Back in the early 90’s I lived and worked in North Conway New Hampshire and had become friendly with a recently retired gentleman (going on 18) called Earl Stetson, who along with his wife Linda, would pack up their trailer come May and head to the small town of Gaspe to chase salmon for the entire summer, all done so on a frugal budget. One Fall after they returned, I remember sitting in their small home watching a video of a 20lb salmon being caught while eating the smoked salmon from that fish for appetizers and then eating salmon steaks from the same fish for dinner – I was sold I needed to go up to the Gaspe.
Besides the rivers being the most beautiful I have ever fished, the advantage of fishing here is that there is plenty of public access, a guide is not required, prices are inexpensive for the world of salmon angling, and you can pay daily as you go (great for bad weather or heavy hang overs). A draw system means you have a fair opportunity to access some of the controlled (private) waters if you wish to enter – I strongly advise that you do. Not being locked into a particular week of the summer to fish due to hiring a guide has always given me a certain level of flexibility to hit it when conditions best suite.
The Societe De Gestion Des Rivieres De Gaspe (SGRG) a none profit organization manages the sport fishing on the York, Dartmouth and St Jean rivers. The mission of the SGRG is to provide a fair set of rules and laws to regulate fishing while protecting the natural environment, wildlife reserves and to ensure the preservation and protection of the salmon stocks all while ensuring the financial well-being of the organization. The members are passionate about what they do and are happy to share information and fishing knowledge with strangers at the office. Wardens patrol all three rivers daily to discourage illegal fishing and poaching.
From Europe or the western USA you’d fly into Montreal, from here it’s a 10-hour drive east to the very tip of the Gaspe Peninsula. An overnight in Quebec City or one of the small villages along the shore line makes the journey a relaxed sightseeing affair. The drive follows the coast line along the south shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence and you will pass a number of salmon rivers on your way. Route 198 will take you through Murdochville, and from here it’s a 95km ride down to Gaspe following the York river all the way. The salmon pools on all the rivers are clearly marked with a road side sign giving the name of the pool.
It’s always worth stopping at La Chute to stretch the legs and descend the steep steps to the pool over look. A deep clear pool below a short fall, it’s not uncommon to see 20 salmon between 10 and 30+lbs holding here. Enough to get a first timer shaking in their sneakers, the tail out of this pool can offer great dry fly action. Be warned – it’s a steep walk back up to the car!
The salmon world in the town of Gaspe revolves around the SGRG office, here you can get licenses, enter draws, buy flies and get all the information you could ever need from the friendly and passionate staff. The York is the river I love the most, with 70 named pools and approx.70km of fishing, it offers a wide variety of options from the shallow wide pools low down to the deep, tight canyon pools up high.
While it only has 4 unlimited zones (public access) these zones can be quite large. Zone 1, a zone that has treated me well over the years has 9 named pools and any number of slots and buckets that hold fish between pools. Here a small Spey rod with a Scandi line covers the water well, the first zone up from the ocean means that the fish are generally fresh and feisty but can move through fast. In contrast zone 7 (5 pools) gives a fishing experience unlike what most salmon anglers have ever experienced. Narrow gorge terrain with deep pockets and fast rapids can make for some exciting fishing often with the dry fly. Up here a 10’ 8 weight single handed rod tends to make more sense.
Each Pool and Zone are clearly marked by road signs, making it easy to locate your chosen pool. On the York in particular the approach down to the river, though never overly long can be steep which can make the hike back out hard work if you’re carrying a lot of gear and dressed in heavy waders. I’ll often drop down into 3 separate pools in a morning and so tend to travel light taking just what I need and leaving the extra flies and refreshments in the car.
The Dartmouth and the St Jean are both excellent rivers, each with their own unique charm, but offer less unlimited fishing and in fact the St Jean can only be fished if you luck out in the draw. The season runs from May 25th– September 30th. As with any fishing, the best time to fish is when you can. I like mid to late June, the water is generally great for swinging flies and Quebec doesn’t start their summer holidays till July, so the traffic is a little less. July and August can be fantastic for the dry fly and September always produces some monsters. Regardless of when you go be sure to stop at a road side café and sample my favorite Quebec delicacy – Poutine, French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds yummm.
Nuts and Bolts
Controlling ZEC (Zone D’Exploitation Controlee)
Societe De Gestion Des Rivieres De Gaspe (SGRG) – saumongaspe.com, Info@saumongaspe.com.
To Fish for Atlantic Salmon in the Provence of Quebec an Atlantic Salmon Sport Fishing License is required. For 2020 the annual non-resident catch and release license is $44.39 CA (25 BP ).
In addition to your Sport Fishing License you will need to pay a daily fee based on the zone (beat) you are fishing. Public zones (unlimited) the daily fee is $63.29 (36BP). For Private Zones (Controlled) the daily fee ranges from $80-140 CA (50-80BP).
Licenses and Zone fees are purchased at the SGRG office in town. Locally tied flies are also available for sale here.
May 25th – September 30th
Rivers of the SGRG
For each river a beautifully detailed map showing Zones, pools and access can be found online and full color paper versions are available at the SGRG office once in the area.
- Approx 90km of river accessed from paved route 198.
- All pools are wadable.
- A guide is not required.
- 11 Zones
- 7 Controlled Zones
- 4 Unlimited Zones
- 70 named pools
- pools can be accessed by car, but they are forest roads and can be “exciting” at times.
- All Pools are wadable
- Guides are not required
- 7 Zones
- 4 Controlled Zones
- 3 Unlimited Zones
- 51 Named pools
St Jean River
- Pools accessed by forest roads
- All pools are wadable
- 2 Zones
- 2 Controlled zones
- 22 Named pools
Once a minefield of confusion for non-Quebecois anglers the advent of a slick and easy to use website has made this a fun and easy process. While you can show up and fish just the public water and have a great time, it’s worth trying to reserve some of the controlled zones this can be done by 3 different draws.
- November 1 Preseason draw
- 48 Hour draw
- Night before hat draw
The rules and procedure for each are clearly detailed on the website.
If you were to have just one rod, a single handed 10’ 8 weight would get you through your trip, but where would be the fun in that? I also go armed with a 12’ 6” 7 weight spey rod and a 11’ ,7 weight switch rod, both loaded with a Scandi or Rio Scandi body lines. Generally, you’ll only need floating lines, though light sink tips or poly leaders can be useful for high water. Weighted flies are illegal but brass tube flies are not – go figure?
While it’s easy to DIY a trip, a good guide can take a lot of the anxiety out of making the most of your time here. Ann Smith’s Quebec Sporting (quebecsporting.com) 418 368 7735, can custom tailor a trip for you including reservations, lodging and guides.
Best Airport to Fly into from the UK
Montreal, from here it’s a 10-hour car ride once past Quebec City the drive along the coast of the Gaspe Peninsula is peaceful and spectacular. Traveling the last 95km from Murdochville on route 198 will put you next to the York River the whole way.
Must see attractions
- A night or two in the old section of Quebec City is a great way to start or end a trip in the Quebec region.
- Forillon National Park