The ‘lore’ of Miramichi draws hundreds
By PATRICK WILSON
MIRAMICHI — Hundreds of people looking for the thrill of hooking a big salmon are flocking to the Miramichi River as the spring fishing season gets underway.
The section of the Southwest Miramichi River between Boiestown and Doaktown was packed with boats hovering atop the water this week.
The world-renowned river is made famous not only by its great salmon fishing, but also by the communities along its shores, which act as safe havens for a fishing culture rich with tradition.
Jerry Doak has owned W.W. Doak and Sons Fly Fishing Tackle in Doaktown since 1977 when he took over the business from his father. The tackle shop was started by Doak’s father in 1946 and is a hotspot for those fishing the Miramichi.
Doak said fishing salmon in the spring, which goes until May 15, is different from fishing at other times of the year in a couple of ways.
“Well it’s a different technique in that you’re fishing under the surface. So sinking lines are the order of the day or at the very least a sinking tip line or sinking tip leader,” said Doak.
“You’re trying to get the fly down whereas in the summertime, the fly is just hanging on the surface or just slightly below, but in the spring of the year, traditionally, the water is quite high and you need to get the fly down to where the fish are actually going to strike at it.”
“The other thing that’s different in the spring of the year that would affect the approach and the technique a little bit is that the fish are actually feeding this time of year, whereas the summer run fish aren’t actively feeding,” he said.
In the summer, you’re not trying to entice their appetite, you’re trying to aggravate them, he said.
“In the spring you’re actually trying to get a fly down to where they’re going to strike at it as though it were food.”
Doak said he’s not exactly sure what to expect from this spring’s fishing season.
“It’s kind of up in the air this year. We don’t really know what the season’s going to hold, but that kind of lends a certain air of mystery to it.’’
Outfitter Dan Bullock was raised on the Miramichi and has managed Bullock’s Lodge, formerly Tuckaway Lodge, in Boiestown since 2004.
He said his family has fishing rights to 4,300 feet of the river, which has been continuously outfitted since 1985. The family used to lease the water to Tuckaway Lodge, but in 2011 it was rebranded to Bullock’s Lodge.
Bullock said the lodge has three full-time guides including himself and his mother, Renate Bullock, who has been guiding since the mid-80s.
He reiterated Doak’s differences in spring salmon fishing, but also added the potential dangers of the river.
“Mostly, the spring fishing is done out of a boat, because typically the water conditions are such that you can’t really wade and it’s quite frankly safer to be in a boat,” he said.
“The water temperature is very cold and the ice is flowing.”
Bullock said he expects a good season of fishing.
“Old-timers have always said that as long as there’s good ice pack and snow around and it gradually melts off, it will keep the river temperature down and that’s what holds the fish in the river,” he said.
“As opposed to years where it’s been a very early spring and the temperature starts to go up, then the fish will oftentimes be gone by the third week of April. But this year it’s more of a traditional slow thaw.”
Keith Wilson operates Wilson’s Sporting Camps in McNamee, which has been in the family since 1855.
Wilson said the biggest difference between spring fishing and summer fishing is the amount of salmon people catch.
“The biggest difference is that the average catch in the summer time is one fish a day. The average catch in the spring is like five to 10 fish a day,” he said.
“Some guys probably caught seven or eight or more fish today (Monday).”
It’s more than the fishing though that brings people to this part of the Miramichi and it’s something that even Wilson, an experienced fishing outfitter, had a hard time describing.
“It’s the lore,” said Wilson. “You go to the trade shows and you look at all the antique gear from all these guys and the collectors and stuff.”
He said that two of the fishermen currently staying at his camps are fishing the Miramichi for the first time, but they’ve known about the river all of their lives.
“I mean, it’s special. But there’s just as good of fishing and better in all kinds of other places in the world. You can go to Alaska and catch hundreds of fish, but it’s not the Miramichi.”
“People are kind of holding on to that grassroots stuff,” said Wilson. “It’s just the mystique of it.”
Fishermen Jim Yaz and Norris Wolff were on the river early Monday morning at Wilson’s Sporting Camps.
Yaz, who sat in a boat in the middle of the Miramichi with legendary guide Ernest Long, hooked a salmon using a Golden Eagle fly at around 10:15 a.m.
The smile on Yaz’s face could be seen from the shore. It was an exhausting 30 minutes before Long finally dipped the net into the ice-cold river and pulled out the fish.
Wolff, a New York native who said he’s been fishing the Miramichi for 40 years, was sitting in a boat no more than 50 feet downriver from Yaz when the tip of his rod bowed from the weight of a hungry fish.
After 15 or 20 adrenaline-filled minutes, Norris’ guide, Joe Stewart, who said he’s been guiding fishermen for more than 40 years, netted the large salmon into the boat.
“There’s nothing better than this,” yelled Wolff.
“We’ve been catching fish all morning, the water’s clear, the salmon are healthy.”
“There’s nothing better than this,” he echoed.
Under the bridge in Doaktown was, as always, another popular spot for the first day of fishing season.
Several vehicles lined the dirt road that leads from Route 8 down to the river.
Between 20 and 30 boats, mostly holding two or three people each, bobbed in the water. Rods protruded over their edges hoping to entice the hungry salmon.
Daryl Slocum, a retired railroad worker from Coles Island, came ashore for some lunch under the bridge after a morning of fishing with two other fishermen. Their boat was loaded with rods and other fishing gear.
Slocum said he’s been fishing the Miramichi for 10 or 12 years.
A mixture of beauty and good fishing keeps him coming back.
“It’s a nice river. It’s just beautiful. You can go anywhere on this river at all and it’s just nice,” he said.
“If hook a salmon out here, bright, black or whatever, you’re going to have some fun.”
Slocum said so many people show up on the first day of fishing because it represents a transition from a harsh New Brunswick winter to the warmer weather of spring and summer.
“Everybody wants to get out of the house after the winter. That’s basically why you see a lot of people here,” Slocum said.
“They couldn’t wait for fishing season and now it’s the first day and like I said, everybody’s out.”
As for advice for landing a big salmon this spring, Slocum’s was short and sweet: “After you hook it, hang on,” he said with a chuckle.
Fisherman Stephen Davenport backed his white Dodge truck onto the shore just a few feet from the historical footbridge that connects Priceville and McNamee to unload his aluminum boat.
Davenport said he grew up on the Miramichi River and his father-in-law, who lived in Carrolls Crossing, sparked his love of fishing many years ago.
“I don’t want to cry, but that’s why I do this because he loved it,” said Davenport.
He said he remembers fishing as soon as he could hold a pole.
“And it wouldn’t even be a pole. It would be an alder with green line and a hook,” he said, laughing.
Davenport, whose job of working on airplane ejection seats has taken him to more than seven different countries, said he’s never experienced another place like this area.
“I was out west for 22 years and the people are not as friendly as the people here. They’re nice and you meet some nice people, but they’re nothing like the people here,” said Davenport.
“They’ll invite you into their house, they’ll feed you, they’ll talk to you and ask you stuff about where you’ve been around the world. You’re never going to see a place like this.”
Davenport echoed the sentiment when asked about the fishing.
“When you hook one of these things, you take all of your worries in the world and you put it on the river and then you catch that fish. There’s nothing like it.”