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Donegal bay; the bay of plenty

Donegal bay exists of pristine crystal clear water. Fed by a rich and warm North Atlantic current and some rivers. The shoreline consists of a variety of beaches, rocks, small harbours and estuaries. Together with some mountains and colourful villages this makes an excellent scenery. On top of that the coastal area consists of reefs, wrecks, sandy areas and mixed grounds. Not surprising Donegal bay has an outstanding marine life, and contains more than 60 species of fish.

In 2011 I visited the Bay two times to explore the potential of fishing for species in the North West of Ireland. We all know heavily fished and over published areas like Corck and Dingle, but this was a real challenge. I fished some areas that had never been fished before! Guided by local angler Michael Patton, who works at the Northern Regional Fisherries Board, I had one of the best weeks of fishing I ever had. Michael arranged the bait, showed me the best shore marks and joined me on the local charter vessels. During these two trips we had almost 40 species between the two of us. September 2013 I came back with a fellow “specieshunter”, Theo Modder, to catch a few more. In just one week we had over 30 different species of fish. Below I’ll tell you all about the different types of fishing and the species you can expect.

Fishing rock, reef and wreck from the boat

This is the most common form of seafishing in Ierland. Drifting over reefs and underwater rocks while spinning for Pollock with plastic worms is very popular. These are fished with a boom, a 50 gram sinker and a 1,5 meters nylon trace . On the end of this trace you put an Aberdeenhook, add the worm and for extra attraction add a lean strip of mackerel. Lower it down to the bottom and spin it SLOWLY until you reach the surface. Do not strike when you feel bites. Just keep spinning in the same pace. Usually after three small bites the fish is on. Pollock are excellent sportfish, but there are many more species on the rocky ground that can be caught using different techniques.
When you fish a paternoster rig or baited feathers you can choose between ragworm and pieces of mackerel. This type of fishing will get you ballan wrase, cuckoo wrasse, goldsinny wrasse, ling, cod, pollock and pouting. When the drift is slow and you fish small hooks, you could even get a rock cook. If you are targeting cuckoo wrasse mackerel is het best bait. The other wrasses like ragworms better. If you fish two or more hooks, it’s wise to try both baits at the same time. If you are really lucky you might get a special fish like triggerfish or John Dory. When you anchor up you have a better chance at getting conger eels and rock cook. Congers are slow so they are hard to get fishing from a drifting boat.

Fishing the wrecks will get you conger, cod, ling, pouting, poor cod, different types of wrasse and coalfish. I must say I didn’t do a much wreck fishing in Donegal bay.

Spinning for pollock is good fun, but there are many more interesting species that live on the rough ground.

Rock cook caught of a conger mark near Bundoran.

Goldshinny wrasse

Cuckoo wrasse, these colourful fish are easy to catch in Donegal bay.

Fishing the sand from the boat

This type of fishing is by far my favourite. Locals and many charter skippers are not so used to fish the sand and stick to rock fishing. The sand can however produce more special species and you never know what to get. The best tide is the filling tide. Fish all the way from low to high water. Drifting over the sand with a boom followed by a long trace with one or two hooks baited with mackerel, sandeel or launce, gives the best results. Usually you fish in water around five to 30 meters in depth. You can expect different types of ray: Thornback ray, spotted ray, smalleyed ray and blondes. Thornback is the most common. Smalleyed rays are told to be quite rare, but I got five of them in my last trip. These rays put up a good fight and their striped patternresembles a painting. For this reason they are also known as painted ray. I had bad luck at the spotted and the blond rays and will try it again sometime. I’ve seen over ten spotted rays boated during my trips and it´s becoming personal now. LOL. I’m eager to get one!
In some places you are likely to get turbot. If you are very lucky you could even catch a brill. In deeper water you might catch megrim. Fishing with smaller strips of mackerel or rag you’ll commonly catch flounder, grey gurnard, tub gurnard, dab and some nice plaice. Dogfish and whiting will also show up. On the edge of rocks and sand into slightly deeper water you’ll find nice red gurnards. When the drift is fast give more line to slow down the movement of you bait. When you get a bite give some line and let the fish take it before striking. Personally I love to fish the sand, because you never get stuck on the bottom and it’s a relaxed and sensitive type of fishing where you can expect some beautiful fish.

Nice red gurnard caught from Killybegs.

Good turbot caught from the boat on Silver strand.

Nice tub gurnard caught while fishing ray, a pleasant surprise.

The sand also produces ray at night, like this smalleyed ray.

Rossnowlagh beach produced 20 Thornback rays in a couple of hours fishing.

Spotted ray. The one I didn´t get….

Fishing small harbours and piers

Harbours are often underestimated. They can produce big conger eels, nice mullet, flounder and a lot of mini’s. Again best baits are mackerel and ragworm. You can get tompot blenny, corkwing wrasse, ballan wrasse, longhorn sculpin, shorthorn sculpin, rock goby, twospot goby, sand goby, black goby, common goby, shanny, small pollock , poorcod and pouting. For shore rockling, three bearded rockling and conger best chances are when you fish into the dark. Using small feathers there is a chance of catching launce. Donegal bay has many harbours and piers. Some piers and harbours I fished successfully are Mullaghmore harbour, Creevy pier and Bundoran pier. Catching up to 13 species a day is possible when you use small hooks. On a windy day a harbour gives shelter and excellent fishing.

Theo with a nice ballan wrasse caught of Bundoran pier.

Corckwing wrasse caught of Creevy pier.

Mullaghmore harbour, a great alternative on a windy day.

Three bearded rockling. I´m jealous because he has three….

Michael Patton landing a good size conger on the slipway.

Tompot blenny caught of Creevy pier.

Fishing deep water for shark

Drifting over water of 80 meters in depth can be productive for sharkfishing. I found September to be a good month for sharks. Put out a bag with a lot of rubby dubby. Fish your rods in different depths and present your mackerel under a balloon. During the waiting period fish with the smaller rods for whiting, gurnard and if you are lucky you could get a spurdog or a megrim. Many blue sharks are caught lately. I tried it just once from Killybegs and we got three that day up to 90 lbs. If the weather is nice definitely give this a try.

Massive results!

Fishing the rock form the shore

This type of fishing usually gets you dogfish, ballan wrasse, corckwing wrasse and in the night its best for conger and rockling. Rockling will take a decent size mackerel bait. There is no need to fish small hooks. When fishing the rocks you´ll lose gear. Be careful on windy and rainy days. The rocks can be slippery and dangerous. Better not to fish alone in these conditions.

A good cast out will produce doggies.

A nice place for rock fishing.

Shore rockling caught form the rocks.

Fishing the estuary

Donegal bay has some good estuaries. I fished the estuary of the river Erne near Ballyshannon and the river Eske that runs through Donegal town. In the estuary of the river Eske you can get tope, dogfish and some thornback ray. The river Erne produces good numbers of seatrout. Best baits are spinners, Tasmanian devils, various types of flies, sandeel and strips of mackerel. Fishing can be done from boat or form shore. Again upcoming tide is usually the best. Good flounder are also in the area. Fishing with small feathers can produce launce, sandeel, and small Pollock. Tiny hooks will get you gobies as well.

Plenty of seatrout in the estuary of the river Erne.


Beach fishing

Donegal has some nice beaches. The most beautiful beach is silver strand. It´s a long walk down but it´s worth it. Tullan strand an Rossnowlagh beach are also good beaches to fish. You can expect turbot, flounder, plaice, dab, lesser weever, seatrout, and an occasional ray. Don´t forget to bring a firm stand. Some beaches you can access by car. This makes fishing more easy. Best baits are again ragworm and mackerel. Some anglers experiment with squid and peeler crabs. I would prefer a filling tide but each beach has its own rules.

Michael Patton shows a brace of good flounder caught from the beach.

If you’re into adventure and like to catch a variety of fish, just give it a go up north in Donegal bay. There is yet a lot to be discovered. I’m hooked on this part of Ireland and will be back to fish for blond and spotted ray and I might even try for a big skate.

Local information

There is a special website designed to help anglers to fish Donegal bay:
Don´t forget to get yourself “A guide to sea angling in the Donegal Region” This guide gives all the information about good spots, best baits, best rigs and all the species. If you want one of these just let me know. Email me at Pieter underscore beelen at
For local information and fishing tackle visit Sean Carty.

1 person(s) like(s) this message.
replies (9)
30-01-2014 23:09:03
Frank Habets says : Superb place to fish!
31-01-2014 08:39:01
Marcel de Vries says : I am in for a trip to Donegal next year! It‘s a sportfisher‘s paradise!!!
04-02-2014 01:34:53
Theo Modder says : Nice article Pieter !
04-02-2014 11:40:49
Norman Thomas Dunlop says : Great Stuff Pieter! We should really organise a week for the members of What do you think?
05-02-2014 21:33:30
Pieter Beelen says : Hi Norman, There are a lot of specieshunters who would like to come over to Donegal for a week of fishing. I know of 2 or 3 lads that would like to come in 2015. I would like to come this year or the year after. We could definetly arrange a trip.
09-02-2014 01:02:49
Jani Hakkarainen says : A trip to Donegal sounds interesting.....though I still have one trip to the Netherlands on my to do list too
15-02-2014 12:09:48
Pieter Beelen says : hoi jani you‘re welcome any time!
12-03-2014 23:47:39
Jani Hakkarainen says : Thanks Pieter, I know that That‘s only matter of time and money (like always).....
13-04-2014 17:43:07
Ton Nientied says : Good info. with nice pictures.

# name spcs
1 191
2 190
3 170
show entire list
all times:
# name spcs
1 824
2 717
3 640
show entire list
unique species:
# name spcs
1 111
2 105
3 83
show entire list
caught on fly:
# name spcs
1 119
2 111
3 108
show entire list
# name spcs
1 46
2 35
3 35
show entire list
318 registered species hunters.
3272  species.
27 non recognized species.
20 hybrids.
421  fly caught.
631 species on target lists.
184 pictures of zwoonzels.