Ferox may not be the prettiest of fish, even the girls look butch, but by jings they can put a smile on the face of anglers lucky enough to hook into them. Found in the old glacial lochs and lakes of the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia they can grow to a prodigious size, the world record stands at 37lbs 6ozs taken in Sweden and there is an unconfirmed report of a fish of 39lb 8ozs taken by W.C. Muir in Scotland in 1866, the Scottish record stands at 31lb 12ozs taken on Loch Awe. Not a fish to hunt for with a 3lb tippet!
Ferox, as the aggressive name implies are carnivorous - piscivorous fish that live on Arctic char by preference however they are partial to any 'meat on the hoof' and will take trout, insects, frogs and rodents - in Scandinavia they are reported to be partial to a lemming or two. Ferox are also known to be long lived with the oldest recorded in Scotland taken on Loch Killin in Inverness-shire, reaching 23 years of age.
In waters where ferox are found their numbers are relatively small, populations in any species are balanced by the availability of food in a loch, even the biggest lochs in Scotland cannot sustain a large population of long living predators. Research on Loch Rannoch from 1990 showed that of of 70 ferox caught and tagged 9 had been re-caught, a 13% re-capture rate supports the assertion that ferox populations are naturally low. Incidentally and significantly, given the low natural population levels, it is clear that ferox do survive catch and release well if properly handled.
The Freshwater Research Service describes ferox as 'large predatory brown trout', Salmo trutta and in becoming piscivourous trout are only following one of a number of strategies for life.
Ferox in Lough Melvin are known to be genetically distinct however other studies have found that in most cases ferox are just one of a number of variations on the species Salmo trutta, i.e. not a different species. Ferox do show a variety of shape, colouration and spot patterns with fish of similar length varying in weight by as much as 2 to 3 pounds.
Their weight and condition is dependent on age, the season in which they are caught, whether they have spawned, levels of parasitic infestation and available food. For a trout to become a ferox it is basically a 'lifestyle decision', like you deciding to work out and live on a high protein diet. Young, brown trout feed on the usual fayre of insects and other invertebrates and at around 35cm long some trout make that life style choice and start to eat other fish on a regular basis, they do love a char.
The change in diet has benefits in that fish put on more weight, a 300% increase in weight is not uncommon, and in longevity. Often referred to as cannibals, ferox do eat trout if needs must but as mentioned above they prefer char which explains their life habits. From the anglers perspective another study on Loch Rannoch has found that ferox are not territorial and range widely throughout the loch having been found to travel up to a kilometer in a few hours.
Radio tagging has also found that ferox dive deep during the day probably on feeding dives to where the char hang out, at night however they move into shallower water and become less active. I have only caught a handful of ferox for sure, including a fish of about 3lbs taken on Loch Shin, taken on the fly (where in lies a tale I will tell in the online magazine section). A wicked looking brute, beautiful in its way which when cooked tasted appalling - no wonder they end up stuffed and in glass cases.
Taking ferox on the fly is off course not the most common way to catch them, trawling is the way to get into them. Recommended tackle is an old salmon fly rod of 13 or 14 feet set up with a good centre pin reel, with a large line capacity, filled with braid of 25lbs. For bait ferox prefer char but char can be hard to come by so many anglers will use quarter pound trout which are more readily available. Dead bait, spoons, spinners, minnows or rapalas are all effective for ferox (live bait is no longer permitted).
Ferox are not exclusively taken on lochs and under the right conditions they can be taken in rivers. In years gone by, in less enlightened times I know anglers used to travel to the river Gaur on Rannoch Moor to intercept ferox on their spawning runs. I also know of a river where a spate will create runs of ferox which came as a shock to my system for having fished this river in normal conditions I had caught nowt but tiddlers.
During a spate I landed three wicked fighting fish of about two and a half pounds and lost an other half dozen, all on a bloody butcher - what a day! Where is this river? I'm saying nothing I just know that these fish were spectacular fighters, that's why I lost two thirds of the fish hooked. What I will tell you is that any of the locations listed on the Where to Fish for Arctic char section will hold ferox - rule of thumb no char no ferox.