By David J. Boyle
July is traditionally the best month to go salmon fishing on the mighty Miramichi River. The big run has come in from the Atlantic and there are plenty of fish in the pools along the main river. After lunch I went down to the river and found a nice spot where I could get a good view of a local pool. Three people stood about 15 feet apart fishing in a line.
The first man wore a wide-brimmed hat covered with colourful dry flies, chest waders and a brown vest. He pulled his line from the water and then cast it back out. His line went through the air and the fly on the end of his leader fell gently on the water covering a distance between 40 and 50 feet. As soon as his fly landed, the second person pulled his line in and with an awkward quick swing attempted to cast it out. The line didn’t get very far. He pulled it in and cast again. This time was not any better than the first. He was a young fellow, I think probably around 15-years-old. A bright red ball cap sat on his head with the peak to one side. He wore a white short sleeved shirt with a cartoon race car on the front. The straps of his hip waders went under his belt and seemed to be pulling his pants down. Part of his previously tucked-in shirt now hung from his side.
I thought the third person could be a woman or a man. I reached for the miniature binoculars hanging from my neck on a black cord and used both hands to position them over my eyes. Once I got them focused I could see the three-inch dangling earrings. Her blond hair was tucked in a bun on the back of the head. Resting against the bun was a dark green brimmed hat tied under her chin by a cord. The ends dangled against a pale green fishing vest. Sunglasses and chest waders made her look like a man. As soon as the young fellow’s line hit the water she pulled her line in and with a slow smooth motion cast out again. The fly fluttered onto the water.
These three people worked their way slowly through the pool. Whenever the first person moved two or three steps to the left, then the others would follow. I thought they could be father, mother and son. A couple of times the woman said something to the young fellow when he didn’t move. He just looked in her direction for a moment, said nothing, and then moved ahead.
The folding blue canvass chair felt comfortable as I sat about 100 yards from the river and the fishermen. I ran my eyes up and down the pool for probably an hour thinking I might see a fish jump or someone hook one, but the only movement was a mother duck with her eight little ones swimming along the other side of the river. Later in the afternoon, white clouds hung over the river; the sun breaking through once in a while—a perfect day for fishing. I kept my eyes glued to the water’s surface. The polarized glasses cut down the sun’s glare when it peeked through the clouds. I heard a dog bark and to my right could see two men dressed in full fishing gear, rods in hand, coming along the riverbank in my direction. A mature black Lab ran a few feet in front of them. The dog stopped about six feet from me and began to bark. The taller man with a red shaggy beard and smoking a cigar said, “Josh, be quiet.” The Lab lay down and resting his head over one paw stared at me for a moment then closed his eyes. The other fellow said hello and then, “It should be a good evening for fishing. The weather is right and I can see the tide is just about out. A man up on the hill where we parked said the water temperature today is 68 degrees. You know it won’t be long and the water will be too warm. Have you seen any fish jump?”
The taller man stood looking toward the river and said nothing. I wished them good luck as they headed down the bank and out onto the bar getting in line at the top of the pool to wait their turn. At the water’s edge the tall man hollered to Josh, “Come on down here.” The dog gave me a quick sniff and then bounded over the bank. The two men stood side by side talking as they tied dry flies to their leaders then waded one after another into the water up to their knees. Standing about 10 feet apart, they began casting their lines. Josh sat down on the sandbar directly behind them.
I continued to watch the water for about another half hour and just as I began to think it might be time to head back to the trailer, a salmon about four feet long jumped out of the water and fell back in on its side making a large splash. This salmon fell back into the water just like a dolphin in a fish tank at Sea World. The woman and the young fellow took a couple of steps backwards and stood looking toward the ripples in the water. Josh began barking while running back and forth along the shore. The woman turned to the tall man with the red shaggy beard, “Did you see that?” She slowly waded back out in the water. He shook his head, “I don’t want to catch him.”
I decided it was time to leave. While I folded my chair I saw and heard more people coming down the path for a few hours of evening fishing. As I walked along the riverbank toward the path and the trailer, I thought I would get up early the following morning to be the first one in the pool.
At 4am the alarm went off. The night before, I had set the coffee machine to start brewing at 3:45 so I poured a cup before getting dressed. I glanced at my watch as I chewed my toast with fresh strawberry jam and downed a second cup of coffee. My list of things to do was on the table: fill coffee thermos, get ham sandwiches from fridge, and take a banana. I had put my raincoat in a backpack and left it hanging from a chair by the table. Mindy, my four-year-old black terrier poodle with white paws, wanted out. While she was outside I packed the thermos, sandwiches and banana in the backpack. A scratch at the door told me she was ready to come in. My fishing rod was in the front porch, just outside the door. I reached for the rod and replaced an Undertaker fly with a Shady Lady. Tying a fly to the end of the leader was much easier with some light than it would be down by the river in the dark. Mindy sat on the floor near my feet and watched me. I think she anticipated going. “Not this morning,” I told her. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Go and lay on your blanket.” She headed toward her blanket on the floor by the stove, stopped, and looking over her left shoulder gave me a disappointing look.
I put on my chest waders, fishing vest and grabbed the faded beige and maroon ball cap hanging on a hook by the door, then slung the backpack over my shoulder. With rod in one hand and a flashlight in the other I went out the door. I shone the light on the ground ahead as I went between two older trailers, careful not to trip over a water hose or an electrical cord. I crossed the field and went down over the embankment to the winding path that led to the river. The day before someone had seen a black bear in the bushes along the pathway. I shone the light down the path from one side to the other, just in case the bear might still be around.
|From the Fly Tyers of NB Collection|
|A Green Machine originated and tied by Emerson Underhill|
The morning was quiet, except for the occasional splash coming from the direction of the river. The splashes got louder as I got closer. It sounded like someone was throwing a rock the size of a basketball into a pond of water. I made it down to the riverbank without seeing or hearing the bear. I think he must have left the area. Standing on the shore I surveyed the sandbar and beyond with the flashlight. The pool lay just past the sandbar. I set the backpack on the ground beside a large grey rock about three feet high. Someone painted a Canadian flag on this rock the year before as part of Canada Day celebrations. Last spring’s ice jam had removed some of the paint, but you could still see the outline of the flag.
I shone the light ahead trying not to trip over any small jagged rocks as I crossed the riverbed to the pool. I was alone, the first person to get in the water that morning. The only light came from a dusk to dawn lamp near the top of a pole by a travel trailer on the opposite side of the river. With the reel end of my rod on the ground I began to pull the leader and floating green line through the guide rings being careful not to get it tangled. Once in awhile, I heard the sound of a fish splashing into the water further downriver but otherwise the morning was silent.
I waded into the water about a foot above my ankles, then stopped, put the flashlight in a side pocket and began to cast a little to the right. In the dark, it was hard to know where the fly fell. I brought the line in and cast again, stood and waited. The morning stillness was again broken by a splash, nearer this time. I pulled my line in, cast again and waited. It was time to move and I took two steps to the left. Something brushed against my left leg just below the knee and then there was a large splash at my feet. With heart pounding and breathing fast I stepped backwards, stumbled and fell, still holding onto the rod. I got up and just stood there in the darkness scanning the water. The splash scared me the most. It was like standing alone in a dark room and being tapped on the shoulder. I took the flashlight and shone it over the water, seeing nothing. What hit me? Was it a beaver with his tail? Or maybe a large salmon had moved in from the deeper water and was just laying there until I moved and hit him with my foot. Whatever it was, it gave me a momentary fright. I kept the light on the water for another five minutes or so. Nothing moved. I put the flashlight away and moved slowly back out into the water.
When daylight began to arrive, the shapes of trees and an outline of the trailer up on the hill became visible. Looking over my shoulder, I could see the outline of two more fishermen. They moved into the water and stood a couple of hundred yards behind me.
The sun came up over the hill behind the trailer and I could see the fish when they jumped. The spot where I stood was called the hot spot. I decided to stay there until the two men behind caught up and I was forced to move ahead. Every now and then I glanced in their direction. The first man was about 20 feet from me when a salmon about four feet long jumped out of the water. “I hope he doesn’t come for my fly. You couldn’t keep it anyway, too large.” I looked in his direction and responded, “Yes, you are right.”
Fish continued to jump as I moved through the rest of the pool and from the farthest end I looked back to see five or six more people standing, holding rods, chatting and waiting for their turn to get into the water. I decided to make another run and reeled my line in as I backed out of the water and headed across the sandbar to the top of the pool. Seven people stood waiting their turn in front of me and I thought it would probably take an hour to get back out into the water. Some of the people chatted, while others just looked over the water watching other people fish. Once in a while someone said, “There is a grilse.” And someone responded, “Yes I saw it.” Another voice said,” I heard there was 10 fish caught yesterday and they were all caught with a Shady Lady or a Green Butt Bear Hair.” Immediately some people took their small silver fly boxes from their pockets and started looking for the particular fly. Three or four people changed flies. One man said, “I use a Green Machine and never change, spring or fall. Every year I always have good luck with this fly.”
I made another run through the pool with no luck and decided to get the sandwiches and coffee from my backpack. As I walked along the riverbank an eagle circled overhead and seagulls squawked in response to a fish having been caught and cleaned on the shore. It was a beautiful morning with only a few clouds in the sky. I leaned against the big grey rock, ate both sandwiches and had two cups of coffee. A few more fishermen came and stood in line for their turn. The tide began to come in and when people got to the end of the pool, some stepped out of the water and headed back up along the riverbank. The line got smaller and by mid-morning there were only three people fishing.
That morning only four fish were caught. Three were caught with a Shady Lady and the other by the man with his Green Machine. With rod in one hand and backpack over my left shoulder I headed along the riverbank to the pathway leading to the trailer. I turned to take another look at the beauty of the river and then went up the hill. Afternoon is naptime for fishermen along the river and as I lay down, I thought back to the morning and wondered what had hit my leg while I stood alone in the dark. It had to have been a big salmon.
David J. Boyle lives in Upper Derby. A member of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick and the Miramichi Writers’ Guild, he writes poems and stories, many for children.