly effective. Seatrout will also occasionally fall to the same tactic. On the banks of Fintragh Channel (A) sandeel can be collected at low tide. On the eastern side of the channel is a small isolated bay known locally as Nun’s Cove (9) where beach fishing produces the whole gamut of flatfish including flounder, plaice, dab, turbot and occasional sole. White ragworm and sandeel are the best baits and high water the best fishing time.
On Drumanoo Head (10) there are several rocky vantage points giving access to depths up to 10 metres close to the rock. Spinning produces mackerel, pollack and occasional garfish while bottom fishing yields conger to 9kg and huss to 5.5kg. Float fishing with crab or ragworm produces wrasse to 2kg, while dogfish and dabs can be taken from the sandy patches.
Killybegs (11) is Ireland’s largest commercial fishing port and is home to many of the veritable giants of the Irish fleet. Several vessels of over 60 metres in length are berthed along the quays. In order to accommodate the fleet there has been a massive building programme which has included the construction of one of the finest slipways in Co.Donegal. Small boats can be launched without any difficulty and there is ample parking nearby for both vehicles and trailers.
A number of charter vessels are also based in the harbour and other than the late season tuna fishing mentioned previously there is a wide range of other species to aim at. Some of the recent specimen fish have included blue shark to over 54kg, conger to 22kg, pollack to 6kg, john dory to 2.25kg, ballan wrasse to 2.4kg, lesser spotted dogfish to 1.6kg, and cuckoo wrasse to .70kg.
The deep water at the piers and large amounts of fish offal washed overboard from trawlers encourages great shoals of mullet to frequent the harbour. Freelining or float fishing small fish baits is generally the way to take mullet there, but this sort of fishing should never be attempted without the use of a drop net, because the piers can be up to ten feet above the water level. To lift a large mullet out of the water and up the side of the pier would be to court disaster because the hook would almost certainly pull free from the soft tissue around the mullet’s mouth. Grey mullet to 3.5kg have, however, been recorded there including an ex Irish Record fish. The patient angler prepared to go bottom fishing with large baits, at night will possibly be rewarded by hooking one of the harbours resident congers. Fish close to 27 kg have been caught, and there are many anglers who will swear to losing bigger fish than that! So if you think that landing a big mullet is a problem then you should try tangling with a Killybegs conger.
There are a number of shops in Killybegs where items of tackle can be purchased.
In the upper reaches of the harbour where the Stragar River (B) enters the bay, lugworm can be dug on low tides and crab gathered among the weed and rocks along the eastern shore.
About 3km to the south on the same side of the harbour is one of the most productive shore angling marks on Donegal Bay. The Gunwell (12) is so called because a gun battery was sited there to guard the harbour during the first world war.
It is an almost unique site because fishing takes place with grass underfoot, on the edge of a meadow, overlooking water of some 18 metres deep! Fishing tight to the rock with fish baits will produce conger, while worm or crab baits, turn up ballan and corkwing wrasse. Spinning accounts for mackerel, pollack, coalfish, launce, garfish and seatrout.
A mere 20 metres lob will put baits over sand where ray, dogfish, pouting, dab, plaice and flounder can all be taken and smaller, more unusual species such as dragonet, clingfish, goldsinny wrasse and tompot blenny have also been recorded. Sandeel, mackerel, crab and worm baits all work well there. Access to the Gunwell is either by following the shore from the end of the road, which is about a twenty minute walk, or by the much shorter route across private land. In the latter instance, permission will be required.
At Sand Loop (13) to the north of Rotten Island Lighthouse, fishing from rock onto sand produces plaice, dabs and occasional ray with mackerel, sandeel and lugworm being the best baits.
St. John’s Point is a 6km long finger of land running south west from the N56 road at Dunkineely where a narrow tarred road runs for almost the entire length to St. John’s Lighthouse (14) at the tip. From the rocks below the lighthouse large bags of fish can be taken while spinning. Pollack, mackerel and coalfish are all available while bottom fished baits turn up wrasse to specimen size and conger. Care should be taken at all times in this area, but particularly during, or immediately after, south west gales as ground swells can swamp the rocks. About 5km from the lighthouse on the eastern shore is the small sandy cove of Heelin Port (15). Fishing over rough ground on the southern side of the bay yields pollack, coalfish, while conger over 14 kg have been recorded. Closer to the beach, fishing over sand at high water, will produce flounder dabs and dogfish.
From Mountcharles a road runs along the western side of Donegal Harbour to the Quay at Salthill (16) there is a tidal slipway from which boats can be launched to fish in the main channel for ray and tope. Tope can also be caught from the quay on a flooding tide. Best months are generally June and July and the most successful baits are fresh mackerel and launce.
From the quays in Donegal Town (17) small boats can be launched two hours either side of high water to fish in the River Eske estuary.
Flounders are quite common near the town but as the channel widens and deepens near the mouth, tope and dogfish can be taken during the summer. Monkfish are also a possibility, especially in the 13 metre “hole” in the channel south of the youth hostel at Hassans. Mullet are numerous in the harbour in summer and ground baiting will bring them around float fished baits. Sea trout can also occasionally fall to spinners or fly fished streamer flies at high water or just on the beginning of the ebb.
There is a well stocked tackle shop on Main Street.
South of Donegal Town in the vicinity of the Golf Club at Bells Island (C) lugworm are plentiful in the estuary, and can be easily dug.
From the N15 at Ballintra the R231 road runs to a large car park behind one of Donegal’s most popular beaches at Rossnowlagh (18). Fishing is virtually impossible there in fine weather during the summer months due to the throngs of people, so angling is restricted to night tides or during the cooler months of April, October and November.
Nonetheless when surf is roaring in, Rossnowlagh can be very rewarding to the patient angler. Bass up to 5kg have been recorded there and flounders over 1kg are also common. At night, dabs, turbot, ray and dogfish are also possible. Sandeel is by far the best bait on this beach although lugworm, ragworm and mackerel strip will also produce fish.
3km farther south on the R231, a small road runs down to the quay and slipway at Creevy (19). A charter boat has been based there for a number of years and although the harbour is tidal, it is able to operate with a fair degree of success. Small boats cannot be launched or retrieved at low tide and would be anglers may have a two hour wait either side of low water on spring tides. Boat fishing is excellent for tope and ray in the area between Kildoney Point in the south east and Doorin Point to the North West. In the deeper water off St. John’s Point, there is a wide range of species including pollack, cod, coalfish, wrasse, ling conger and whiting. Mackerel or ragworm baited terminal tackle such as the white feather or red feather devil rigs work well there. Shore fishing at high water from Creevy Pier yields ballan and corkwing wrasse pollack, coalfish, mackerel, small conger, dogfish, dab and plaice.
In the River Erne Estuary (20) west of Ballyshannon, seatrout can be taken on spinners or while fly fishing on a flooding tide. Flounders are also numerous in the channel but are inclined to be on the small side. Small boats can be launched from the slipway at the quay in Ballyshannon for boat fishing in the estuary or in calmer weather to venture over the Ballyshannon Bar to fish for ray, dabs, gurnards and plaice. At low tide in Abbey Bay (D) on the northern shore of the channel, lugworm can be dug and crab can be gathered around the numerous rocky outcrops.
From Ballyshannon the N15 runs south west for 6km to Bundoran (21) which is one of the most popular holiday towns in Donegal and has all the trappings from funfairs and arcades to trinket and souvenir shops. The pier offers fishing at high tide for pollack, wrasse and occasional conger while the slipway is tidal and unusable for an hour either side of low water. It is, however a good access point for small boat fishing in the inner reaches of Donegal Bay for tope, ray, dogfish, pollack, codling, gurnards and whiting. To the south west of Bundoran the N15 parallels the coast through a small section of Co. Leitrim which becomes shallow, boulder strewn and weedy, offering little to encourage shore angling. As the Co. Sligo border is crossed, the rocky shore begins to give way to ground of a more sandy nature and at Mermaids Cove some excellent autumn fishing can be found in the sandy patches amongst the boulders for codling, dogfish, flounder and dabs. The first two hours of a flooding tide is the proven best period. Sandeel, lugworm and crab are the best baits there. Where the rock finally disappears on the beautiful beach at Mullaghmore (22) there is excellent fishing in autumn, mainly at night, for spurdog, dogfish, dabs and ray. Sandeel and lugworm are the best baits there. Specimen mullet over 2.7kg, small pollack and wrasse can be taken on float fishing tackle from the piers, while bottom fishing from the breakwater turns up plaice, dabs, dogfish and occasional ray. Night tides are generally best. There is a tidal slipway at Mullaghmore and several charter boats operate from there during the summer. Some of the best boat fishing locally is to be found around Inishmurry Island where tope, spurdog, pollack, ling, coalfish and cod predominate. Fifteen tope to a boat is not uncommon in summer, all of which are tagged and returned alive to the sea. Blue shark are also a favourite target fish with local skippers and fish to 55kg have been recorded.