Atlantic Salmon on the Rock


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Bob's story of fishing the Grey River in Newfoundland for wild salmon...

Story and Flies: Bob Erickson of Huntington, VT

Bob works for the Defense Department and lives in Vermont with his wife and son and a chocolate lab named Baxter. Bob finds plenty of time for fishing and exploring, especially near his camp in Rangeley, Maine, where there is great trout and salmon fishing.

Be sure to see Bob's other flies and stories:
Streamers for Labrador
The Maine Event

Sucker Spawn
Deer Hair Mouse

Salmo Salar. The Leaper. King of Fishes, the Fish of Kings. “Born in Northern Rivers, nurtured in the high seas, the Atlantic salmon has captured the hearts and minds of man to a degree rivaled by few other wild creatures”. “Fishing for Atlantic salmon is not just about catching salmon on a fly. It is about the romance of the river and one’s encounter with the noblest and most enigmatic of God’s creatures”. Pretty heady words. I had become convinced that I needed to take the chance of landing a wild Atlantic salmon before I died. Or before the salmon were gone. Yes, I’d caught my share of landlocked salmon in my home rivers of Maine and some nice ones too, but it was the thought of hooking an Atlantic, silver bright and fresh from the ocean, that really sparked my imagination.

I typed “Atlantic salmon fishing” on Google and hit search. Halfway down the second page I found the link to Grey River Lodge. The opening sentence from the web site pulled me in: “World class Atlantic salmon fly fishing action awaits the traveler following a 60 minute helicopter flight over unspoiled wilderness to the most remote river on the island of Newfoundland”. I read on. Some of the best pools are located near the lodges, but many more are accessible if you are willing to hike. Many pools have yet to be named. Minimal angling pressure and long days of fishing during whatever hours one prefers, no schedule to follow here.

Grey River was sounding like my idea of what fly fishing is meant to be. The Grey River salmon run is abundant; two of the last three seasons have been the most productive since the opening of the lodges twelve years ago. All this, and to top it off the Grey is in Newfoundland.  Ever since I had spent two weeks fishing in Labrador with Newfoundland guides, I’d longed to visit the land and experience the culture that shaped such warm, witty, hard working and seemingly care free people.  

I emailed Tony Tuck, the owner, inquiring about the possibility of a trip in 2008. Tony sent a promotional DVD shot in 2004. The film opens with a salmon hook up, followed by a twisting leap of incredible height and a scorching, drag singing, to the backing run. There are aerial shots from the helicopter of the two lodges (the Forks and Salmon Brook), the river, rugged and beautiful countryside and wildlife. One of guests interviewed believes he has died and “gone to heaven”. Tony also sent a list of references. The first three of those that I spoke with didn’t go into a lot of detail on their Grey River experience except to say just go! Here are some of the words I heard: “But the charm of Newfoundland would draw me back in a heartbeat” “An outfitter that really gets it” “You won’t regret it” “If I lived back East, I’d be a regular”. A very high percentage of Grey River fishermen are repeat guests. Openings for the month long season fill quickly, but there was one available for 2007, the third week of June. That opening was at the Salmon Brook lodge. Located on a tributary of the Grey, it is restricted to only three anglers per week, fitting for the much smaller water. I called Tony and took it.   

Salmon Brook Camp.

With only two months left before I would leave, I needed to start tying flies. The recommended list was surprisingly short. From one of the seasonal reports: “On the Grey River, you only need two flies – A Blue Charm and a spare Blue Charm”. Other favorite wets are Green Highlander, Black bear/Green butt, Thunder and Lightning, Silver Tip, Silver Doctor, Cosseboom and Green Machine. The Grey River salmon “are wonderfully surface minded” so Bombers in various colors are must haves. It was fun and exciting to tie new, different patterns with such fanciful names. Forward thinking Newfoundland regulations require single, barbless hooks to promote quick, safe catch and release. Another enlightened regulation: Your angling day is done at four fish, even if all are released.

A good fishing friend and I came to the conclusion this spring that 90% of fishing success is being in the right place at the right time. I was soon to learn that with Atlantic salmon you can bump that up to 100%. As I was waiting in the heliport in Pasadena to fly in, four of the eight anglers that been in at the Forks Lodge touched down. They did not look happy. They had landed a total of one salmon for the week. And the water was low. It did not look promising. I then met the two folks I’d be spending the week with; Carl Monk is the vice president of an insurance company from St Johns and Bob Lapiene, a foundation contractor from Nantucket Island. Both Carl and Bob would prove to be great, upbeat companions. This was to be Bob’s eighth consecutive trip to Salmon Brook. As we approached the lodge, Bob could see the water was indeed low. He said, “We’re in trouble boys.” 

Fellow guest Bob Lapiene and guide Dennis

We were greeted by guides Dennis and Alvin, Alvin’s wife Marie was our cook. Alvin and Marie were from the small community of Grey River at the bottom of the fiord eight miles down river. To put the area in perspective, Grey River’s population is 120, no roads, boat access only. Power came in 1972, phone in 1975! Both Dennis and Alvin had been guiding out of Salmon Brook since it was built. We had a late lunch that featured wonderful bread baked hours before by Marie. Later in the week other native delicacies I got to enjoy were cod cheeks and tongue and bakeapple jam. Bakeapple is a berry that looks a lot the Western salmon berry.   

Then it was time to fish. It was hard to be optimistic; Dennis or Alvin had yet to see a salmon. At the head of the Cauldron Pool is a falls that tends to force the salmon to stack up from there down to the Bathtub Pool below and on through the runs that end at Red Rock Pool. Dennis started me off at Cauldron Pool. I had a lot to learn. Bombers were to be skated smoothly both up and downstream. Wet flies were “hitched”; a half hitch or two were tied in behind the eye of hook. The leader ends up 90 degrees from the fly and causes it to wake across the surface trailing a perfect little “v”. I picked up the techniques well enough to meet Dennis and Alvin’s approval, now if only the salmon would come. Three days later, I finally got my chance. 

Looking upriver from the Bathtub to the falls in the Cauldron Pool.

Wednesday evening after dinner Dennis and I were fishing Red Rock pool. I was skating a bomber down the center of the run when a nose poked up. Dennis jumped up exclaiming that was a salmon. My heart raced. The next cast brought a swirl; then Dennis signaled me over to where he waited before I could cast again. I was about to get my next lesson in salmon fishing. It was time to rest the fish and build tension in the fish and the fisherman! We gave it a few minutes beyond what it took for Dennis to smoke a cigarette. By the time I got back to casting my hands were shaking. Dennis had me alternate between skating and dead drift. I began to lose hope after the tenth cast, but Dennis told me to keep at it. Two drifts later, the salmon literally exploded on the fly. I’d never witnessed anything like the ferocious abandon with which the fish took; it was as if he wanted to kill the fly. I instinctively struck back. From behind me I heard Dennis yell, “You got him, my son, you got him!” and I felt the slap of his hand on my back. The fight was on. I could sense when the salmon was about to jump, the raw energy vibrated up the line, through the rod and into my hand. The height of the leaps were hard to believe, five, even six feet off the water seemed effortless. When Dennis finally tailed him, we saw how bright he really was, there were red marks on the belly where sea lice had been attached It took a while for me to recover. A half hour later as darkness approached, it happened again. The same scenario, the vicious take following a cigarette’s worth of wait. This salmon committed suicide by coming down head first from one of the terrific jumps on a piece of exposed ledge in the middle of the pool. He got tagged and provided my dinner for next three nights. Hiking back to camp, we were ecstatic. Maybe the salmon were going to come on strong?

The salmon that killed itself. Note the red sea lice marks.

 But over the next three days nobody rose or saw a salmon. Friday afternoon Dennis suggested we take a ride in the “Argo”; an eight wheeled all terrain vehicle, up to some ponds he thought might have some brook trout in them. He had seen some otter activity in the area. The Argo is normally used during the hunting season to transport moose and caribou back to camp. Although the ponds proved to be barren, the ride was an exhilarating one. The ground the Argo could negotiate was astonishing. We saw caribou and willow ptarmigan. It felt good to take a break.

Dennis, Carl and Bob cruising in the “Argo” with upper Salmon Brook in the background.

We fished without enthusiasm on Saturday morning. We were due to fly out at three in the afternoon. I think everyone felt kind of let down. Then the fog rolled in. We weren’t getting out that night. Well, we might as well fish. It was still socked in the next morning; Dennis suggested I try the tail out of the Cauldron Pool. I raised a salmon! And after a rest he took hard on the next cast and snapped the fly. Five minutes later, he jumped higher up in the pool and there was my bomber clearly visible tucked in the corner of his jaw. It seemed the ultimate humiliation, but Dennis cheered me on. I’m so glad he did. We dropped down to Third Pool where I raised another salmon and again I hooked him on the second drift. He was the largest of the week at 27” and 8 pounds on the “salmometer”. It was a satisfying end to one tough week of fishing. I could go home knowing everyone had given it their best shot.

Third Pool

So one might think I was disappointed with the trip. But given the conditions, I was more than happy and am determined to go back. I believe it was just an off year. For the same week in 2006, 54 fish were hooked out of Salmon Brook Camp. For some reason they were late. 

I learned how to fish for Atlantic salmon. And I found out that the words used to eulogize the Atlantic salmon are dead on. The Atlantic salmon is indeed one of God’s noblest creatures. They certainly proved to be enigmatic! I saw some uniquely beautiful country and got to ride in an Argo and a helicopter. Best of all, I met some folks that in a weeks time came to feel like close friends. Who could ask for more?

The helicopter arrives to take us back to civilization.

The headwaters of Grey during our departure

- Bob Erickson

Blue Charm

Photos by Peter Frailey

Tying Sequence:

Hook: TMC 7999 #8
Thread: Uni 8/0
Tag: Silver Tinsel
Tail: Golden Pheasant Crest
Butt: Chartreuse Uni Stretch
Body: Black Uni Stretch
Rib: Oval Silver Tinsel
Throat: Blue Guinea
Wing: Black Polar Bear

Green Highlander

Photos by Peter Frailey

Tying Sequence:

Butt: Black Ice Dub
Body: Chartreuse Uni Stretch and Green Dubbing
Throat: Yellow Hackle Fibers
Wing: Green Polar Bear

Thunder and Lightning

Photos by Peter Frailey

Tying Sequence:

Tag: Gold Tinsel
Butt: Pumpkin Uni Stretch
Rib: Gold Oval Tinsel
Throat: Orange and Blue Guinea
Wing: Black Polar Bear

Krystal Bug

Photos by Peter Frailey

Tying Sequence:

Hook: TMC 7989 #8
Tail: Green Krystal Flash
Butt: Chartreuse Uni Stretch
Body: Green Deer Hair, spun and clipped
Hackle: Orange Saddle

Brown Bombers (2)

Photos by Peter Frailey

Tying Sequence:

Hook: TMC 7989 #8
Thread: Uni 6/0
Tails and Wings: Calf Tail
Butts: Uni Stretch
Bodies: Deer Hair, spun and clipped
Hackle: Saddle: Brown, Orange


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