We have to do what we can to protect our salmon
My father is a hardcore salmon fisherman and my childhood summers were spent on the river. Our family anthem was the country song by Willie Nelson, “On the Road Again.”
We’d spend half the summer in canvas tents crisscrossing huge swaths of the province. I didn’t do much fishing in those days, I just didn’t have the bug back then.
I decided to pick up salmon fishing again about 15 years ago, and on the first day my father perched me on a boulder and pointed out a small pool a few yards out. As he moved on upstream, I made my first flick and as soon as my fly hit the water - fish on! I only had him on for a moment. He jumped, twisted, popped out the hook and was gone. It was five seconds of pure exhilaration. I hooked a fish on my first day, on my first cast - but it wasn’t the fish that was hooked.
I’ve witnessed the same excitement on the faces of hundreds of anglers over the years.
I watched a young boy land his first fish on the Gander River. He played it for a few minutes, got it close to shore and his father scooped it up in the net. As his father, uncle and some other men crowded around the fish, the boy, still standing alone a few feet outside the circle, tried to collect himself. There he stood, wide eyed, taking short deep breaths and shaking his head side to side as if he had just been hit by a transport truck. Another poor pathetic adrenaline junkie is born - he was hooked.
I’ve seen a middle-age man do a combination of Fats Domino’s “The Twist” and a Newfie jig, all in waisthigh raging water. He appeared at a glance to be a pretty tough looking character but as soon as he hooked that fish, it all melted away. Amongst the hoots and hollers, I overheard him explain that he had been salmon fishing for close on six years and that was the first time he hooked a fish. Even though it only lasted for a few brief seconds, the joy of it was overwhelming.
Thousands flock to Florida each year for the thrill rides and amusement parks, but I don’t believe there’s anything in this world that compares to the feeling of an Atlantic salmon on the other end of a tight line - Walt Disney, eat your heart out.
I’ve watched an elderly lady in her late 70s hook a fish on the Humber River from a flat-bottom boat. Standing at attention, she wrestled the fish for 15 or 20 minutes and finally manoeuvred it close enough so that her husband could use the net. On a calm summer afternoon, near dusk, the top pool of Big Falls erupted in a chorus of spontaneous applause. She raised her right arm in the air and gave us all a victory salute - she had slayed the beast.
I’ve watched the light at sunrise pierce the tops of the spruce and pine and illuminate the ripples and eddies of the pools. The first rays of sun seem to awaken the fish and the rivers come alive. I’ve witnessed great leviathans rise up from the deep, enticed by a few tangled wisps of moose hair, only to have them sniff the fly inches from the surface and slowly disappear back into the dark. The only conscious feeling you have is the pounding of your pulse and the feeling that your heart is about to burst from your chest.
I’ve experienced time travel, where the sun appears to race across the sky and you’re left dumbfounded, standing waist high in cold, dark water wondering where the day went, only to rise a few hours later, excited by the prospect of doing it all over again.
I don’t know what the future is for Atlantic salmon, but one thing is for certain. We need to do everything in our power to preserve what we have. We need to work together, trust each other and be willing to make sacrifices - because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.