On swaying hay and biting salmon

Paul Smith
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I planted a whopping 5,000 square feet of extra grass on my property during the spring of 2013, and it has been growing fantastically.

I chose a mix of timothy hay and two varieties of clover, according to my farming buddies, a hardy and robust sort of grass that doesn’t require much in the way of pampering or fussing. I’ve discovered that hay and clover grow bloody well thick and fast.

Now, as my readers must certainly know, I like to go fishing, sometimes for several weeks at a time. The task facing me when I get home is formidable. I couldn’t just leave well enough alone. I doubled my total grass area to about 10,000 square feet, plus I have this farm hay section that grows like an action movie star on steroids.

I’m considering enlisting the help of several goats. I hear they love timothy hay, but I suppose I’d have to build a barn. Maybe I should buy a ride-on lawn mower tractor sort of machine. I wonder which the grandkids will prefer, petting goats or tractor rides? That might just be what the dilemma boils down to.

What about a pony? Now there’s an idea, petting and riding, a multitasking, grass-eating super critter. We could do sleigh rides at Christmas. I’m going to have to think about this.

Or I could cut back the length of my salmon fishing trips and just cut the grass every week with my regular gas-powered push mower. That’s what Goldie suggested. I’d rather cut enough logs with a bucksaw to build a two-story barn and fill it with sheep, horses, goats and cows. That’s my final answer.

So, while I fish in Labrador for two weeks, the grass grows tall, matted and tough.

I think our summers are getting hotter. The thermometer on my deck a couple of days ago read 34 C. Wow! That’s scorching for this neck of the woods.

Actually, it was my first day home after living in a tent for two weeks on the Pinware River. I was tired and a bit worn out. The day before, we rose at 5 a.m. to break camp and get ourselves ontime to the Labrador ferry terminal for a 10 o’clock departure. Then we drove all the way from St. Barbe to Spaniard’s Bay with just one stop in Deer Lake for dinner and gas.

Back home, the overgrown grass waved gently back and forth to the sultry tune of a very warm and humid westerly breeze.

I am not one to make excuses to my spouse based on my partaking of outdoor pursuits. No good ever comes of such naive folly. As Buddy Wasisname once said, “I put it out of me mind,” the exhaustion and heat that is. I manned up, ate a hearty late breakfast of bologna and eggs and fuelled up the mower.

It turns out that cutting grass in searing midday heat is not such a grand idea. It was noon by the time I got around to cutting the newly seeded section, and the grass didn’t like, revolted even, to being shaved down so drastically and suddenly.

I sweated so much pushing the mower through that long grass only to end up with huge yellow patches the following day. One day it was long, green, and lush; the next day I had Sahara Desert-looking spots all over the place. None of this would have happened if I possessed hay consuming livestock on my premises.

Again, Goldie pointed out emphatically that grass needs to be cut more often, so has not to shock its roots, explaining succinctly  and directly the horticultural difficulties created by my extended salmon angling adventures. Gradual mowing, like nature intended, goat grazing style, is what’s needed.

I knew she was right, but would never admit it. I prayed to the salmon gods for rain and my prayers were answered within 24 hours. An all-night downpour saved my grass and fly-fishing integrity. Crisis averted. It perked up the rivers as well.

I wonder how these hot summers it seems we are experiencing affect Atlantic salmon?

Obviously hot, dry weather creates low, warm water levels that make for poor angling conditions and fish will not bite our flies, at least not without oodles of coaxing and patience on the anglers’ part.

But what of the salmon’s overall well-being and survival? A study out of Norway, University of Oslo, has discovered that salmon are more tolerant of temperature fluctuations than scientists had previously figured on. This is good news in a world threatened by global warming; not biting pretty Blue Charms is really a trivial matter in the grand scheme of things. This is really good news.

On the practical angling side of things, this has been a tough year for chasing silver. A cool, wet spring made for perfect water levels and angling conditions when the season opened on the first day of June. However, there was one serious problem: very few salmon. Not good at all.

However, anglers are by nature the most persistent optimists on the planet; the fish are always late, never non-existent. So the rationalizing on ice conditions, global climate patterns, nasty spring weather, and God knows what else bantered about on salmon rivers all over Newfoundland and Labrador.

The fish finally did come, but overall not in numbers as prolific as last year. By the time salmon did arrive from the salty ocean, freshwater was getting scarce, river levels falling quickly. Closures ensued all over our fair land. Many were disappointed. A very capable Humber angler I know spent eight days on the river and caught only two fish — bad news indeed.

Luck, by definition, cannot always be negative. I spend a lot of time fishing and have had my share of luck, both the good and the bad variety. If you think about it statistically, that figures, doesn’t it?

We arrived in Labrador on July 5, the day Hurricane Arthur was expected to dump 50mm of rain in Southern Labrador. A race against the clock ensued, to get our tents set before the storm took hold. The sky darkened as we drove through Forteau. While we bought some supplies in L’Anse au Loup, a few drops began to fall. It held up again and the setting sun made a spectacle over the Pinware backcountry.

We just might get set up ahead of the rain was the sentiment, none of us fancying the assembly of two canvas outfitter tents in a downpour. The poles were set and stakes secured, the woodstove installed, folding chairs and sleeping cots in their proper place. We sat and cracked open a round of celebratory Black Horses. Two swallows only, and huge drops hit the side of our tent. That was so wickedly close; the gods were smiling upon us, a good omen to start two weeks of salmon fishing.

The river rose three feet overnight and we got skunked on our first day. Bushes and small trees floated downriver. Some folks pulled stakes and headed back to the island. This could be very bad.

Not in the long term, though. After a couple of days, when the mighty Pinware actually settled down, the fishing was actually quite good. The grilse were indeed late, like everywhere else, but there were large salmon still coming in the river on the high tides and attacking fur and feather with characteristic ferocity. We ended up having a very good season amidst what I think will go on record as a significantly poor salmon angling summer.

If we hadn’t suffered the rainstorm, the river, like my new lawn, might have suffered severely in drought.

The salmon may have survived, according to scientists in Norway, but we may have had a long two weeks, enjoying very little toothy fraying of our neatly flossed Blue Charms. The gods even spared us a wetting.

For now, I give thanks and count my blessings. I know full well my measure of opposite luck is coming, unless I quit fishing and keep my grass cut. Not likely.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at

flyfishtherock@hotmail.com  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.

Organizations: University of Oslo

Geographic location: Labrador, Pinware River, Deer Lake Norway Sahara Desert Southern Labrador

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