Fly-fishing for Atlantic Salmon
Jeff Pierce (Dr. Fish)
Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec, Canada
September 21-28, 2002
What a wonderful week it was out on the Gaspé Peninsula!
I took a weeks vacation along with three buddies and
loaded up two vans for the 990-mile drive on Saturday
the 21st of September. After an overnight in Matán,
Quebec, we pulled into the small town of Gaspé around
noon on Sunday. After settling into the Adams Hotel,
Gary Rose and I left to drive to the York River to scout
some of the pools that we would be fishing during our
Over the next five days, we would be fly-fishing for
beautiful sea run, wild Atlantic salmon on the York
and St. Jean rivers. These are two world famous salmon
rivers, known for their gin clear waters and their
wealth of large salmon. The kill season ended the
beginning of September but the catch & release season
continued through September 30. The way it works out
there is that the rivers are broken into sections or
beats. You pay to lease a beat on the river and have
the rights to fish. The number of rods allowed on each
beat varies depending on the length of the beat and the
number of pools the beat contains.
Most sections are limited to two rods, while some
allow as many as eight. With the exception of one
day on a beat that allowed six rods, we never saw
another soul on the river. A paved road runs the
length of the York allowing access to all the beats.
Some pools are a mere 50-yard walk while others require
a five to ten minute hike through the forest. A vast,
mountainous wilderness area surrounds the rivers.
The scenery is beautiful and the surroundings are
peaceful. We had decent weather with daily highs
in the 60's and lows in the 30's and 40's. We did
get some rain on Monday but could have used more.
The rest of the week was partly to mostly sunny.
Monday's fishing started on Zone 9, the uppermost
section of the river still open to fishing. There
are a total of six pools in Zone 9, three of which
were holding fish. At this time of year, the salmon
are close to spawning. The fish are pooled up,
gathering in the larger holding areas on the river.
My long time fishing pal Tom Wermuth and I began the
days fishing on Pool #61, Montagnard. It's a small
pool that was holding around 40 fish. My buddy Tom
started working the top of the pool with a wet fly
and I worked my way up from the tail out, fishing
dry fly. Only 30 minutes into day one, I had a
nice Grilse (juvenile Atlantic salmon) come five feet
for my dry. I missed the fish - AHHHH! Rule number
1 in salmon Fishing - never set the hook until the
weight of the fish loads the rod; a missed opportunity.
That was it for that pool.
TERRY POOL ON YORK
Later that morning we went to Pool #57, Terry, a
large pool with a nice 30-yard riffle and 90 yard
section of deep water. Tom took the first rotation
through the pool and had a good fish take a wet fly
but did not get a good hook up. Another hour went
by when I had a 15-20lb Atlantic take a wet fly on
the swing. The fish was on long enough to pull about
10 feet of line off the reel and that was it. That's
Atlantic salmon fishing for you.
The third pool was the charm as we made our way to
Pool #58, Keg. The pool was heavy with fish. The
numbers of fish were not as impressive as the size
of some of the fish we saw. Several fish in the pool
were in the 20lb class, with some fish over 30lbs.
Yes, the York does produce some very large fish.
We worked the pool pretty hard but had no takers.
After resting the pool for an hour while we ate
lunch, I gave it another shot.
38 INCH YORK RIVER ATLANTIC
While swinging a size 10 Black Bear Green Butt fly
(tied on a CS10/2 Partridge Bartleet Supreme) through
the pool my rod loaded up and I waited a couple seconds
to set the hook. Success!! A beautiful hen Atlantic
began cartwheeling across the pool. After five awesome
jumps and a 15-minute fight I tailed my first ever wild,
sea run Atlantic salmon on the fly. She was 38 inches
long and around 24lbs. I was in heaven. Yes, the Fish
Gods were taking good care of me on this day. Then,
after a rest and a bottle of water I hit the pool again.
Swinging a wet fly through the faster water resulted in
another solid hook up. After an impressive aerial display,
I tailed my second fish of the day, a gorgeous Grilse of
around 5lbs. What the Grilse lack in size they more than
make up for with their tenacity. Shortly thereafter,
we called it a day and headed back to the Adams for a
hot meal and a good nights sleep.
Day two had Tom and I on Zone 3 on the York. This
section of the river contains just two pools, only
one of which was holding fish at the time. We spent
the day fishing Pool #11, Mississippi. We fished hard
all day with only a couple brief hook ups to show for it.
The fish were just not in the biting mood. But that was
okay, as the river and surroundings are beautiful. It's
so quiet up there and the fresh air was a welcomed change.
Our booking agent, Ann Smith, called us just before
we drove the 16 hours up to Gaspé with some great
news. She had made some calls and worked some moves
the days previous and she managed to get us a day on
some very exclusive, private waters. So, Wednesday
morning at 7AM, we were met by our guides for the day,
Austin and John. We were fishing on our own up there
on the York but Guides were required on the private
waters of the St. Jean. Gary and I went with our
guide John to the famed Pavilion Waters on the upper
reaches of the St. Jean River. I now know how the
upper class lives! What an amazing river. Without
a doubt, it was the most beautiful river I have ever
laid eyes on.
The St. Jean is nearly 100% ground water fed so the
water is the clearest imaginable. You could count
the pebbles on the bottom of a 25-foot deep pool.
The flow was good for this time of year and the
pools were full of salmon. The St. Jean is known
for its remarkable water clarity and numbers of
fish. While it does not have the numbers of big
fish that the York has, it does produce some large
fish on occasion. Gary and I fished two pools in
this Zone. It was a very rough ride into the river.
We had to drive just over 30 miles of old logging
roads to reach the pools. It was an adventure that
lasted an hour and a half. We encountered several
Grouse along the way.
LITTLE INDIAN ON ST JEAN
The first pool was Little Indian and was only around
80 yards long. It was holding around 80 fish and with
the gin clear water, you could count every single one
of them. After working the pool for two hours with
no interest from the fish we decided to head over to
the other pool, Big Indian.
BIG INDIAN ON ST JEAN
(There are over 140 salmon in this photo!)
Big Indian was the perfect salmon pool. A long fast
run at the head of the pool, followed by a long deep
section that in places reached over 20ft deep. This
pool was holding well over 200 salmon. They were
daisy chained along the surface over the deeper section.
They were also stacked up in the faster portion at
the head of the pool. The pool held some impressive
sea-run Brook Trout up to 6lbs. They too were running
the river to spawn. In fact, there were three pairs
of Brookie's spawning along the edge of the main pool
as we fished. It was a wonderful sight to see these
big Brook Trout in full spawning dress.
SEA RUN BROOKIES ON THE ST JEAN
Gary and I worked the pool over and the only action
came when a 15lb Buck Atlantic came up and nosed my
Bomber dry fly. After resting the pool a bit and
eating lunch, we went back at it. As the afternoon
went on, the fish became more active, jumping and
chasing each other. They also became more interested
in our offerings. Finally at around 1:30, I had a
Grilse turn and follow my size 8 Orange Phantom wet
fly (tied on a Mustad 80525BL) downstream 10 feet on
the swing. (See photo and recipe at the end of this
article.) I watched the fish take the fly (AWESOME!)
and waited for him to turn and for the rod to load up.
I set the hook and the fish went bezerk, jumping at
least eight times in the first couple minutes. After
a few minutes, I had the 5lb. buck in hand and released.
The colors of these salmon in their spawning dress is
impressive. A few minutes later Gary had a take as John
and I watched the fish turn on the fly. The ocean bright
12 pound fish spat the hook just as John was ready to
tail it. Over the next three hours I hooked up four
more fish, landing a nice 12lb Hen and another Grilse
of around 7lbs. Both fish cartwheeled around the
pool. What a day!
ST JEAN RIVER SALMON
ATLANTIC SALMON HEAD SHOT
Tom and Rich Rose fished a lower section of the river
with Austin and also did very well, landing three fish.
Two were Grilse, one of which was taken on a dry fly
and the other was a big Buck of 37.5 inches and around
23lbs. Yes indeed, the Private waters of the Pavilion
Club more than lived up to our expectations.
POOL #10 ON THE YORK
(There are several fish holding in this photo)
Thursday was yet another new Zone on the river for Tom
and I, Zone 2. This zone contains only one pool. Pool
#10, Grande-Fourche, is a long pool of around 300 yards
and was holding around 50 fish. For some reason, the
fish in this pool did not hang in the faster head of
the pool. They instead preferred to scatter out along
the middle portion of the pool in moderate current,
over a slate bottom. Only an hour into the morning
I had a good fish take an Orange Blossom wet fly, but
setting the hook too quickly, I blew the opportunity.
Later that afternoon I was able to raise two Grilse and
a nice fish of around 11lbs. After a brief break, I managed
to get two of the three to come to the Orange Blossom fly
again. I hooked the 11lb fish but the tippet parted on
the first jump. Upon further inspection it appeared to
be operator error, a poorly tied knot. Ouch, that hurt!
These things happen from time to time but you can bet,
I took greater care tying my knots the rest of the trip.
That was it for the day and we headed the 30 miles back
down river to Gaspé.
YORK RIVER SALMON
Friday was our last day on the water and little did I
know just how good of a day it was going to be for me.
Tom and I were back fishing Zone 9 again. We started
the morning out at Keg. There were plenty of fish in
the pool, including some real bruisers. Nobody showed
even the slightest interest in our offerings though,
so on we went. We moved on to Montagnard. Tom managed
to get a BIG male to take a look at a fly a couple times
but the plus 25lb fish just would not commit. So, we
packed up and headed back to Keg for the rest of the day.
After running flies through the pool a couple times each
and only managing one beautiful little Brook Trout in
full spawning colors, we took a break and had a bite to eat.
We hit the pool again and I had a nice 3lb Grilse come
hard to an Orange Blossom wet fly tied on a size
9 CS14/2B double. The take was very deliberate and
the fish was hooked well. After several jumps the
fish was tailed and released. What a sight to see
a fish turn and chase your fly downriver and take
it right in front of you. We decided to rest the
pool a bit and enjoyed a nice riverside nap.
YORK RIVER BROOKIE IN FULL DRESS
After a short rest I was back at it and it sure was a
good thing I took that rest. While working a size 8
Thunder & Lightning (tied on Mustad 80525BL double)
wet fly through the pool I saw a large fish turn and
appear to follow the fly. I dropped the rod slightly
to slow the fly swing and the fish engulfed the offering
and turned back up river. I actually did what you are
supposed to do and waited for the rod to load up and
then set the hook. When I set the hook, a huge male
atlantic rocketed skyward, coming down with a large
splash. The fish streaked upriver and jumped again,
within 15 feet of Tom, doing at least three flips before
hitting the water again. We knew it was a big fish
but at the time we were guessing it was around 25lbs.
The fish then got down and dirty.
Try as I could, I simply could not move him. He did
whatever he wanted, when he wanted. After moving about
the Keg Pool he settled in alongside a rock in swift
current and was using the current to his advantage.
The only thing I could do was wade out into the pool
to try and move him. He moved all right! He streaked
up to the head of the pool and then shot back to the
tail of the pool, circling once and then exiting the
pool. The river was very swift below Keg and the salmon
was emptying the reel of line and backing. I was in
an all out sprint for over 600 yards downstream. I had
to run out to mid-river several times as the fish would
get my line wrapped around a rock or a stick. Keep in
mind that I was only fishing 4X Grand Max tippet
(7lb break strength). Amazingly, the tippet did not
part and the fish continued down river.
Now, several minutes into the fight, the fish was still
strong and I was exhausted. He had taken me over 800
yards down river. The fish bulldogged me for the next
15 minutes, refusing to give way and move into shallow
water to be landed. Finally, the fish settled into
water around two feet deep. He was so strong I just
could not budge him and steer him toward the gravel bar.
At that point I felt the fight had lasted long enough
and I wanted to end it before the fish became too tired,
so I gambled. I carefully snuck up behind him and
cautiously reached for his tail. His tail was so big
I could not get my hand around it but somehow I managed
to hold on. . . barely.
I carefully walked the fish over to the shallows with
good moving water. We removed the Thunder & Lightning
pattern, which was securely seated in the right corner
of the mouth. After a couple brief photos and careful
measurements with a tape, I steered the fish back to
mid-river, holding him into the current. Within a minute
he gave a big tail kick, showered me with water and was
off like a shot. I sat down in the river, exhausted and
JEFF AND THE BIG ONE
I have never fought a fish like that before. His strength
was simply awesome. His spawning colors were stunning.
This massive Atlantic salmon of a lifetime measured out
about an 1/8 of an inch shy of 46 inches and had a 24-inch
girth. This brute of a fish was an estimated 34lbs. Most
serious Atlantic salmon anglers will go their whole lives
without seeing such a large fish, much less hooking and
landing one on a fly. I was truly lucky to have had such
an experience and that fish has been burned into my memory
for life. Yes, I was blessed that day.
JEFF'S MONSTER ATLANTIC HEAD SHOT
JEFF'S 46 INCH RELEASE
As we roll down the New York State Thruway, I tap out
the weeks adventure on my notebook computers keyboard
(Tom's driving now). We are 14 hours into our trip home.
We left Gaspé and it's wonderful rivers at 5AM this
morning and yet I cannot wait until the day I can return
to fish these waters again.
I owe a big thanks to Ann Smith of Quebec Sporting.
Tom and I met Ann while working a couple Fly-fishing
shows this year. After learning about the rivers on
the Gaspé, Ann and Tom talked and she went to work and
planned the whole trip for us right down to every last
detail. She got us a great hotel, great zones on the
rivers and gave us many fishing tips as well. This
was a very affordable trip and Ann did an outstanding
job arranging everything. Please understand that this
was not a free trip in exchange for a plug for Ann's
business. We all paid full price for the trip. We
were so pleased with everything I wanted to be sure I
included her contact information.
P.O. Box 6174
Gaspé (Quebec) G4X 2R7
Equipment Run Down:
#1 Orange Phantom on size 8 Mustad 80525BL double, (see below)
#2 Orange Blossom on size 9 Partridge CS14/2B double
#3 Thunder & Lightning on size 8 Mustad 80525BL double
#4 Black Bear Green Butt on size 10 CS10/2 Partridge Bartleet Supreme
Rod - All Star Austin 9 for 9
Reel - Penn 2.5G
Line - Scientific Angler Mastery Series Steelhead Taper WFF
Backing - PowerPro 50lb (12lb mono diameter)
Tippet material - 4X Seaguar Grand Max Fluorocarbon
Orange Fantom by Torill Kolbu
* PLEASE NOTE - Great care was taken in
photographing the fish you see in this story. I
have a very strict three-second rule when removing
any fish from the water that is to be released. The
photo is set up and everything is ready so that when
the fish is removed from the water the picture can be
taken and the fish put back in three seconds or less.
When taking your own fish photos please keep this in
mind so the fish is released in the best possible shape.
~ Jeff Pierce
Hook: Mustad 80525BL.
Tag: Fine oval silver tinsel and orange Antron yarn.
Tail: Golden Pheasant topping.
Butt: Black ostrich herl.
Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel.
Body: Rear half: 1 bunch of fluorescent orange Antron
yarn AW4, butted with black ostrich herl. Front half: Crocheted of
black Antron yarn.
Body veiling: Over: A bunch of orange fox hairs,
Under: A bunch of fluorescent yellow fox hairs.
Body hackle: Under: 3-5 bunches of black fox hairs
tied in between the crocheted knots.
Wing: 3 bunches of orange fox hairs tied in between the
Sides: 2 badger cock hackles reaching to the end of
the tail. 2 Jungle Cock substitutes.
Cheeks: 2 small bunches of fluorescent yellow fox hairs.
Topping: Golden Pheasant topping.
About Jeff Pierce:
Jeff Pierce, AKA "Dr. Fish" is the Sales Manager of Fly-Fishing
Products for O. Mustad & Son and Partridge of Redditch. When not in
the office, he can be found chasing fish wherever possible. Whether
it's Sailfish off Borneo, Payara in Brazil or Brook Trout in the
Adirondack Mountains, you can bet that Jeff is no doubt casting flies
to something that will bend a rod.