Craig's Take: Salmon staging comeback in Miramichi
A fisherman casts his line in the Miramichi River, in front of the Atlantic Salmon Museum in Doaktown, N.B. (Kevin Bissett / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Tuesday, July 12, 2011 7:06AM EDT
MIRAMICHI, New Brunswick - You can get a fierce argument about politics almost any time down here on the Miramichi. But these days all the talk isn't about the return of Stephen Harper's Conservatives with a majority, it's about the comeback of the salmon.
The Miramichi, as everyone knows, is legendary as the best place to fish for Atlantic salmon in the world.
The winningest home run slugger in baseball history at the time, baseball's Ted Williams, had a place on the river for years. in recent years, however, the salmon run, just as it has on the West Coast, has been dwindling from a number of causes, including over-fishing.
To say the least, the Atlantic salmon industry is a critical economic resource for New Brunswick especially around a town such as Miramichi, which has hit hard times with the shutdown of pulp mills and other industry.
So all the patrons of the Black Horse Tavern will tell you, they've hardly ever seen a salmon run this good.
Just the other day, they say, Willy Vickers' brother, who has been fishing here for a lifetime, caught a 22-pounder. It took him 25 minutes to bring him in. Naturally he let the fish go, and to make it easier to do so without damaging the salmon's chances for survival, took the barbs off the hooks with pliers. Of course, he was flycasting, they don't allow any of those rod-and-reel anglers with what they derisively call block-and-tackle equipment to work the river.
The old timers will tell you that anybody can catch a fish. But here on the Miramichi, the art is the skill of knowing where to go, and what they're biting at, the choice of the fly to use is everything.
Many of the experienced flyfishermen here swear by the ‘Shady Lady' but Willy's brother was using the green-butt yellow-winged butterfly, a wet as opposed to a dry lure, dangling just below the surface and tantalizingly appealing. But if you're coming this way, you should know they're also hitting on the white-tailed Green Machine.
The return has been so good fisheries officials are finding tagged salmon who've come back to spawn two or three years in a row.
And above the Wayerton Bridge, which is about 60 miles from the head water, the new rule is catch and release only. You can't keep any.
The river is so sparkling and clear this summer, you can see the salmon rising to eyeball the lure and deciding whether it looks good enough to eat.
When they pass it by, the pursuit is on for ardent flyfishermen. The debate is on about why the salmon run looks like it will be so good this season. Since New Brunswick is about as political a province as you'll find, Conservatives are saying it's because, for the first time in generations, they've elected a Tory MP twice in a row. They would have you believe salmon didn't like the Liberals. It more likely has something to do with the fact that the Atlantic Salmon Federation, which includes nations such as Russia, Denmark, and Great Britain, and others, has been paying Greenland fishermen not to sweep up the stock.
It helps, that since 1984, commercial salmon fisheries were closed in Miramichi Bay and elsewhere.
Unless you're a full-time resident, you have to hire a guide to chase salmon on the Miramichi.
And he'll warn you if you get a big one, not to hold up the fish too long for a trophy photo, or their scales will dry out and they can't survive the return to the water.
Needless to say, the locals take their flyfishing seriously. They guard their secret deep holes from discovery by others. Locals say Aloysius Kingston who lives on the river, has one that's a salmon seeker's nirvana. And people wonder if he's even told his son Ken about it.
So here on the old Miramichi, there's a lot of hope that the salmon run may be coming back to what it was in the old days. And there's a lot of excitement about it. Almost as much, one grizzled angler said, as the time they found out Marilyn Monroe was up on the Sou'West Fork, flyfishing with her then-husband Joe DiMaggio.