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6:00 a.m. Starting Time


The tale that follows is from a 1996 book, HOOKED!, by Lowell R. Demond of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. I knew him as a likeable gentleman when he was President of the LaHave River Salmon Association. Lowell retired as Principal of Bridgewater High School in 1994. Many thanks to Lowell for giving us permission to publish this.

It's too bad the LaHave River is situated at 44° North latitude. If I could move it, I would put it at 66° North. That way, on June 21st, it would have twenty-four hours of sunlight. Then no one would have to leave their house in the dark and wait for 6:00 a.m. to start fishing. I know Bill and his Uncle Bert would agree with me.


A number of years ago, Bill and Uncle Bert left their house at 4:30 a.m. to pole their boat out to the Flat Iron Pool. Before they left the house, the last thing Bill told Uncle Bert was to bring the gaff. He said, "It's right behind the porch door," so Uncle Bert reached around in the dark and felt the handle. "I got it," he said.


In the darkness they walked below the train bridge and poled above the Flat Iron Pool and dropped anchor. At 5:30 there was a glow in the eastern sky and soon it was light enough to see. Bill examined his fly box. He selected a No. 2 "Pink Lady." He claimed he had met a young lad up the river named Wilfred who had told him it worked.


Soon Uncle Bert announced it was 6:00 a.m., so Bill peeled off some line and cast off to the side of the boat. Finally, when he was satisfied that he could reach the rock in the pool, he changed the direction of the fly. The first trip over the pool was a dry run. On the second cast, Uncle Bert swore he saw the water bulge. On the next cast, there was a definite raise. This caused some excitement. Bill told Uncle Bert to ready the anchor rope and get the pole just in case they had to move. On the next cast, the "Big Fish" was on. After a third jump the salmon made a long run under the railroad bridge and Uncle Bert was instructed to pull the anchor rope. The boat drifted below the bridge, where the anchor was dropped. Bill reeled the salmon towards him and saw it was a beauty. Uncle Bert said it must go nineteen pounds.


Finally, the dorsal fin showed and Bill said "Get the gaff."


Uncle Bert reached for the handle and, when Bill pulled the salmon to the surface, made a swing with the gaff. There was a big splash. The salmon made a jump and the line went limp.


Bill looked at Uncle Bert and said, "Are you blind?" But guess what? In the darkness, the gaff handle Uncle Bert thought he had felt behind the door was really a mop!


There usually is a reason for everything, even mosquitoes and blackflies, and there is one for the 6:00 a.m. starting time to fish for salmon. At one time, salmon were plentiful. They had clean water, ample spawning areas, no hydro dams to block their passage upstream, no one knew much about their ocean habitat, pollution was not a problem and acid rain was unheard of. Legal fishing with artificial flies did not disrupt the stocks.


All of this changed during the latter part of the twentieth century. Once the cry went out that the Atlantic Salmon may become an endangered species, every effort to protect the fish was considered. Recreational fishing was limited to angling with artificial fly, and fishery officers were hired by governments to enforce laws and prevent illegal activity. Poachers, however, used jig hooks to catch salmon in river pools, often during the night. To assist fishery officers, salmon angling was allowed only during daylight hours. This enabled the officers to see first-hand what was going on.



Many anglers have argued that during June it is light enough to fish before 6.00 a.m. Nevertheless, angling associa­tions have supported the law, and it is still on the books. On most rivers, the pools are small, and the rule is that the first fisherman at a pool in the morning will have the first opportunity to fish, and the other fisherman shall take turns rotating the pool behind him. On the LaHave River, at some of the more popular pools at the peak of the salmon run, there are often a dozen fishermen waiting for a turn to fish. Needless to say, some good yarns may be heard during this time.


On pools that are not as popular, that are difficult to get to or where a boat is required, often a fisherman will find himself alone.    This is where the 6:00 a.m. law becomes the most challenging. Resisting the temptation to send a fly over the pool requires extreme self-control, a high degree of discipline, a belief in the rule of law and unyielding moral standards.    This is especially true if at 5:37 a.m. a big salmon rolls in the pool and five minutes later a grilse leaps out of the water. This was exactly the situation poor old Gert found himself in back in 1988.


Gert had at least eighty years behind him.   Most of his friends were dead. His favorite pool was a boat pool close to the highway. He could drive there, had a good place to park and only had a short walk to his boat. All he had to do was pole across the river in reasonably quiet waters, and he was at his pool. He was often there alone.   Gert was a good fisherman, fully understood the ways of the salmon and caught his fair share of fish. Since his pool could be seen from the highway, many people driving by stopped to watch him fish, because he was a major attraction when he had a salmon on the end of his line. This was both good and bad: good because it contributed to his self-esteem, but bad if he ever yielded to temptation.


"On or about" (as the law states) 5:54 a.m. one June morning, when the salmon were migrating upstream, Gert was at his favorite pool and, seeing a salmon roll, decided to start fishing. At the same moment two fishery officers were driving upriver and observed what was happening. They stopped and hollered across the river that it was not six o'clock and for Gert to stop fishing. Gert reeled his line in and apologized for his infraction, suggesting that he had more or less forgotten about the time. The fishery officers told him they would record the incident and drove off up the highway.

This incident would stick in most people's memories, but not Gert's. Whether he was overcome by an irresistible urge or he intentionally ignored the law, only he can say. Two days later the same two fishery officers were driving past the pool at 5:55 a.m. and saw Gert fishing again. They ordered him to stop and to get in his boat and come over to their side of the river. There they informed him he was being charged with fishing before 6:00 a.m. and that his fishing privileges for the time being were suspended. Gert appeared in magistrate's court to answer to the charge and pleaded "Not guilty." A date was set for his trial.


People who write with authority on trials and court proceedings suggest that a person is a fool to attempt to defend himself. Nevertheless on the day of his trial, Gert appeared on his own behalf.


Word of Gert's run-in with the law spread up and down the river, and a lot of anglers expressed an interest in the trial. Many believed he was guilty as sin, others thought him innocent, and then another crowd silently hoped he would beat the rap because they liked the old codger. The word was that the courthouse would be full and to get inside, not to mention get a seat, one would have to be there early. But, then, early means nothing to salmon fishermen!


Gert, too, arrived early and took a seat in the gallery. Although inconspicuous to others in the courtroom, he was wearing his fishing vest with fishing flies exposed above the pockets and fishing cast protruding out of them. When the clerk of the court announced the case of Regina vs. Gert, he moved to the appropriate spot and announced to the judge that he wished to represent himself. A hush came over the courtroom, and then Gert requested to approach the bench. The judge looked bewildered, paused for a moment and then granted the request.


What follows is an account of his defense:


"Your Honor, I don't know what you know about salmon fishing, but there are a few things that I'll have to explain to you. You can only fish for salmon with flies, and this is what they look like."


With that he unzippered a pocket on his vest and took out two fly boxes. Opening one box, he said, "There are basically two different kinds of flies used for salmon fishing. One is called a wet fly and the other is a dry fly. A wet fly looks like this." He took a wet fly out of one of the fly boxes, pulled a piece of cast line from a vest pocket and said "You tie the fly on a piece of cast this way and then you fish with it. This fly is made to swim in the water, and the fisherman wants it to sink below the surface. Now on the other hand, a dry fly looks like this."


Gert took out another fly box and removed a fly from it. "This, your Honor, is a dry fly. It is designed differently than a wet fly, and it is made to float on the surface. You tie it on like this, and then you put it in a bottle of oil mixed with parawax, which helps make it float. Before you can fish with it, you have to dry it off and fluff it. This is done by casting it back and forth through the air a number of times without letting it touch the water. On the morning the fishery officers charged me, I was not fishing, I was simply drying off my fly by casting in the air. My fly did not touch the water, and I had no intention of letting it touch the water until 6:00 a.m." With that, he stopped talking and complete silence came over the courtroom.


This judge had heard many summations delivered by lawyers of great renown, skilled orators, but he had never experienced a presentation like this before. After a brief recess, he called the court back to order and announced his decision. "Gert," he said, "fishing before 6:00 a.m. is an infraction of the law. Certainly when the officers charged you, you were doing something which on reasonable and probable grounds they thought was inappropriate. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the charge." This made the fishery officers feel good.


The judge continued, "I don't dispute the facts regarding the difference between fishing with a wet and a dry fly, and I appreciated you demonstrating them as evidence. The parawax and oil concoction used to float a dry fly baffles me. You should consider a patent for this product. You have to understand that in arriving at a decision I must consider the Atlantic salmon and the present perils they are facing. I have to tell you, drying off a fly for five minutes raises a reasonable doubt in my mind as to exactly what you were doing. I also have to consider your age. A man of eighty years should have gone around the sun enough times to have learned that laws must be obeyed. I am therefore going to find this case in your favor."


The courtroom was silent, no one said a word and then an angler in the back hollered, "Well, the Lord Jaysus!" Now there was action. People laughed all the way from the clerk of the court sitting in front of the judge to the bailiff standing at the back doors. Even the fishery officers were laughing.


The judge called for order and finally got it after six tries. He was assisted by the sheriff and his deputy who moved to the front of the courtroom. When things quieted down, he said, "Gert, I'm not through with you yet." The judge sensing by the anglers reaction that he might have been had and, probably wishing he could start again, continued, "If you ever appear before me again charged with fishing before 6:00 a.m., you will have your fishing privileges suspended for a year, you will be fined, and in lieu of that, you will go to jail. Do you understand what I have said to you?"


Gert just smiled and said, "Yes, your Honor." The judge then said, "You're free to go. Next case." Outside the courtroom, a number of salmon fishermen were waiting for Gert to come out. They were gathered in little groups, all raising their voices to be heard above the noise of the others. Many were doubled up with laughter about what they had just witnessed.


Finally Gert appeared. He strolled over to where the fishermen were gathered and asked, "Do you think I sucked him in?"


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