Fishing Lines: What's at stake? Three days of salmon heaven in Canada

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The Independent Online

The good news: there's still time to stake your claim to fish one of the world's greatest and most historic salmon rivers. If you want to flay a fly next season on the Grand Cascapedia River in Quebec, you have until 31 October to enter the annual draw for three days' fishing.

If three days doesn't seem much, you can spend the rest of your trip on one of the Gaspé Peninsula's 13 other salmon rivers. But the jewel is the Grand Cascapedia. Just 40 fishermen are allowed on 125km of prime salmon fishing each day. This is elite angling.

And the rewards can be spectacular. On Middle Pool, one of the most famous stretches, a June entry in the record book alongside a fish estimated at more than 42lb reads: "First-ever salmon. Where does onego from here?"

That "one" may be a bit of a clue to the river's exclusivity. Middle Pool is where Princess Louise, the renegade fourth daughter of Queen Victoria, fished all summer. It's where the governors-general of Canada, who could take their pick of the country's fishing, went by choice.

Despite high-seas netting, acid rain, seals and pollution, several rivers elsewhere still yield large numbers of Atlantic salmon. Iceland's innovative stocking policy has brought fish back to once-dead rivers, while Russia's Kola Peninsula is reckoned by many to be the place for sure-fire success.

But the surroundings in both are pretty grim. The Grand Cascapedia and its brother, the Little Cascapedia, run through woodland that is stunning at this time of year, the trees changing from green to orange and gold. You're as likely to see a moose or a bald eagle as another person. You'll certainly see some huge salmon.

For the Cascapedia's real appeal is the size of its fish. That 42-pounder was large but not exceptional. The average is 20lb – the fish of a lifetime for most anglers. One hot stretch is nicknamed 424 Pool. One day, four salmon around 24lb were caught here before lunchtime. Nowhere produces such whoppers so consistently.

Wander around the river's fine museum and you are awed by salmon almost as big as their captors. These aren't grainy, mono shots from yesteryear, either; every guide has storiesof 50-pounders. The British record, by the way, is 64lb – caught in 1922.

But before you phone Air Canada, I should tell you the bad news. The odds of winning one of those three-day slots are not good. Every Quebecer wants a shot. I asked Marc Gauthier, who runs the fishing, about my chances. He smiled, shrugged and said: "But maybe you know someone who owns one of the private lodges..." Oh yeah. I mix with billionaires all the time.

And "winning" is a relative term. You've still got to pay. Handsomely. A day's fishing, depending on the stretch and time of year, costs between C$475 and C$1,245 (£235-£620) for a non-resident, and a strange rule insists that you have two guides. They expect a tip too. (Generally C$50, though one got C$10,000 when his "sport" caught a large fish.)

Still, I caught a salmon, a "tiddler" of 18lb. And I've fished the Grand Cascapedia. Where does one go from here?

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