Fishy Tales from the Emerald Isle –

Terry’s Travels…..Lough Swilly Adventure

Situated on the picturesque coastline of the Inishowen Peninsula, North Donegal, Lough Swilly offers the sea angler a wide variety of species to target in its shallow, well sheltered waters. The lough covers an area of over fifty kilometres in length with an average width of five kilometres and contains a wealth of boat and shore marks to explore. The relatively shallow water and fast tides lends itself well to uptide methods, although drifting can also produce excellent results. Primarily, Swilly is famous for tope and thornback rays throughout the summer months, but there is a great deal more on offer for the angler willing to hunt for other species.

Jackie Ogle with a Tub Gurnard taken at the mouth of Lough Swilly

Fahan is a small coastal village on the shores of Swilly with a recently built marina; however, it has yet to be supplied with a decent slipway. The old slip will dry out at low water and could not be described as entirely suitable, although it is useful if you judge the tides correctly. Do not leave launching or retrieving your boat any later than two hours either side of high water.

Launching a small boat at the tidal slipway of Fahan

Rathmullan has a purpose built slipway that is ideal for the dinghy angler, but bear in mind; this would entail driving the extra distance around the top end of Lough Swilly. There is also a slip at Buncrana. It is used by the car-passenger ferry, but as long as you cause no obstruction, and are reasonably quick to launch, there seems to be no objection in using it, at time of writing. Should you choose to launch at any of these slips, you will only be a couple of minutes away from decent angling in the main channel.


Over recent years I have witnessed many species captured in the main channel, and boat anglers should expect to see thornback rays in abundance, tope, dabs, plaice, flounder, some mackerel, launce, grey, red and tub gurnards, dogfish, coalfish and whiting.

Red gurnards are plentiful in this area

Towards the mouth of Swilly, in the deeper water between Fanad Head and Dunaff Head, expect all the above species along with blonde ray, codling, strap conger eels and small turbot. The rock marks around each headland will also produce wrasse and Pollack and there have been a few common skate taken at anchor by anglers prepared to sit and wait.

Dessy Young with a specimen Tub Gurnard

Porbeagle sharks are a real possibility from June onwards, and can be found around the headlands outside the mouth of Swilly.

Terry, with a specimen tope, tagged and ready to release

Rathmullan charters are the major recommended charter boats in Lough Swilly, chartering a thirty eight foot, fully equipped Aquastar that is licensed and insured for twelve anglers, and can be contacted on 00353 7458129, or 00353872634107. They offer all of the above angling, along with wreck and reef fishing and can also arrange accommodation. For an aerial view of Fahan marina, check out the website,

Plaice are reasonably common in Lough Swilly

And so are dabs.


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