In this part of Canada, due north of Fredericton, where the fabled Miramichi flows not gently past Doaktown, the year has two Novembers. They call one of them April, which is a cute trick but doesn’t fool anyone. Gray naked tree branches, gray leaden skies, temperatures either just below or, on nice days, just above the icemaking point. The last time I was here, at the same time of year, I was with my pal Trout Boy (not his real name) and it was snowing. This year I was with my Bro, Peter, and it was not snowing but the snow had not entirely disappeared. By arriving on April 30 and fishing on May 1 and 2, we thought we might avoid April, but April extended into May this year. It was raining and in the low 40s, wet enough to don my waders, even though I’d be sitting in a boat, and cold enough to layer up with everything I packed plus my waterproof wading jacket.
We were lodged at Storeytown Cottages, owned and operated by Jeremie and Christine Bray, in a comfy, immaculate self-catering cottage overlooking the river. After Monday breakfast we geared up and walked to the river’s edge to meet our guides, Brian Pratt and Dwight Dunnett. Brian had guided me on my previous trip and I was happy to be in his boat again; Dwight turned out to be not only an excellent guide for Peter, who was trying for the fifth time to catch his first Atlantic salmon, but a terrific guy who gifted us with steak and burger meat from a moose he had shot in the fall.
I will not report here whether we consumed said meat in Canada or smuggled it into the U.S. for later grilling.
Atlantic salmon, the king of North American gamefish, are a dwindling species. At every stage of their lives, from egg to adult, they are feasted on by a variety of predators with a taste for salmon, not the least of which is homo sapiens but also includes seals, bigger fish, eagles, and ospreys. Then, too, many of their natal rivers (including all of the Maine salmon rivers) have been fouled by industrial pollution and blocked by myriad dams. The Miramichi and other prime Canadian salmon rivers are happily dam-free.
We were, I guess you could say, semi-predators because we immediately released any fish we caught, and we fished with barbless hooks, which meant several of the salmon we hooked freed themselves with a shake of the head. On this trip we were after spring salmon, or kelts, also known as black salmon, returning to the sea after spawning and spending some months in the river. After they clear out, the brights, or silvers, come upriver to spawn after one or more years at sea. The brights are the real prize of Atlantic salmon angling, fat, frisky and a lot tougher to catch as they are not eating as they head for what in the salmon world passes for a sex life, somewhere upriver.
On day one, almost in front of the cottages, Peter landed his first salmon, a measured 33 inches; he later topped that with a 38-incher. I did not measure my fish, but photographic evidence suggests that Peter and I might have tied for biggest fish.
We came, we shivered, we landed and released fish,we hooked and lost fish, and we left happy. Naturally the sun came out the day we headed for home.