By Gord Follett
The one-month closure of the trout fishing season in Newfoundland from mid-April to mid-May is never a completely dead issue, but every now and then something or somebody sparks a lengthy debate on the pros and cons of this federal regulation.
This year, well-known angler and conservationist Paul Smith of Spaniard’s Bay was the “somebody” who lit the fuse with a simple social media post: “Anyone interested in starting a conversation about spring time trout fishing? I think it’s time to discontinue the Apr. 15 to May 15 closure. It was supposed to be a temporary measure and it’s been in place for several decades. I don’t see any reason for it. Opinions?”
And opinions he did get, with the majority agreeing that it’s time for DFO to eliminate this annual closure and leave the trout season open “right on through,” from February 1 to September 7. Of course, we’re talking “resident” trout here, a fish that completes all stages of its life cycle within freshwater and, frequently, within a local area. This includes ouananiche, or land-locked salmon, which fall under trout regulations in the province.
“The season has always been open at ice-out in spring since our ancestors came on ships from Europe,” Paul said.
“In the 1990s, DFO closed spring trouting as a temporary measure for stock recovery. At that time, stocks were low for reasons I believe had nothing to do with April 15 to May 15. There was a lot of overfishing at the time and a two-dozen fish bag limit, plus way more people were fishing. Simply put, stocks are fine now and that month of fishing should be returned to us. Many would say it’s the best time for trouting - no flies, good chance to get out in the woods... And it’s such a great shoulder season to introduce kids to fishing... the list goes on.”
Some people are under the impression the regulation is still in place not only to protect stocks - particularly brook and brown trout - but also as a public safety measure because many frozen ponds were “opening up” and unsafe around that time of year.
“That’s bull...,” Paul said, “and too foolish to talk about. Ice can be unsafe any time of the winter, and there’s no ice in ponds around Newfoundland come mid-April, anyway.”
From my own experience, while there may be exceptions towards the tip of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, I cannot recall any ponds being frozen that time of year, either. Ice is usually long gone by then, and if the closure wasn’t in place we could be fishing with rod and reel from shore or a boat.
Labrador, of course, is a different kettle of fish when it comes to the cold. I’ve cut through 12 inches of ice in April to fish western Labrador, and I’ve walked through snow-covered barrens in mid-July to fly fish for trout.
OK, so if the vast majority of us agree with Paul when he says the safety argument “is absolute nonsense,” that leaves us with just one real reason for the spring closure - trout stocks. And as he indicated earlier, this “temporary measure” has served its purpose; time to move on.
The closure “was and still is the most senseless thing our government has ever done concerning our inland trout season,” Lee Peddle said in his response to the initial post. “One of the best times of the year to be wandering around in the fresh air, with the cooler temperatures and a general lack of biting flies.”
Jeff Piercey, an avid angler and conservationist from Port Rexton, supports the closure. “While I agree with your sentiment,” he said in reaction to Paul’s Facebook post, “the beating that trout take on this [Bonavista] peninsula… I actually like the fact that they get a springtime break from the onslaught.”
Paul said he understands Jeff’s concerns and suggested attitudes about overfishing need to change. “Fishing efforts are way down... and there are more trout than I can ever remember here on the Avalon Peninsula,” he added.
I was on the fence with this regulation for quite some time because I saw merit in both arguments. In recent years, however, I’ve sided more with those against the one-month closure, primarily and simply because there’s no real need for it. If the stocks in a particular part of the province are “taking a beating,” as Jeff put it - and I have spoken to him many times on this and I firmly believe his assessment - then perhaps dealing with closures regionally, as opposed to a blanket, island-wide shutdown, is the best approach.