Mourne/Derg Report 29 July 2010

Mourne The Mourne seems to be following a repetitive pattern lately with a good flood about once a week bringing hope of a substantial run of fish, only to be disappointed as the floods subside. The most optimistic anglers point to the fact that runs have been getting later year on year recently and there is still time. Heavy rain forecast for tomorrow (Friday) could bring another flood and with it more predictions and hope! Despite the lack of “the big run” all is not bad on the Mourne with fresh fish coming off the tides on a daily basis. Fish are now well dispersed throughout the entire system giving everyone the chance of a fish. All pools from Strabane to the Strule now contain fish. There are no particular hot spots but early morning seems to be producing the most fish. A lot of anglers are reporting touches, half takes, knocks, interviews and tugs but poor takers. There is only one sure way of catching these “Pluckers”: keep your fly in the water, put in the hours and don’t give up.

Derg The Derg is suffering from recent floods that run off too quickly and the lack of a decent run of fish. Fish have entered the river and quickly moved up but sadly not the numbers needed. I spoke to some bailiffs recently who told me the main Derg run now comes in November/December with spawning taking place in January/February. Perhaps this could go some way to explain why runs are getting later and later.

Mark Gough @ NM Tackle, Sion Mills. Tel: 028 8165 9501

Mourne/Derg Report week ending 22 July 2010

Mourne After heavy rain last Thursday, the Mourne and Derg rose into a decent flood on Friday. Early signs on Thursday night looked promising with 25–30 fish going easily over the Sion weir in 25 minutes. Unfortunately, it was not to continue and only a handful of fish were seen on the weir throughout Friday. For the rest of the week the river has maintained a perfect fishing height with good numbers of fish being seen coming off the tide. Most beats from Strabane upstream have recorded good daily catches mostly on fly or spinning. Wednesday saw heavy rain locally all day with both the Mourne and Derg rising fast before nightfall. I witnessed approx 50 fish in 30 minutes before dark take the weir easily. Thursday saw both rivers in heavy flood.

Derg In good water levels some fish are being landed around Ardstraw and Castlederg.  Small runs of grilse have been seen moving through Ardstraw – not as many as we would like but welcome nonetheless.

Note: July is nearly gone and so are the sea trout runs we once enjoyed. All anglers should try and return with care any sea trout caught!

Mark Gough @ NM Tackle, Sion Mills  Tel: 028 8165 9501

Mourne/Derg Report week ending 15 July 2010

Mourne After heavy rain last Saturday we got a decent flood in the Derg and Mourne by Sunday morning with a rise of about 4 feet. Optimism was soon dashed as only the odd fish was seen on the weir at Sion on Sunday and Monday. Monday to Thursday saw the Mourne in perfect order for fishing. As I report (Thursday evening) the Mourne is rising again after very heavy showers all day. Throughout the week fish have continued to be caught, mostly around Sion and above Victoria bridge; however, the fish are picky when choosing a fly and the heavily peat-stained water does not help. Fishing today below Sion, I witnessed about a dozen fish intent on running upstream.

Derg The Derg benefited from the flood last Sunday but I have only heard of around four fish at Ardstraw and a few more by Castlederg. Nothing to get excited about yet!

Fingers crossed: it rained on St Swithin’s Day so it should rain for forty days!

This week saw a very big run of fish into the Moy; reports suggest close to six hundred fish were landed last Sunday. Could we be next?

Mark Gough @ NM Tackle Sion Mills. Tel: 028 8165 9501

Northern Ireland forced to change salmon policy

A Milestone for the Foyle: Entering a New Era where Abundance is the Target, not Minimum Levels

On 14 June 2010 The Loughs Agency, Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, announced that due to a collapse in the salmon stock of the River Finn, all netting in the greater Foyle river system area would be stopped for a minimum of four years to promote stock recovery. Angling would be permitted, but only on a catch and release basis, as a result of a previously agreed protocol requested by anglers to help guard against poaching and pollution, and agreed by The Loughs Agency. This represents a milestone in the development of salmon fisheries policy in the north-west of Ireland: the Foyle system is a cross-border river system administered on a joint basis by two sovereign governments, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. This change in policy has come about to protect stocks, but also because a failure to act by the Loughs Agency would have rendered the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom liable to infraction proceedings from the EU for breach of the Habitats’ Directive.

The history of salmon policy in the north-west of Ireland is not an advertisement for good government. It has been characterised in the early years by a bureaucratic neglect to the extent that when NASF asked the responsible senior Civil Servant to outline Government policy on salmon, he was unable to do so, simply because no policy existed.

In the face of falling stocks, through pressure from anglers led by NASF and others, government in time were forced to set out their policy on salmon – which amounted to neglect of duty. Instead of looking at the problem, government simply allowed mixed stock interceptory netting to continue largely unhindered. It is an interesting commentary on salmon policy in the north of Ireland that governments always end up doing what NASF and anglers tell them they must do, but there is a lethal time lag while they do what they can to hide the fact that their previous policies were in error. Saving face, it seems, is more important than saving the salmon.

When NASF told Governments in the early 1990s that we needed to stop netting and conserve the freshwater habitats, we were literally laughed at. We were told in fact that the Foyle salmon netting effort may need to be increased, “to make sure we don’t allow too many salmon to reach the spawning grounds”.  This is typical of the wilful refusal to look to the future that NASF has faced down the years. Time and again when NASF submitted plans to reduce or buy out netting, we were told it was not necessary, Government had everything in hand, all would be well, the bureaucrats knew much more about salmon than mere anglers in NASF. In fact, all was not well, and it now turns out that the anglers and NASF were right all along.

The collapse in the salmon stock of the River Finn must now mark a complete break from the misguided policies of the past as promoted by the Loughs Agency and supported by the two sovereign governments, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

The Lough Agency has used models based upon minimum spawning escapement levels instead of listening to the NASF call for a return to abundance and the creation of a stronger population base through greater numbers. We at NASF criticise the narrow focus on egg deposition targets because rivers need far more spawning fish than are necessary to satisfy meagre theoretical minimum levels. The practice of calculating backwards from juvenile habitat surveys to an estimation of required egg deposits is insufficient on its own, because it ignores the salmon’s need for the diversity and protection against threats that abundant numbers provide.  It also takes no account of the normal but highly variable occurrence of lethal weather, pollution and other events that inflict high egg and fry mortality.  There is good reason why salmon populations are prodigious when it comes to spawning.  The fish deposit large numbers of eggs because so few of their ova survive and every season is different in terms of the unpredictability of weather, damaging events and water levels.

It is not reasonable ignore these diverse factors and assume that a one-fits-all scenario can be safely constructed on a computer which does not recognise what mother nature has been very successfully doing for the last ten thousand years.  Given the current abysmally low number of adult salmon in many rivers, the only rational strategy is to maximize egg deposition from the current runs and to work simultaneously to re-establish the environmental qualities of the rivers.

In the Loughs Agency area, this milestone presents an opportunity which must not be squandered.

We are running out of time to save the salmon, we can no longer afford the lethal time lag while Government Agencies try to save face. We need a complete break from a sterile dependence solely on minimum Conservation Limit targets; while these may form a useful contribution to a management regime, we must no longer rely on the concept of minimum numbers as targets for spawning. 

We must firstly negotiate with the remaining netsmen to bring a permanent end to all netting in the entire Foyle area, with suitable safeguards on angling exploitation. Then we must embark on a long term programme of habitat conservation, protection, and enhancement, to maximise freshwater productivity. We must strive to achieve the NASF objective of abundance of salmon in our rivers, and to aim to achieve this every year. Only by doing this can we protect our salmon runs for the future.

Please note:

The North Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF) is an international coalition of voluntary private sector conservation groups who have come together to restore stocks of wild Atlantic salmon to their historic abundance.

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Mourne/Derg report week ending 8 July 2010


Heavy rain and showers over last weekend brought relief to the system. On Sunday the Derg rose slowly all morning then three feet or more in an hour; this coinciding with extra water in the Strule put about four foot on the Mourne. By Mon/Tue levels had dropped back and cleaned up to allow fishing.

I watched the weir at Sion on Sunday as soon as the rise came and saw approx 20 fish in 20 minutes, other reports confirmed this run continued on and off for most of the week.

Reports of catches are plentiful in the Mourne with the bulk being caught around Sion Mills, but fish have been landed at Victoria Bridge and above. On one or two regular stretches fish are strangely scarce. There is a mixture of fish being landed, fresh grilse, slightly coloured late springers and a small number of very good summer salmon weighing 12/15lb

With the possibility of more rain forecast for the coming weekend it is hoped this run will continue to move fish throughout the system.


I have only witnessed one fish landed and two lost at Ardstraw.

Mark Gough @ NM Tackle, Sion Mills

Slurry inflicts another devastating blow

Another devastating blow for anglers came in the rivers above Omagh with an 8-mile stretch of river totally wiped of all life from gudgeon, stoneloach, roach trout to salmon at various stages of their lifecycle. An organic spill was noted by an angler in the upper reaches of the Owenreagh river on the Monday whilst there was heavy rain on. This was reported to the Loughs Agency who very quickly were able to find the source and take the statutory samples necessary to be able to proceed with a case. It was pure slurry that had drained into the river and whilst not being poisonous to fish it had the effect of actually suffocating them. This plume of pollutant continued on its devastating flow towards Omagh and the Drumragh river very slowly all the while being monitored very diligently by Loughs Agency staff, especially Seamus Cullinan and his local officers. They deployed oxygenation pumps to the river in several areas to try and stave off the effect of the pollutant but could only watch helplessly as the slurry killed everything in its path. This was a very hard thing for the anglers to have to take in: not being able to do anything but watch. However, as the pollutant reached the main Drumragh river it became more diluted and had less of an effect and fewer fish died as it moved towards Omagh. We are praying for more heavy rain to wash the system out.

Unfortunately, this was not a lone event and within two weeks there was another incident on the upper reaches of the Camowen river but thankfully it did not have the same effect. We must all be diligent in these times of low water  as any spillages into the river can have a catastrophic outcome. The Drumragh has suffered this many times down the years: June 1985 saw a 6-mile stretch of river wiped of life due to slurry and again in June 1999 when the upper reaches of the Drumragh on the Seskinore side suffered a huge fish kill. And of course we also had the massive kill of over 800 adult salmon on the Strule back in August 2004, one of the worst for salmon on record.

Terry Smithson

Fishing Report

Mourne Rain last night has made no significant change to the Mourne so far.  Nor, since my last report there has been little change on the Derg. Fish continue to be caught in dribs and drabs at Lifford Bridge and Sion Mills. A 2-foot rise a fortnight ago saw a few grilse caught upstream of Victoria Bridge. Reliable reports from the Foyle indicate a good head of fish building up, not surprising when there are no legal nets operating due to the ban. With this comes the inevitable increase in poaching, however, the Loughs Agency have also increased their patrols with some success.

Derg No change, no fish!

Mark Gough @ NM Tackle, Sion Mills

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