A Newfoundland Adventure
When Danish angler Jesper Fohrmann was a child, he had the book The Atlantic Salmon by Lee Wulff on the shelf next to Batman and Donald Duck. Ever since then he dreamed of one day visiting the rivers that Lee Wulff fished.
Big Falls - "The most dramatic salmon pool on the earth," Lee Wulff wrote in 1958, referring to one of the world's best fishing spots.
Now I am here, and it's simply dramatic...
Carved into the soil and rock, the brownish water from the Humber River flows into a huge flat pool. Hundreds of salmon are waiting at the foot of the waterfall that stretches across the river - and fish are constantly jumping through the white foam.
Behind the waterfall we see many boats with anglers - and on the bank are even more - swinging their fly lines over the brownish water as were they collectively flogging a huge brown snake.
My fishing buddy Per and I are also in a boat. We have dropped the anchor, and now sit in the middle of this circus. Salmon arrive at the rear edge of the pool and a couple of fly fishermen have hooked fish. Further down the river several leaping salmon and bent fly rods reveal that the salmon run is on. The nearby fish also show their backs and heads and make this morning totally unreal. Never have I cast a fly to so many salmon at once...
As it is when it comes to salmon in warm water, the fishing is difficult, and I have to do my utmost to hook fish. Our guide Bill tells us that fishing is very bad at the moment
- only a shadow of what it was last week or the weeks before, where thousands of salmon passed through the pool.
I find it hard to imagine how the fishery could be when it's good, and Bill explains that it is not uncommon to catch four salmon a day, even when fishing quite a limited time.
More than 50,000 Atlantic salmon must pass Big Falls in a season, which extends from June to October. People from all over Newfoundland come to take part in the fishery for these fish.
As with all other rivers in Newfoundland fishing is free, and anyone residing here can buy a national fishing license and start fishing - anywhere. There are 26,000 persons who do that every year, so on the well-known locations are buzzing with anglers as the hordes of fish come up the river.
Fishing mentality is much different than in Scandinavia where we move while fishing. Here at Big Falls you wade into the river and stay. It's a bit like fishing from a pier. You hold your spot and wait for the pull of a newly arrived fish.
- One hand rods from 8.5 to 10 feet #8-9.
- Two-hand equipment if you prefer that.
- Matching reels/lines with at least 300 meters backing.
- The tip material in the 6-12 lbs class. You will often have a small fly on the leader.
- Dry flies in different sizes.
- Single hook salmon flies and hitch flies in different sizes.
- Hiking boots and a small hiking backpack.
- Yellow polarized sunglasses and a hat with a large brim.
The salmon are taking insects in the surface!
I see it from time to time in Norway, when conditions are perfect, but here at Big Falls, there are plenty of instances where I can experience this paradox. Many different mayflies, caddis flies and stoneflies ride down the brown water, and salmon of any size rise to the insects. This is truly any dry fly angler's dream.
As morning turns to midday, the sun comes out from behind the hillside, and the river temperature increases from 16 to 18 degrees centigrade. It may be too warm for most salmon fishermen, but it's perfect for dry fly angler.
- In fact, 18 degrees C is the best temperature for dry flies, Bill says, who provides us with ample advice on placing the flies.
I cast to a newly arrived fish at the bottom of the pool, which is surrounded by a myriad of local fish, which also show themselves in the surface. The new arrival takes tiny insects on the surface, like a trout. I tie a small CDC Bomber on the leader and cast to the fish, which has repeatedly rejected the larger flies. Suddenly it takes the fly! I have caught another salmon. I am happy the nice fish, which is in fact is just one of the thousands small salmon, I have caught through life. But it occurs to me that this particular salmon is the salmon that I have dreamed of since I was quite small: a salmon on a dry fly at Big Falls.
The run of fish varies from river to river, but generally the best runs are from late June through July.
If you are after the big fish on dry flies, chances are best after mid-July. Most rivers are small and typically less than 30 kilometers long with a flow of 20 cubic meters and a run of about 2,000-7,000 salmon.
The rivers run in a stunning wilderness, and you can find all types of pools that are perfect for fly fishing. Sight Fishing can be practiced in many rivers in western Newfoundland. The diversity of rivers combined with three distinctive weather areas means that you can always find rivers that are fishable.
- Book your travel and guide in advance.
- Fish in weeks with new moon or full moon, where many fish will be on the move.
- Fish in rivers running in deep gorges that offer shade from the sun on sunny days.
- Fish the pools are in shadow early in the evening and don't get sun until late in the morning.
- Fish early mornings and late at night - sleep at midday.
- Fish near one of the many waterfalls or strong rapids that are found in many of the rivers.
They are here 12.30
We leave the fishing at Big Falls to find some peace and quiet. We don't have to move very far down the road before the great wilderness panorama reveals itself. A canoe with two anglers sails past on their way to the fishing grounds, but otherwise we are all alone.
The fish we are fishing for actually started their journey in the dark the night before.
- They are here 12.30, says the guide
And sure enough. The fish arrive on time. Small and large salmon jumping everywhere. Fishing is exciting and intense.
2.5-3 inch dry flies to big salmon
When the fishing day is over we meet with other anglers at the Big Falls Lodge where we are staying. I show the Chernobyl Ant flies I have used during the day to the local guide Terry Byrn. In return he shows us some huge dry flies he uses.
Here it's not uncommon to cast 2.5-3 inch dry flies to big salmon... Terry says he sometimes sees salmon rise to the surface to attack squirrels that are swimming across the river.
One-hand rod and a dry fly
Today all river fishing in Newfoundland and Labrador is 'fly only'. It's only allowed to fish single hooks with no weight or barbs. Most fish in these rivers are caught on dry flies, and usually fished with single-hand rods, floating line and relatively thin leaders in the 6-12 lbs range. Even when fishing large and powerful rivers like the Humber with dry flies for 10-20 and 20 kilo+ fish!
- But they do spit them out again, Terry explains.
Fishing for large salmon in the Humber has not started yet, because we are two weeks early. In the last weeks of June the smaller salmon are replaced by large schools of 3-6 kilo fish and and 7-25 kilo individuals.
The Humber River runs with 40-100 cubic meters throughout the season. The optimum water temperature for fishing is around 10-12 degrees Centigrade, and the fishery first collapses at 22 degrees - which the river may well reach in August, where most fishing is done early and late in the day.
We also visit the Exploits River by the town of Grand Falls-Windsor one of the days. The river is as wide as Namsen in Norway. On the lower parts of the river, there is a large number of small marinas filled with fishing boats, and there is also a lot of people fishing.
As in Big Falls fishing pressure is high in the well-known locations, but it doesn't really matter, because there is 246 kilometers of river to fish, and an astronomical 26,000 salmon have passed through the counter at Grand Winsor Falls.
We anchor at an island where a shoal of small salmon make head and tail. We fish with hitch and dry flies. Several fish rise to our flies, but we don't hook up before we put a wet fly on the leader.
Later in the evening we fish on another exciting place where the migrating salmon must pass through a narrow passage. I guess that there are 40-45 fish, and several of them rise to our hitch flies. The fish come to the fly only once.
- This is how it's been the last few days, shouts a man from another boat.
I fish with a small hitch tube, and finally hook a nice grilse. Fishing opportunities are fantastic in this river where 50,000 salmon go up, and I wish that we had more than just these few days to fish.
Even the worst day of our trip was still a great day seen from a Scnadinavian perspective. In Scandinavia we no longer have the abundance of Atlantic salmon, which you can find on many rivers in Newfoundland.
Near a collapse
But it does not have to be that way. A few years ago, many stocks of Newfoundland salmon were near a collapse. Commercial net fishing in the sea and unlimited fishing in the rivers had a severe impact on North America's largest salmon reserves. But in 1991 the Canadian government embarked on the daring mission of saving the salmon from extinction and banned all commercial fishing for salmon.
A tagging program was introduced so that all salmon sold was recorded, which enabled the authorities to trace illegally traded salmon. In a few years, all licenses for commercial salmon fishing was purchased by the state, and large fines for illegal fishing were issued. Knowing that other commercial fishers catch many salmon as a bycatch, the government will work for the next two decades to stop the bycatch of salmon. The state monitors the quantities of salmon caught as bycatch in the herring and mackerel nets. Based on these studies, a decision was made in 2010 to ban all nets set perpendicular to the coast. Today nets can only be parallel to the coastline - and recent studies show that this has had no influence on the catch of the fish that are targeted by this fishery - namely herring and mackerel. The salmon, however, is no longer caught as bycatch.
An example to follow
Illegal fishing from the shore and in the rivers was so common in the communities that the local rangers couldn't handle these problems. The crime was instead monitored by special elite rangers who gained control with the netting criminals who could look forward to confiscation of equipment, boats and cars.
Local communities soon realized the positive aspects of the new guidelines and the work that was done to get the salmon back into the rivers. Advocacy groups for the conservation of the rivers and the life in them were formed everywhere in Newfoundland. This has led to a great salmon fishing on Newfoundland. This strategy could serve as inspiration for other countries with fragile salmon runs like Denmark and Norway.
Land of possibilities
There are 206 rivers with salmon runs in this vast area. The ones you can fish represent 60-70% of all rivers with Atlantic salmon in North America. All salmon fishing is free once you have purchased a license costing 54 CAD. Foreigners must hire a guide however. Many opt for a package deal with one of the many companies that offer guide service in the region.
Many of these operators also make non-fishing-related trips such as canoeing and kayaking, bird and whale watching, travel on horseback, mountain hiking or photo safari by car. So the family can also experience this beautiful country while you fish.
Air Canada and several European airlines have daily flights to Newfoundland and the regional airport in Deer Lake. From this amazing backdrop, salmon fishermen can easily reach 34 unique salmon rivers within a reasonably short drive.
Lodges are found many places - from budget to manor style.
In the autumn it is only possible to fish in the largest of the rivers, and the season ends on October 7th.
Read more about Newfoundland and Labrador on www.newfoundlandlabrador.com
Fishing in The Exploits
Contact the hotel Mount Peyton
Rob Solo Fishing Services
Recognized Newfoundland guide
Can offer fishing on many rivers in the region of Harry's River.
Serpentine River specialist who also makes trips to remote lodges or wilderness canoe trips.
Phone: +1-709-789-2856 or +1-709-632-8077