‘We don’t want to give up on this river’
June 7, 2018
Molly McNeil has fished the Miramichi River since she was a child, but that hasn’t stopped her from learning more about her beloved pastime at school.
The Grade 11 Miramichi Valley High School student caught her first salmon at age four. She’s been on the water many times with her family since then.
McNeil, a Miramichi Valley Fly Fishing Club member, said she’s gained a new respect for recreational angling since joining the club in Grade 10.
“I’ve learned how to tie flies,” Mc-Neil said at the club’s Hook and Cook event Saturday at Parks’ Landing - on the Northwest Miramichi River at Red Bank.
“Now it’s one of my favourite things to do. I tie flies at home all the time when I have a spare minute.”
McNeil is among 10 Miramichi Valley students in Grades 9 to 12 who got involved in the fly fishing club this year.
For 10 years, the extracurricular program has taught teens to fish and appreciate the sport.
“We’ve met a lot of nice people and heard stories from others,”said McNeil.
“We also learn about lures and other fish and how to attract bigger fish.”
ABOUT THE CLUB
Ashley Hallihan, Miramichi Valley teacher and fishing club co-ordinator, said he and some local guides formed the club a decade ago to teach angling techniques and get students casting lines.
“One thing we noticed as guides is there’s not a lot of youth on the water,” said Hallihan, who still guides occasionally during the summer.
“The nice thing with the bass fishery, though, is we see many families out enjoying the striped bass species.”
When fishing season opens in mid-April, members hit the water weekly for excursions in the Miramichi watershed. Trips are open to any student wanting to fish.
“For the kids who don’t have gear, we bring it for them,” said Hallihan.“They just show up and we go fishing.”
The club caught striped bass and deep fried them on Saturday.
Hallihan said the goal is to eventually teach kids about wild Atlantic salmon angling.
The Miramichi River system has long been a salmon hotbed, even amidst sharp declines in salmon stocks in recent years and a skyrocketing striped bass population.
Last year, 26,900 Atlantic salmon plied the Miramichi system.
There were reportedly 994,000 striped bass in the river in 2017, however.
“We’re guiding these kids and teaching them the skills they need to fish,” said Hallihan.“We don’t want to give up on this river.
“We want to see these folks become stewards of the river, and we want a balance with all populations - bass and salmon.”
THE CLUB’S LEGACY
This summer, Hallihan said, the club will go salmon fishing.
An exchange trip is also planned with Maine. Students from across the border will visit greater Miramichi for three nights of angling in July.
Miramichi Valley will then take their rods and reels stateside for a few days.
The local club belongs to the Atlantic Salmon Conservation Schools Network, an international group founded in 2016 in Scotland.
For the Year of the Salmon in 2019, Hallihan said, young anglers from across the globe will test the Miramichi waters next summer.
“We’ve got schools confirmed from Scotland, Germany, France, Maine and [New Brunswick],” he said, noting that Miramichi Valley hopes to fund-raise enough to fish the Tay River in Scotland someday.
In the meantime, the club will participate in the Atlantic Salmon Fly International event from June 22 to 24 in Miramichi.
In reflecting on the past decade, Hallihan said he often hears from former club members who still go fishing.
“Hopefully they’ll raise their kids to appreciate what’s in their backyards,” he said.“The students always get excited when they hook their first fish or tie their own flies.
“Seeing them appreciate and enjoy it makes it worthwhile.”
McNeil said fishing has always been part of her identity, even with all she’s gained from the fly fishing club at school.
“It’s how I relax when I’m stressed,”she said.“It clears your mind and is therapeutic, even if you don’t catch anything.