Trout fishing: we need serious research

Paul Smith
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Last week I chatted to you about purchasing a new fly rod. I received more than my usual quota of feedback.

It seems that the big rod companies have fantastic customer service. Folks emailed and told me stories of how they had broken their prized fishing sticks and had them replaced, with zero hassle or grief. That’s great to hear, if only all areas of commerce functioned so smoothly.

Incidentally and according to my readers, car doors have claimed many fly rod tips. But that’s OK, the rod manufacturers will replace the section for you no matter where the fault lies.

There was a time when they did the fixes for free; now most charge a flat fee. That’s because of abuse, I imagine — folks who would break rods intentionally to get a new one. There are always the few who muddy the waters for the honest.

A few people asked me about repairs for rods with no warranties. Check with my rod building buddy Paul Kearley. When he’s not fishing, you can reach him at 709-786-9391. Even if you do have a warranty, some minor repairs such as re-attaching eyes and the like, probably aren’t worth the cost of shipping for return to the manufacturer. It might be better to have little fixes dealt with locally.

Paul, as well as other aficionados of the long rod, can also set you up with a custom built rod if your casting arm and heart so desire. I’ll tell you more about that option another time.  

Last week, I also expressed my dismay about the trout season being shut down for a month, that’s April 15 to May 15. I’ve heard lots of fisher people complaining about and discussing this forced hiatus from brook trout angling. Of course we don’t like it — dust collecting on our rods, reels and tackle — but is it good for the trout?

Why was the break instituted in the first place? Has it achieved its purpose? Should we return to fishing all spring like we did historically in this province? I did some research in an attempt to find answers.

I chatted with Dr. Geoff Veinott, a DFO scientist tasked with knowing stuff about Newfoundland salmonid populations, habits and dynamics. Geoff was very candid with his knowledge about our brook trout stocks, and the merit of the spring closure. However, there’s a huge glaring problem. There’s no solid data or any research ever done by DFO, and very little by anyone else.

The only research available has been carried out by Robert Perry, who is employed by our provincial government. The federal government, although responsible for inland fisheries, does zero research on our native trout. This is in no way the fault of . Veinott or other employees in St. John’s; there just isn’t any money allotted for trout research from higher levels of the bureaucracy.

They do real work on salmon, but nothing on trout. Why is this? It’s a contentious question, a huge issue that I’ll tackle another day.

Spring break

I’ll get back to the spring closure. Geoff doesn’t really know the details on how the closure got started. The decision was made back in 1995 before he worked at DFO, and there’s no files left behind by former staff on exactly what rationale was considered. Here’s how I remember it, and feel free to correct me on this.

At the time, anglers were loudly voicing opinions, pointing out a declining trout population. DFO responded by reducing the daily bag limit from 24 to 12 trout, and introduced a mid-April to mid-May closure. Those measures have been in place ever since, but have they been effective? We don’t really know because there is no scientific data, only anecdotal evidence, and that is quite varied depending on who you talk to.

. Veinott explained to me science that supports the spring closure. It goes like this. During winter, trout are stressed and seem not to be getting enough food to sustain themselves. When the ice melts the water is cold and lifeless, essentially the same temperature from top to bottom. The shallows along the shoreline warm up first and life explodes, insect larvae, aquatic creatures, and other yummy trout food swim about in the first warmth of spring. The trout, opportunistic creatures that they are, swim in the shallows to both feed and warm themselves. In this hungry stressed state they are easy targets for anglers. So, the theory is that the trout are easy to catch just after ice out, hence the spring closure, giving them a chance to recoup their bodies from winter’s woes.

All of this is based on research on brook trout in other parts of North America — as I said, there have been no studies done here in Newfoundland. But that is how DFO justifies the closure, rightly or wrongly. I reserve judgment until I have more time to think, read and talk to fellow anglers.

Are there more or less trout now than there were in 1995? From chatting with fellow anglers and doing some fishing of my own, I tend to believe that brook trout angling has improved in recent years, at least in my neck of the woods. On the other hand, survey results published by Robert Perry and associates dispute my assertion. They questioned upwards of 1,300 anglers on the Avalon Peninsula. Here’s what they found:

The majority of anglers think that the trout stocks have declined, but not enough to warrant changing the present regulations. Most folks think that it’s not new regulations we need, but rather enforcement of the rules already in place. Many folks who have been fishing all their lives have never been approached by a conservation officer. The survey asked no specific questions about the spring closure.

So, there you go. I think trout fishing has improved in the ponds I float on and walk around. So do others. But an official survey says otherwise.

There have been no scientific studies, no sampling of fish or anything like that. What do you think? I’d love to know. Please drop me a line and have your say. I’ll chat about who said what in a few weeks.

I think there’s a natural innate tendency in us to think fishing and hunting was always better in the past. That might skew a survey. Who knows? I know there are far fewer anglers around our ponds in recent years, and none from April 15 to May 15. That’s a lot of time I wouldn’t have spent fishing with my father if there were a spring closure in the 1960s and ’70s. He would be pretty upset if he were still alive, and well enough to walk the shoreline with his son.  

Returning to the big question, should we continue with the spring closure? I really don’t know. How could I know? We really need to do some meaningful research on our native brook trout. It’s too important an issue to continue ignoring.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted

at or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

Geographic location: Newfoundland, North America

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