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COLUMN: In the footsteps of Captain Cook

Statue of explorer Captain James Cook in Newfoundland.
Statue of explorer Captain James Cook in Newfoundland. -

OUTDOOR WORLD by Don MacLean

The salmon season ended here in Nova Scotia a few weeks ago. Water levels remained low so fishing was slow on many rivers. Rivers across Atlantic Canada experienced a similar downturn in numbers of returning fish.

In September, with received travel assistance from Go Western Newfoundland, I had the opportunity to travel to Newfoundland for a salmon fishing trip on the Humber River. It was my first opportunity to fish the Humber River and I was excited to fish, and explore, this historic river.

This year I was following in the footsteps of another explorer. My trip to the Humber coincided with the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s final trip to Newfoundland. Captain Cook spent five years exploring and mapping the coast of Newfoundland from 1763 to 1767. Parks Canada have a very striking monument to Cook and his work on the cliffs overlooking Corner Brook and the Bay of Islands.

The monument is very well done and I learned a lot about Captain Cook and his work. While he is perhaps best known for his exploits in the Pacific as an explorer he was also a master surveyor and cartographer and spent time in Nova Scotia in both Louisbourg and Halifax.
While I doubt whether Cook took advantage of the salmon fishing in the Humber River he is known to have travelled the river up as far as Deer Lake, about 25km up river. Cook’s charts were so accurate they were still in use until recent years. Cook’s many accomplishments included the first scientific large-scale hydrographic surveys, which used precise triangulation to establish land outlines. He also contributed to the measurement of longitude as well as working to improve the health of sailors by using food such as fermented cabbage to prevent scurvy.

My trip to the Humber was late in the season for Atlantic salmon and, while we saw fish every day, we weren’t able to hook any. I have been fishing salmon long enough to know that it is more about the fishing than the catching so I never use the number of fish landed as the index for the success of the trip. The opportunity to spend three days exploring the river, talking about fishing and hunting with our guides, and spending time with good friends was a special treat. We stayed at Marble Inn Resort, on the banks of the river, and it took us all of five minutes every morning to walk to the boats. The facilities and guides were excellent and I look forward to experiencing their hospitality again in the future.
Much of what I knew about the Humber River I learned from reading the annual sport fishing magazine published by the Salmon Protection Association for the Waters of Newfoundland (SPAWN.) This group produces a sport fishing annual, SPAWNER magazine, which is made up of articles on science, sport fishing and fly tying. The first sport fishing article I had published appeared in SPAWNER and I have had a special place in my heart for this publication ever since.

I have every issue, from the first one in 1979 up to this year, and they are an important part of my angling book collection. My three days on the Humber were enough to make me want to go back and spend more time in this beautiful part of the country.

Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.

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