Salmon fishing & fly tying on the Miramichi...

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Smallmouth Bass Fishing on the Main Southwest Miramichi River, N.B.

This blog title has quite a ring to it, eh?

You can almost picture Bill Dance and his goofy UoT trucker hat rolling up in a fancy bass boat - maybe throwing a pumpkinseed tube as he works a bogan or some other smallmouth bass fishing nonsense..

(yeah, this might be a largemouth bass, but you get the idea)

Anyhow, with the ill-fated and ill-advised Miramichi lake "containment strategy" that DFO has been such a fan of  for the last number of years, fishing for smallies in the sacred Miramichi watershed could become a reality in the not too distant future. Say it isn't so! By the way, here's a link to back up my 'ill-fated and ill-advised" comment:

So what's the point of this post? Well, on Sept 11th 2016, the CBC ran a story about 4 smallies that were supposedly caught in the Southwest Miramichi river at or near the mouth of the Taxis river in Boiestown. Naturally, everyone was concerned but the validity of the pictures could not be verified and the supposed "lucky" angler wished to remain anonymous for unknown reasons. Perhaps it was his use of a conehead, weighted fly in scheduled waters and the potential charges that could result, but what do I know?

A link to the article:

As you can imagine, the discussion raged on social media as to whether this was a real incident or not, but the unwillingness of the angler to come forward and present original pictures with intact metadata cast some serious doubt on the authenticity of the pictures and story.

After a series of emails back and forth between Paul, Fred and I, it was proposed that a group of anglers should visit the area for a day and put effort towards spotting and catching any smallmouth bass. We put a request into DFO and we heard back from them amazingly quickly. They granted us a scientific permit to allow six anglers to fish a defined area with barbed, weighted flies for one day. I have to say, DFO's willingness to work with a group of recreational anglers is a very positive step and I hope it's the start of an ongoing relationship where the value of anglers is acknowledged and our efforts can be combined for the benefit of Atlantic salmon. Let's face it, anglers put a hell of a lot more time on the river than DFO does and our presence out there is a major deterrence to poaching.

We received our "License to Fish for Experimental Purposes" which was good for Saturday, September 17th 2016 and we had a great group of volunteer anglers lined up. These are guys who know what smallmouth bass are, how to catch them and aren't too bad at salmon angling either ;)
(Paul Elson, Matt Mersereau, Jason Willcox, Chris Sinclair, Taylor Main and of course, yours truly)

A couple of pictures:

Here is our written Effort Summary to DFO:

Good morning Frederic,

Our group of 5 anglers (one couldn’t make it) met at the Irving in Boiestown at 10 AM on Saturday and proceeded to the Taxis river. We divided into 2 groups and walked up opposite shores to the bridge. The water was low, clarity was excellent and the sun was positioned in such a way we could see bottom for 90% of the time. Our group was comprised of experienced smallmouth bass fly-anglers who routinely “sight fish” in other watersheds (Hammond, Nashwaak, etc.). While walking up river to the bridge over the Taxis we proceeded slowly looking for signs of bass. The only wildlife noted were some small minnows of various species (no Y.O.Y. or any other age class of SMB) and a small shellfish. We focused much of our effort on this stretch (bridge to mouth), spending approximately 3 hours x 5 anglers. We used various flies and presentations, including weighted flies such as “wooly buggers”. No bass were seen nor hooked. 3 of us also walked down the middle of the river (Taxis) after fishing to see if we could catch a visual of any movement of bass and we did not see anything. After ruling out the presence of bass in this area we also tried to match the background in the supposed images with no success. We could find areas that looked similar but when matching to specific trees and rocks we were unsuccessful.

We stayed divided in 2 groups and proceeded to fish the MSW, upstream and downstream of the mouth of the Taxis. Again water was low and clarity was excellent  - although the depth in places did not allow us to see the bottom. We covered this water in a similar fashion as the Taxis but we were unable to wade down the middle due to the depth. Weighted bass flies were also used during this effort - approximately 3 hours x 5 anglers.

We came to a group consensus that if there were bass in the area they have moved. Also our opinion of the alleged incident is that it was likely a joke that went viral on social media before the original poster realized what was happening. Their subsequent desire to remain anonymous and not go on record strengthens this theory. Perhaps they are scared of being charged with mischief and it’s most likely we will never know.  We finished the day below the permit area with barbless, un-weighted salmon flies at the Cache pool. We covered this water as thoroughly as possible and the only thing to report is two grilse to hand by Chris and Taylor – not a bad day “bass” fishing! 1 hour x 5 anglers.

Effort summary:
3 hours x 5 anglers (TAXIS) = 15 hours
3 hours x 5 anglers (MSW) = 15 hours
1 hour x 5 anglers (Cache) = 5 hours
Total: 35 hours

I want you to know we are thankful for your coming through on getting us a permit. I believe recreational anglers can work with DFO on various conservation efforts and hopefully we will see more of this in the future. If there is anything further you would like to know please don’t hesitate to call or email.

All the best!


As you can read above, the only thing we had to show for our effort were 2 grilse landed by Chris & Taylor - not bad for a "smallmouth bass" fishing expedition.

(Chris & Taylor with one of the 2 grilse landed)

Thoughts & Conclusions:

So what does 35 hours of angling effort towards catching smallmouth bass in the Miramichi watershed prove? Well sadly, it proves nothing other than if there were SMB in this area, they have either moved on or may never have existed in the first place.

If smallies did really exist in this area, how did they make it down river past miles and miles of pools and lodges all the way from Miramichi lake without showing up after countless thousands of hours of angling effort?

If SMB didn't exist then this had to be some sort of prank that got out of hand and went viral on social media before the original poster realized what was happening. If this is true, people should realize that stunts like this could jeopardize the efforts of groups like the ASF, MSA and NBSC are undertaking to see the Miramichi lake issue properly resolved via multiple applications of Rotenone.
If bass have escaped containment, what's the point in nuking the lake?

One thing is very clear about this incident based on the coverage and discussion this story has received - everyone is deeply concerned about the potential for smallmouth bass taking over the Miramichi watershed. Additionally, DFO's "containment" strategy is not the way to prevent this. However, all is not foul with DFO in spite of where we're at with Atlantic salmon management and the question of invasive species. To borrow a couple direct quotes from a friend and dedicated multi-generational salmon conservationist:

"I/we often talk to DFO about the need for changing the approach when dealing with management, and one aspect of that would be for them to acknowledge the high value of experienced and knowledgeable and dedicated anglers ( = conservationists, in this case) can bring to the table with a properly structured partnership. I’m thinking DFO sees it at this point, and that is a great thing."  

"Beyond the SMB, I think the BIG story here is the value (and trust) that DFO placed on a group of anglers, contributing to citizen science in a positive and constructive way.  Anglers CAN be part of the framework.  :-)"

My friend, I couldn't agree more.

P.S. A quick shout out to the lads who gave up their time and gas money to help with this effort - Paul Elson, Matt Mersereau, Jason Willcox, Chris Sinclair & Taylor Main.

Final thought - thanks, Steve Delaney!