Fisherman’s friend: a heady, nature-infused break at Britain’s largest freshwater lake

Northern Ireland’s tranquil fishing lake is a blast of head-clearing fresh air, with delicious eels and blustery hikes on the side, says Richard Franks

Friday 03 December 2021 17:12
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<p>Lough Neagh</p>

Lough Neagh

It’s a warm summer’s evening and I’m whizzing across Lough Neagh with husband-and-wife fisherfolk duo Gary McErlain and Anne-Marie McStocker. After a 15-minute jaunt across still water, the boat gently judders to a halt. If I squint I see nothing but deep reed beds ahead; to the right, there’s nothing but glistening water for miles. Though the view is boosted somewhat by some unusual-for-these-parts blue skies, I could be anywhere in the world right now.

“Where do you think we are?” asks Gary, as if he’s read my mind, tracing the lake map spread out over his recently-kitted-out passenger boat. Based on the fact that we’re surrounded by very little, I tentatively point somewhere towards the centre. “Everybody does that,” says Gary, truly tickled. Instead, I’m told we haven’t even left Toome Bay, at the very top of the lake. Blimey.

Northern Ireland’s Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in Britain and Ireland, spanning a whopping 150 square miles. You’d have to sail for around 20 miles to go from top to bottom; for comparison, just 12 miles of water separate Northern Ireland and Scotland’s nearest points, Torr Head and the Mull of Kintyre. It’s also the largest wild eel fishery in Europe, with approximately 80 per cent of its catch exported to Holland and Germany.

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