Finally, in mid-July the time had arrived. After purchasing 4-wheelers in the spring, Grant and I had been patiently waiting for a free weekend in which to hit the New Brunswick trails. This was going to be Grant’s first ATV trip, so I wanted to show him a good mix of trails and logging roads en route to our campsite. Our destination was a site on the Cains River, known locally as the Italian Bridge.
We discovered the site a few years ago on a canoe trip down the Cains. At that time it was unoccupied so we decided to squat for the night – it was too perfect to pass up. As it turned out, the site was for fishermen that had booked Upper Cains Crown Reserve fishing stretch. We resolved to return someday and fish.
During discussions leading up to our 4-wheeling trip we debated going up, camping if the site was available, and going elsewhere if it wasn’t. However, we decided that we didn’t want to spend time and gas roaming around looking for an alternative should the need arise.
Crown Reserve fishing is run on a lottery based-system. Each year anglers place their names in a draw for exclusive access to some of the province’s most sought after fishing spots. In the low season — when the fishing is poor — some weekends go undrawn. When this occurs anyone can book the stretch on a first come, first serve basis. As it turned out, we were in luck: our chosen stretch was unbooked, and just like that our 4-wheeling trip became a fishing trip.
Our plan was to meet in Chipman on Friday and strike out from my parent’s house. We arrived at the house around 4:00pm, secured our gear onto our quad racks, and hit the trail. In total, our route was around 60 km. We hoped to arrive at the Cains River in time to set up camp and partake in an evening fish.
We travelled down an old trail that connected North Forks to Gaspereau. Conditions were dry. On the Howard Lemon logging road the dust forced us to either drive side by side or 400 meters apart. We crossed the Gaspereau River at the Grand Lake SnoCruiser’s Snowmobile Shack. The trail system beyond the Gaspereau connected us to Mountain Brook Road and eventually Blue Rock. From Blue Rock we headed straight to the Italian Bridge –arriving at our site around 7:30pm.
The Upper Cains Crown Reserve is a live release only stretch that encompasses over 10km of the river. Several tributaries drain into the river in this area — Gordon, Otter and Wildcat Brooks to name a few. In total there are 14 named pools and an untold number of fishable rips, not bad for $23/rod.
With the temperature in the high 20’s, it was a warm evening. The water, however, was cool and deep, much deeper than the Gasperau. We scouted the four pools closest to our campsite — Salmon, Acadia Bridge, Pine, and an unnamed pool — and decided to fish only one for the night.
After setting up camp we tied on our go-to flies and hit the water. Things were quiet at first, but after settling in the pool suddenly came to life. Fish began rising all around us. In a short period of time we probably landed a half dozen fish — a mix of good sized trout and chub. Unfortunately, just as quickly as it came on, the pool went silent. Conditions were serene as the sun was setting so the lack of action didn’t matter. We were content to enjoy the tranquil sounds of the river and watch arced fly-lines travel through the air against a spruce backdrop illuminated by the setting sun.
Back at the campsite, the mosquitos were relentless. Our smoky campfire offered some reprieve, but regardless the onslaught lasted until dark. After a busy day, we attacked our steaks and wine with the same vigor as the bugs did us.
With heavy heads, we arose the next morning at the crack of 9:30am – well past peak fishing time! Dark grey clouds approached and thunder rolled in the distance, and, of course, our rain gear was packed deep into packs on the quads. The storm ended up being uneventful, it lasted just long enough to soak through my cheap rain suit. With low expectations, we made it to the river by 11:00am.
Grant had good luck the previous evening so he offered up his hot spot to me for the morning session. He had been fishing with a nameless orange dry-fly, and had enticed a few nice trout to the surface. I opted to stick with the Olive Crystal Flash Wolly Bugger from the previous evening, mainly for convenience sake. I was not having much luck, so I switched up my approach and began casting up river. This method allowed my fly to drift more freely through the center of the pool and resulted in a hook-up. A good fight ensued and I landed the first fish of the morning, a foot-long chub. Not really what we were looking for but good fun none the less.
I released the chub and began to cast away upstream again. After no more fish, I was ready to relinquish the spot to Grant when suddenly I felt a small bump. I pulled the rod skyward hooking nothing but water. I rolled the line a short distance upstream again only to feel the same bump. This time my timing was on. SCREEEECH!!! My Orvis Battenkill II reel screamed as I was into a very nice fish.
The fish swam straight to the bottom and made a run for it. In our limited experience we surmised this was the way a Salmon typically takes a fly, and, with the way my trout rod was bending I had little doubt. Grant ran back to the campsite to retrieve the camera. I did my very best to keep this fish hooked. I followed him down along the bank through the pool keeping the rod tip skyward. I was only a few minutes into this battle but I could feel my forearm pulsing to maintain the resistance. This fish was still pulling line. I had to palm my reel to slow his progress.
Grant returned out of breath but full of excitement — he wanted to land this fish as badly as I did. We coordinated an effort to land the fish on a small gravel bar along the bank. Our first attempt showed us that the fish was not a salmon, but rather a very large trout. However, the fish – like most people — spooked at the sight of Grant and peeled more line off my reel. For us, the third time was a charm, and we successfully landed the largest brook trout I will probably ever catch.
The trout measured in at 22inches in length. It had a girth similar to that of a football. I estimated that it would tip the scales at a minimum of 3.5lbs — but it was likely closer to a 4lb fish. After some photos I worked the fish back into the water to be caught another day. Grant caught a couple more trout, but I didn’t land another.
Eventually we packed up our gear and headed home. That night I would attend my 10-year High School reunion and ironically, the only story I told was from earlier that day!
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.
My friend Andrew and I had had been trying to get out canoeing together on New Brunswick’s famous Cains River since Spring 2013. When he informed me at the start of June that he had to use up all of his vacation days by July, we knew it was time. June 12th he was in my driveway at 5:30 a.m., ready to hit the road – while I was still upstairs in my underwear of course. Our plan was to spend two days paddling from the bridge at Grand Lake Road (also known as Highway 123) into the Main Southwest Miramichi River and down to the municipal park in Blackville. Approximately 60 km in total.
The Cains River trip is a popular one amongst New Brunswick fisherman because it is famous for its fly-fishing of Atlantic salmon and brook trout. While the salmon typically don’t run through the river until the fall, the trout fishing was supposed to be great this time of year. I’ve never had much luck fly-fishing – my excuse is I only just got into it a couple years ago – so I was anxious to get out on the water and work on my cast. Note that this does not imply that I was expecting to catch anything!
After dropping a vehicle at the park, we arrived at the put-in around 9:00 a.m. The water level looked good, the gauge in Blackville was at 1.36 m. There’s a nice access point with a good place to leave a vehicle just off the down streamside of the road, on the Doaktown side of the bridge. When we arrived – along with hordes of hungry mosquitos – an old fella was down there.
“Just checking out the river,” he said. “The trout are running up.”
“Any salmon in the river yet?” Andrew asked.
“Salmon aren’t even in the main river yet,” he scoffed as he got in his truck, evidently repelled by our lack of knowledge.
The first thing we noticed after hitting the water was the damage from the year’s ice flows. Many of the trees on the bank – up to 6 ft above the present water level – had their bark stripped off the first 4-5 ft of their trunk on the riverside. The riverbank itself was comprised of mostly lush, green herbaceous vegetation, tall grasses, young ferns, and – as we learned the hard way at our first stop – poison ivy.
“Crap, that’s poison ivy” I said to Andrew.
“Nah, not here” he replied.
“Dammit, I think it is” I said as it dawned on me that I’d just dragged my rope through a large patch of it.
I’d heard that the fishing was best on the first half of the trip, so our rods were out shortly after we set sail. It’s always a little nerve-racking to me when two guys with 9ft fly-fishing rods are casting in opposite directions in the same 17 ft canoe – the math just doesn’t add up – but miraculously we both went unhooked. I was lucky enough to land the first fish of the trip, a 6-7″ brook trout with a beautiful, dark body and vibrant blue and red speckles. It took on a blue-winged butterfly in a little eddy adjacent to where a spring flowed into the river.
Afterward things went quiet. At some point Andrew put on an orange bomber – a dry fly – and everything just clicked. I put on a green one soon after and the 3-4″ trout were plentiful. Our best spot was on the backside of a grassy island in a narrow channel. As we approached, Andrew said “I like the look of that spot, lets get out.” We beached the boat in the rocky shallows above the island and I decided I was in a good dry position to fish from the stern.
A drop in elevation at the head of the island resulted in a series of small standing waves – followed by what looked to be a promising little pool. I was in position to fish from the over hanging grassy bank above the island, down into the waves. I worked the bank first, then released some additional line to let my fly drift down through the waves. A 8-9″ trout was there waiting for it on the first pass – talk about exciting! Andrew eagerly walked over to the pool and of course caught a beautiful 12-13″ brook trout almost immediately, and several smaller ones thereafter.
When the pool went quiet, it was time to make a big push down-river. Our intention was to camp somewhere near the mouth of the Sabbies River – which we estimated to be near the halfway point of the trip. We paddled hard through the old-growth pine, fir, and spruce, past the fishing lodges, through the steep river valleys, and arrived at the mouth of the Sabbies around 8:00 p.m.
Finding campsites on a canoe trip can be a bit of a chore – the grass always seems greener on the other side. Making the decision more difficult is the fact that on a river — a lot like in life — the current only flows one direction and travelling upstream isn’t always possible. Lucky for us, we found a great site on a point on our second try. The spot showed signs of many years of use, few of which were positive. Garbage everywhere, everything from 30-year-old beer cans to recent plastic water bottles – clearly, some people have no respect. We did our best to tidy things up, but there’s only so much you can do when you don’t have any extra garbage bags. If you’re reading this and planning on doing a similar trip, bring a couple extra garbage bags and help keep our province beautiful.
After a night of dreams about the boat floating away, we awoke to a wet tent and overcast skies. With oatmeal in our guts, we were back on the water around 8:30 a.m. As the Cains approaches the Main Southwest Miramichi it gets much slower, wider, and deeper. Much of this stretch of river is flagged as ‘private fishing’ so we were left to observe our surroundings and discuss the pros and cons of ‘private fishing’. While it seems unfair that any water should have access restricted to paying customers only, the conservation benefits are undeniable. It’s in the best interest of guides and outfitters to maintain a functioning ecosystem in order to preserve their livelihood.
The landscape was dominated by pines in many areas, red pine, white pine, and even jack pine. Things were so quiet on the river that we drifted silently within 10ft of a deer standing at attention on the bank. Unlike other tributaries of the Miramichi River I’ve been on, the geology surrounding the Cains River is mostly comprised of a grey shale. When exposed, smoothed, stair-like stacks of shale appear on the banks and up the river valley.
We hit the Main Southwest Miramichi with the wind at our backs and no need to even touch a paddle. Drifting through, it was hard not to look at the wall-to-wall houses and wonder what it was like 100 years ago. Was it forested or fields? Regardless, it looks like a small municipality today. We landed in Blackville around 2:00 p.m. loaded up the boat, and discussed wetting a line back at the 123 bridge. However, when we were confronted with hordes of bloodthirsty mosquitoes, I changed my mind pretty quickly. Rather, we shook hands, congratulated each other on a well-executed trip and headed back to Fredericton.