PAUL SMITH: Rocking it — wear the bag that works best for you and your Newfoundland and Labrador fishing experience
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PAUL SMITH: Rocking it — wear the bag that works best for you and your Newfoundland and Labrador fishing experience

Nov 06, 2023

'The sling works seamlessly for me'


I just got back from the beautiful west coast of our fair island.

I’d say The Rock, but, actually, the Codroy and Bay St. George area isn't that rocky at all.

Of course, there's plenty of rock on the mountains where it belongs, but the river valleys are absolutely beautiful and quite fertile.

My buddy and I have a cabin by the side of Crabbes River. The land area is over an acre and there isn't a rock to be seen. It's old, cleared farmland. So, last summer, we were making a dump run to the St. Georges depot and we picked up an old fish pan at the dump.

To keep it from blowing out on the highway we added a roadside rock. Back at our cabin I said to my buddy Matt, "I’ll put that rock under the deck in case we need one."

That's very different than around Conception Bay North where I’m from. There's definitely no shortage of rocks on my Spaniards Bay property. I’ve had a lifelong struggle with digging holes in rocky soil.

Last week, I set about planting an apple tree and I wanted it in a specific location. It would be sheltered from the southwest wind howling out the Shearstown Valley and still have plenty of sunshine and room to flourish. And you know there just had to be a bloody rock beneath the grass at the spot I picked.

Actually, there are rocks everywhere, wouldn't matter where in the yard. I ended up busting the rock with an electric jackhammer.

Yes, I’m stubborn.

Speaking of rocks reminds me of a funny Northern Peninsula salmon fishing story. We were fishing at the Mayor's Hole on St. Genevieve River.

That's a beautiful place to be.

We had crossed the river to the opposite bank from where the path came in through the woods and bog land and were having a wonderful day of fishing, hooking fish on and off and here and there.

A lone fisheries guardian showed up and waded across the river to where we were taking a break. Of course, he asked to see our licenses.

My longtime friend Chris Coombs hails from Plum Point and knew the guy quite well — actually worked with him patrolling on the river for two summers. They were chatting it up while we were retrieving our credentials from our packs.

He took a hardcover notebook from his pack, which I must say was a bit oversized — the pack, I mean. The officer then laid his loosely unfilled pack on the rocky shoreline as he proceeded to view our papers and write down the particulars.

When my turn came, he faced me with his gaping open pack behind him. Chris is a born prankster, like his dad Ben — kingpin of just-for-fun shenanigans. While we talked, I could see Chris putting some nice round river rocks in the guardian's voluminously empty pack.

While we talked, I could see Chris putting some nice round river rocks in the guardian's voluminously empty pack.

Damn, I had some wicked hard time keeping a straight face.

Anyway, he finished up and stowed his book back in the pack. A powerful man, he slung it on his shoulders and headed back across the river not noticing a bit the extra weight.

With water splashing to muffle the sound Chris said he had put in what he figured enough to tip him off balance for a swim in the river. It never happened and the warden disappeared down the path, rocks and all. I’m not sure whom the joke was on.

Or maybe he got stuck in the bog.

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Nowadays, there's certainly no room in my salmon fishing bag for rocks. I use a sling bag and it's lying there under the ceiling fan beside me. Its contents are scattered all over the floor. I fished plenty in the rain and I want to make sure everything is dried out well.

Actually, I’m using a new sling bag this season, a Simms Freestone model. It has a 12-litre capacity, divided into four compartments. It's slightly bigger than the Simms G4 model that I was previously using and now I have room for a small camera, actually a Nikon Z50 with a compact lens added in. I needed that extra litre or two for the sake of my photography.

A phone camera just doesn't always cut it.

Why do I prefer a sling bag? I don't use a vest and I want quick and convenient access to my gear while out wading in the river. You can just slide a sling bag around to the front and get at your flies, tippet and the like. The sling works seamlessly for me.

A mere 12 litres isn't much when you consider that you cannot venture out without a rain jacket and something reasonably warm to pull on if need be. And I always carry a light lunch.

I’d still be carrying a bigger pack all day if it weren't for modern water filtration. I use the Sawyer Mini. It's super small and light and I screw it on a simple plastic water bottle. Just fill the bottle with river water and suction or squeeze it through the mini.

I carry the water bottle and filter clipped on the outside of my pack. I can hydrate between casts. No lugging around water or rocks for me, only the essentials.

My sling isn't waterproof. You might think that waterproof is better. Well, not in my opinion. I have two waterproof slings that I just don't use much.

Here's the problem. We fish in the rain often and everything inside gets wet anyway. You have to open it in the rain to get stuff. Did you ever try and dry out a waterproof pack? Yes, you have to take everything out to dry the pack and contents. If I hang my regular breathable sling by our woodstove, it typically dries out just fine for the next day. It may be a bit damp, but I’ll give everything a good drying out when I’m back home between trips, like tonight.

I tote around some interesting stuff in that bag. I have a wooden hand-carved Lapland cup. That's for my riverside tea. My little cup kettle dangles on a carbineer outside.

Looking on the floor, I see my satellite communication device and a leather tube fly case that I ordered from England.

I always carry my pipe and tobacco.

There's gink and solar curable Aquaseal.

Of course, I have a fire steel, as well as a butane lighter and waterproof matches.

Maybe next time, I’ll write on how much fussing we all endured over choosing warm jackets and raincoats to fit in our tiny packs. There has been competition and secrecy.

That's a long and twisting story for another time.

If the warden who lugged home the rocks is out there reading this, please e-mail me. I’d love to hear from you.

That incident would have happened about 25 years ago. Maybe you still remember. I’m sure it's not something that happens every day.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard's Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @flyfishtherock