Paul Smith on fishing derby controversy: Stop killing kelts

Published on February 27, 2016

The annual Buy and Sell ice-fishing derby in Blaketown ran into a bit of a snag last week.

The event is held on Dildo Pond and there’s around $30,000 in prizes up for grabs. This is very serious stuff.

My understanding is that DNA science is required to sort out whether the biggest dead fish is a trout or a salmon.

The contest rules specify that both brown trout and brook trout are eligible entries, but not Atlantic salmon. On Feb. 14, Owen White of New Harbour caught a 5.6-pound fish that he figured to be a brown trout. Others begged to differ and said it was an Atlantic salmon. As far as I know at this time, the jury is still out.

In my view, there’s plenty wrong here. First off, it doesn’t make any sense to have a dual species fishing contest, with size the sole win or lose criteria, in which one species grows much bigger than the other, and is much heavier on average.

Brown trout, particularly the sea-run variety, get pretty darn big, and have been caught here in Newfoundland over 30 pounds. No brook trout ever grows to that impressive size.  A one-pound or 16-inch brookie, mud trout as we call them, is a very nice fish.

I’ve fished many days and decades for both brook and brown trout, here at home, as well as remote areas around the globe. My top brook trout came from Igloo Lake in Labrador. It was eight pounds. I landed a 16-pound brown trout on the Rio Grande in Argentina. Here on the Avalon Peninsula, my biggest native brook trout is about 2.5 pounds. It was a sea run variety and I caught it in Shearstown Pond. On the brown trout side of things, I’m up to about nine pounds on my home waters. But I’ve caught lots of trout over five pounds. I can count on one hand the brook trout I’ve caught over two pounds in this neck of the woods. So how is it logical to pit brook trout and brown trout up against each other in a fishing derby? It is not.

The best solution to this derby business is to hold the contest for brook trout only. Everybody knows what this native species look like, and there will be no confusion or controversy. Brown trout are not easily distinguishable from salmon and there will always be the danger of killing a salmon while thinking it’s a trout. There are those who will tell you it’s easy to tell the difference, but it really isn’t — unless you have caught many of both species and have developed a keenly trained eye.

Brown trout on the Avalon Peninsula are predominantly anadromous, just like salmon. That means they go to sea in the summer and feed in the ocean, returning to fresh water for spawning.

The appearance of these fish while in the ocean, or fresh upon returning, is silver and shiny like Atlantic salmon. They look much alike. Further to that, both species lose their chrome after a measure of time back in freshwater.

You see where I’m going here? Spawned out specimens of both the Atlantic salmon and the sea-run brown trout are lookalikes to the untrained eye, especially when an ATV is at stake. A contest isn’t going to work with brown trout and salmon in the same pond. Change the rules.

I have seen numerous comments on social media about the atrocity of killing spawned-out salmon for the sake of a fishing derby. If indeed the DNA tests confirm this actually occurred, there might be criminal charges. But if it turns out to be a trout, all is OK, and White drives off in a new side-by-side.

Not cool in my world, I think killing spawned-out brown trout, which are essentially inedible, is just as bad as killing salmon. Why would we be doing this? When browns are chromed up for the salt, they are delicious — a delicacy on a par with salmon. But in slinked-out kelt condition they aren’t fit to eat. Why not let them live and catch them in their finest form?

That 5.6-pound trout would have been  eight or nine pounds when it came in from the bay in September or October. How many brown trout were killed in this derby for no good reason other than a chance to win a prize?

We need new and specific laws for brown trout and this nonsense has to stop. Both brown trout and salmon kelts should be released.

 

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