TYING AND FLY-ING ON NEW BRUNSWICK'S MIRAMICHI RIVER
If Hollywood ever decides to film a remake of "A River Runs Through It," I certainly will not audition for a role.
However, after getting my feet wet on New Brunswick's Miramichi River, I can at least tell stories about "the one that got away."
I didn't really get my feet wet in the river (although at times I'm sure Brian Peterson, my fishing guide, wanted to chuck me into the river), but I did get them wet, metaphorically speaking, with respect to fly fishing.
While I've gone deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys and done plenty of spin-cast fishing in many Canadian rivers and lakes from the shore and from canoes, I've never fly-fished. In fact, before I had a chance to learn the skill in New Brunswick, I had only ever held a fly rod once-and that was to carry it down to the lake for a friend of mine who was going fishing.
But here I was, on one of New Brunswick's most popular angling rivers, trying to do my best Brad Pitt-as-Paul Maclean imitation.
I didn't head out onto the river completely unprepared. I'd spent a good portion of the previous day touring the Atlantic Salmon Museum in Doaktown. Whether you're interested in salmon, fish or fishing in general, or just general conservation, it's definitely a "must-see" if you're visiting the area.
There I learned all about the history of salmon-fishing in the area, how the species was almost fished out but saved in the eleventh hour by a concerted effort of local conservationists, to the point where fish populations on the river are healthier than they have ever been. The Museum comes complete with dioramas, a hall of fame (including famous Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams-a long time regular and visiting angler to the area), video displays, 3D models, maps, a library collection devoted solely to fishing, and, of course, fish-including a life-sized replica of the largest Atlantic salmon ever caught: 72 lbs, 68-1/2 inches long. There is also an on-site aquarium.
It's a great place to get you excited about fly-fishing-even if, like me, you've never done it before. It's also a place to learn how to tie flies, if you have the time and patience. I had the time, but it was the instructor who required patience. She runs fly-tying classes for youngsters, and I'm sure many of them were more adept than I was at tying flies.
I didn't spend all my time indoors. I also spent an hour or two getting some fly-casting lessons from Bev Gaston, a fishing guide himself, as well as the husband of Linda, the museum's executive director.
"Hmmm.... This doesn't seem that difficult," I thought. "I seem to be getting the hang of this…" Of course, casting on shore and casting while standing up in a boat in the middle of a river are completely different tasks.
So, on the appointed day, armed with a somewhat false sense of my own skill level, I walked down to the river from my cabin at O'Donnell's Cottages, met my guide Brian, hopped on the boat, and off we went.
It turns out fishing guides sometimes require even more patience than fly-tying teachers.
After coming close several times, I finally hooked him-in the back of his nylon shell - and his only response was a wry smile and the comment, "Couldn't have been that bad if I didn't feel it..."
He offered some pointers, then helped me hook a four-pound salmon. "Keep it tight! Keep the tip up!" he exhorted as I tried to land the fish.
It jumped-once, then twice-a beautiful flash of silver splashing in and out of the water. Brian readied the net to bring it into the boat ... and then the fish spat out the fly and swam off.
Catching the salmon would have made a great story. But I do have a great "one-that-got-away" story. However, I wouldn't have fish for supper, that night-at least not that particular fish. But I did enjoy a wonderful camp meal of salmon, fiddleheads, homemade mashed potatoes, and home-baked sourdough and corn bread served on tin plates at the museum.
Maybe next time mine will be the fish on the plate...
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IF YOU GO:
You will need a valid New Brunswick fishing licence. Live release of salmon is encouraged, but anglers can keep limited numbers of fish for consumption, based on licence type.
The Atlantic Salmon Museum www.atlanticsalmonmuseum.com in Doaktown (90 minutes from the capital, Fredericton) can help arrange guiding service, as can many of the area lodges.
O'Donnell's Cottages, www.odonnellscottages.com , offer rustic, down home comfortable cabins and great home cooking.
For something more gourmet, try the Ledges Inn, www.ledgesinn.com , (whose guests have included Ted Williams and Bobby Orr). A fishing guide comes with your package, but be sure to book early.
PHOTOS by John Geary
1. Miramichi River
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