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Paul Smith: Now we can fish when the bite is hot

I’m writing this column on the first day of summer, June 21. The sun kissed the Tropic of Cancer at 7:37 this morning while I was brewing a pour-over coffee and checking the weather on my phone. It’s looking good, all double-digit temperatures for the forecasted future, and quite a bit of cloudless sunshine. Actually, and comme il faut for summer 2018 Day 1, my deck thermometer is reading 20-C, the highest since last September. That’s wonderful and I have much to do. The sun and warmth invigorates my energy and spirit.

Why am I writing this Jul 7 column so early? For the same reason I’m checking the weather in Pinware as well as Spaniard’s Bay. I’m heading for the Big Land to fish for salmon. I won’t be back till after my submission deadline, and we have no Wi-Fi in our canvas Labrador tent, don’t want any either. So I hope the meteorologists have it right and by the time you read this we’ll all have initiated our skins to summer olive.

By the time I get back from salmon fishing the recreational cod fishery will be up and running. I like the new structure announced for 2018. Fishing on the ocean with hook and line will be allowed on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from Jun 30 though to Sep 3. Then there will be a nine consecutive day autumn fishery in late September.

The temperatures in Southern Labrador are looking dandy as well, just a few degrees below the Avalon, after all, the sun is 23.5 degrees north of the equator. But icy winter has really held on in Labrador. The local folks have just recently stored their snowmobiles. There is still snow blocking trails along our favourite rivers. Remember what I said last week about felt versus rubber-soled boots? Good thing I have rubber for those snowy paths. Good news is the Pinware has crested and is falling. It should be fishable soon. But you know what, the local residents have never in their lives seen the river this high in June. We are living in a changing climate.  I could be salmon fishing with snow on my boots for the very first time.

I just called the Esso station in Deer Lake. It’s Jun 21 and there are still no salmon licences available for non-resident anglers. A manager told me that they got the word a few days ago to order however many non-resident licences they wanted to stock behind the counter. My understanding is that they have to pay for them upfront. And government gave no indication of when an actual delivery date might occur. So the bottom line is that three full weeks into salmon season 2018 there are no licences available for out-of- province anglers, and no confirmed date that they could obtain one. Remember, this includes folks born in Newfoundland and Labrador that might be living away and have no MCP card. We will see what happens, but this isn’t good enough.

By the time I get back from salmon fishing the recreational cod fishery will be up and running. I like the new structure announced for 2018. Fishing on the ocean with hook and line will be allowed on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from Jun 30 though to Sep 3. Then there will be a nine consecutive day autumn fishery in late September. The total number of days is down from 2017 by seven days, from 46 to 39.

I don’t mind losing the few days because now the opportunity to fish is spread over the entire summer. This gives us more flexibility for co-ordinating our cod-fishing excursions with other summer holidays and activities. In previous years the fishery was open for three or so consecutive weeks. I remember distinctly the year I bought my new Yamaha outboard motor. I believe I purchased it in April. Then I booked a three-week vacation in Florida without thinking about the cod fishery. We flew out of St. John’s on the day the fishery opened. I think I managed to get in just a couple of days when we returned home. Luckily the autumn fishery was really productive that year and I salted a few nice big fish.

Besides holidays and the like, this sort of stretched-out schedule will give us a better chance to fish for cod when they are actually biting, or as they say down south, when the bite is on. The bite isn’t always on, and the timing of the bite is different for various regions of the province.

If I had to bet on a time for the best fishing here in the Spaniard’s Bay area, I’d take my chances on mid to late August. I’m basing this on my experience as a commercial fisherman followed by many years of all summer on-and-off fishing. When you spend the whole summer on the water fishing for cod you can’t help but learn something about their habits and preferences.

Cod love to eat caplin. Years ago folks would refer to fishing in the caplin scull. This was traditionally carried out in this neck of the woods using trawls or long-lines baited with fresh caplin. I pursued this sort of traditional fishing for several years in my late teens and early 20s. On the way out in the morning we’d cast 10 gallons or so of caplin for bait. Then we’d go out on the grounds and set out our trawls baited with the enticing silvery baitfish. Floats were used every 50 ft or so to keep the trawl floating and off the bottom, where cod would expect to find caplin. It was great fun.

I should give a better explanation of what a traditional trawl was. Essential it was a long continuous main line of about 300-fathoms with sides or 2-ft thinner lines attached every six ft.  These shorter lines had hooks that would be baited, 300 in all on a typical trawl. The whole main line would be coiled around the bottom of a wooden tub with the hooks all stuck in around the rim.

To set the trawl one person would scull the boat and the other would pluck the hooks in sequence from the rim of the tub, bait each one, and toss it overboard as the main line ran out with the motion of the boat. Skilled hands could set a trawl in about a half hour. Sometimes you could feel the cod taking the bait as the line trailed out behind the boat. I loved it. You’d let the trawl fish for a few hours, and then pull it back aboard the boat, taking the fish, and coiling the gear back into the wooden trawl tub. I suppose it’s a lost art nowadays.

After the caplin scull fish are stuffed full and tend not to eat for a while, maybe two or three weeks. That’s a very poor time to be fishing with anything other than gill nets. So if the open time for us recreational cod anglers falls in this glut period fishing can be very poor. The very best fishing is when the cod get hungry again after digesting their bellies full of caplin. That’s why I like August.

With fishing time spread over the entire summer we will have a much better opportunity for the best fishing. We’ll hit the water when the bite is hot.

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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