This June, I drove north to the Gaspé peninsula in search of Atlantic salmon. I’ve been very fortunate to have made this drive north almost every summer for the last 25 years. But this year would be different.
This year, the plan was was to fish the Bonaventure (or “Bonnie” as its affectionately known) almost exclusively. I had fished it and its Bombay Saphhire waters before, but only on day trips and only in late August. I wanted to spend a week exploring it, getting to know it and, hopefully, land a fish or two on its banks. I rented a cabin on its banks, which I planned to call my home for the week.
Upon arriving, however, I quickly discovered the run on the Bonnie was late. The excellent weekly River Notes newsletter from the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) confirmed the anecdotal reports from the river and from an active thread on SpeyPages. And so I shifted gears, quickly: I entered a number of 48 hour draws, and ended up fishing the Grand Cascapedia, the Petite, and the Bonnie. I was hardly ever at the cabin, I never so much as hooked a fish in the Bonnie.
And yet — and this is the thing about salmon fishing, as I’ve written before — I had a wonderful time. The scenery was breathtaking. The people remarkably generous. And the adventures endless. It was a great week. Here’s a quick breakdown of how it went.
When I fish alone, and with no social pressures to retrain my fishing, I fish hard. I woke up almost daily between 3 and 5 am to fish sunrise, made the 40 minute to hour and a half drive to the river from my cabin, fished throughout the day, and then fished for striped bass in the evening through dark. It was a cycle of: coffee, drive, fish, drive, fish, drive, fish, sleep, and repeat. Food was thrown in there, but on the go. This was not a luxurious experience; the slow fishing made my fishing more urgent, and more focused.
I fished two days on the Grand Cascapedia, a river I have had the great privilege to fish for more than 25 years (thanks Tammy and Darlene!). I fished the lake branch on both days, and caught and released a beautifully bright chrome 12-15 lbs fish in Montgomery Pool. It was to be my only fish for the week, and was landed on a new Hatch Outdoors 9 Plus, which I’ll be writing a review on soon.
I also fished the Petite, where I had good and bad luck. I explored and fish nearly all B Sector during the day, and landed on Edgar Cyr as a favorite spot. The pool’s fame, I learned, was well earned. I hooked a nice fish after two aggressive, swirling takes on a large tube fly inspired by the Samurai Fly by Guideline’s Mikael Frodin. After 30 seconds or so, the hook simply pulled out, leaving me cursing at my slack line on the bank.
My bad luck did not end there. I got a really bad tire puncture on the upper B Sector water, and was saved by a Petite Zec warden named Michel Forest. He came to help and guide me throughout the day, making him one of the most helpful, and most generous, Zec wardens I have ever met.
Finally, I fished three days on the Bonaventure: one day on the B sector, one day on the public water by foot, and one day on the public water with my old friend and talented guide Marc Gauthier. This day was my last. I had planned to drive home that morning, but upon reaching the T intersection facing the Baie des Chaleurs, I turned left instead of right and headed for the river, refusing to be defeated. I ran into Marc, and his client Patrick, who generously invited me along.
Throughout the week, I explored the Baie des Chaleurs for striped bass — or bars rayé as they’re known there. I didn’t expect just how successful this would be: one afternoon, I fished four different spots, all new to me, and caught stripers at every spot. At two spots, I caught them on the first cast. At one spot, a brief blitz broke out in front of me, before subsiding into consistent surface action. It was to this same spot that I returned a few times throughout the week and found the rip and the surface action to be predictable at the right incoming tide. On one day, I caught a nice Atlantic salmon and then got into this surface action and pulled in a few stripers. That was a first for me, and one I sincerely enjoyed.
While a great antidote to a fishless day of atlantic salmon fishing, the striped bass are a potential real problem. Quite simply, striped bass are voracious. They consume nearly everything in sight — including atlantic salmon smolts. What effect the rising striped bass population will have on this famous Atlantic salmon fishery, a fishery that already faces numerous challenges, has yet to be seen. But one thing is clear: the striped bass are a recent and rising population in the Baie des Chaleurs. They are nothing if not a sign of a changing environment. Despite this, I found myself wondering: what would it mean to bang out on Atlantic salmon in the morning, and catch stripers in the evening? To take that one logical step further, would it be possible to bang out, catch some nice trout — sea run or otherwise — and then catch stripers? I came to think of this as the Gaspe Grand Slam. But I also came to wonder whether it was a sustainable option.
In the end, it was a great trip, filled with adventure. I hope the fishing on the Bonnie picks up, as its a beautiful river. Already, I can’t wait to go back. Hope you enjoy the video!
A sunset in Bonaventure.
Fishing the Bonnie.
A local guide’s truck.
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