Salmon news and blues

Paul Smith
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This week I am not the bearer of joyful news, at least not for those angling optimists extraordinaire, the folks who pursue the fish of a thousand casts. (That’s Atlantic salmon I’m talking about, and it’s a well deserved nickname I think.)

I’ll do the math pertaining to my most persistent unrewarded hunt for the big fellas; those gigantic early run silvers that entice fly tossers to hop on airplanes and fly thousands of miles around the world.

Let me see, seven days casting upon the renowned River Gaula in Norway, at 14 hours per day and a cast a minute, that’s a total of 5,880 casts for zero fish. That put a severe dent in my batting average.

Last year, on the Restigouche in Quebec, I logged a solid 20 hours through pouring rain and frigid cold winds for one fish over 20 pounds. That’s 1,200 casts, a better score, and oh so worth it. That’s the game we play, on the prowl for big salmon.

Big fish, little fish

I know I’ve explained this before, but to refresh I’ll quickly explain the often misunderstood difference between big salmon and grilse. Grilse are Atlantic salmon under 63 centimetres that migrate to feed in the ocean for just one year before returning to their natal rivers to reproduce.

Big salmon or multi-sea winter fish (2SW) stay at sea for two or more years before returning to freshwater. The 2SW fish winter and feed off Greenland, and mix with other big salmon from all over the world, Russia, Norway, Quebec, Newfoundland and so on. Grilse tend to migrate much shorter distances, with our Newfoundland and Labrador grilse feeding and wintering in the Labrador Sea.

When I ramble obsessively about targeting early run silver, I’m specifically referring to those massive 2SW salmon that tend to enter rivers early, taking advantage of spring runoff to get their deep rotund bellies over the rocks. One of the favourite Newfoundland haunts for these lunkers is Bay St. George in June. This concentrated group of waterways produces some very big salmon, often in excess of 20 pounds.

I’m sad to say that reports indicate a desperate start to the 2014 season. Hardly any large salmon have been caught. We are praying that the salmon are late due to the oddly cold spring we are experiencing. I hope I will soon have better news to report.

No-kill policy

Let’s take a look at what’s going on generally with regard to big 2SW silver. At present all Newfoundland anglers are required by law to release any large salmon that they might catch. Although folks have complained, given present circumstances this is a very good thing in my view. Other provinces and countries should follow suit. We should be killing no 2SW salmon unless minimum spawning requirements for a particular river are absolutely 100 per cent satisfied.  It’s also prudent to err on the side of caution if data is sparse.

Overall conservation requirements for North American 2SW salmon have been below minimum since the early 1990s, with a slight improvement in the past few years. The problem is that salmon continue to be harvested in three separate gillnet fisheries that are all difficult to control for various reasons. This seriously compounds the environmental factors that saw a total of 900,000 fish in the mid-’70s plummet to 100,000 today.

Incidentally, a little over 200,000 is the minimum conservation requirement. Don’t forget, I’m not talking about grilse. These smaller fish are orders of magnitude more numerous. The Exploits alone has produced 50,000 fish in a single year.

So, where and how are the 2SW salmon being slaughtered, and what can we do about it? There are three commercial or subsistence fisheries that account for big numbers. The largest is the Greenland fishery, which killed 11,500 North American salmon last season. This includes subsistence and commercial markets. The commercial side of this fishery was bought out and halted for a number of years, but now they are back at it again, and planning even bigger catches. They point to salmon killed in Canada as justification. Negotiations are ongoing.

For 2013 in Canada, 12,969 large salmon were killed. This includes angling in jurisdictions where retention of large salmon is legal, as well as the Labrador subsistence fishery. Greenland is looking at these numbers and balking at halting its commercial fishery. We really need to step up and reduce the numbers of 2SW salmon killed in Canada. It’s proposed that live traps be used in Labrador instead of gillnets so that large salmon might be released. Grilse are just as tasty on the coals. I’d also encourage other provinces to go no-kill on big fish. Then we would wield serious bargaining power in dealing with Greenland.

French kill

There’s also a gillnet kill fishery in St-Pierre-Miquelon. The French killed 588 large salmon and 1,764 grilse in 2013, all fish heading for Canadian Rivers. This constitutes their most prolific fishery since they started keeping records in the 1970s. Not good enough. The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) is meeting in Paris this month. Hopefully headway will be made to curtail this interceptory fishery.

There is much to do if we want 2SW salmon to sustain, grow and survive.

We can all help by donating to the Atlantic Salmon Federation. Check out their website at, and consider joining. For 50 bucks you get regular updates on what’s going on in the Atlantic salmon world plus four copies per year of the Atlantic Salmon Journal.

It’s tax deductible and a very worthy cause. These are the guys and gals who fight tooth and nail to save our salmon.

If you hook a big salmon this summer, play it crisply, like you really mean it, snap a photo quickly, and release it gently. Better to break the line than kill the salmon.

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.

Organizations: North American, The North, Salmon Conservation Organization NASCO Atlantic Salmon Federation Atlantic Salmon Journal

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Norway, Quebec Greenland Russia Canada Paris Atlantic

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Recent comments

  • John Q Public
    June 15, 2014 - 08:30

    Break the line and let the big one swim away with the hook in its mouth and the line trailing behind it. Then when the line becomes entangled in a rock or a log in the river the salmon dies a cruel death. All for what? So someone can "snap a quick photo"!

    • Patrick Ramseyer
      June 16, 2014 - 09:01

      ridiculous Argument... hooks will dislodge in a few minutes and the leader(max 10 ft of line ) will not get entangled in anything

    • Paul Smith
      June 16, 2014 - 12:53

      I don't usually respond to folks who don't use their real name but I have to weigh in on this one. Mr. Q Public, to use such strong language as (sick demented act) in reference to a sport that is practiced by many hundreds of thousands of people worldwide is a tad presumptuous, or dare I say intelectually arrogant on your part. Like many armchair experts you twist the facts and make leaping assuptions on details that you clearly know nothing about. You say that breaking the line will see the fish tangled in a log. The real fact is that the point of attachment of line to hook is the weakest link and will break there upon excess pressure. The hook is barbless and will fall out. So your rant is fiction created in your own mind about a set of circumsatnces you know nothing about. The reason for breaking the line is so that the fish is not battled to exhaustion. On the pain issue; the scientific concensus is that fish do not feel the actualy piercing of the hook. I concur with this based on my experience. A salmon will take a fly and just sit there as if nothing had happened until you try to pull him somewhere he doesn't want to go. Then the fsih will fight. If you intend to kill the fish you play it until it is tired enough to capture. If you are releasing you must apply maximum pressure so has not to over exhaust the fish. On you sarcasm about "Yahoo I caught a bigger on than you." That is absolute nonsense. You have no idea why people choose to fish. You are creating an imaginary sport in your own mind. The reasons anglers do what they do are far more complex than the fiction in your mind. And on your "ass in court cruelity." I would never deliberately inflict cruelity upon an animal wild or domestic. Have you considered the food we eat from the supermarket? Poultry that lives a life not able to turn around, cattle that never see the light of day, salmon farmed in pens with no room to swim freely. But I'm not refering to you of course. With your lofty philosophical ideals I am certain that you eat only plants. If not --- I understand why you don't use your real name.

    • John Q Public
      June 16, 2014 - 14:59

      @ Paul Smith According to Mr. Smith I am lacking in some of the facts and he said, "You have no idea why people choose to fish." I know people fish for many reasons. Some fish to earn incomes, some fish for food, some fish because it is a right under aboriginal fisheries law and some fish just to snap a photo with the biggest one possible! Maybe Mr. Smith could enlighten us as to why the rights of the photo snapper are more important than the St. Pierre fisherman? According to Mr. Smith I am an intellectually arrogant, sarcastic, arm chair critic who has lofty philosophical ideals and I dine on only plants! Thanks for the personal assessment Mr. Smith but I am reminded of an old saying that reads, "If you can't shoot the message, shoot the messenger"! Unlike my comments, the holes in Mr. Smith's message are huge and gaping and I need not focus on anything other than his message. Mr. Smith says, "On the pain issue; the scientific concensus is that fish do not feel the actualy piercing of the hook. I concur with this based on my experience." My response to that statement is, it is human nature to use erroneous information or interpret something in a way to justify a favored activity. For example, the scientific consensus used to be that smoking does not cause lung cancer. If only those exhausted salmon could talk, what tale would their tails would tell! :)

    • Paul Smith
      June 16, 2014 - 15:13

      We question the St. Pierre rights because they are catching fish headed for Canadian Rivers. St. Pierre has no salmon rivers. That is the questions of rights that must be addressed there. Other than that --- you and I will agree not to be fishing buddies I think.

    • John Q Public
      June 17, 2014 - 06:37

      So? Let me get this straight. Just because a fish is heading for a Canadian river only a photo snapping thrill seeking fly fisherman has the right to be an "interceptory" player? What a load of bull shit! Your reasons and your arguments are weaker than the salmon you last held for a photo opp. The salmon you "played" for an hour. The one you exhausted before you took it out of its natural environment (similar to the photo attached to your article) and while it breathed air (a lethal / toxic substance to fish) you smiled and had your picture taken. The salmon that you "intercepted" was on its way to spawn! The salmon that because of stress, exhaustion and breathing air might not make it to its spawning grounds at all or if it does its spawning may be somewhat less effective. You and you fishing buddies should really feel proud (rolling his eyes). I can guarantee you, I will not be joining you in not even one of those distasteful photo snapping adventures!

  • John Q Public
    June 14, 2014 - 07:20

    Mr. Smith wrote, in reference to the St. Pierre salmon fishery......."Hopefully headway will be made to curtail this interceptory fishery." Simply put what Mr. Smith wants is the St. Pierre fishery to stop so he and his buddies can harass the salmon. So they can inflict pain and cruelty on them just so they can have a bit of fun and snap a few photos. Just so they can prove they are smarter and more superior intellectually than the big Atlantic salmon. What a sick demented act!

  • John Q Public
    June 14, 2014 - 07:00

    Everyone is responsible for the decline and low numbers of large salmon. Everyone except the hook, exhaust, remove from water, snap photo and release recreational fisherman that is!!! Paint it how you like Mr. Smith, the activity you espouse is quite simply a cruel and inhumane act inflicted on a species whose numbers have been seriously reduced. The simple fact of the matter is that what is being done to salmon in the name of fun and recreation would never be tolerated for any other fish or animal on this planet. Inflict similar pain on your family pet dog and your ass would be in front of a judge quicker than you could say "yahoo I caught a bigger one than you!"

    • Patrick Ramseyer
      June 16, 2014 - 09:07

      @ John Q Public ,First of All. Salmon do not feel "pain" as we know it... that is a scientifically proven fact, Secondly your mocking of a centuries old , sport, tradition, god given Right (read the bible) to fish how we see fit, has no place in this article .. I suggest you take your views somewhere else , perhaps somewhere where someone might actually give a crap about your ditherings... If you had any backbone you would use your real name.. like I do.. useless keyboard warrior

    • John Q Public
      June 16, 2014 - 11:48

      Patrick Ramseyer says........"Secondly your mocking of a centuries old , sport, tradition, god given Right (read the bible) to fish how we see fit, has no place in this article .. " According to Mr. Smith and Mr. Ramseyer, I guess the rights of the good, god fearing people of in St. Pierre do not count? A salmon, according to Mr. Ramseyer, is a living, breathing, flesh, bone and blood pumping creature that does not feel pain. In the words of a former premier I say "Bull Shit" and I am wondering if Mr. Ramseyer was under the influence of something that caused him to be "feeling no pain" when he wrote that?

    • Patrick Ramseyer
      June 17, 2014 - 02:04

      @ John Q Public I strongly suggest that you educate yourself before slinging dirt .. read the following article.. It will enlighten you..

    • John Q Public
      June 19, 2014 - 07:53

      @ Patrick Ramseyer A friend of mine once told me that there is "science conclucions" available to support anything and everything. I strongly suggest you open your mind and stop being brainwashed by "biased science" such as the link you suggested. I read your link and it reminded me of what is contained in the following link. Both are biased Garbage!!!!!!!!!!