Going a Few Rounds With Our Best Fighters

The river bounced through a hard channel of boulders, traversed a slight curve, and frothed into the inky pool. The size of half a soccer field was rimmed with ledge rock and floored at its edges with cobble. A collection of rocks reared their heads at the base of the pool before its waters fled down the next set of rapids.

The dark back of a salmon broached at the top of the pool just off the far shore. Another rolled ahead of the tail of the pool. Beneath the surface of the water, I could discern vague shapes of huge chunks of river rock behind which I knew that other salmon would be holding, waiting for whatever it was that would trigger their run up the river to the next pool to spawn. 

A fan of dry flies for trout in the United States, my native country, I bent on an orange bomber, securing it to my leader with a riffling hitch – that pair of half-hitches just aft of the hook’s eye – so I could skate it head up across the current. My rod was a single-hand, nine-foot, eight-weight, and those who’ve seen me cast are being kind when they describe my skills as modest.

I waded to the head of the pool and then out as deep as my chest-high waders would allow. I cast the fly as far as I could, but it fell well short of where the first salmon rolled. But the ‘vee’ it carved in the roiled surface of the pool was satisfactory, and I fished it down and all the way across before casting again and dropping the fly 18 inches downstream from the first cast.

No cast counter am I, so I can’t tell you the number of the one when the first fish took. Besides, its aerobatics chased whatever numbers there were from my mind. What I can tell you is that its back was as blue as early dawn and its sides glistened like stainless steel. Its heart was made of the same unforgiving stuff. It ripped my line fully up the pool before charging back toward me like a young bull. At the end of the battle my guide deftly netted it – a grilse of about four pounds.

Grilse or no, this was my first encounter with Salmo Salar. On the four days I spent on the river, I tangled with more than half a dozen salmon as well as scores of fat brook trout that make ours here in the United States look like bait fish. The next morning, another angler hooked and landed a 30-pound salmon from where I’d been standing the previous day. He was a first-time flyfisher using a rod and reel borrowed from a friend. So it goes with angling for the king of cold-water fishes.

There are other destinations in the northern hemisphere that are more widely known than the salmon rivers of Newfoundland and Labrador. But many of those locales have fallen victim to their reputations and promise more than they deliver. Not so with the salmon fisheries of Newfoundland and Labrador. Here you’ll find excellent angling, outstanding service and accommodations, country as pure and lovely as anywhere in the world, and all at a price that doesn’t require a second mortgage.

Having written a bit over the last 20 years of great rivers and lodges in the States and Canada, I can tell you there are few rivers friendlier to novice salmon anglers than those of the northeastern-most provinces of Canada, and experienced anglers will hook and land even more fish. Typically, the best runs of salmon begin in early July and continue through mid-August.