By Lenny Ackerman
Restigouche River Lodge Day One
The trip north from camp to the Canadian border at Houlton was a pleasant hour drive in my new Bronco. Through the car’s Bluetooth, I picked up WQXR radio out of New York which was reporting 90-degree weather in New York—quite a contrast to the brisk 40 degrees outside my window. The Bronco was a bit noisy on the highway, but the fresh new car smell and the knowledge that my fishing bag and rods were tucked in the trunk gave me a sense of freedom and real excitement for my first post-Covid adventure fishing trip in the North Country. The Restigouche River Lodge had been closed since 2020 due to Covid. The guides, all from the Quebec side of the river, had been quarantined and virtually blocked from crossing the bridge between Quebec and New Brunswick. When I reached the border, the female officer seemed a bit bored and robotic in her inquiries of me – where and why the trip? Never a look at my face, only a look-see at the computer and a continuing conversation with one of the other officers at the window. It was a routine, though heavily armed and tattooed welcome to Canada.
The GPS reported some 170 miles to my destination. The rain started out lightly as I-95 merged onto the Canadian highway system. For the next 80 miles there were some trucks and a few cars but I mostly had the road to myself. Surprised by the signs that read 90 speed limit I pushed the Bronco to 80 mph. Of course, at that hour I was not sufficiently caffeinated to realize the Canadian signs are not in miles per hour but kilometers. Luckily, I was not pulled over, since my French is non-existent beyond parlay vu fransay. It was too early for office calls. I did all I could to stay focused on the route and my GPS.
The countryside was magnificent. Open space for miles and gracious, unobstructed vistas of mountains and fields. It reminded me very much of Wales, which I have visited several times on fishing trips. As I drove further north off the highway onto local roads I passed through small towns only recognizable by the fact that there were gas stations and scattered motels. The northern Canadian landscape is primarily a forestry-driven economy. I passed trucks laden with lumber traveling both north and south. Lumber mills occupied the center of the various small towns I passed through. The music of WQXR kept me alert behind the wheel -a lively Bach concert was the ideal morning program. The only thing missing was a third cup of coffee and the New York Times. Oh my addiction to that paper—an addiction I can’t seem to satisfy with the online version. I have to hold the newsprint in my hands. I wouldn’t be doing that for the next few days.
At the turn off from Route 17 onto Flathead Road which runs parallel to the river, I rolled down the window to take in the fresh smell of burning wood from the fireplaces in nearby houses and the sound of rushing water which was music to my ears. I would be home in the woods for the next few days. Restigouche River Lodge is a beautifully built camp along a broad expanse of the Restigouche River. Chris, the manager, greeted me warmly and gave me a welcome gift of assorted hand-tied flies which, earlier in the week had caught several kelt salmon. Perhaps a good luck charm. Kelt are defined as salmon that have spent the winter up the river under the ice and are now on their way back to the ocean to feed. The salmon swimming back upstream are called ocean bright salmon— they are fully fed, big, and now ready to spawn. I think I got that right… Anyway, the flies were a beautiful and touching arrival gift.
It was late afternoon and after the long drive I was excited to fish. I was paired up with Jere, who would be my canoe mate, and who was anxious to get on the water as soon as I could wader up. I emptied my fly-fishing bag onto the bed in my cabin and layered up with fleece, a beanie cap, rain jacket and wading boots. I had not donned my cold-water fishing clothes in two years They felt a bit stiff and uncomfortable but they would be worn-in again soon enough.
Our guide was from a small town across the river in Quebec and spoke perfect English mixed in with a few French words here and there – Franglais. Jere had been out fishing with him for several days now and caught three kelt so far. No pressure mind you. The grand canoe was similar in design to my camp canoe. Jere cast seated. I needed to stand to get the distance and we alternated casting. He would cast out a comfortable length of line and then I would go, though it was not really casting on my part. I had a 12.6-foot two-handed Spey rod which I had last used in Iceland in 2017. At least that was my excuse for hooking the guide on my initial attempt. Jere wisely kept his head down when I stood up to cast. I spent most of the first afternoon relearning how to cast, and thanks to my companions I had some damn good instructors. By the end of the trip I was in fact getting the line out. More on that next week, folks. Just for the record I did not hook a fish my first day out. And wait til you hear what happens that night, when the rest of the Sports at camp reported on their day on the water. Boy was I humbled.