Located in the North West of the map of Ireland you will see the sprawling county of Donegal. It is cut off from the Republic of Ireland by the six counties of Northern Ireland and so has often been over looked for both tourism and infrastructure. It is famous for its commercial fishing fleet and the port of Killybegs which is a world renowned deep water port. No matter what your thoughts are on commercial fishing the sight of the fleet taking shelter from the raging North Atlantic is a sight to behold.

The deep water offers sanctuary to the fleet but it’s the cliffs of the Sliabh League that get the anglers motivated around here. The sea cliff are some of the highest in Europe and dwarf the more famous Cliffs of Moher in county Clare by almost 600m to 155m. The range of fishing is rivalled nowhere in Ireland yet the angling receives very little in the way of promotion, the same as the rest of the county the locals would argue. 

Donegal is overlooked despite it's impressive array of fish that be caught from the shore and afloat

Local club the Killybegs mariners have set about changing that. Regular trips to the deep water rock marks have thrown up incredible fishing in the past few years. From Dabs of 40cm to Blonde rays up to 20lb, Donegal has it all. However the kelp covered rock gullies are home to arguably Irelands hardest diving fish, the mighty Pollack. Some of you will disagree massively on that last statement but once you have felt the wrath of a good sized Pollack on the spinning gear you will know where I’m coming from. Another welcome addition to the Pollack fishing is the ever willing and equally hard fighting Ballan Wrasse.

I caught up with Gavin Dorrian for a bit of a run down of what to expect when heading to the northwest after the big Pollack and Ballan Wrasse. My aim was to get a bit of inside info about the tactics employed by the local lads for anyone thinking of visiting this great spot. 

Big flatfish, of many species, are possible.

Really, 9ft is the minimum length of spinning rod that you want to be using when facing these fish. Their initial dives are often terribly strong and can land you into the kelp. This is where the longer rod comes into your own and can help you steer them back into open water. A 4000 sized reel will do the trick nicely and mono is the preferred method up here. Nice braid is great to have but the ground is just too unforgiving for make it viable financially! For that reason Gavin usually sticks to 15lb Daiwa Sensor, sometimes adding a fluorocarbon leader if the bites are very finicky and the water clear.

The choice of lures varies with the time of year but Gavin informs me that currently there are an awful lot of sandeel in the open water so spinning either fresh or frozen eel at the moment is king. As the saying goes you have to match the hatch. Earlier on in the year when the water tends to be more coloured, amber colours and the old favourite rhubarb and custard can pick out the bigger fish. 

A great Donegal pollack

In the past few years Gavin and his friends have found that black or silver soft plastics with glitter are incredibly effective for the wrasse who aren’t scared of coming out of their lairs for a shallow diving lure over the reefs. Grey coloured paddle tails are another tactic that does very well this time of year for the Wrasse. A long handled or extendable landing net is vital to get the bigger fish ashore. Forget it and you will be guaranteed to regret it. 

As with most coastal counties the sheer size of coastline to be explored means that there just isn’t time to try them all. The average stamp of Pollack in this neck of the woods would be 3-4lb, but then there is the paths less travelled. There are plenty of marks with 7 to 10lb Pollack lurking and indeed the snorkel and spear guys often come into contact with them.

A lure caught wrasse of a beautiful deep red colour

In the past few years the Wrasse have come under serious commercial pressure and the never ending demand for them to be used as cleaner fish in the Salmon farming industry means they will be forever in demand. It’s an awful shame for such a beautiful hard fighting fish to meet such a terrible fate in the name of cheap Salmon. Pollack numbers, too, have gone back but thankfully the Inshore numbers don’t seem to be under too much pressure in the area as of yet. After all the bounty of the open ocean is right on the doorstep here. This is in stark contrast to some areas further south where commercials have rapidly reduced the stamp of fish over recent years.

Obviously the rocks are a dangerous place so they should never be tackled alone and especially not in wet weather where the rocks become slick and a knock to the head could be fatal. Always check your weather and swell forecast and never ever take a chance. There is too many lost to sea to add your name to it too. Always plan your trip and tell people when you will be home. Signal is patchy for mobile phones so take that into account when planning.

Even cuckoo wrasse stocks have pllummeted, having been used to feed on lice in fish farms.

Gavins personal best Pollack from the boat is 13.5lb and that was in close proximity to the shoreline. The big Pollack was tempted by a belly strip of mackerel on a lead head. A tactic he notes that will often pick up any John dory lurking in the area. From the shore it’s a healthy 10.5lb but there is always that one that’s gotten away. One in particular stands out, where an extremely violent take resulted in a dive that had him scrambling over the rocks to absorb the dive. Unfortunately it went to ground and although the head shakes could be felt the line eventually parted and came back badly frayed from the rock pinnacle.

Many times over the years he has revisited the thoughts of the fish with the lads that were there on the day and all agreed that the fish was most likely a huge Pollack or Cod  well into the double figures. Considering its an area that often has fish taken by small Porbeagle sharks it says something that this one sticks out in the mind. Late August and September are special times to fish Donegal so I look forward to hearing and seeing what this year throws up!

There's little reason why pollack of this size will not also show from the shore in Donegal.
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