They’re in, lads!” Our host Tommy Farrell greeted us heartily, striding toward us at the Irving station north of Port aux Basques. “Hope you’re not tired or hungry, ’cause we’re goin’ fishin’ right now.”
Last June, I went to Newfoundland to check out reports that the province was experiencing better salmon fishing than absolutely anywhere else. What I found was truly remarkable.
“This is Atlantic salmon fishin’s best-kept secret,” Farrell told us, as we began to cast over a bunch of salmon that were lying among ledges a mile below the bridge over the Little Codroy River. “Newfoundland’s rivers are loaded with fish, but the word hasn’t gotten out. It’s mostly only local people fishin’ for ’em.”
At a time when every other Atlantic seaboard province is suffering a decline in salmon numbers due to unexplained circumstances, large populations of salmon that have not been seen in years are now returning to many of Newfoundland’s 177 salmon rivers. Yet, very few nonresidents are traveling there to fish for them.
The Salmon Surge
The resurgence in Newfoundland’s rivers is the result of a moratorium on commercial fishing in effect there since 1992. Runs of returning salmon have been multiplying all over Newfoundland ever since, and each year the runs include increasing percentages of fish that have spent more than a year feeding at sea and growing.
Why are salmon returning to Newfoundland in greater numbers than to other provinces that also have moratoriums on commercial fishing?
“Newfoundland gets more summer rain,” explained our host. “The rivers here stay high and cool when mainland rivers get low and warm. Salmon can come in over a longer period of time, so more fish make it to the spawning grounds and reproduce.”
The Torrent River on the province’s northern peninsula is one example. Before commercial fishing was halted in 1992, fewer than 100 salmon a year returned to the Torrent. In recent years, more than 6,000 salmon annually have passed through the fishway at the Torrent River falls. The Exploits River in central Newfoundland had a run of only a few hundred salmon in 1992, but seven years later, more than 30,000 returned. More than 30,000 salmon ran the Gander River in 1999. A similar number came back to the west coast’s mighty Humber River. Large salmon of 15 to 30 pounds, rarely seen in these rivers during the commercial fishing years, now show up in increasing quantities.
Seeing Is Believing
“Never seen so many fish, b’y,” Sterling Pittman told us when we arrived at his Big Falls Tourist Lodge on the Humber River. “You’ll have no trouble hookin’ the four fish a day the law allows.” Our guide, Rob Solo, had landed a huge 31-pounder on the Humber last year. While we were there, runs of 4- to 6-pound grilse (salmon that return to their natal rivers after one year at sea) were flooding the river. Anglers are only allowed to keep grilse; anything larger must be released.
Open to the Public
There is no exclusive water, nor private clubs, nor reserved water with extra fees in Newfoundland. Consequently, nearly every Newfoundlander flyfishes for salmon. No matter how far you hike to reach remote water early in the season, you’re likely to find a local fisherman there ahead of you. As the season continues, however, the local effort dies off.
Newfoundlanders generally share a “hook and cook” mentality. Most quit fishing once they have filled their annual allotment of seven salmon tags and don’t bother when they are only allowed to “hook and release.”
Hiking far off the road to get away from the fishermen at the bridge, we hooked salmon in lovely, pastoral pools on the Codroy, which is regaining its earlier reputation for being a notable big-fish river. We hooked them in the deep mountain runs of Flat Bay Brook, the sea pool on the Robinsons, the gorge oon Southwest Brook, and we swung our flies over half a dozen 20-pounders we could see in the tail of Ledge Pool on Harry’s River.
Flies du Jour
Salmon here like small, dark flies best. “You could fish all over Newfoundland with no other fly than the Blue Charm,” said Solo. The Blue Charm is the most popular wet fly in the province, followed by the Thunder and Lightning, the Orange Riffle, the Cosseboom, and the Green Highlander in sizes 6, 8, and 10. For dry flies, you can’t beat the Orange Bug, the White Wulff, and the Rat-Faced MacDougal.
Once you get hooked on salmon fishing, the itch to try new water never leaves you alone. Solo told us, “We’ve got to fish the Ste. Genevieve. It’s got the clearest water you’ll ever see, and there are pools and runs where your fly fishes perfectly. And you can’t fish Newfoundland and not fish the Big East, the Torrent and the Castors?every one of ’em’s different, and they’re all runnin’ full of salmon right now, from the sea all the way up into the mountains.”
We headed north, along one of the most beautiful coasts in North America, driving through tiny fishing villages that clung to the rockbound Gulf of St. Lawrence at the mouths of a procession of sparkling salmon rivers whose headwaters flowed from the Long Range Mountains that rose high above us, still bearing patches of snow. When we checked into Maynard’s Torrent River Inn in Hawke’s Bay, the unofficial headquarters for salmon fishermen plying the northern rivers, the word was what every salmon fisherman longs to hear.
“Your timin’s perfect!” exclaimed Bill Maynard, the innkeeper, as he greeted us. “Every river’s full of fish. There are new runs comin’ in on every rise of tide.”
On the last day of our trip we had to lay down our rods for fear of catching too many salmon. “This is the kind of fishin’ we been waitin’ years to see,” our guide told us. “The people who’ve been sayin’ salmon fishin’s no good anymore should come and have a look at us here today.”
If You Go
In Newfoundland, nonresidents are required to have a licensed guide for every two fishermen, who split the standard guide rate of $100 CDN per day (about $35 U.S. apiece). Local guides are available through motels, cabins, and fishing lodges, and can usually be hired at either full-day or half-day rates. Comfortable accommodations at motels and cabins range from about $50 to $100 CDN per day ($30 to $65 U.S.), depending on location.
Our tour of west-coast salmon rivers was arranged by Newfoundland’s top fly tyer, Rob Solo, who uses his expert knowledge of the area’s salmon rivers and suitable accommodations to organize salmon fishing trips for visiting sportsmen. To reach him, contact Rob Solo, Dept. FS, 1 Burkes Rd., Apt. 4, Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada A2H 4G3; 709-634-8206.
For fishing regulations and information regarding accommodations close to excellent salmon fishing, contact Newfoundland Tourism, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 8730, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada A1B 4K2; 800-563-6353; www.gov.nf.ca/tourism.-J.B.R.