Ferox Trout

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Loch Tay is not usually associated with ferox trout fishing. Specialist anglers usually make a bee line for Loch Awe or Loch Rannoch. But Loch Tay also holds charr and thus also ferox. There is very little real angling pressure in summer and as a result few captures are reported. "Ferox" trout is perhaps a misnomer. The name Ferox suggests "cannibal" and this is not quite true. All trout will eat other trout, but at a certain point in their growth cycle some find that eating other fish is easier and more biologically efficient than chasing small insects. This practice comes into its own when insects are few (deep highland lochs) where other fish (usually rich fatty charr) are plentiful.

I have caught crackers from Loch Tay of 12lb, 13lb, 16lb 19lb. All have been returned unharmed. All weights have been estimated as I try not to take the fish out of the water to release them. Over the years I have lost count of the number of five and six pound trout from the Loch. The best areas seem to be off Ardtalanaig, Copper Mines and Bay of Plenty.

Their method of capture bears examination. I rarely fish specially for ferox. All have fallen to lures intended for salmon. All have been caught on static rapalas! It usually occurs when I have stopped the boat to untangle the usual mess at the back of the boat. In a matter of minutes of stopping the boat a rod which has been left in the water suddenly goes berserk. All have been takn in high summer. Best conditions are a dark overcast and a small wave and static, but a flat calm has also produced.

This totally contradicts the advice given by Loch Tay ghillies for fishing. Traditionally salmon fishing takes place in spring and autumn in big waters. The popular concept is to fish slow for salmon and fast for trout. This makes sense for these times of year when water is cold and mixed (no termoclines). Desperate trout will go for anything.

But come the summer the charr move to the surface as do the small trout. They hunt early morning, dusk and in overcasts looking for insects. Their predators follow. Ferox are to my mind the white sharks of the lochs. They attack from below, ambushing slow moving or static fish.

How can you tell a ferox trout from another brown trout? Frankly as an angler you can't. A big highland trout is more likely to be pisciverous and thus a ferox. A highland trout with a big head and kype is more likely to be a ferox, but equally could be a big male seatrout.

If you want to learn more about ferox fishing I can recommend Ron Greer's book "Ferox Trout and Arctic Charr - A predator, its pursuit and its prey". Published by Swan Hill Press (1995) ISBN 1 85310 486 8.

Paul Fishlock 14 Nov 2008

Quotes from leading experts:

Alastair Thorne and Alisdair I. MacDonald
Fisheries Biologists, FRS Freshwater Laboratory, Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland. ( 2007)

Joe L. Thorley
Fisheries Biologist, Poisson Consulting Ltd., Nelson, BC, Canad

"Ferox trout" is a term commonly used to describe large, piscivorous brown trout Salmo trutta, which are the top fish predators in many Scottish lochs. (Campbell 1979). In some lochs, ferox trout are reproductively isolated and genetically distinct from the other sympatric brown trout (Duguid et al.2006). Indeed, ferox trout were previously considered a separate species –Salmo ferox.

Currently, however, most fisheries biologists consider ferox trout to be members of the brown trout species complex that have adopted a lifehistory strategy of delayed maturation, extended longevity, piscivory, and rapid growth (Mangel and Abrahams 2001). Nevertheless, the species status of ferox trout may require reassessment (Duguid et al. 2006).

Based on a study of 141 ferox trout from 22 Scottish lochs, Campbell (1971,1979) concluded that typically ferox trout grow slowly until they reach a critical length of 35-40 cm, whereupon they undergo a rapid increase in size associated with a switch to piscivory (Campbell 1971,1979). Although ferox trout do eat smaller brown trout (Grey et al. 2002), examination of stomach
contents has revealed a preference for Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus, which abound in most lochs where ferox trout occur (Campbell 1971,
1979). Ferox trout live for many years and can grow to over a meter in length. The current United Kingdom (UK) rod-caught record stands at 14.4 kg (31 lb-12 oz) with the oldest fish recorded in the UK being 23 years of age."

see also:

Loch Tay
Trout Fishing


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