A Thursday morning in the office quickly turned into an evening on the river when a coworker came to me brandishing a calendar and a camera. He showed me today’s date on the calendar with a black cartoon fish beside it and a photo of himself with three salmon on his fingers. “Last time the calendar showed this, I got these.” was all he said.
I have never put a lot of stock in suggested “best days” for outings based on the moon phase but his photographic evidence had me home packing waders and a rod into the bed of his truck. The plan was to drive up to Cormack, NL and hike 45 minutes up the Humber River to Cabin Pool.
Upon arriving at the pool it was clear to us that the water was high and the pool had expanded in size. We knew this because there were fish breaching — everywhere! We made a plan to go above the pool and work our way down both sides of the run.
After a couple hours of fish jumping all around us my coworker suggested I move toward him somewhat as he could see a fish between us that was rising towards my fly. I took a couple steps toward him and cast my line in such a manner that it would drift over the area he indicated. The fish took my Blue Charm with a Squirrel tail much the same way a trout would. She tugged on it a couple times before I rose my rod to set the hook. She stayed on the bottom and didn’t budge. Only when I made my way toward shore did she begin to run. My reel screamed as I persuaded her towards a shoal where my coworker was waiting with a net.
At 60cm and 5.5lbs she was definitely worth one of my tags. We hooked and lost another fish each that evening before trekking back to the truck. You can bet that the next time my calendar has a black cartoon fish on it I will be headed to the river!
As Grant mentioned I was back in New Brunswick last week for a few festivities leading up to the end of the world as I know it — my wedding this winter. Prior to our St. Croix River run, I had scheduled a fly fishing trip with my father. Dad had won the trip in a draw at the New Brunswick Big Game Antler Show which was held in Chipman — our home town — this past spring.
So, on Wednesday evening we found ourselves heading north on Route 123 towards Doaktown and the storied Miramichi River. We landed at the Betts-Kelly Lodge with instructions to unload ourselves into the Lower Cabin. We soon realized that we were alone on the Lodge grounds and decided to settle into some deck chairs. As we sat and admired the beauty of the mighty Miramichi River, we witnessed a doe and her fawn brave the currents and cross the river just above us.
Just as a bald eagle swooped into its nest at the top of a large white pine directly across from us — possibly showing us where to fish in the morning? — we heard a vehicle approaching. Our host Keith made his way onto the deck as my father and I introduced ourselves. We could see that he was somewhat puzzled and then he said “I’m dumbfounded as to why you are here.” My father chuckled and explained they had spoke earlier last week to confirm the date, to which he responded, “Today is Wednesday!?” He explained he was gearing up for the upcoming bear season and had lost all track of time. We assured him everything was in order at the camp, and that we were very low maintenance so he had nothing to worry about. After a few games of cribbage and a couple of New Brunswick’s finest cold ones, we retired to our beds with our alarms set for morning.
We awoke before the sun — at 6:00 a.m. — and began preparing our fishing gear. Having traveled from Newfoundland, I opted not to bring my rod on the plane. Dad assured me that I had an old rod at home I had forgotten about. As I pulled it from the case I immediately noticed that the rod was on the light side for salmon. Sure enough it was a 5 weight. I also noticed that whoever had tied the leader and fly on last was a complete idiot — wait, who’s rod was this again? The floating line had been tied into a double overhand loop with the leader cow hitched onto it. Suffice to say it required some improvement.
I sent dad on his way to the river and settled in at the lodge table to tie on a new leader and fly. I had read that a nail knot is great for joining leader to floating line but I had no idea how to tie one. Thankfully, I was able to access animatedknots.com to walk me through each step. After a couple tries I had leader joined to line like a professional, with limited experience. I used the improved clinch knot — that I learned on the Serpentine — to attach an Orange Bomber, and I was on my way to the river.
The plan was to enjoy a few hours of fishing in our private pool and then return to the lodge for breakfast. The pool we were working was in the main part of the river. There was a ledge protruding from the left side of the river that created a nice eddy behind it. We were casting into the current and allowing the fly to drift into the edge of the eddy where we thought fish would hold up.
Our guide confirmed that the rumours we had heard were true — it had been a bad year for fishing. As few as 12,000 salmon had returned to the river this year, down from 112,000 in 1990. After several hundred casts, we were starting to believe those numbers. Ever the optimists, my dad and I opted to switch over to smaller flies in hopes of enticing a trout. I fumbled through my fly box and came up with a fly that I had no idea what it was is called. A true amateur fly fisherman had told me to simply add the word ‘machine’ after stating the colour of the fly — making my selection a “Brown Feather Machine”.
Within minutes of making the switch my father’s line went tight. Both of our hearts skipped a beat, we were into our first fish of the day! The trout darted out into the current and, as fast as he arrived, he left after spitting the small hook. Nevertheless this encounter renewed our hopes of taking a fish home and gave us the stamina to push the thoughts of bacon and eggs out of our heads for a few more casts.
On a break between casts, as I stood and enjoyed the view of the sun rising over the trees, I noticed a black object in the river exactly where we had seen the deer cross the evening before. I motioned to Dad and we watched as medium-sized black bear made its way across the river — no doubt on his way up to eat our breakfast. As he lumbered up the bank we agreed that it was time to head back to camp. Sometimes a trip full of beautiful scenery and some interesting wildlife encounters is all you need. As we were walking up the trail, I jokingly said to dad “it’s was a good thing we brought bacon.”
I can count the number of times I have been fly fishing in my life on one hand and if you were to cut off both of my hands it would not hinder me from showing you how many fish I have caught on the fly. So when an amateur like me is approached by a co-worker with an opportunity to go fishing on one of western Newfoundland’s most prolific salmon rivers, I only asked when we were leaving and how many days of vacation to take.
We were heading to the Serpentine River, which is nestled between two of Newfoundland’s highest ranges, Lewis Hills and Blow-Me-Down Mountains. The river flows out of Serpentine Lake to the north-west through a series of deep holes, rapids, and falls before finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean. Most access the river via a 55km logging trail — that is long overdue for some routine maintenance. The trail arrives at the south end of the lake, after which a 10-minute boat ride will bring you to the river source.
We loaded all of our gear into our transportation for the next two days — an Old Town “Labrador” Predator equipped with a 4HP Yamaha outboard — and set out across the lake. After navigating through the shallow opening, and around a couple sweeping turns we arrived at base camp. We set up our tent, enjoyed a couple footlong subs, and set about rigging up our rods so we could get in a few casts before sundown.
As we idled down the river we gazed into the pools to see if we could see any fish. There were plenty of good-sized trout – the kind I dreamed about back in New Brunswick — but didn’t see anything resembling a salmon. We opted to pass through one of the larger pools — called Dark Hole — to try our luck on Governor’s Rock, around the next bend. Governor’s Rock is a deep pool on an outside bend of the river; it features a large rock in the middle. The pool is too deep to stand in, and it is lined with mature trees making fishing from a boat the only viable way to fish it.
We positioned ourselves above the rock and set anchor. My coworker Cory fished from the stern while I from the bow. The wind was moving the boat back and forth, giving us both ample opportunities to land a few casts in the slow moving water behind the rock. As I stated earlier I have not fly fished many times in my life, hence I was having a hard time casting from the boat with another person less than 8 feet from me. This difficulty became apparent to Cory, when I whipped him in the face on a back cast! As luck would have it — as I was apologizing to him while surveying for damage — the reel screamed…. ZINNNGGG! Fish on!
I pulled the rod tip skyward in an effort to set the hook and I was amazed to see a magnificent salmon breech the water and soar through the air landing back in the water behind the boat with a large splash. I kept the rod high in the air and began reeling. I was constantly asking Cory for guidance, as I had no idea how fast I should retrieve my line. There are numerous obstacles when fishing from a boat, all of which found their way into my path of retrieval. I had a close encounter with the anchor rope at one end and the motor at the other. The fish made a dive under the boat and the reel began screaming again. I battled him as he emerged down river from us as Cory picked up the net. He had me bring the fish to the starboard side and begin reeling hard. You could see the fish was tiring as he was beginning to roll on his side. It was merely a net scoop away from being my first Atlantic Salmon. Cory didn’t fail me.
After a 5 minute clash, there between my knees in the boat was a 4.2lb, 61cm grilse. I grabbed it by the gills and tail and held it proudly for the camera. What an exciting feeling to be holding that fish! I promptly tagged it and told Cory to shut off the camera and get his line back in the water!
That evening Cory and I relived the catch of the day as we shared a cold beer and watched as our fire flickered on the dark banks of the Serpentine. The night sky sparkled with thousands of stars and the promise of great day again tomorrow. We settled into our respective sleeping bags with dreams of Salmo salar dancing across the water in our heads.
The next morning as the sun poked over the hills, a granola bar made its way into my gut as I slipped into my waders. It was 5:20 and we couldn’t wait to hit the water. We slid offshore and gracefully paddled down around the bend. The plan for the morning was to fish the Black Hole we had passed over twice the day before and then make our way down river until hunger pains brought us back to camp for some bacon and eggs.
We beached the boat above Black Hole and prepared our rods. We had some luck on None of your Business, a green bodied fly wrapped with a silver line and sporting a sparkling tail — so we both tied one on for this morning. I was accustomed to using the fisherman’s knot to tie on my lures, however Cory showed me how to use an additional half hitch that not only makes your knot stronger, but also assists in presenting the fly in a different manner.
We both started making our way down through the pool casting as we went. As I neared a small eddy on the far side of the river I positioned myself for a 40-foot cast into the small ripple running past. I tried to land my cast on the eddy side of the ripple so my fly would be pulled down through where I figured the salmon would hang up. I worked the line up off the river back behind me pausing ever so slightly before whipping forward and lowering the rod tip parallel to the water. I watched as my floating line uncoiled slowly followed by my leader and dropping my fly lightly into the pool. My fly glistened as it drifted slowly in the current. I was just thinking about pulling my rod tip skyward for another cast when ZINNGGGG…. I was into my second salmon in two days!
I jerked the rod as high as I could and the reel screamed in discontent. The fish bounded skyward and hopped across the water on its side. I began reeling and making my way towards shore. Cory grabbed the net from the boat and began making his way towards me. We were both hopeful that this would be the second fish of our trip. I maintained pressure on the line and watched as the fish darted down river. Cory ducked under my rod with camera rolling as the fish made a turn into the current. I continued to reel as the salmon muscled its way up river against the current and against the drag of my reel. Both Cory and I looked on as my line came back at me like a spring and coiled up around my feet. The morning calmness of the Serpentine valley was interrupted with a few four letter words and a faint childish giggle from a man now hooked on fly fishing!
We rounded out our trip that afternoon with two beautiful sea trout, which tipped the scales at 2.4 and 1.8 pounds. The evening brought us some company on the river, and already content with our trip we allowed our friends to go fishing without us. We stayed by the fire and eagerly discussed our next trip to the Serpentine River.