Angler hooks big (furry) one on Waterford River

Steve Bartlett
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Mike Penney got quite a surprise when fishing for sea trout on the Waterford River last week. — Photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

Ask Mike Penney about the one that got away. You won’t get a whale of a tale, but you will hear about his ordeal with a seal.

While fishing sea trout on the Waterford River in St. John’s last week, the Mount Pearl man saw a biggy chase the shrimp he uses as bait.

“I flicked across the river, and as soon as the shrimp hit the water on the other side of the pool, I seen this big black swirl, and I said holy jumpin’s, that’s a dandy.”

Penney reeled in his line and cast again.

When the shrimp hit the water, what he assumed was a gigantic sea trout went after it again.

“I said, I’ll get you this time, and I waited, and when I noticed that the bait was in his mouth, I set my hook like you would hooking a salmon. The pole came right up tight. … I said, I got ya. I had my pole up. The line was taut and nothing happened. He was just there and he started to swim around a bit. … Next thing, up pops the head of the seal.”

Penney says the animal looked at him, and then up on the riverbank. He could see the hook in its lip and the shrimp hanging from its mouth.

He fishes the Waterford regularly and has seen seals there before, but he says they are rare and he’s never had one on the end of a line.


“It’s the biggest mammal I’ve ever hooked on the river.”

Like anyone who fishes for the thrill of the chase, Penney tried to reel the seal in, realizing the odds were against him.

“Well, I had to do something with him,” he laughs. “I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell in landing a seal with catgut line. I just said, well, I’m going to see happens with it. … When he got his mind set to go, he went — hook, line and sinker.”

Penney figures he had the seal on for about two minutes before it bid adieu with his bait.

He believes the animal was full-grown and considers hooking it “quite an experience.”

Penney’s granddaughters were with him. One of them says she fishes all the time but has never seen anything like this.

“I was getting ready to go back to my car and I heard him screaming out, ‘I caught a seal! I caught a seal!’ I ran down and all I seen was this little seal’s head and I thought it was the most extraordinary thing,” recalls Kayla Penney.

And what would she have done if her pop had gotten it ashore?

“Oh my God, I don’t know. … I was really hoping he wouldn’t because we wouldn’t have been able to do anything with a seal. It was interesting, but I was hoping he wouldn’t be able to get it in.”

But Mike Penney knows exactly what he’d do.

Catch and release, he says with a smile.

Twitter: @SteveBartlett_

Geographic location: Waterford River

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Recent comments

  • norman
    March 17, 2013 - 14:56

    i fish the waterford every year and this year there is something wrong there are no fish in the river yet at all not even resident trout , i think they have a mesh by the dock and the trout cant get in the river so i think something needs to be done and somebody should look into and get it fixed right away

  • Daryl
    February 23, 2012 - 20:43

    I was at the river we had all the rain. I got out of my vehicle, and saw two animals on the snow near the river, They saw me, and quickly jumped into the river. I stayed there for twenty minutes or so, took out my camera and didn't move. I then begun seeing the animals race up and down the river. I snapped some pictures, and begin to videotape it. Then one started to exit the river, it came pretty close to where i was standing, and I saw that it was a Otter. Guess they came to the end of the river to feed on the fish. I counted maybe five otters that night.

  • Danny
    February 23, 2012 - 10:11

    In response to the person who says he's insane for eating fish out of the river. I didn't see any reference to him eating fish out of the river. Catch and release is a great thing. I wish more Newfoundlanders practiced it. As for his grand daughters. It's just great to see someone taking an interest in the outdoors with children.

  • Bucky the D Clown
    February 16, 2012 - 21:23

    I have to agree with what "Justin" had to say on the issue. The seal population has been on the rise in this beautiful system and is destroying the Trout population, not to mention a healthy Atlantic Salmon population that provides great recreation in April. Does anyone know if the Waterford Salmon Association is doing anything about this problem???

  • jack
    February 16, 2012 - 20:50

    it is a seal , because me and my gf goes out to blackhead and he is there all the time ,, full seal , it goes to the harbour and blackhead all the time

  • realistnewfie
    February 15, 2012 - 09:39

    He is absolutely insane for eating fish from this river. The E.Coli count is off the charts, and those "silvery fat sea trout", are coming in from St. John's harbor. I would be willing to bet if he dissected the sea trout's stomach(s) he would find corn and human feces. In all likeliness he is probably putting his grandchildren at risk by exposing them to the amount of biological pollutants in this river. There is actually a pool on this river called "syringe pool".

    • norman
      March 17, 2013 - 15:00

      i gutted the trout there is no corn in them or feces and the river is pretty clean , and also i got the fish tested and it came up they were a class B trout with is excellent so shut up

  • Justin
    February 14, 2012 - 17:36

    The animal in the river is a seal. It has been TEARING apart the trout population in the lower river and NEEDS to be REMOVED. St. Johns has the HIGHEST density of brown trout PER capita then any other area in NORTH AMERICA. Maintaining this phenomenom into the future is UNLIKELY unless we DO something about this problem.

  • Joseph McGrath
    February 14, 2012 - 14:50

    I know Mike Penney and he truly loves to have his day of trout fishing.To bad some one in here always has to make a wisecrack about what he may or may not have hookedDoes it matter?.The guy enjoys the outdoors,takes his grandkids out for some good fresh air and enjoys himself with his day on the river.I am glad to read your story Mike and hope you enjoy many more days at the river.

  • Frank Ring
    February 14, 2012 - 08:51

    A river otter maybe!!! A sea otter, not on this coast.

  • Is it true
    February 14, 2012 - 07:26

    “It’s the biggest mammal I’ve ever hooked on the river.” I'm guessing he's caught other mammals?????? Time for him to take up a new sport.

  • Doug
    February 14, 2012 - 07:12

    It was more likely a sea otter.