All the Gaspe river reports lately have prodded me into action on posting a quick report from my first salmon outing of the year that occurred a month back.
My buddy and I usually fish rivers around the town of Gaspe early in the season for a couple of weeks each year. My main interest is usually the big MSW fish that arrive in late May and early June in the York, although most recent years, we're happy with any salmon fish at all, regardless of size.
We usually rent a nice tidy little camp on the water in the lower 1/3 of Sector 1 on the St Jean, but this year we opted to try out a cabin on the Petite Forche brook, about 1/2 a mile up from where it flows into the York. I arrived in the town of Gaspe on May 28, a day ahead of my partner. Conveniently for him, that meant I ended up doing all the grocery shopping and camp set up and we'd hit the water the next day right after I picked him up from the airport.
After working out the kinks and particulars of the water and electrical system of this cabin, I eventually came to appreciate it for saving us an hour or more of driving most days since the lions share of our fishing is usually on the York. In the evening, once camp was set up, I went to scout the river. It didn't take long for me to bump into Brian (Salar1) who was fishing Sector 1. Following a good chat, with dark approaching, I suggested that he give a quick pass in a pool that is usually overlooked by most anglers, but I have a bit of fondness for in certain conditions. As luck would have it, there was a nice 2SW salmon waiting for Brian's fly mid-run, and I had the pleasure of netting the fish for him.
My partner and I spent the 29th plying some of our favourite open water pools in the lower river to no avail. On May 30th, we were up in Sector 6, along with Brian and 3 other anglers. The four pool sector was barren of visible fish in the slower sections which left 6 anglers scratching their heads about what to do. Around mid-morning (I guess 9:30 counts as mid-morning when you start your fishing day at 4:30), I found myself working my way down through my favourite fast water run. About mid-way down, Brian came up the trail from the bottom the run and we stopped to confer. He announced that he was heading out, but his parting words were that a particular pot near the end of the run that I've always liked was looking very sweet in the current river level. Prophetic words, because not 10 minutes after he left, on my first swing through said pot, my fly was slammed hard and I was tight to an angry salmon. I was all alone in the run; my buddy was up river gabbing with the other sports since no one seriously thought a fish would be had today. Luckily the fish was well hooked, so after a good tug-o-war, I managed to safely tail, unhook and release the very thick slab of a male that was somewhere around 23-25lbs in weight. My buddy still owes me for not being around to snap a grip'n grin photo for me (I just took a quick head shot after tailing), plus I feel a little guilty for picking Brian's pocket.
We spent an uneventful following three days in York 4, York 6, and St Jean sector 1. Normally in early June, there would have been a bunch of big fish visible in the middle sector pools of the York, but this year they were very few and far between. It didn't help that the water level on the York was significantly lower than normal and dropping like a rock, so the few salmon that were about were shooting up the river quickly. I finally managed to hook a fish again on the York on June 3. It was no biggie, but after a couple of tough days in prime waters, I was happy.
The next day was spent on the lower sector of the St Jean with a guide friend of ours. My expectations were high because the water was at perfect levels and our friend knows the river inside out. Sadly, not a salmon to be seen.
We got lucky in the 48hr lottery, and drew the Falls on the Dartmouth for June 6, which would normally be fantastic. Less than great this year was the river level, which was abysmally low for early June. There wasn't even enough flow to get a good swing through the primo pool (Ladder) which was holding a few fish. Luckily, it rained lightly all day, bringing the water up a bit, and coaxing a bunch of fresh fish up the river. By concentrating on lies in faster water, I managed to release a couple of feisty 12lb males, one of which didn't hang around for a photo. With the water so low and fishing such a short line, I brought out my single hander for this work - I'd forgotten how much harder it is to coax in a fresh salmon in on the lighter, short rod!
On June 8, we getting into the last 1/4 of the trip and my partner had yet to connect with a fish. We were in York 6 again, and finally there were salmon in some of the pools. We were the first to arrive at the river at 4am. We bee-lined for the prime pool, and were part-way through our first pass when the other anglers began to arrive. Each walked down the stairs, disappointed to see us in the run, and then headed off to the other pools. As luck would have it, the other 3 runs each quickly gave up salmon to the other rods, while our pool, containing 8 or 9 fish was stingy.
My mission for the day was to get my buddy into a salmon, so I spent little time fishing myself, and most of my time spotting and coaching. He had a great shot once, but excitedly ripped the fly out of the mouth of a 20lber that really wanted it, but wouldn't return a second time. Fresh fish, some very bright and obviously much fresher than the current residents were filtering into the pools, brought in by the heavy rain that had been falling all day. Finally, my partner made a solid connection with a salmon a little past mid-day, just before the water started to get really dirty and rise like crazy. He had the monkey off his back! I later had two pulls while fishing the lower pool in the sector that was quickly becoming a torrent, but that was the extent of my action for the day. Edit - I forgot that I hooked and lost a fish mid-day swinging and stripping a really long sun-ray shadow (my secret weapon in a specific sector 6 pool that rarely fails if there are fish present).
Two of our final 3 days were spent in York 4. With the good push of water, it should have been golden, but again, there were few fish about. Our last day on the river, June 11th, we fished with our guide friend again. He spotted me into a fish that hit hard following a fly change preceded a couple of flashy follows. The salmon was almost in when we started to discuss who would land it. Hint - never jinx it this way because a second later, the salmon popped off and was gone.
That evening was our final few hours on the river, so we decided to hop into the rotation at Still pool where there should have been a few fish holding due to the higher water. On my buddy's pass he raised a very nice fish that surprisingly refused to come back again despite making a super aggressive boil after the fly. The next gentleman up in the rotation came through and hooked it though, and gave us a great show. The angler was there with both his father and his young (maybe 10 years old) son watching, and all three were ecstatic. He played the fish well, although it was touch and go for a few moments whether it would get out of the pool and down the rapids. I hopped into the river with the angler's net and closed the trip out just as it had began - landing another angler's salmon. Although I was a bit sad that my buddy didn't hook that fish, I was very happy for this gentleman. He was so thoroughly excited that he was literally shaking from the adrenaline. The scene of 3 generations together, enjoying the river and the prize catch and release of a fine salmon by one of them was magnificent.
Altogether, I hooked I 7 fish over 2 weeks, landed 4 and had a few pulls. My partner fared a bit worse, going 1 for 1 with a couple of missed hookups. I'd like to give a shout out to Ann Smith of Quebec Sporting who does much leg work for us every year and guide extraordinaire Jason Sams who is always great fun on the river.
My feeling is that our results were well below par for these rivers at that time of the year, an experience that I think was shared by many other anglers I knew on the river at the same time. I hope things pick up throughout the rest of the year!