The start of fishing season for rivers and streams in southern New Brunswick on Monday came with a catch for anglers in the Hammond River area who discovered a large section is closed for conservation reasons.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada closed the stretch between the Canadian National Railway bridge in Nauwigewauk and the covered bridge in French Village to give black salmon that overwintered in the fresh water a chance to get out to sea.
But fisheries officers only posted notice of the estimated six-kilometre closure on Friday at 7:10 p.m. and it was not mentioned in the booklets that accompany fishing licences.
Three fishermen, who had no idea about the closure, were getting ready to launch their boat at about 6:30 a.m. Monday when fisheries officers pulled up to advise them the area was closed until May 1.
"Man oh man, this is just brutal, I can’t even believe that," said Paul Baxter, who had taken the day off of work.
Mike Dooley, who had driven up from Fredericton with his young son and spent the night in a hotel so they could get an early start, was equally shocked by the news.
"I think my son barely even slept last night he was so excited," he said. "Very frustrating."
Although Dooley hadn't fished in that area before, he had heard "lots of great things about it.
"That there’s all kinds of different species and that we should have had a good day here today," he said.
Sean Doyle, a biologist and project manager at the Hammond River Angling Association, said the closure was necessary to protect the black salmon, which are often caught in the area by accident.
"These fish are really quite hungry and so what they’ll do is they’ll take almost anything that you can throw at them and they’ll swallow it quickly and I guess when that happens you have a lot harder time to take the hook out and the fish is out of water for a lot longer," said Doyle.
"It’s a lot of stress on a fish that’s just really trying to recondition and eat whatever it can before it makes its way out to the sea."
Asked why fishermen were only notified at the eleventh hour, Doyle said he was "not sure.
"I think there’s a lot of work and a lot of consultation that goes into completing these variations in the game laws and so I think it was just a big effort to get it finished and it came down right to the last minute," he said.
Doyle acknowledged it caused a lot of confusion. And while there are signs posted, he expects enforcement officers will be spending a lot of time informing people of the closure.
If it were built permanently into fishing regulations, "it would certainly cause a lot less confusion," he said.
Dave Doggett, who runs a fishing forum called NewBrunswickFishing.com, says the chatter has increased in recent weeks as people try to figure out where and when to hit the water.
"Some people are very willing to share some of their spots, but I believe that most people keep some honey holes in their back pocket," he said.
Abby Speight, who works at the tackle shop Doiron's Sports Excellence in Saint John, says business has picked up in the lead up to fishing season.
"Oh yeah, the fellas that don't mind the cold weather, they get in to it pretty good," he said.
Fishing season in the northern part of the province starts on May 1.