Low water blues

Paul Smith
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Low water, but the boys keep fishing.

This season I have seen the absolute extremes of salmon fishing. I spent the first week of June on the Gaula in Norway and literally got flooded off the river. It was the second of nine angling days and Matt Brazil and I were fishing a new pool named Lundamo below the Gaulfoss.

I say new pool because the Norwegian Salmon Fishing Club had just acquired it from the farmer who owns the adjacent riverbank property. That's the way it works in Norway; landowners have exclusive fishing rights to any water on their property. Fishing clubs and organizations lease salmon pools from farmers for their members or guests, who pay for the fishing.

I mentioned the Gaulfoss. It's an impressive turbulent series of waterfalls that separates what anglers refer to as the Lower and Middle Gaula. Salmon very seldom pass through the Gaulfoss gauntlet of rock and whitewater before mid-June. The water needs to be at least 8 C and dropped to a reasonable flow rate for salmon to navigate the barrier.

When we started fishing, conditions were looking good and there were even hopes that fish would enter the Middle Gaula pools before the end of our stay. But on Day 2 we were fishing Lundamo and hoping to be the first Norwegian Flyfishing Club (NFC) anglers to tag a fish on their new Lower Gaula beat.

The hotspots in the pool appeared to be at the top and tail, at least that's what we figured in consultation with our very competent and experienced Swedish guide, Per Heikkila. Matt fished the top of the pool and I fished the bottom.

The first hour of casting and swinging flies rewarded us with no strikes, but we were getting the feel of the water. We switched positions for a change of scenery just as it started to rain. And boy, oh boy, did it ever rain.

The salmon gods had plans for the Gaula and the possibility of salmon navigating the Gaulfoss before scheduled. I thought it might have been just a shower but the downpour never let up. A tiny bubbling creek just behind me overflowed its banks and began spewing mud and dirt into the river. I never saw anything like it in all my days of river angling. The Gaula was transforming before my eyes.

A little later, I lost sight of my feet in the turbid mayhem. Per suggested we call it a day and get some well-deserved sleep. We had been fishing some very long shifts.

Matt and I retired to our farmhouse, fried up some pork chops and turned in for a solid eight hours' sleep, the first uninterrupted rest since leaving home. We awoke to rain still pounding on the metal roof that protected us from the elements. Holy God, would this rain ever stop?

We drove down to the river for a look. The Gaula had risen five feet; trees and stumps were floating downriver in the brown murky water. If you waded to your knees, your feet disappeared into the abyss.

It rained for 24 hours and it took five days before the river returned to a sensible fishing clarity and water level. The gods can be cruel to the travelling angler.

Fast forward to the first week of July and the Pinware River in Southern Labrador. Rod Hale, Chris Fowler, Matt Brazil and myself were lodged in an outfitter tent on a open field near the river. The weather was wickedly hot. I felt like I was bonefishing in Belize, not salmon fishing in Labrador.

It hit 28 C in the shade as we hauled on our waders for the half-hour walk to the river. I considered wet wading but the infamous Labrador blackflies would devour you alive. Plus, I didn't bring along shorts or topical wading pants. I'd never needed them before in the 15 or so years that I've been journeying to this corner of the planet for salmon.

Labrador is certainly a land of extremes. I've almost froze to death on this very same field in July. I remember the year the down in my sleeping bag matted together and lost its insulating properties. I shivered all night in near-zero temperatures. I had to stoke the fire all night to avoid hypothermia.

This year, the camp stove sits idle while we swelter in the heat. A heat wave on the coast of Labrador; who would ever have imagined that twist on fishing? The gods are fickle and mischievous.

The plague of low, warm water is all over Newfoundland and Labrador this summer. This lovely warm and sunny weather is perfect for golfers, campers and hikers, but it's a disaster for salmon fishing.

The rivers on the Great Northern Peninsula are closed as I write this piece. They won't reopen without rain. During our third day on the Pinware the water temperature reached 23 C, making the salmon lazy and lethargic. Fish were not easily coaxed to the fly. Angling was very slow.

Luckily, that night we had some rain and it cooled the river down below 20 C, avoiding a possible closure. The protocol dictates that river close if the temperature stays above 22 C. The fish freshened up and we had our best day.

That night the Lundrigan field smelled like a restaurant in downtown New Orleans. We were blackening salmon, Cajun-style, in our tent. There's nothing like a scoff of freshly caught salmon to lift one's spirits, re-energize the soul, and lift a struggling angler from the low water blues.

We had to crouch in the tent as the strong southern essence escaped the tent flaps into the starry Labrador sky. Poke your head up to the roof and you'd be in a fit of coughing. I'm going to have to engineer a range hood for our tent.

But we survived the smoke and feasted on fish accompanied by Ed Beason's homemade barrens blend wine.

Ed is a lifelong angler from Winsor who joins us just about every night for a swallow and some yarning. It was his first experience with the spicy Cajun delicacy. He's been camping on the Pinware for 30 years and he figures we might be the first to blacken salmon on its banks. I wonder will it keep the flies at bay?

Hopefully, we'll soon get some rain and the low water blues will end for all of us.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard's Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com


Organizations: Norwegian Flyfishing Club, Norwegian Salmon Fishing Club, Heikkila

Geographic location: Norway, Middle Gaula, Newfoundland and Labrador Pinware Pinware River Southern Labrador Belize New Orleans

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