The early bird doesn’t always catch the worm

Paul Smith
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It’s an old traditional expression that I’m sure you’ve all heard on occasion: “The early bird catches the worm.” My grandmother said it to me often when I was a kid.

Nan lived with us and taught me much in the way of wisdom and the old ways when I was young and very impressionable.

She coloured with me side by side on the sofa, and read me many bedtime stories. I vividly remember her tales of summer trouting and swimming in the countryside around Heart’s Content, where she experienced her formative years. This was when Nan was a kid or teenager, probably around the time of, or before, the First World War.

You might be imagining boys and girls fishing with bamboo poles or sticks cut from the local woods. No doubt there was some of that, but in those days Heart’s Content surpassed most Newfoundland towns in terms of sports and leisure activities.

Grandmother Sheppard played tennis growing up, and attended cricket matches. There were folks casting flies on trout streams right alongside those who preferred to drown a few worms.

There was little of this in Bishop’s Cove or Spaniard’s Bay where my parents lived their formative years. It was the influence of the English who ran the Western Union Cable Station at Heart’s Content.


Cultured lady

So my grandmother, Anne Rowe (Rowe being her maiden name), was a very cultured and worldly lady, and had a huge influence on me growing up. Thanks, Nan.

She was my spellcheck while I wrote papers both in school and university, long before Bill Gates released Microsoft Word.

Nan worked as a teletype operator in the cable office, relaying messages from London to New York. She could type like lightning and spell anything.

I took my grandmother’s teachings seriously. Her relating to me the merits of the early bird’s resounding success got me “up and at ’em” for many years.

The only issue I had with my grandmother was her stubborn refusal to cheer for the Montreal Canadiens. She watched hockey with me every Saturday night and loved the New York Islanders.

I certainly heeded Nan’s advice with regard to hunting. If I’m going moose hunting, I like to be on a hill or lookout before daylight, full of anticipation, expecting to see a critter grazing about in the mists of the sun’s first light.

If you are not in your duck blind before sunrise, don’t even bother to call yourself a waterfowler.

I’ve been on the salty ocean, stone pitch dark, with oars in hand keeping a boat in position, waiting for daylight and hopefully managing a passing shot at migrating eiders.

In my few years of commercial fishing, I’d never sleep past 4 a.m. Fur trapping was the same; out of the bunk every morning, long before the sun peeked over the treetops.

My grandmother’s wisdom has seldom led me astray. But there is one glaring exception. There was a time when salmon got me up bloody early in the morn.

I’ve left home at 2 a.m. and driven many hours to be on a river at daylight. My one crash with a moose occurred on the TCH during one of these “crazy hour” treks. There might be some truth in thinking that salmon bite flies more aggressively at daybreak, but I’ve learned that there is more to angling than racing everyone else to river.

Let me relate a day’s fishing to support my theory. I had fallen into the habit of sleeping late while salmon fishing, something a few years before I would have considered so wrong, immoral even.


On the Pinware

It’s one of those extra special salmon angling days that I pray never fades in my consciousness. On a dull overcast day in July 2009, Rod Hale, Chris Fowler and I were fishing Tidal Pool on the Pinware River in Southern Labrador.

The gods of the long rod were grinning at us from ear to ear. We began casting midday — the crack of noon, as we now jokingly refer to our late arrivals at riverside. By the time we wet our boots, the early morning crews from the outfitter camps had deserted the river; lunching or napping, I suppose. We ended up with Tidal Pool, a kilometre-long stretch of prime salmon water, all to ourselves. The tide was falling perfectly, and a fresh run of silver sealiced salmon were holding in the river.

Fresh fish on the Pinware are particularly aggressive and animated fighters; even the grilse dig well into your backing. The three of us just waded up and down the side of the river hooking and playing fish all over the place to our heart’s content. All was well with the world.

By the time evening crews started to appear on the grassy riverbank, the tide was pushing in and the action was waning. The well-fed and rested birds had eaten all the worms. There were still plenty of fish, but they just weren’t eating flies in rising water.

Nowadays, in salmon camp, we sleep till about 8 or 9 a.m., cook and eat a fine hearty breakfast, attend to camp chores, chopping wood, fetching water and the like, all before rigging rods and pulling on waders. Then we fish until dark, about a 10-hour shift on the river before the sun dips below the hills.

Back at camp, around 11 p.m., tired and hungry, we sip a few swigs of dark rum and chat of the day’s successes and failures; all while supper cooks on the stove, and damp clothes dry on a line rigged in our cook tent.

It’s usually around 2 a.m before we retire to the sleep tent. To rise before daylight would mean two hours’ sleep at best.

We fish for a stretch of two weeks and there’s no way to keep up that kind of pace.

So, we discovered the beauty and bounty of afternoon fishing though logistic necessity, having to sleep to survive weeks of fishing while still tending to other life necessities like eating, camp sanitation, and showering.

It is different in a fishing lodge where others are looking after daily chores. You return from an early morning of casting, eat lunch, take an afternoon nap, and indulge in a hearty supper before returning to the river for the evening shift. Most anglers, both lodge guests and local folk, tend to fish early in the morning or late in the evening. That leaves us the afternoon window of opportunity to “have at ’em” in solitude with honed skill and determination.

There are times when this strategy really pays off. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you such top-secret information, but the best time to catch salmon is 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Sorry, Nan.


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

opportunity. He can be contacted at

Organizations: Western Union Cable Station, Montreal Canadiens

Geographic location: Newfoundland, London, New York Pinware River Southern Labrador Pinware

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