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Paul Smith: No salmon licences for outsiders — pack up and go to Quebec

Well here we are — as I write it’s Wednesday June 6, and still no salmon licence to buy anywhere near Spaniard’s Bay.  Matt Brazil and I are planning to leave Saturday morning to drive out to our friend’s cabin on Crabbes River, to fish that water, and a few other Bay St. George Rivers. We’ll likely also cast upon my favourite west coast stream, the majestic Grand Codroy, which meets the open ocean just south of Bay St. George.  Rivers in this area of Newfoundland are renowned for early season salmon fishing. That’s why our friends from British Columbia bought a cabin there three years ago.

Of course, our travel plans hinge on buying a salmon licence, a document that was supposed to be available to the public all over Newfoundland and Labrador before the June 1 opening day, and June 15 in Labrador.  This is a quite unfortunate situation.  The official word is that we shouldn’t realistically expect salmon licences available here on the Avalon Peninsula before Monday. What to do? It’s a risk to leave home and drive to Corner Brook or elsewhere in hopes of a licence.

Unnecessary dilemma

I’m figuring with this unnecessary dilemma so prolific in the media, mainstream and social alike, that fisher folk will be buying up licences like hotcakes, for fear of not getting one. I made a phone call and the kind lady working at Deer Lake Esso put ours aside in an envelope with my name on it. So we are going salmon fishing.

Getting back to our B.C. buddies who bought the cabin on Crabbes River. I met Derek when I was out west fishing steelhead on the Skeena River close to 10 years ago. He was my guide for just one day but we really hit it off. It turned out that we had a common friend who owned a small salmon lodge on the Matapedia River in Quebec. Then through the jigs and reels, Derek and I ended up fishing together at our mutual friend’s camp in late May, a prime time for big lunkers, prior to the start of June 1 retention fishing. For the last week of May we could fish super cheap and get prime non-crowded water. Great times and big salmon were had.

For years we met on the Matapedia and bunked out in a tiny riverside chapel converted into a fishing lodge. I got to smoke cigars and drink whiskey in church, and talk endlessly about fishing. I got to know Derek’s friends, anglers from all over the world, and I introduced my buddy Matt Brazil from Spaniard’s Bay into the loop. One night we told Derek and a couple of his comrades about the fine early season angling on Newfoundland’s west coast. The next year, first week of June, they gave the area a try. They caught fish, loved the country and bought a cabin that they spotted a for sale sign on while fishing. They have been coming for early June ever since.

Unhappy ripples

This year Derek and his buddy flew to Newfoundland early, late May to get a few odd jobs done around the cabin before opening day. They brought along their wives and children. I was in Florida when I got an excited message from Derek that he was in Newfoundland and chomping at the bit to go fishing. He wanted to know what time I’d be home from Florida and heading over to fish with them. Although there were rumblings and rumours, nobody really believed that the salmon season would not open on June 1. That would be just too bloody crazy.

Then came the official announcement from Minister Gerry Byrne, the licences would not be ready for opening day, and for a while there was no confirming of when we could expect them to be available. Wow, this is not cool at all. Finally, the information came out. On June 4 licences would be available on the West Coast of the island. But for Derek and company there was a big problem. They could have waited four days. The minister’s office could give Derek no indication of when non-resident licences might be for sale. He was told that nothing could be done. The boys had to pack up their gear, send their families back to B.C., and find a camp in Quebec that would take two desperate anglers on short notice. They are not happy.

This is one instance of extreme inconvenience and expense that I am personally associated with. There are no doubt others. I’ve read about some on Facebook. I’ve heard that fishing lodges have suffered a high cancellation rate. Through Derek and company alone much of the international angling community will hear about this. Derek is a well-known and respected Skeena River Steelhead guide. He associates with writers, booking agents, and fly-fishing professionals from all over the world. Word spreads fast, and notwithstanding all our colourful magazine and TV ads, this will impact tourism. It is ridiculous. It is careless and totally unprofessional.

Whose mess is it?

So, who is to blame? Federal and provincial officials blame each other. All I know is that it is someone’s fault. Our provincial government issues the licences and it says that they were too late being informed by DFO of changes to the regulations. OK, but everyone knew this was coming. We have been talking about this situation since last summer. Why not just issue the licences in a generic fashion and post the regulations and tagging salmon specific information later? Changes were made last year in mid-season and it was dealt with. The plan is to make adjustments again in mid-season this year, subsequent to a stock evaluation. So, what gives here? Surely in this age of supper efficient communication we could have pulled this off. We dropped the ball.

This mess should have never happened and whoever is responsible should be held accountable. There is still no word as to when non-resident licences might be available.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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