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PAUL SMITH: A debate that should not be

One of many salmon released on the Ponoi when I was there.
One of many salmon released on the Ponoi when I was there. - Paul Smith

There’s so much to do right now.

Our recreational cod-angling season opened just recently. My buddies that I share a private wharf with have their boats in the water and have been fishing already, but they aren’t hopelessly addicted to chasing silver.

As you well know if you are a regular reader, I am very addicted to fly fishing for Atlantic salmon.

It’s like James Hetfield wails out in Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” — taste me you will see – more is all you need.

He wasn’t singing about fishing, but the lyrics fit the way I feel about salmon.

There is never enough time to spend on a river. I am eternally thirsty.

So the cod will have to wait until I get my fix. There isn’t much sign of ground fish around this neck of the woods just yet anyway, nor pelagic species either, not even caplin.

I would love to do more dry-fly fishing for trout, especially those chunky rainbows in around the Bauline Line area ponds.

There are amazing Hexagenia Mayfly hatches on those waterways. But guess what? Mayfly hatches occur under very specific environmental conditions, meaning air and water temperatures. And these coincide with prime salmon fishing.

So Paul doesn’t need to tie up many oversized hex patterns. Shame though, because I am fascinated with all that match the hatch trout fishing stuff, and July is a dandy time for all sorts of insect hatches.

Oh well, I’ll just continue to content myself by catching the tail end of it all in August. I will catch a few trout before the summer is over.

OK, I hate to get on this subject again. I’ve written about it so many times already, not just here, but in other venues as well.

The Ponoi in Russia may be the most prolific salmon river on planet Earth.
The Ponoi in Russia may be the most prolific salmon river on planet Earth.

It’s the hook-and-release thing.

I just can’t get my head around the nonsense that we go on with here in this province. It’s going on again this summer. Anglers are arguing and debating back and forth on social media and elsewhere about the merits and pitfalls of live-releasing salmon.

Then besides all this you get non-anglers entering the fray with cast-in-stone knowledge that every released salmon rolls belly up and perishes.

This is the most ridiculous of all.

Guys, I don’t play golf, and I have zero bloody opinion on which club works best for whatever situation. I have no clue.

Neither do folks who have never set foot in a river, hold a depth of knowledge necessary to justify such cemented notions.

OK, here’s how I see it.

First off, the overwhelming scientific consensus on this issue is that hook and release works quite well for Atlantic salmon as long as appropriate guidelines are followed. It’s not rocket science and proper hook-and-release practice is simple to follow.

This has been studied to death all over the world, under all sorts of conditions.  It works and the mortality rate is extremely low.

Why do some folks just not want to believe the science? I don’t know. I think it’s a lot like the climate-change debate.

Naysayers point out obscure fragments of data and stick to it in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. 

And sometimes I suppose people choose to believe what suits their agenda.

What bothers me is that this bantering amongst anglers on hook-and-release only happens here in Newfoundland. Hook and release is an accepted practice all over the world for species in both salt and fresh water. Anglers who fish to kill and eat accept those who hook and release and vice versa.

We are all one angling community. Many folks kill some fish and hook and release as well.

It’s cod fishing time again.
It’s cod fishing time again.

All hands obey the science-based rules and live and let live.  It should be like that here.

I have absolutely no problem with tagging a salmon and eating it. And I have no problem with releasing fish either.

I do both myself. I will likely kill a couple of grilse this summer. I certainly relish a meal of fresh wild Atlantic salmon. There’s nothing wrong with harvesting salmon for food as long as conservation requirements on the river are met.

There may be a few hook and release purists out there who never kill a fish. Hey, that’s fine, too.

You be you and do your thing. Although I think most anglers in Newfoundland and Labrador kill a fish or two for the pot over the course of a season. And if there were more fish we could all eat a few more salmon. But conservation and the viability of the resource must come first.

Here’s where the trouble starts. There are anglers who do not believe that any salmon should be released. If they don’t want to release salmon themselves, that’s fine. They can just fill their tags and then stop fishing for the day or season. But no, these folks want everyone to behave the same as they do. They want all hands to stop fishing when their tags are filled. They think that hook-and-release fishing should be banned and made illegal. They believe that the fish die after being released, but the science says otherwise.

So we anglers continue each and every year to fight amongst ourselves on this issue. I fear it will never be settled. There is too much misinformation and conspiracy theory floating around.

Many anglers are just plain confused.

There is so much crazy stuff. Some guy calls into a radio show and yarns on about the hundreds of dead salmon he sees floating down rivers. There’s an editorial calculating how many tonnes of salmon die each year from hook and release.

Tonnes, mind you.

In all my 50 years salmon fishing I have seen two dead salmon on rivers.

A few years back I spent a week on the Ponoi in Russia. It’s probably the most prolific salmon river in the world.

Guess what? They practice hook and release religiously. In the week I was there over 1,000 salmon were released at our camp. I did not see one dead fish floating down the river.

Imagine that.

This is my buddy Rod Hale releasing a very big salmon on the Gaula in Norway, an alleged illegal activity according to one Newfoundlander speaking out against hook and release. I hate to sound cliche, but “Fake News.”
This is my buddy Rod Hale releasing a very big salmon on the Gaula in Norway, an alleged illegal activity according to one Newfoundlander speaking out against hook and release. I hate to sound cliche, but “Fake News.”

You have to be careful what you believe.

A couple of years ago a very vocal advocate for banning hook and release wrote a piece in a newspaper. He said a lot that was exaggerated, misleading, and outright false. One thing in particular caught my eye. He said that hook and release was banned in Norway.

Damn, I had just arrived home from Norway. I was on the Gaula and we were encouraged to release all salmon caught. That was an outright lie written point blank on paper. But you know, lots of folks believed it, after all, Norway is a pretty progressive country.

What’s sad about all this is that we lose sight of the real issues and threats to our Atlantic salmon stocks.

There’s a bloody hook-and-release fog hanging over this province. We are wasting time on what should be a non-issue, a no-brainer.

What about real threats to salmon? There are bad people who put nets across rivers and sell their catch on the black market.

There are folks who don’t play by the rules and leave the river with untagged fish. I have personally seen people jigging salmon beneath a falls. There are the even bigger issues, like climate-change effects and ocean-survival rates. 

And let’s not forget that science also knows that sea-cage aquaculture is bad for wild salmon in nearby rivers.

That is a big and current issue.

Why not stop arguing with each other and act as one angling community dedicated to preserving and nurturing our wild salmon. Good will come of it I’m sure.

And if I thought that salmon died after being released I would never let another swim free.

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


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