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Woods & Waters USA Magazine - June 2006
The Miracle Called The Miramichi
- Feature article by Frank Sousa

Jimmy Lewis has always believed there is no fighting, jumping fish like the smallmouth bass. He has caught some leaping lizards! And it is a fighting, jumping fish. The problem is it fights in the welterweight division.

Rene Lariviere believes the striped bass is as strong as a fish comes. A striper pulled him and the kayak he was fishing for an eighth of a mile before he landed it. Jimmy was introduced to the ultra heavyweight jumping champion of the world, the Atlantic salmon, on our recent trip to the Miramichi River in New Bmnswick. Rene locked biceps with what surely pound for pound is the strongest of the strong, the same tail walking Atlantic salmon that Jimmy oohed over.

Son Doug and I had our first introduction the year before, as the guides from Byzie Coughlan's Country Haven sought out the salmon, and found same. Our hope was that Jimmy and Rene's guides would find a fish for them. When I say "a fish," I know the joy of catching a single Atlantic is fulfilling.

The guides did more than find them a fish, they got into a bevy of beauties. But surprisingly enough, Jimmy got the most joy out of the one that got away. It stripped the line like a horse thief when the hangman's noose came loose from around the swinging branch and it trailed behind the horse in its trail of dust. When a fish covers a hundred yards in a third of the time that a National Football League scatback could cover it, well that fish is faster than a halfback, more powerful than a fullback. Not only a 100 yards of fly line zinged out, nearly 300 yards of backing did as well as the spool was showing. I wasn't the only one that understood Jimmy's plight. Just down stream from him I had tied into a horse, a real galloper. I tried to slow my salmon's run by putting my palm against the spinning fly reel. At this point I could smell something burning. I recognized the smell. It was an odor I had smelled while tuna fishing and a giant bluefin stripped line, which unbeknown6t to me was sawing through my palm. Then I tried to brake the fish but instead broke it. broke it free.

It was apparently much larger than the 42 inch, pushing 30 pounds Atlantic I had landed the day before. This was our third and final day of fishing and we were close to calling it a day, a short distance from our Country Haven camp in New Brunswick, Canada, when we obviously made our final casts into a school of big biggies that had happened in. Jimmy and I weren't the only ones to drift and cast our presentations into this pool, Rene joined us when he lost a torpedo. So we had company in our "You should have seen the one that got away!"

The grilse, those wannabe~b~young spawners, those two footers, who even grow a hook jaw like the big boys, are ferocious fighters and leapers.

Paul Carlton, who has had a lock on catching the biggest salmon out of the salmon camp for years, and who I am eternally grateful for introducing me to Country Haven, hadn't taken a fish as big as my 42 incher or Gene Lavallee's 44 inch fish, but knew he had the winner in the same area where Jimmy, Rene and I fanned on the brutes of the litter. Paul must have watched the three of us closely and learned a "how to lose" lesson, as his salmon went south. I told Paul it was no fun to win all the time. He said, quite politely, "Oh yes it is."

While it was a real treat to land a very big Atlantic and even a thrill to lose a bigger one, the thrill of thrills was a 39 inch fish that not only came out of the water repeatedly, leaping and landing on his nose, tail and side, but also tail walked! Like it truly believed it was a tail-walking-tarpon or sailfish. That tail was kicking up a wake like a 250 horse outboard motor hitched to a surf board.

I knew that my guide was the "Reel" Elvis as Elvis Coughlan got me into several honey holes, including one where I had nine splish-splashing salmon take my presentation like a chicken thief being pursued by one angry farm dog, that knew it would go to bed without its supper if a single Rhode Island Red was missing from the coop.

My favorite time was when watching Robinhood Paul Carlton and his Big John companion, Tom Fabisak tying flies for Byzie's kids. And as much as these two talented salmon fishermen enjoy landing a leaping salmon, it would be difficult to top the content on their faces as they helped the kids. Try it, you'll like it, helping kids in the outdoors.

Last year we had one fisherman who failed to land an Atlantic. I figured he had forgotten to tie the fly on the end of the line. Not so this year, as Don DiMambro, Mike Legere, Steve Lalime and Ernie Bastandig all caught fish. Ernie also caught one back at the camp, me, as he continued his merciless dissection of me on the cribbage board. I didn't win a game the year before either. Ah, but my momma didn't make no id-gits. I set up a game of doubles. And guess who I chose as a partner. That's right, Ernie. And we won. But as the fates would have it, I had all the good cards. I like that. A lot. It is lucky that we all tied into beaucoup fighting fish as we had to face the fantastic cooking trio of Jeanie Coughlan, Melinda Crallan and Terri-Lee Donahue and if you didn't use up the calories it meant instead of walking like a man, you rolled like a ball.

When the fishing was slow, nature put on a show for us. My favorite display was a great one for us little guys.

Elvis and I watched as a fox, fluffy as puffed up torn turkey in strut, hunted mice and other small mammals along the river's shore. Red would stand on his back legs and then throw himself forward and then down, front legs hitting with a thud, sending the tiny ones hidden beneath the leaves to scurry away. The keen hearing of the fox allowed it to quickly catch and feast. But then the hunter became the hunted as several crows flying overhead spotted the feeding fox and dive bombed it continuously, sending it flying up and down the river bank trying to escape the fierce pecks of the crows, finally driving into thick cover and ignominiously causing it to hide, tail tucked between its legs.

Viewing of this should serve as reason for you to put a pair of binoculars in your back pack. Next it was a blur, like a shooting comet, diving earthward, smacking a crow into eternity. The American national bird only briefly enjoyed Mel Brooks "It's Good to be King" room at the top of the pecking order.

As the true leaders on earth, the little guys, sparrows and other itty-bitties, attacked the eagle sending it in a cowardly climb upward, chased by its tormentors, including one David (as in David and Goliath) tiny bird that landed on its back and gave the giant some one-on-one sling-shotting. The eagle climbed and climbed to an atmosphere that the pursuing Lilliputians could not operate well in, and hid its tail, like the fox did far below.

You talk about perfect timing, I nearly had my resting fly rod ripped out of hands by the striking Atlantic salmon that leaped so high into the air it appeared to sprout wings, pretending to be a bird. But it was a fish all right as it headed out like a runaway freight train. A half hour later, after my nearly running out of fly line and backing on three different runs, the salmon had numerous deep dives close to the boat as Elvis attempted to net it. No easy accomplishment when the man on the handle of the rod is better suited to breaking up a riot with a baton than skillfully bringing a big boy to net.

It is an amazing feeling, the euphoria of landing such a fighting fish, and humbling when you compare your own pot-bellied 200 pounds it took to land such a streamlined beauty of nature.

My next goal is to visit the mighty Miramichi as later in the season it lowers and you can fish the famous pools while bedecked in waders. The hit, the fight, the landing or the loss were enjoyed by all of us. It was difficult to separate the actual battles from the excitement of relating our experiences to each other back at Country Haven.

Later, sitting in the sun back home I re-dreamed our dreams of fishing the mighty Miramichi. For as the late and great Red Sox and Marine Corps hero Ted Williams said, "It sets its heart and doesn't give up."

For information on how to book a trip with County Haven you can call toll free 877-Fly-Hook, FAX 506-843-9010 or write Country Haven Lodge, 601 Route 118, Gray Rapids, NB, Canada E9B-1G9

- Frank Sousa

Woods & Waters USA Magazine - June 2005

The Miramichi River
-- A young Boy's Dream Comes True for Old Boy

LOOKS like here's Tom Fabisak's dream!

"If you are going to dream, dream big, and in technicolor," were my late mother's words. "Then get off your dead duff and make it true," she said. When you are a kid, you have dreams. And I was no different. My dreams often took place while I was fishing. Dreams of good things getting bigger and better. Often I was lost in a kid's reverie while bass fishing, sitting in an old truck tube, among the weeds of Buckman's Pond, in Stoneham, just north of Boston. The same dream was also enjoyed as I whipped a kids homemade fly, tied while utilizing hair from my old mongrel Rags' tail, mixed along with a feather plucked from my Aunt Laurel's parakeet, all tied together with a piece of heavy thread secreted out of the waist band of my sister Ruth's bloomers (I felt a little guilty as she almost continuously was hitching them up) while wading the Concord River, where "the shot fired around the world" was heard. So perhaps my dream would be heard.

The second stream of the Concord I fished was one of solitude where you could get away with fishing while naked, as the only one that owned boots in those days were fire fighters. Of course you kept an eye open for snapping turtles. Naked is nice, nipped isn't. My fly rod was an old piece of bamboo, with bent nails for eyes, and the top of an old Evaporated Milk can nailed on for a reel. It worked.

The dream then was about Canada's New Brunswick Miramichi River. The old fly fishermen talked about it when sitting around the stove at Tiffault's Filling Station, and cousins George And Sonny Hatch and I sat enthralled in the shadows, absolutely still so as not to break the spell. The bluegills and crappie I landed on the Concord were in my mind then, the Miramichi's wild Atlantic salmon of the future. Young kids were allowed to dream, that's a given. And there is no reason that old kids, even into their 9O's, shouldn't dream. And there is no reason that a kid's dreams shouldn't come true, even if they had to wait four or five decades to fulfill them.

And thus son Doug and I found ourselves taking the 10 hour drive to the Miramichi along with Paul Carlton, Tom Fabisak, Don DiMambro, Mike Legere and Steve Lalime, all from New Hampshire, and Ernie Bastandig of Kittery, ME, all past visitors to "Thee River."

Byzie Coughlan's Country Haven was an "11" on a scale of "one to 10", from guides so laid back they could lull an angry grizzly, to home cooked food that would make a salamander salivate.

The river is high in the spring and fly fishing on the Miramichi is either fly casting, drifting your line, or slowly moving in a zig-zag pattern, utilizing the currents and eddies read by the guides. Later it would lower to the point where fly fishermen could wade across it.

Paul told us of catches of 70 or more Atlantics in a day, occasionally one reaching 50 inches long (the Atlantic Salmon record is a 72 inch fish). All I wanted was a single fish, one that would change that bluegill of the kid on the Concord River of years ago into that Atlantic salmon from the stream of dreams.

I was full of anticipation when I was introduced to my guide Elvis, Elvis Coughlan.

His eyes showed what each of our guides' eyes did, "We want to get you into fish". Paul and Tom advised us to play out our sinking line swiftly as possible to get it close to the bottom. Paul, who later would appear to be tying flies while eating, during bull sessions, and perhaps even while sleeping, handed Doug and I his colorful creations that were a far cry from Rags tail, Aunt Laurel's parakeet feather and sister Ruthie's bloomers' string to tie them together.

While I would have been satisfied with a single salmon during our three day trip, I wasn't disappointed that first day when I landed six fish, two of them more than three feet long. I was as happy as a pig picked out of the bacon-to-be line and told he was to be the breeding hog! The Roman soldiers of B.C. called the Atlantics of Europe, the "Leapers." A Swedish scientist in the 1700's tied the title Salmo Salar, the leaper, on them decades later.

Ted Williams, the last professional baseball player to hit~rnore than .400, and the only man to be inducted into both the Baseball and the Salmon Halls of Fame, said this about the Atlantic salmon, "It's a romantic type of fish. It sets its heart on a goal and doesn't give up." These were the words in the Atlantic Salmon Museum in New Brunswick, from a man who served as a Marine pilot in World War II and the Korean War. I often wondered whether I was involved in calling in an air strike he had been flying. When called back from the Reserves to fight in Korea, he was questioned how he felt about being called back to serve his country at the peak of his career. His answer to the press, that mostly expected sour grapes, was roughly to the effect, "Why not me?" Marine buddies who were there when he had to crash land his Panther jet on an emergency runway after being hit by enemy fire told me that after making a one-wheel landing, he exited the burning jet at a speed he never rounded the bases at. Ted's camp on the river was his dream and was located just below Country Haven. Never read this before but I learned that it was visited by another hero of mine, Marilyn Monroe, whom I considered the greatest comedienne of her time. Also, she was easy on the eyes.

Back at our camp that first night, we enjoyed step two, or what fishing is all about - reporting, actually reliving, the day's action.

Paul had taken the biggest fish among a plethora of pisces caught and released. Doug, who had only landed tiny but wild and beautiful brook trout that first day, was loaded with stories. He told about an osprey circling over a dead fish that drifted downstream, and when finally working up its courage to make a dive near one of the drifting boats, was beaten to the gun by a bald eagle, that had no qualms about a power dive close to man. While Doug didn't land a salmon that first day he had action in the water and in the air. Later he saw crows in mid-air either fighting or mating, sometimes the line between the two might be pretty thin. One crow in particular appeared to be taking a real beating. Doug watched as it dropped from on high on to low, where it belted a blue jay minding it's own business on a limb. The jay had a 'what-the' look. As did a long legged great blue heron on the river's edge that was waiting for a frog or other tasty morsel to do the breaststroke near it so it could pounce and dine. The problem is that what appeared to be the king of croakers in size, leaving a wake towards big bird, turned out to be an otter. Ernie, the king of the cribbage board, defeated all comers following dinner. I finally got a win by taking him as my partner in a game of doubles, sly one that I am. I think I could have beaten him one-on-one if I hadn't suffered a double drool, one over the flies Paul tied as we played cards; and two, over the king of the mountain desserts put out by cookies Terri and Jeannie.

While we did not catch the 15 to 30 fish a day the camp often averages, we had enough action so that if you went away unhappy it was your fault. Although the unimaginable happened. Steve an excellent Miramichi fisherman went fishless. We accused him of doing this so he would stand out from the crowd. The heavy rain of our first day meant a high unfishable river the second day, but lodge owner Byzie Coughlan said that lowering water the next day most often meant outstanding fishing.

Doug hit pay dirt the third day landing and releasing three good sized fish as did several of our companions. My guide Elvis was lower than a sorrowful hound dog as he wanted me to tie into a 50 or at least 40 inch fish as our final day wound down to the wire. Meanwhile, Paul and Tom, fly fishing just below us in Finley's Hole had fly-attacking Atlantics hit within a short spell of each others, with Paul's going close to 40 inches and Tom's more than 42. These fighters aren't horsed in, although they can be bucking broncs. They can go from zero to 20 miles per hour when they strike, and use this same power when jumping waterfalls up to 12 feet. Paul and Tom played their fish as finely as a concert violinist, all within my view. I was watching, in a silly sort of sulking, when wham, Sam, SLAM! My fly rod buckled heel and toe and away we go. A dream answered as my childhood bluegill changed into a leaping, flying Atlantic.

It came out of the water, completely airborne beside the boat; appeared to hang still in the air just long enough for me to enjoy the wonderful copper colored speckles on its shimmering, silver body. Then slid back to the surface where the sheer power of its tail thrusts allowed it to walk along the surface in a tail race; before bending into a rainbow arch and sounding so softly in its disappearing act to leave you wondering whether it all had been a wonderful dream.

But then there it was In the net being handled as softly and efficiently as a butterfly catcher's. The fish went more than three feet and had a girth that let you know it had the longest, most aggressive arms at the dinner table. Releasing such a fighter croons on your heart strings like a harp played in heaven. My fish was called a kelt or black salmon. Kelts spawn in the late autumn and may be seen in the spring heading back to sea. Adult Atlantic salmon returning from the sea after one or two years are a bright silver with a touch of lilac. The salmon's colors change with their breeding characteristics. The male turns a bright reddish color, its jaw a kype hook. Females turn a lighter, more delicate color. They breed two or three times in one to two year cycles. One New Brunswick salmon spawned a record eight times. In fresh water, among other things, they feed on Mayfly, Cadisfly and Damselfly in the adult and nymph stages. At sea they feed on sand lances, capelin, herring, krill and smaller fish. They in turn are prey for most bigger fish. In fresh water, otters, heron, large rainbow trout, seals, lampreys and loon are among their predators. The young go from eggs, to eyed eggs, avelin, fry, parr, smolt, and then, viola! The Wild Atlantic salmon. I was thinking nothing could be better than this, unless it was planning a return trip to the Miramichi River.

- Frank Sousa

Fosterís Sunday Citizen, May 2004


Want long-leg salmon? Sure you do. Lakes region anglers obsessed with peaking landlocked trends this month know Motherís Day is typically the traditional date for our best spring salmon angling. Some folks though canít wait.

We caught up with Paul Carlton of Portsmouth to get the lowdown on his recent late-April trip to New BrunswickĎs famed Miramichi River.

To knowing anglers, that translates into Atlantic salmon,- and big ones at that.

"We had a great trip", Carlton, a booking consultant said. "Six of us landed 106 salmon in three days, and I was fortunate to account for 36 of those"

Thirty-nine inches was his largest salmon this trip (they donít weigh them, since fish are released directly to avoid undue stress). As Carlton said, "These spring salmon are in incredible shape this year, real silver in color. The week before I got there, one guy hooked 40 and landed 36. The biggest range of fish on the large side went 42 inches, two were 40".

Yep, they also catch grilse-salmon; usually make that return to natal rivers after a single winter at sea.

In Canada, these fish do not exceed 63 centimeters (24.8 inches), as measured from the snout tip to the tail fork. This trip they averaged five adult fish to one grilse. Two tags permit the taking of one per day if you wish. All adult fish are returned to the water.

Carltonís biggest Atlantic ever is 48 inches long. They go bigger. Two years ago he hooked and played a fish over one hour before losing it. The monster took him and his guide two miles down the Miramichi. "The fish had taken out 50 yards of fly line, plus salmon trolling line, roughly 150 of the 200 yards of backing", Carlton said. "Several times I worked it in close. Boats even had to avoid us-we were drifting, drifting with the big salmon. The most we saw of this fish was porpoising" (the so-called" black salmon" typically jump). "My guide backed us up onto the beach so we could land it, or at least try to. In 38 years the guide had never seen a salmon that big."

Fish on; fish gone. Carltonís estimate? "It likely measured over 50 inches," he said, and his guide agreed.

Now for the technical stuff. What fly tackle did they use and how did they fish it? Carlton carried along a 7-weight fly rod, which he suggested, is on the light side. He also packed a 9-weight glass rod set up with an eight line.

"We fish according to the water level of the Miramichi,", the Portsmouth native said. "We can cast into eddies at times, if conditions present that opportunity. Other times we anchor in the current, and feed the fly down into the moving water. The fact is I got some guys that are diehard Lakes region landlocked salmon anglers who are regular fishermen because of the familiarity."

They use big bright colored streamers tied onto 3/0 single flyhooks. "The best local fly would be a Renous River Special, tied with bright green over yellow color," said the former Winni Derby winner.(Carlton, it should be noted has some of his own unique patterns which he also takes along).

As river conditions are concerned, Carlton indicates the water was way down in the Miramichi during his recent trip. The fish were still in a lot of the feeder streams. "They need a water rise on the river to move salmon", Carlton said."That usually happens in late April. Water goes up and down and moves fish out of the tributaries. We fish with the fluctuating conditions."

So forget about big salmon, what about down time? I asked him what the accommodations were like, suggesting maybe they slept in bunk beds in a cold fishing shack stationed not far from a spring salmon pool.

He laughed, "Oh man the accommodations are great,", he said. "Theyíve got a Jacuzzi, that works. Itís a Canada four star log lodge set right on the river, fully recognized by the Dept. of Tourism. Theyíve got satellite TV, and we actually followed the Boston sports scene while there. All in all, the place sleeps eight. Really its georgeous, with a pool table and super meals which range from roast turkey to homemade pies and pastries" (Carlton, an enthusiastic wild game cook, also brought caribou steaks).

Established just upstream from Ted Williamís famed salmon fishing pool and roughly two miles from Blackville bridge, the Lodge is just an eight hour drive from the Seacoast and slightly less from the Lakes Region. Their daily schedule looks like this: breakfast at 7; fishing from 8-noon, a break for lunch; angling from 1-5;dinner time and whatever lodge comforts you want after that.

And its not just a salmon camp. Brook trout are also available. Sizewise, the native squaretails range from 10-16 inches; from mid-May and youíre apt to catch sea run brookies up to six pounds.

These brook trout are wonderful incidentals to the salmon fishing, Carlton said.

Steve Hickoff writes about the outdoors for Fosterís Sunday Citizen, New England Afield

Contact Paul Carlton, Affordable Adventures
or Miramichi Country Haven directly
at 1-877-flyhook (359-4665)

- Steve Hickoff

Country Haven Lodge
601 Route #118
Gray Rapids, NB, Canada
E9B 1G9
Toll Free: (877)-Fly-Hook (359-4665) * Fax: (506)-843-9010

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