The Mourne is considered the supreme Northern Irish salmon river, but unless you live there you are unlikely to have fished it. It shouldn’t fly under the radar of other British anglers. Its prolific runs, wonderful fly water, and well-managed beats make it a stellar choice for trip. Join FishPal’s Sam Carlisle on his trip to the Mourne!
This July was the wettest Northern Ireland has ever had. August wasn’t progressing any differently. Visiting my parents-in-law for an 85th birthday party just over the border in County Donegal, I interspersed my family duties with constantly checking the levels of the river Mourne.
I picked up the phone to Barney Winters, owner of Guides Choice tackle shop in Sion Mills, on the banks of the Mourne. Barney also runs a number of beats on the river and its tributaries the Derg, Strule and Owenkillew.
He was sanguine about my chances. “We only had 11 fishable days in the whole of July, and its too big now for most of the beats, including the Snaa. More rain is due on Saturday, but if Sunday is dry, I have a beat that might fish on the Monday…”
Sunday stayed dry, and I arranged to fish on Monday morning at a large holding pool just downstream of the fabled Abercorn beats.
Spending a day on the River Mourne
The pool at Mulvin sweeps slowly round an enormous bend. It must be half a mile or more, and requires laying out the longest cast you can manage. This is classic fishing, reminiscent of the Spey or Tay. I was met by Barney’s brother Jarlath, who kindly put me in at the top of the pool and went back to the hut to make some tea before following behind me. “This is a lovely height – it shouldn’t take long today!”
My optimism wasn’t as high. I’d fished in perfect conditions on prolific Scottish beats already this season, with minimal reward. The water still looked big to me. The colour meant that even wading at knee depth I couldn’t see my feet. I changed my fly to something big and flashy, and put on a much faster sink tip.
I’m normally a fan of intimate spate rivers, where small pools are followed by little glides and you can bounce your way down the river fishing every likely spot. But there was enough feature in this long pool to keep any angler interested: a swirl betraying a boulder beneath, a riffle where a fish would certainly lie, or a clear gully along the far bank that was sure to hold a salmon.
Interrupted by the nerve-wracking tug-tug-tug
I fished down and past the hut without sight of a fish. As I was standing beside a triangular rock, which Jarlath had told me to look out for, I was just contemplating whether I should downsize my fly, when its swing was interrupted by that delightful and supremely nerve-wracking tug-tug-tug. With line drawing from my fingers I lifted the rod. A satisfying and deep bend revealed a good fish, and at the first splash I looked up to see Jarlath running down the bank with net in hand. After a few runs we landed my first Mourne salmon, a loverly 12lber, that I held momentarily before it flicked its tail and continued its upstream journey.
That was just the start of a brilliant morning. Another couple of rods arrived, and by 3pm the four of us had 7 salmon to hand with another few lost. Despite being mid-August a few of them were bright silver grilse.
Fishing the Mourne River
The Mourne is considered the supreme Northern Irish salmon river, but unless you live there you are unlikely to have fished it. It shouldn’t fly under the radar of other British anglers. Its prolific runs, wonderful fly water, and well managed beats make it a stellar choice for trip. Add into that very easy access via Belfast airport, and the fact that you can fish on Sundays, and it is well worth considering for a long weekend of the finest sport.
Options for fishing the Mourne with FishPal are either the famous Abercorn Estate beats, which include the excellent Snaa pool along with fishing on the Derg and Strule, or miles of water on the Sion Mills Angling Association water, which catches in excess of 1000 salmon a year.