The pursuit of the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), or as some call it the King of Game Fish, has been referred to over the years as the “Millionaires Sport.”
There is some evidence to support this view, as many of the salmon clubs along such legendary rivers as the Restigouche and Miramachi boasted membership rosters and guest lists that included such names as Goodyear, Vanderbilt, Tiffany, Hope, Crosby, Dodge and Howard Heinz – yes the pickle guy. These clubs have also hosted many US Presidents, Canadian Prime Ministers and Royalty, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who just happened to drop into Kedgwick Lodge on the Restigouce one evening for dinner.
The “sports,” as fisherman are called, would regularly send fresh salmon by express train to their friends, that included such entertainment and business luminaries as Fred Astaire and Joseph Kennedy, to name just a few. Custom, hand made wooden boxes were used to ship the salmon, that were carefully packed with snow and ice, which had been gathered during the winter and stored in ice houses in anticipation of the coming summer months.
Club facilities and design were anything but spartan in nature. For example, renowned New York architect Stanford White, who had been one of the designers of both Grand Central Station and Madison Square Gardens, designed the Restigouche Salmon Club in the late 1800’s. In 1922, The Rogers family, who owned Kedgwick Lodge, brought the lodge into the electrical age with the purchase of a Delco Electric Generating Machine. It would be another twenty years or so before the New Brunswick Power Commission extended power lines into the area.
The fishing, or riparian rights along the rivers were then, as they are today, leased from the Province of New Brunswick for various periods of time. Upon expiry of the lease, these rights are then subject to a competitive bidding process. Residents may fish specific areas of the rivers by entering a lottery. If their name is chosen, they then have twenty-four hours to fish the designated area.
At one time many of the clubs were primarily American owned, but in later years a number of Canadian lumber companies, who had logging interests in these areas, established and/or purchased camps.
Having now either intrigued or thoroughly bored you with all of this background information, we now come to real purpose of this story - which is to tell you about my recent visit to the Kedgwick Salmon Club, located on the Kedgwick River in New Brunswick.
You may be inclined to ask what a retired bureaucrat is doing in such a rarified atmosphere – other than perhaps mowing the lawn. Well, it’s a fair question, but I had the good fortune to receive this trip as a retirement gift from friends and colleagues. Realistically if I was to return, I would more likely be waving around a leaf blower rather than my 9 wt. Orvis.
The first leg of the journey was our flight from Toronto to Quebec City, which, if you did not already know, is the above ground pool capital of Canada - if not the entire world. As the aircraft banked in preparation to lining up for final approach, there was scarcely a backyard within our considerable field of view that did not have a tell tale blue dot or oval. There were literally hundreds of them, with only a smattering of in-ground pools, which were no doubt owned by federalists attempting to make a statement of some kind.
We were met at the airport by two of our fellow “sports,” and then embarked on the four and one half hour drive to the Club. Our route took us along the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Temiscouata, as well as through many small attractive farming communities, including the not to missed town of Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha!
Having passed through the town of Edmondston New Brunswick, it was a glance and nod at a tiny shrine, which had been strategically placed where the black top ended, and we then began the seventy-kilometer drive along the gravel-logging road that would take us to our final destination.
This is probably as good a time as any to say that being a rookie “sport” has certain disadvantages. Before we had even left the airport parking lot, it was decided that a friendly wager would be placed for the first, largest, and most salmon. As it turns out, the winner of all three components of this wager did more than just glance and nod in the direction of the shrine. When we first passed I noticed that he was having what appeared to be a muted conversation with no one in particular, but as we sped by the shrine on our return trip, he commented that all of the prayers he had been muttering on the way in had certainly paid off.
If only I had known.
The Fraser Paper Company established Fraser Lodge on the Kedgwick in 1952. There was an ownership change several years ago, at which time the name was then changed to the Kedgwick Salmon Club. The Club holds the riparian rights along an impressive twenty-four mile stretch of the Kedgwick River, and to put this into some perspective, many clubs on other rivers only hold rights to a handful of pools, while the Kedgwick Club has approximately sixty-five – each with its own unique name.
Prior to the establishment of Fraser Lodge, the Sebatis Fishing Club held the lease on most of the river. This Club was operating as early as the 1930’s, with their main camp being located at Slough Gundy, a pool just a short distance up stream from the current location of the Kedgwick Salmon Club.
The term of the lease on the Clubs section of the river is ten years, and as noted above, upon it’s expiry, they must bid for the riparian rights once again.
As we turned onto the Clubs private road, which runs parallel to the river for some distance, one of the more “ornithologically” challenged members of our group exclaimed:
“Look, a flock of Garganzers!”
Once it was pointed out that the birds in question were in fact Merganser ducks, our resident Ornithologist was suitably humbled, and notwithstanding his grudging admission that perhaps in his excitement he may have misnamed the birds, he never heard the end of it for the duration of our stay, and will obviously continue to be reminded of it for some time to come.
Pulling into the carefully manicured grounds, we were greeted by a large statue that had been erected to pay homage to the King, thereby leaving no doubt who rules in theses parts.
My first impression of the camp was one of understated elegance, and I soon came to realize, to refer to this facility as a “camp,” would be to suggest there is little distinction between the Waldorf Astoria and a Motel 6.
Clearly no detail had been overlooked. From the huge stone fireplace, to the incredibly well stocked bar, humidor and colour coordinated hangers in each bedroom, everything had been designed for your comfort, and to otherwise enhance your overall experience. The interior of the lodge is finished in natural pine, and the spacious bedrooms feature king or queen sized beds, topped off with a once ubiquitous Hudson’s Bay blanket, carefully selected toiletries, desk, and comfortable wing chair paired with a reading lamp.
Adjacent to the main lounge is a large screened in porch overlooking the river, where you “gear up” prior to heading out to fish. There are hot air dryers for your waders and boots, hooks to hang your equipment, and racks for your rods. A small fridge containing water and soft drinks, the top of which is covered with a selection of sun screen, insect repellant and after-bite, is placed within easy reach of the door to the lounge, so you don’t have to walk on the highly polished hardwood floor in your wet boots to grab a drink, or whatever else you may need when out on the water.
Unless you are so inclined, there is no need to bring your own equipment, as the lodge supplies everything from rods and reels, to waders and rain gear. As for flies, once again you can bring your own, but every guide carries a mind-boggling selection of both dry and wet “can’t miss” patterns, many of them tied daily by the guides themselves.
Trips normally run for three days, and there is a very specific schedule that governs your activities while in camp.
There are a maximum of eight “sports” or rods in camp at any one time, each paired with his or her own guide. You and your guide fish from a custom designed and built twenty-four foot canoe, which is outfitted with a small outboard motor.
We arrived at approximately 3:30 pm,, and enjoyed some delicious locally smoked salmon and a cocktail while the staff provided us with our room assignments and fishing licenses. At 5 pm we were introduced to our guide – all non-resident “sports” must fish with a guide – and then fished various sections of the river until dusk.
Once back in camp, a light buffet supper was served at 9 pm, which consisted of a Caesar salad with homemade dressing, fresh garlic cheese bread, an amazing seafood lasagna, and blueberry pie. Ice cream to compliment the pie was available in that small fridge adjacent to the screened in porch. I was now beginning to form something of an attachment to this fridge!
Breakfast, which featured fresh fruit, cereals, eggs prepared in any conceivable style, pancakes, ham, bacon, sausage and more, is served promptly at 7 am. If I recall correctly, there were eight different jams and spreads clustered at each end of the long wooden dinning table. One morning we were even treated to some fresh, pan-fried Kedgwick River Brook Trout.
At 8 am you are back on the river, wherein you fish until noon.
The main meal of the day is served at 1 pm in the dining room – the evening meal being somewhat less of an event is served in the lounge – where we enjoyed such entrees as fresh steamed Atlantic lobster with homemade frites, and baked Atlantic salmon served with a light hollandaise and sautéed fiddleheads, all of which was washed down with copious quantities of a very good Chablis.
All of the bread and deserts we enjoyed, including a rather impressive birthday cake the chef prepared for one of the “sport,s” were made in house.
After lunch its “siesta” time until 5 pm, after which you head back out on the river. Activities vary during “siesta,” and can include anything from taking an actual siesta, to casting contests, golf – I never did figure out what that was all about in that we were a considerable distance from any course – or you can use the time to explore some of the surrounding area, which is precisely what we did one afternoon. After packing up a few drinks, we drove to a scenic lookout located approximately 2000 feet above the river, and enjoyed the spectacular view while relaxing in two chairs that someone had thoughtfully bolted into the side of the mountain.
If you avail yourself of the siesta option, and happen to fall into a deep sleep while contemplating your strategy for breaking the current club record – which stands at an impressive 37 ½ pounds - the ever attentive staff will wake you with a gentle knock on your door.
The club employs nineteen staff on a full time basis, including a Manager, Guest Services Coordinator, two chefs, eight guides, maintenance and kitchen staff. There are also four Wardens that, from May to November, live in Club maintained cabins located at various points along the Club’s section of the river, whose primary duties are to ensure that the sanctity of the lease is preserved.
Needless to say, the Club makes a substantial contribution to the local economy with such a considerable payroll.
It is also worth noting that the Club operates on Eastern Daylight Savings time, notwithstanding the fact that it is located in New Brunswick. As to the reason for this time based anomaly – your guess is as good as mine - but it did save me the trouble of having to set my watch ahead.
Hell, maybe it’s just because they can.
The Micmac Indians named the river, which is a tributary of the Restigouche, “Quatahwahtamkedgwick.” It has been said that this loosely translates into “cool, tough, musical waters,” and if correct, it is an apt description indeed.
In years past the river was a significant transportation route-servicing settlers, fishing camps, and the substantial logging interests in the area. There were once a number of logging camps and depots scattered along the rivers sixty-five kilometer length, the largest being Rapids Depot, located approximately twenty-nine kilometers upstream from where the Kedgwick empties its crystal clear waters into the Restigouche.
Before the area was serviced by railway or road, travel was primarily by fifty to sixty foot, hand made flat-bottomed barge like scows, that were used to haul people, livestock, furniture and supplies. The scows were usually pulled by three horses, and operated by a crew of three or four. “Sports” and recreational canoeists have since replaced the scows and the skilled river men who once operated them.
Unlike some of it’s more famous counterparts, the Kedgwick has seen little in the way of development, and as a result has retained what I would describe as it’s “wilderness feel.”
The upper section features high, steep, thickly wooded cliffs that plunge down to the waters edge. At times they appeared poised to envelop you as you traveled through these stunning river canyons. The topography of the lower section, while somewhat more subdued, is beautiful in its own right, with many small islands and gravel bars that create an endless series of gentle rapids, riffles and eddies.
Wildlife is plentiful along the rive,r and I was fortunate to see Bald Eagles, River Otters, Mergansers (or Garganzers if you prefer), Great Blue Herons, and the ever-present Kingfishers. Moose also abound in the area, but none were to be seen during my stay.
While there are approximately sixty-five “named” pools along the Clubs stretch, you will float over a great many unnamed pools and runs that have likely never seen a fly.
If you would like to see a beautiful classic Atlantic salmon river, you need look no further than the photo gallery below.
For those who pursue the King in a serious way, it’s not so much about fishing as it is a calling, or perhaps even an obsession.
If you are someone who craves constant action, then I would suggest you forget about Atlantic salmon and concentrate on perch or crappie.
Success is often measured not just by the number of fish you land, but also by the number of hook ups and rolls or rises that occur in the vicinity of your fly on any given day.
One of the “sports” referred to the Atlantic salmon as the fish of 1000 casts, and I, together with my sore right arm, can certainly attest to that. The good news is that you can’t help but become a more accomplished fly fisherman with all that casting.
You might be inclined to ask why it takes so many casts to catch a fish. Well, the answer is deceptively simple – they are not the least bit interested in food.
They have only one thing on their minds – reproduction – and if you want to catch one, you are either going to have to trick or provoke it in some way - which is where the 1000 casts come in.
You may also ask why anyone would go to all the trouble and expense of attempting to catch a fish that is not feeding – and therein lies the challenge. I should have also said that for those who pursue the King it becomes a test of wills - or in other words -who is going to blink first. Will it be the “sport” making their 1000 and first cast, or that big salmon who has just watched twenty different fly patterns float past it’s nose 1001 times?
While the salmon were once prolific, stocks began to decline in a serious way in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Only through the concerted conservation efforts by all the users of this resource has the King made something of a come back.
It would definitely be an understatement to say that conservation of the fish stocks is of prime importance to the Club. As noted above, they employ four wardens on their stretch of the river, and also make contributions to stocking and habitat preservation/ enhancement on the Kedgwick and other area rivers.
Other than grilse – which is a juvenile salmon that has made its fist trip back from the ocean to it’s river of origin, or as my dentist quipped “It’s a salmon who hasn’t had its bar mitzvah!” – all adult salmon must be released. You can catch and release up to four salmon per day, but if you catch two salmon in one particular pool, you then have to move on to another pool. Once you have caught four salmon, you are then required to get off of the river.
Oh yes, a word about grilse. Once again being a rookie has certain disadvantages. You may recall I mentioned that we had a friendly wager on who would catch the first, most, and largest salmon. Well, while it sounded simple enough, and thinking that I could claim the prize for the first salmon, having caught a parr on my second cast, I was informed in no uncertain terms that while a salmon may be a salmon, a grilse is also a salmon, unless or course it’s a parr, or for that matter a smolt, at least for purposes of the bet. The “sport” that caught the first grilse, thereby winning part one of the bet, was kind enough to provide me with an overview of these technical distinctions. All I know is that I was down $10 right out of the gate.
Just to set the record straight, a parr is a SALMON that is in it’s final stage of freshwater development. Before heading off to the Atlantic Ocean, these diminutive parr then “smolt” to complete their physiological change to adapt them for life in seawater, and thereafter are known as a – wait for – smolt!
Each “sport” is assigned a series of two to three pools on a particular section of the river each day, and only one “sport” may fish a pool at any one time. Pool assignments change between your morning and afternoon sessions, and it is unlikely that you will fish the same pool twice during your stay. Depending on the distance to be traveled, transportation to your fishing location is either by canoe or via the Club van.
In case you haven’t figured it out as yet, it’s fly-fishing only at the Kedgwick Salmon Club, and not being someone who does a great deal of fly-fishing, I had to learn an entirely new vocabulary.
The trick was to nod sagely, thereby hiding what would otherwise be the vacant, and somewhat confused look on my face when words such as grilse, parr, smolt, Green Machine, Orange or Brown Bomber, and Undertaker were bandied about in a knowing way by the more experienced “sports.’
I had a fantastic guide by the name of Francois Leblanc. Francois was a quiet soft-spoken man with a ready smile, and when not guiding, was either cutting wood for his winter heating needs, hunting, or tending his trap lines. Given his extensive outdoors experience, he would point out the subtler goings on of the animals and birds along the river that I would have likely otherwise missed. He also taught me the difference between the call of a Red Squirrel, and that of a Kingfisher, which as it turns out have a certain similarity. I thought the trees along the river were lousy with Red Squirrels until he straightened me out.
He also helped improve my casting and presentation skills, and showed me how to effectively cover a pool with a dry and wet fly. The trick was to make each successive cast one foot longer than the previous one, thereby giving any salmon who may be lurking in the pool a very good look at your offering.
As an experienced guide Francois had mastered the fine art of ducking. Given that the King is the fish of 1000 casts, with a fly traveling over your head at the speed of sound at least 1000 times between fish – you had better learn how to duck. I had not yet honed my skills in this regard, and had to remove various flies that had become imbedded in my scalp on several occasions.
Hope and expectations ran high this year. The water was up, and the number of salmon and grilse recorded by successful “sports” in the Club logbook was approximately twice what it had been to the same point last year. I’m not sure anyone knew precisely why, it could have been the water levels, the water temperature, or because netting by native peoples on the Restigouche has been significantly curtailed over recent years, thereby letting more salmon into the river system. Regardless of the reason(s), everyone was, to say the least, really “pumped.
On our first evening I “shot” what I thought was a pretty good round, having caught six parr. There was at least one grilse, and several salmon caught between the remaining “sports.”
The next day I was fortunate to travel up river to fish the Upper and Lower Campbell, and 29 Mile Pools. I only managed one parr, but did see several good size salmon roll and jump, usually as we were just leaving the pool. I interpreted this as the salmon version of being given the “finny finger.”
While the fishing was slow, the trip up river was spectacular. As mentioned, the upper section is framed by high cliffs that seemed to materialize almost magically as we traveled through the early morning mists. We fished several different pools that evening, and despite working every inch of these pools with both dry and wet flies, I pitched a no hitter.
While fish were certainly being caught, including several in the twenty- pound range, I had yet to catch anything worthy of recording in the log, and with only three days to fish, time would soon run out.
It was raining fairly hard the next morning, but undaunted we all headed out on the river. I was to fish a run called Slough Gundy just upstream from the camp, and would then finish off the morning in Home Pool. While we enjoyed watching the river otters scamper around, Slough Gundy didn’t produce any fish. Moving on to Home Pool, and on Francois recommendation switching over to a dry fly aptly named the Brown Bomber, luck was with me, and I caught and released a six-pound grilse. Hey, I was in the book!
During the evening session I fished downstream from camp in the Elbow, Davis and False Alarm pools, and while I only managed one parr, a fourteen and twenty pounder was caught by two of my fellow “sports” elsewhere on the river.
That evening we enjoyed a classic seafood chowder – the chef informed us that an entire pound of butter had been sacrificed in the making of this chowder - bacon wrapped scallops, fresh, pan-fried Brook Trout, and a selection of fine cheese and fruit.
It’s worth noting that the Kedgwick boasts a very prolific Brook Trout fishery. While they don’t go very big, and, to an Atlantic salmon purist trout are only one rung above a carp and other coarse fish, they can be a pleasant diversion; don’t take 1000 casts to catch, and make outstanding table fare.
The three-day total for our group of eight was nineteen salmon, which included several grilse. We had to leave a bit early on the last day to catch our flight home, so the total may have increased during the remainder of the morning session.
To say that this was a fabulous experience would be akin to damning it with faint praise.
The facilities and food were exceptional. The staff, while professional in all respects, were at the same time extremely personable and catered to your every need.
My fellow “sports” were not only welcoming, friendly and helpful, they were inclusive in every way. Not once did I feel like the odd man out, even though most were member/owners that had been coming to the Club for many years, so it would have been very easy to leave the new guy in the dust as they discussed Club matters and past experiences.
The river itself was amazing, and I could have spent hours just drifting along, watching and listening without ever casting a fly.
Was it perfect? In some ways it was, but as with any experience there are usually a few misses.
Personally I would have liked to spend more time on the water, and tried some different pools, particularly those without formal names. I’m not big on routine when fishing, and while I appreciate the need to be back in camp when meals are served, in between times I prefer to be left to my own devices. That five-hour break in the afternoon was a bit of a killer, particularly with the river gurgling and splashing right under my nose.
I would describe the fishing as hard, but then again, THAT is Atlantic salmon fishing, so it’s important to understand what you can realistically expect, and then align your goals and expectations accordingly.
I have to admit that after cast number 2958 without so much as a rise, I was becoming somewhat frustrated. That said, and once I began to understand what this type of fishing was all about, I broadened my focus and began to appreciate the entire experience all the more. Hell, even though we were getting soaked and did not see a fish in Slough Gundy, I had a great time just watching the river otters at play.
You might recall me saying that no detail had been overlooked when it came to ensuring that our overall experience was a pleasant one. To further illustrate this point, as we were getting ready to leave, the Guest Services Coordinator, after wishing us a bon voyage, handed each of us a neatly folded paper bag and a bottle of cold water.
Reaching into my bag, I found to my surprise that it contained a little bit more of that Kedgwick River magic, which in this instance appeared in the form of fresh lobster salad, and ham and cheese sandwiches, together with several homemade cookies.
To be honest, I guess I really wasn’t all that surprised...