CORNER BROOK — The summer of 2012 will be remembered as a great one for barbecuing, but perhaps not so much for cooking up freshly caught Atlantic salmon on the grill.
Despite how enjoyable the hot, dry weather was, low water levels and warm water temperatures meant less than ideal conditions on most rivers for anglers trying to fill their tags.
Today is the final day of the season for retaining salmon, though the three Class 1 rivers on the island — the Lower Humber River, the Gander River and the Exploit’s River — will remain open until Oct. 7. Retention of salmon will only be permitted on the Gander after today.
Jonathan Tsang administers a Facebook group titled The Salmon Anglers of Newfoundland Guild (TSANG) that has 498 members who discuss their salmon angling experiences, whether they have been good or bad. He took to the river about 25 times this summer, plus spent some time guiding out-of-province anglers.
He didn’t let the poor conditions stop him.
“I like fishing anyway and being out there is not always about the catching of the fish,” he said. “Where I was, I know there were fish there. It was just a matter of are they going to be taking any flies this time out?”
While fish were in the rivers, Tsang acknowledged there didn’t seem to be the usual number of larger fish hanging out in the pools. Nor did the fish that were around act like they typically do.
“The fish were either on your fly (the first time) or you would rise a fish once and it wouldn’t come back,” he noted.
“Last year, you could rise a fish five or six times and possibly hook it. This year, for me anyway, you move a fish and it wouldn’t come back for the fly.”
Terry Byrne has been fishing for more than 40 years and is renowned in the angling community as a prolific master of the Lower Humber.
It should raise a few eyebrows when someone like him, who wets a fly almost every single day of the season, says this season was “the worst” he has ever seen.
“I still hooked a lot of fish, but nowhere near what I normally would,” said Byrne.
Byrne doesn’t usually head to Big Falls on the Upper Humber River until mid-June, but was there on opening day June 1 because he knew the water was too low for good fishing anywhere else. The Buchans native is not a fan of fishing the Exploits River in central Newfoundland, but went there in mid-July because practically no fish were taking his fly in western Newfoundland.
Byrne’s family makes an annual event out of fishing at Big Falls. He told his dad not to bother with it this summer, marking the first time in 54 years his father has not fished that river.
Byrne always releases the salmon he catches, mainly because the grilse on the Lower Humber are usually too big to retain. This year, he had intended to retain one fish as a gift for someone, but has not yet been able to do that.
While water conditions are a significant factor to the fish not taking, Byrne believes the presence of speeding watercraft on the Lower Humber is a factor that has to be considered. Since such craft have been able to access that section of the river in the mid-1980s, Byrne said the number of salmon visible in the river seems to keep dwindling.
“I’m used to seeing them for a week or two in the same spot,” said Byrne. “Now they are there for a day or a few hours and they are gone. I think they are being bombarded by these high-speed boats going over them. They are not hanging around and I don’t know where they are going.”
Low water conditions and seemingly fewer fish have also led to the belief there are schools of salmon still waiting at the river mouths for the right conditions to move upstream to spawn.
While guiding in July, one of Tsang’s guests landed a grilse that was darkened, a sign of exposure to fresh water, yet had sea lice, which do not stay on fish for more than a day or two after entering a river from the salt water.
“To me, that was evidence that salmon are still in the estuaries waiting to go upriver,” said Tsang.
While it’s been a summer to forget for most anglers, it is one Terrence Byrne — no relation to Terry Byrne — will always remember. Just a few weeks ago, he landed his first Atlantic salmon since he took up the sport three years ago. It happened at Home Pool on Harry’s River on a rainy day not long after fishing was allowed on rivers in western Newfoundland that had been closed due to conditions.
He is going to try his luck one more time today on the Lower Humber.
“I’ve seen a lot of salmon,” he said. “They just weren’t taking. Hopefully, next season is not so hot a summer so the rivers aren’t so near closing.”