Thursday, August 25, 2011

Canceling the School Dance on the Medway

Yesterday, I read in the local weekly newspaper that the Medway River is closed to all angling from the Greenfield Bridge to the Hwy 103 bridge from July 11 to August 15, 2011. This is in response to complaints about people catching and releasing salmon under the guise of trout angling, the article explains.

Oops! Yesterday was July 19 and I have fished almost everyday - sometimes twice a day - in the Medway River in front of my house for months now. I take our two dogs with me in the canoe and troll a fly behind us as we paddle along. Sometimes I catch a White Perch, but usually it's a Smallmouth Bass that grabs the fly. I catch Gaspereau too, when they are traveling through, but I haven't caught a trout since the end of June.

I don't mind. Actually, I enjoy the daily ritual. I like the scenery and the wildlife on the river, I like my canine companions, I like the physical challenge of handling the canoe despite my advancing years. I've learned it's the fishing, not the fish that matters - so everything gets released back into the river.

According to the article, I have been violating the law without knowing it for 8 days now. Now that I am informed, however, I am obliged to lay down my rod. This doesn't sit well with me and here is why...

Having been a teacher for many years, I have seen some "knee jerk" reactions from administrators in response to student behavior. The classic "rookie" mistake is to cancel the school dance because a few students misbehaved. This is exactly what has happened on the Medway River.

A few anglers, evidently, have been blatantly ignoring a moratorium on salmon fishing that has been in place on the Medway for fifteen years. I don't mean that they sneak up to a salmon pool with a net in the darkness. No, these fishermen cast in broad daylight at a known salmon pool and do their best to hook a salmon, then release it. When confronted, they claim that their trout license gives them every right to be there.

So, are they poachers? Not by the traditional definition (doesn't there have to be a dead salmon in someone's possession?). No, what they are is opportunists - fellow anglers who can't resist the temptation to have a few flicks over the king of all sport fish. I'd do it myself, except for one simple thing...

I fish for enjoyment, and to relax. I couldn't enjoy myself, nor would I be very relaxed if I was worried that, at any moment, a fisheries officer might step up and relieve me of my rod and reel and the hundreds of flies I tote with me, not to mention confiscating my vehicle and leaving me to hitchhike or swim home. No, thanks, I think I'll save my salmon fishing for a river where it can be lawfully enjoyed.

That doesn't mean I agree with the river closure. Some of my neighbors are Smallmouth Bass enthusiasts. Finally, they are beginning to enjoy some exciting flyfishing action in their own front yards. It had to happen. Once the bass were illegally introduced into the lakes it took less than ten years for them to become a force to be reckoned with in the Medway River.

I wish I had been able to capture a video of what I have seen happening in front of my house this summer. The schools of newly-hatched Gaspereaux descending from the brooks met a cruel surprise in the Medway as the bass gorged on them. It was unlike anything I have ever seen except in the movies. Actually, it reminded me of piranhas in a feeding frenzy, except that the water didn't turn blood red. I didn't know that Gaspereaux could fly until I saw them leaping several feet clear of the water trying to escape their fates.

I love Atlantic Salmon as much as any man, but it is becoming clear what will happen on the Medway. Despite the efforts of special interest groups to restore the river to her former glory as an Atlantic Salmon sport fishery, the momentum of forces that are bent on eradicating these noble fish is reaching the point of no return.

Acid rain, Nova Scotia's dependence on coal-fired power plants, the expansion of caged aquaculture operations, and now, an unstoppable predatory threat to parr and smolts from invasive species like Smallmouth Bass and, soon-to-arrive, Chain Pickerel spell doom for the king of fish.

In the face of this, to see prominent members of these special interest groups lined up on the bank, hoping to catch one of the few remaining salmon is pathetic. And to see the federal Department of Fisheries and the provincial Department of Natural Resources close the Medway to all angling, instead of prosecuting these "poachers" is inexcusable.

Good Luck and Good Fishin' (but not on the Medway)


Monday, April 20, 2009

"Buy Me A Salmon?"

Meeting new people can be awkward sometimes, when value systems collide... I talked with a new acquaintance about my experiences living on the river - "Any fish in it?" he inquired. When I mentioned our remnant Atlantic Salmon population, he enthusiastically asked if I had a net set.

I was horrified. I tried to explain that the salmon were of much greater value in the river than in a net.

"Yeah, but they're some tasty" he countered.

"Look, If you want to eat salmon, I answered, "go to Sobey's - you can get it for $4.99 a pound. Believe me, that's a bargain!"

"But I can get it free in a net!" he grinned.

"OK," I offered, "Fair enough, if you're that badly off, come and see me, I'd rather buy you a salmon than see you kill one!"
I guess it was about a year later, I ran into the guy again. He pulled me aside and whispered in my ear...

"Buy me a salmon?"


Good Luck and Good Fishin'


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Economic Downturn = Boom in Fishing?

Again, I am reminded of the saying, "It's an ill wind that blows no good". That's because I saw an article in Newser reporting that the economic downturn is sparking a boom in recreational fishing. Apparently, bait and tackle shops are doing well as the recently unemployed flock to local lakes and streams. I imagine it takes their minds off their financial woes to spend a day in the great outdoors, plus it can be a relatively inexpensive hobby compared to, say, heli-skiing.

Good Luck and Good Fishin',


Photo: todbaker

Dick Tracy, do you read me?

When I was a kid I used to enjoy reading the classic Dick Tracy series in the daily comics. The best thing about Dick Tracy was the cool wristwatch that he always wore. It was a miniature 2-way communication device featuring wireless audio and video. I always wondered if someday everyone would have one. We're not quite there yet, but here's a new fish-finder device, the Humminbird Smartcast 35 - the ultimate in portability for $80 USD retail.

The green thing is a remote, wireless transducer that bobs in the water, securely attached to you or your watercraft by a tether. The wristwatch device shows depth, water temperature, bottom structure, and fish ID. Steve Schweitzer over at Global FlyFisher has a review of this product that makes me think float tubers, pontoon-boaters and kayakers might want to take a closer look.

Good Luck and Good Fishin'


Saturday, March 21, 2009

First day of Spring 2009 on the Medway

Meet my new fishin' buddy... her name is Raggs! She was 6 months old on the first day of spring. We were out for our daily walk along the Medway River, and I remembered to bring along a camera for once.  She is a dog that turns heads wherever we go. People usually want to know what breed she is. Our vet thought she was a "designer dog", but she is simply a mutt - a cross between a German Shepherd named Sadie, who lives up the road, and a Terrier named Cosmo, who likes to roam. 

I'm looking forward to having her company come fishing season, which begins April 1st in Southwest Nova Scotia. Here are a couple of shots of the river.

As you can see there is still ice in the coves, but the main flow is free and clear. There are patches of ice and snow in the woods and, with the sun gaining strength each day, it should only be a week or two before the last vestiges of winter disappear. Amen to that!

Good Luck and Good Fishin',


Photos by Random Phrump

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Ill Wind?

I had a chat with my dad this morning and, as usual, it wasn't long before the discussion turned to Atlantic Salmon fishing. He reminded me of the time he had some fun with the boys at Banting Lake Lodge near Gander, Newfoundland.

One breezy evening, he and my brother, Dave, went with their guide, Rocky, for a bit of fishing after supper. It's a quick boat ride and a few steps to the Bench Pool where Dad likes to fish, but another half-mile hike over rough terrain to reach Surveyor's Pool. 

"D'ere's always more fish at Surveyor's. What d'ya t'ink, Harold? D'ya mind if I takes Dave up to Surveyor's fer a few flicks?" Rocky asked.  

"Go ahead, boys. I'll be fine here. I can sit on the bench and rest if I get tired. Don't worry about me," Harold replied. 

They had just disappeared around the bend when Harold raised a salmon, and a few casts later, had the fish on his line. Landing it was a bit of a problem, though - the net was leaning against the bench, forty feet from shore. Harold thought to himself,"If I try to run up there to get that net, the fish will get off." He decided his best option was to try to beach the grilse. And that's just what he did - no mean feat on that rocky shore! Harold tagged the fish and hung it on an alder branch near the bench.

By and by, Dave and Rocky returned from the "Honey Hole", empty-handed, to check on Harold. "Any luck?" they inquired. 

"Well it was so windy, it was hard to cast," Harold complained. "But I did have a bit of luck! A grilse leaped clear of the water, just when a big gust of wind came along. It blew him right up into the alders, there," Harold pointed to the fish.

 "Jeezus wept!" Rocky said. "Here we was feeling' sorry for ya. Come back to check on ya, and find you wit' a fish!" he grinned. "Poor Dave didn't get more'n a few casts. Now dat we knows y' kin handle yerself, we'll dodge back and give 'er another flick, if yer okay wit dat, skipper?"

 "I'm fine," Dad laughed. "Go ahead. I'll be here when you get back. I might even go out and try for another one!"

Once more, they weren't gone but a few minutes when Harold hooked a grilse and, having remembered to take the net down to the shore, soon had two fish hanging in the alders. When the boys returned, empty-handed again, Harold was sitting on the bench waiting.

"Had enuff, Harold?" Rocky asked.

"Yes," he replied. "I got tired of fighting that wind on every cast. I thought I'd just sit here awhile and wait for a big gust to blow another one up in the trees," he gestured toward the alders.

"Lard thunderin', Jeezus!" Rocky cried. "Two fish!

"Well, you know what they say," Dave grinned, "It's an ill wind that blows no good."

Good Luck and Good Fishin"


Photo by Dave Dobson

Saturday, March 7, 2009


It was summertime - late summer, in fact, and the fishing was anything but easy. Earlier that morning, I lay sleepless in bed, determined to start this fourth day of our Atlantic Salmon adventure in Labrador with a new positive attitude. As guests at Chute Pool Lodge on the Pinware River, my brother, Steve, and I had cast from dawn to dusk, without as much as a raise, for the first three days. The high-spirited anticipation of our arrival had faded to become the grim desperation we were beginning to taste - a taste not unlike skunk, or so I'm told. 

In the chilly pre-dawn stillness, I reached for another blanket and grappled with our lack of success - warm water was certainly a problem, and we had missed the main run of grilse in mid-July. But was there something else, some intangible factor that stymied us? Like a big-league slugger in a batting slump, I sought some talisman to change our luck.

In a corner of my room at the lodge stood a pretty little trout rod, custom-made for me by rod-builder, Wayne Crouse. I had finally come to accept the dismal reality of my trout angling results - rarely did I catch anything over ten, maybe eleven inches, and I wanted a rod that would make catching fish of that size more exciting. When Wayne showed me the rod he had built, he commented, "Can you imagine hooking a grilse with this?" 

That remark planted a seed that I longed to see flower in Labrador. In my dreams, I had hooked that grilse, and sweated through every moment of the battle, wondering if the slender rod could handle a feisty four-to-five-pound Atlantic Salmon. I wanted that experience to be real; indeed, I craved the heart-pounding excitement it would bring. Before my feet hit the floor, I had decided to leave my 9# wt. salmon rod behind that day, and take the little 5# wt. along instead.

After breakfast, we wriggled into our waders and trudged to where the vehicles were parked. Our Dad, Harold, rooting through his knapsack, exclaimed, "Here's that box of flies I was looking for!" We gathered around the tailgate of his pickup, the way my dog cozies up to the table every time she hears the clatter of dinnerware. He ties beautiful flies and we had good reason to be interested in them - Harold had bagged a bright grilse and an Arctic Char on our first day. 

The box was crammed with deer-hair bugs in a variety of sizes and colors. While Steve eyed a couple of high-floaters, I picked a handsome pair for my vest. I also gave each angler a fly I had tied the previous night - Ches' Black Fly was supposed to be just what the doctor ordered for stagnant late-season fish.

We piled into the lodge van and, a few miles down the road, began a long hike up the mountainous west side of the river. The path, though well-trodden, was steep and rambled up hill and down through a stunted evergreen forest. At The Forks, Harold and his guide left us and continued on to the Chute Pool. 

After days of blistering hot weather, it had been a cold night. The sun, beginning its climb in the early morning sky, warmed our faces as we tramped down the wooded hillside to the foot of the Western Chute. The Pinware, here, was narrow and extremely deep - the pool, ringed with massive boulders and monstrous slanting fingers of bedrock. Their brown-stained bases and bleached tops showed the water level to be several feet below normal. With a small thermometer, I checked the water at 55 F (12 C), the perfect temperature, according to our guide, Dougie Lee.

He and Steve headed downstream to where the river widened, while from the high rocks below the falls, I surveyed the pool. 

Three grilse hugged the opposite shore, tight to the face of the rock, only a few feet below the surface. I made a mental note of where the fish lay and climbed down to a wide ledge from which to cast. Carefully assembling the rod, I chose Ches' Black Fly and delivered it to within a foot of the far side, maybe ten times when, suddenly, the fly dragged. Instead of sweeping freely downstream on the current, it seemed to be snagged on something, and a belly had begun to form in the line. The puzzled look of irritation on my face changed to one of astonishment when a silver bullet pierced the water's surface, trailing a slim tether of green line. The grilse somersaulted once through the air, and back came the fly!

It was over in an instant: I had missed the take, and failed to set the hook. My dream had come true and evaporated in little more than a second. Reeling in, I considered hiking downstream to tell my story, but when I thought of the look that would come creeping over the guide's face, I scaled the rock and peered into the pool once more. Two grilse still lay there, so I returned to the ledge and put the fly over them again, taking plenty of time between casts. A swirl? This time I was ready - a flick of the wrist set the hook, and the dream came surging to life.

Sunlight glinted along the arc of the rod and the foaming waterfall thundered in the still morning air. I whistled for the guide as the reel began to sing - the power of the fish enhanced by the delicacy of the rod. My senses were on red alert, and I relished the throbbing tension in the line that linked our destinies. When Dougie arrived, out of breath, the grilse had made several showy leaps but I was gaining ground at last. The little rod showed no sign of weakness as we battled - the fish taking line, then losing it, time and again. Soon the grilse was almost within Dougie's reach; moments later, it lay still and gleaming in the net.

Awash with triumph and relief, I clambered over the boulders to tell Steve to try Ches' Black Fly, and saw him far below, at the bend in the river, casting intently from a rock in midstream. As I approached, I heard a splash, and lifted my eyes to see a spunky grilse cartwheel across the pool, a white bug lodged firmly in its jaw.

Later, with his prize safely in the net, Steve grinned from ear to ear and held up the fly, "This is the Glitterbug I got from Dad this morning." Leaning closer, he confided, "You know, boys, there's another taker out there. He rolled on the corner just as I hooked this one in front of the sunken rock."

Back into the river Steve waded, while I retraced my steps to the foot of the falls. As I searched the pool, a war cry echoed off the green hillsides and, sure enough, Steve was into another fish. I reached his side in time to see Dougie net Steve's second grilse, and remove the very same fly from its jaw. They were giddy with excitement at having filled his tags by midmorning.

"You've gotta' try this fly," Steve crowed, "It's a killer! You can have my spot, too - I've already got my limit!" I hesitated for a moment, remembering that my fly had also hooked two fish, but I accepted his generosity and tied on the Glitterbug

Steve waded out with me and pointed to the sunken rock where a pod of grilse had lain. The hole was now vacant - the fish had moved on. I climbed up on a boulder for a better vantage point, and soon became aware of a torpedo-like form a few feet beyond the sunken rock. It might possibly be a fish, but it was big - two or three times the size of the grilse we had caught this morning. More likely, it was just another rock or a sunken log. 

A giant dragonfly circled about my head, picking off the blackflies that swarmed there, while I waited and watched for fish to move into the pool.

But my eyes kept coming back to that grey shape behind the rock. I'd already dismissed it as just some natural feature of the streambed, but I decided to give it a few flicks. It was an easy reach - about thirty feet below, and slightly toward midstream from my position. I kept my eye on the submerged form as the white deer-hair bug drifted closer and closer. When the fly was almost upon it, that shape sprang to life, surged forward, then, instantly, turned back. My heart went into overdrive. I had seen the broad silver flank wink at me as it wheeled away and knew it had to be a large salmon. On the next cast, he came again and, once more, turned away. On the third cast, a massive snout and hooked jaw engulfed the fly. Mindful of my earlier lapse, I moved to set the hook, and jerked the fly away!

With cold sweat beading on my brow, I mentally replayed the last cast. Had I pricked him? No, the hook had not touched the fish; I was almost sure of that! Twenty, thirty times I cast the same fly and got no response. With trembling fingers I tied on Ches' Black Fly - no reaction; then several more patterns, all without success. I returned to Steve's Glitterbug, hoping that the salmon would strike again, but the fly had lost its magic. I was beginning to think that it was a good thing the salmon had missed the fly - I might have broken my lovely trout rod!

With flybox open for the umpteenth time, my gaze fell on a small brown deer-hair bug, with green head and butt, that I had picked up that morning. It was one of Harold's patterns - but not one of the pair I had chosen. I remembered spying it on the ground near the tailgate of his truck, and tucking it away in my vest. Knotting it to the tippet, I made two casts - the first drift was right over the salmon's lie; the second, was wide of the mark. What happened next has become a benchmark of fly-fishing excitement for me.

Up, up, up he rose, in slow motion, and sucked in the fly. With a lazy toss of his tail, the great fish circled back to his lie. The line tightened, but the salmon didn't seem to realize his dilemma. I raised the rod tip. Slowly, slowly he turned toward the deeper water. Gradually the reel began to sing as the powerful fish streaked downriver at torpedo speed.

"Git ashore!" Dougie called, "Git ashore!". At that moment, the last of my fly line disappeared through the line guides as the fish made a shallow leap and a splash that had both my companions gasping in awe. I hopped down off the boulder, slipped and fell sprawling on the rocks. I lay on my left side in the shallow water, pain rocketing up my leg, but my right arm and rod, miraculously, were still high in the air.

"You okay?" Steve asked. "I wouldn't mind playing him for you," he offered.

"Not a chance!" I replied. "Not unless I have a heart attack, in which case, get your priorities straight. Forget the CPR - land this fish!" I scrambled to my feet, slipping once more in my haste, and made the shore. Turning my attention to the fish, I saw that the reel had stopped spinning - the turns of backing left on the spool, perilously few. I cranked furiously, hobbling downstream along the stony beach, and managed to regain all of the backing and some of the fly line.

The salmon jumped again - this time, well clear of the surface. His size was intimidating. A grilse was one thing, but how could I handle a giant like this with such a dainty rod? Suddenly, he made a long run. My drag useless, I tried to palm the reel and got my thumb whacked by the whirling handle. He leaped once more, then headed back toward me and parked at the base of a great rock. The line was going slack and I reeled frantically to keep it tight.

"Git yer line off the rock!" Dougie yelled. "He'll fray it off!" I realized immediately the predicament: I could feel the fish dodging back and forth at the base of the rock, the leader chafing where it passed over the rough granite boulder.

"This is it," I groaned to myself, "this is where I lose the fish of a lifetime." I limped downstream, holding the rod high overhead and, somehow, managed to prevent the monofilament from giving out. 

Then the standoff began - I kept as much strain on him as the rod and the frayed leader could stand, and made him toil for every inch of line. After what seemed like an eternity, a flash of silver beckoned from the depths, then another, and another. He was tiring, losing equilibrium, and I gave no quarter. Suddenly, the fish was at the surface, on his side, one great steely eye staring skyward. I staggered backwards, the rod bent nearly double, and towed him toward Dougie's waiting net. A smooth lift, at the right moment, and the battle was won.

"That's what I likes t' see," Dougie beamed, as he hoisted the gleaming fish, "a nice big Jack!"

"A Jack?" I repeated.

"It's what we calls a male fish," he answered. "Look at 'is battle scars!" A long-healed gash on the top of his head had once laid it bare almost to the bone, and the top portion of his tail fin was missing.

"Seals," Dougie ventured, "or the nets, maybe."

"What a brute!" Steve said, his camera at the ready, "I have to step back to get him all in the frame!"

In 1995, the government of Labrador allowed anglers to retain one large fish per season. He was just over fifteen pounds and a little under three feet long. As I tagged him, I was overcome with a mixture of pride and remorse: pride in landing a trophy fish with a mere wisp of a rod, and remorse at ending the life of so valiant a warrior. It was the first large salmon I had ever killed and I vowed it would be the last. The thrill is in the catching - not the killing.

Back at the lodge, I thanked Dougie for timely advice on playing the fish and for his deft work with the net. We toasted the fabulous salmon of Labrador. We toasted the skills of the fly-tier, the angler, and the guide. Then raising my glass, I made a final tribute to the little rod that had served so well, "I christen thee, Jackwhacker!"

I found the pattern for Ches' Black Fly while thumbing through Flies For Atlantic Salmon by Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen. It was originated by Ches Travers. Jackwhacker was tied by Harold Dobson, and Glitterbug by Danny Bird.

Wayne Crouse lives in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, where he is enjoying his retirement from the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment. Over the last fifteen years, he has built more than 150 rods for anglers in Canada, the United States and Europe. "Jackwhacker", an 8 foot # 5 weight rod, was crafted from Sage RPL Graphite blanks. You can contact him by mail at R.R. #1, Liverpool, N.S. B0T 1K0 Phone: 902-354-5998.

Good Luck and Good Fishin'


Photos by Dougie Lee, Steve Dobson, Random Phrump.