Basically the ferox is a brown trout that has over millennia developed a quite distinct lifestyle. Ferox live longer than normal brown trout, eat prey fish (generally char) rather than insect life and grow much, much bigger. Herein lies the excitement of it all: an eight pound ferox is about average, ten to twelve pounds is considered a good size with fifteen quite possible. Twenty pound and even thirty pound ferox are waiting to be caught. Above that is anybodyís guess but those in the know would not be surprised to hear of the forty pound ferox one day from one of the great glacial waters of the north and west. The ferox is hugely beautiful. It fights unbelievably. So no wonder thereís a growing band of anglers fatally infected with that terminal disease known as feroxide!
WHERE AND WHEN
Ferox are exclusively a fish of the central European glacial lakes, the Scottish lochs and the Irish loughs. There is a good reason for this. Ferox and char go as inevitably together as bacon and eggs. Put simply, ferox cannot exist without char shoals. Char shoals are unbelievably numerous and easy to hit into and, also, the average six to eight ounce char is the perfect food size for a hungry ferox. Without char, ferox would never have developed and the only exception to the char/ferox link is, possibly, Loch Lomond where shoals of white fish called powan fill the food-fish requirement.
There are many top waters. Loughs Conn, Mask and Corrib are tops in Ireland. Lochs Awe, Rannock, Quoich and Garry are well known in Scotland. But there are many, many others. Itís estimated that there are at least three to four hundred ferox waters in Scotland and Ireland alone, including Windermere in the Lake District.
Ferox season begins around about mid-March but the fishing only really warms up in April and May. Itís possibly at its best in June peaking once again in September and early October before the season for them ends. July and August do produce fish but the frequently hot weather sends the ferox down deep. Itís best then to fish in the cool of the dawn or even at night when they are actively on the rampage.
A ferox fisherman must have a sea-worthy boat and a reliable engine. Itís probably best to hire your boat till you know if youíre keen enough to make whatís a big investment. Something of twelve to fourteen feet is about right Ė but it must be tough because of the frequent large swells on these big open waters. And this is where engine reliability comes in: in the past, Iíve messed around with engines that have let me down, sometimes with near-terminal results. A five or even six-horse power engine that you believe in implicitly is an absolute must.
Why all this emphasis on boats and engines? Well, ferox fishing is all about trolling, covering huge tracts of waters with your artificial lures or deadbaits. You simply cannot ferox fish efficiently from the bank so forget it if youíre a landlubber.
Iíve already mentioned the rough, craggy nature of these huge waters so donít forget your buoyancy aids. An echo sounder is also a good idea to give you some picture of what is going on in the vast depths underneath your boatís hull. Importantly, an echo sounder will help you avoid catching bottom with deep-diving lures wherever there is a sudden shelf or submerged island. This is particularly the case in the western Ireland loughs like Mask with its death-defying drop-offs and ridges.
If youíre fishing alone, two rods are all youíll be able to cope with and even if you have a boat partner itís rarely advisable to have more than three: go above that figure and dreadful tangles can result. Perfect rods are between eight and ten feet long, softish in action with around about a two-pound test curve. Above all, they must be tough because the ferox rod takes a great deal of battering through the course of a stormy season. For reels, you can use either a multiplier or a fixed-spool with the bait runner feature. What is important is that a taking ferox can be given line Ė essential in those few seconds before you cut the engine and get to the rod.
Lines should be around fifteen pounds breaking strain and a wire trace is advisable Ė and essential if pike are around. Youíll need a couple of swivels in your set-up to avoid line twist so make sure the swivels are of the highest quality.
And what about the bait itself: well, you can try dead char or small rainbow trout but probably the cleanest and easiest way is to fish with a selection of spoons and plugs. A big, heavy silver spoon can often be hard to beat. Polish it until it really shines and that way it will pick up any light that it finds twenty or more feet beneath the surface. Tying red wool around the hook can often prove a killer as well.
Most peopleís favourites, however, are plugs Ė especially deep-diving ones. Favourites of mine include the Super Shad Rap, coloured blue, the Shad Rap Deep Runner and the Risto Rap in its deep-diving design. However, there is a whole range of deep-divers on the market, plugs that will get down to six metres and more, Thatís probably about your optimum fishing depth although there are times when you will see the char shoals lift as ferox push them towards the surface. Then itís not a bad idea to put on a surface popper and troll that through the surface film. Takes can be explosive.
It always pays to take a selection of lure colours: different colours undoubtedly work on different days and itís a good idea to swop your lures around every hour or so until you get some sort of reaction. This might be luck but it builds up confidence and exercises the mind!
There are other bits and bobs that youíll need: boat rod rests that are sturdy and totally reliable are essential. An unhooking mat is a great idea because youíll need something soft to put your prized ferox on rather than the hard bottom of the boat. A landing net with a collapsible handle is useful in the limited confines of your craft.
And, above all, never neglect good quality, warm, waterproof clothing Ė especially early and late in the season. Even if the day looks blue and promising remember that the weather can change with extraordinary rapidity in these remote and mountainous areas. Ample food and a couple of flasks of coffee or tea are also a good idea to sustain the inner man during the long periods afloat.
HOW TO FEROX FISH
Most ferox are caught between twenty and a hundred metres from the shore so this is the area that most people decide to troll. However, you could say that because most people troll this marginal fringe this is where the majority of fish are caughtÖif you see what I meanÖand itís quite true that the occasional ferox is caught way out in mid-loch as boats swap one bank to another. Itís also a good idea to look out for bays, islands, in-flowing streams and out-flowing rivers. Watch out for feeding fish on the surface Ė especially huge shoals of dimpling char. On some lochs, fish farms operate and cages of small salmon and trout also tend to attract the big predators inÖbut always keep your eye open for tethering ropes and anchors.
When youíre trolling, vary the speed and direction of your boat. Sometimes just a blip on the accelerator gives a burst of life to your lure that triggers an instant take. Troll intelligently. Keep your mind buzzing and youíll find that the number of takes increases. Watch your rod tips and make sure that they keep bouncing to the lure's action: if they go dead, the chances are the lure is tangled or perhaps buried in some weed. Stop and check: itís no good trolling the day long with lures that are working uselessly.
Thereís long been an obsession with getting lures down really deep to where ferox often lie. I personally, donít think this is as vital as some older writers have made it sound. Itís probably true that when ferox are not feeding they do hang sixty, eighty or even a hundred feet beneath the surface. However, itís my belief that when hunger begins to strike they lift up towards the surface layers and can often be caught between five and twenty feet down.
Thereís no real accounting for ferox taste and nobody really knows when that magic take might happen to you. The only real answer is to get out as early as you can and stay out as long as possible. Thereís no doubt that the greater number of hours you can put on the water then the greater chance there is of fish. People used to talk about dawn or dusk or the early afternoon: believe me, just keep trolling and the fish will come.
FEROX DOíS AND DONíTS
1. Never forget your oars. Even reliable engines break down and without oars and rollocks you are doomed to a miserable night afloat.
2. Troll off into the wind. Itís easier to get back with it in the event of an engine breakdown.
3. Take enough petrol.
4. Always catch a weather forecast before setting out and if it really sounds to be dire, just donít go. These big open waters can be dangerous places.
5. Always make sure you have your hooking mat and forceps with you. Aim for a very quick release. Remember that ferox are very wild, very fragile and very, very rare.
6. Never kill a ferox for a trophy. A photo is quite enough. I repeat, there are very few specimens in each individual water and they are right at the head of the food chain. Itís irresponsible not to protect them as much as possible.
7. ALWAYS WEAR A RELIABLE BUOYANCY AID. YOUR LIFE COULD WELL DEPEND ON IT.