For about two weeks each May, the Oromocto River in Fredericton Junction, near Tracy, N.B., is teeming with gaspereaux, also called alewives, a plentiful fish native to many areas in North America. Though there are restrictions on when you can fish, if you arrive at the proper time you can scoop dozens of the gaspereaux up in a net and either take them home to eat (I’ve heard they’re quite bony, but if you don’t mind that), or release them back into the river.
The optimal destination to take part in the gaspereaux river run is only about forty minutes from Fredericton. I’ve been twice, and have found that the easiest way to get there is to plunk “Currie House Museum” into your GPS and follow the directions toward Fredericton Junction — you can park outside the museum, and follow a clear trail with colourful markers leading down along the river, where there are several good entry points for anyone aiming to fish or just to wade and soak up the sun.
The first time I went with my partner Alex in May, 2016. We were totally unaware of the gaspereaux; we just wanted to hike some new trails on a free Sunday. We quickly found out that there isn’t much of a trail system in this area for real hiking per se — although it is certainly picturesque if you’re only looking for a leisurely stroll. We were glad we had our cameras, because there are guideposts with plaques describing “the lowly gaspereau” (which we thought was funny — what makes them so lowly?), and more impressively, large statues carved from pine trees depicting salmon, a black bear, a beaver, a turtle and other nature-inspired artwork.
After we explored a bit, we decided to wade in the river. Other people were there too, a couple with children who had a net and buckets; we watched them take turns dipping a net into the water, then raising it up, just bursting with squirming, shiny, steely-grey fish. Many of the fish were forcefully jumping out of the water, fighting the strong spring current, and when wading I could feel them constantly slapping against my shins. After a few minutes of concentrated effort, I managed to grab one with my bare hands. It wriggled out and fell back in the water where it joined thousands of other gaspereaux.
Alex and I returned this May with my nieces, Taryn, 7, and Afton, 6, who love fishing. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we had high hopes for the number of fish we’d bag. The kids brought their net from home, and were pretty excited to try to catch their own alewives (even though they’d never heard of them until we picked them up that afternoon).
Unfortunately, this time we totally missed the short-lived gaspereaux run: we made the mistake of waiting until the last Sunday in May. Several other families and individuals were fishing from the shores. They had buckets ready to take fish home, but everyone we spoke to said they hadn’t had so much as a bite. The water was ice-cold, too — too cold for much wading — and the mosquitoes were out in full force, probably both due to the unusually heavy rainfall this spring. The kids loved it, though, and were impressed by the cool-looking statues that were big enough to climb all over. And I think they just liked being in a new place.
We stopped for ice cream on the way home: we figured we could make that a new tradition, along with returning each year to see the gaspereaux. As 2017 marks our country’s 150th birthday, it’s the perfect time to think about creating new traditions with your family, and taking part in your province’s traditions, too.