Salmon Fishing in Canada by S. C. Clarke
Fifty years ago, when the manners and habits of the Americans were very
different from what they now are, there lived in Boston two gentlemen so
far in advance of their age as to devote much time to shooting and
fishing. These pursuits were denounced by the Puritans and their
descendants as a sinful waste of time, and there is a letter extant from
one of the early Massachusetts governors, in which he reproaches himself
for indulging in "fowling," the rather because, as he confesses, he
failed to get any game. These two bold Bostonians were wont to go to
Scotland for salmon-fishing, having a belief that the salmon of the
American rivers were too uncultivated in their taste to rise at a fly.
However this may have been in 1820, the salmon of the Dominion are
to-day as open to the attractions of a well-tied combination of feathers
and pig's-wool, as those of the rivers of Norway or Scotland; and as,
under the protection which the Canadian rivers now enjoy, the fish are
becoming plentiful, sport is offered in the numerous streams which flow
into the St. Lawrence, the Bays of Chaleur and Miramichi, and the Gulf
of St. Lawrence, probably superior to any now to be found elsewhere.
Having last year paid a visit to one of these beautiful rivers, I
propose to give an account of my introduction to the art and mystery of
salmon-fishing, to the end that other anglers, whose exploits have
hitherto been confined to the capture of a pound trout or a four-pound
pickerel, may know the joy of feeling the rush of a twenty-pound salmon
fresh run from the sea—the most brilliant, active and vigorous of the
finny tribes, the king of the river, using the term in its original
sense—the strongest, the ablest, the most cunning. A late writer on
English field-sports says: "I assert that there is no single moment with
horse or gun into which is concentrated such a thrill of hope, fear,
expectation and exultation as that of the rise and successful striking
of a heavy salmon."
And first, let me say something of the system of protection to these
fisheries adopted by the Canadian government, which renders this sport
possible. Finding that under the constant slaughter of salmon and trout,
by the Indians with spears and by the whites with nets, the fish were
becoming not only scarce, but in danger of extinction, the government
interfered, and a few years ago passed laws the effects of which are
already apparent. Certainly, a paternal government is sometimes a good
thing. On our side the line a ring of wealthy men, with a large capital
in nets, seines, pounds, etc., will, as has been seen in Rhode Island,
depopulate a coast in a few years of its food-fishes, leaving nothing
for increase; and when the poor fishermen, whose living depends on these
free gifts of God, ask for protection from the legislature, the ring is
too powerful, one of its members being perhaps governor of the State.
In the year 1858 the colonial government resumed possession of all the
salmon and sea-trout fisheries in Lower Canada, and after the enactment
of a protective law offered them for lease by public tender. A list is
given of sixty-seven salmon rivers which flow into the St. Lawrence and
the Saguenay, and of nine which flow into the Bay of Chaleur. There are
also tributaries of these, making over one hundred rivers which by this
time contain salmon, and many of them in great abundance. Licenses are
granted by the government for rod-fishing in these rivers on payment of
sums ranging from one hundred to five hundred dollars the season for a
river, according to its size, accessibility, etc. These rivers are
generally taken by parties of anglers, but of late I learn that licenses
for single rods have been granted, so that all may be accommodated.
Applications for a river or part of one can be made to Mr. William F.
Whitcher of Ottawa, who is at the head of the Fisheries Department. Our
party of four persons had obtained, through the courtesy of Messrs.
Brydges and Fleming of the Intercolonial Railway of Canada, the upper
part of the Restigouche, a river flowing into the Bay of Chaleur, and
one of the best in the Dominion. Three of us had never killed a salmon,
though we were familiar with other kinds of fishing. We had, however,
for teacher one who for fifty years had been a salmon-fisher—first as a
boy in Ireland, and since that for many years in Canada, in most of
whose rivers he had killed salmon. As an angler he was a thorough
artist, as a woodsman he was an expert, and as a companion he was most
agreeable. Among the Indians, who have the habit of naming every person
from some personal trait, he was known as "the Kingfisher," and by that
name I shall call him. The second of our party, who procured the right
of fishing the Restigouche, and made up the party, I shall call Rodman,
which suits him both as fisherman and in his professional character of
engineer. The third, being a tall man of rather military aspect, we knew
as "the Colonel;" and the fourth, who writes this narrative, shall be
called "the Scribe."
Behold us, then, at Quebec in the last week of June, making our
preparations—laying in stores for camping out, and buying
fishing-tackle, which for this kind of sport is best procured in Canada.
On the 25th of June our thirty-one packages were on board the steamer
Miramichi, piled on the upper deck, with many more of the same
appearance—tents, buffalo robes, camp-chests, salmon-rods and
gaff-handles—belonging to other parties bound on the same errand as
ourselves. Three were British officers going to the Upsalquitch, men of
the long-whiskered, Dundreary type, who soon let us know with many
haw-haws that they had fished in Norway, and had killed salmon on the
estate of my Lord Knowswho in Scotland, while guests of that nobleman.
There were two Londoners in full suits of tweed, with Glengarry bonnets,
who were bound to the Cascapediac: they tried to imitate the bearing of
the military men; and why not? As Thackeray says, "Am I not a snob and a
brother?" There was a party of Americans on their way to a Gaspé
river—veteran anglers, who had frequented these rivers for some years.
The rest of the company was made up of Canadians from Montreal and
Quebec, many of them pleasure-seekers—stout elderly men, with equally
full-fed, comfortable-looking wives, and rosy-faced daughters with
straight, slender figures, by and by to emulate the rounded proportions
of their mammas. The young men were mostly equipped with white canvas
shoes and veils twisted round their hats—for what purpose I have not
been able to discover, but it seems to be the correct thing for the
Four hundred and fifty miles from Quebec we reach the entrance of Gaspé
Bay, at the head of which fine sheet of water, in a landlocked harbor,
stands the town of Gaspé, distinguished as the place where Jacques
Cartier landed in 1534. It is now a great fishing-station, employing
thousands of men along the coast in the cod-fishery. Here are fine
scenery, clear bracing air, good sea-bathing, excellent salmon- and
trout-fishing and a comfortable hotel. What more can a well-regulated
mind desire? Into Gaspé Bay flow the Dartmouth, the York and the St.
John—good salmon-rivers, while both they and the smaller streams abound
with sea-trout and brook-trout. Thirty miles south of Gaspé is the
little town of Perce, also a fishing-station. Near this stands a rock of
red sandstone, five hundred feet long and three hundred high, with an
open arch leading through it, under which a boat can pass. It stands a
mile from the shore in deep water, and its top affords a secure
breeding-place for hundreds of sea-fowl.
South of Gaspé Bay we pass the mouths of the Bonaventure and the Grand
and Little Cascapediac—rivers well stocked with salmon—and reach
Dalhousie on the Bay of Chaleur about midnight on the 28th. We land in a
small boat in the darkness, and soon find ourselves at the comfortable
tavern of William Murphy, where we breakfast the next morning on
salmon-trout and wild strawberries. The town contains about six hundred
inhabitants, and has a pleasant seat along the bay. Its principal
industry seems to be lumber, or deals, which mean three-inch plank, in
which shape most of the pine and spruce exported from the Dominion find
their way to England. Here they also put up salmon and lobsters for the
American market—America meaning the United States. Two steamers touch
here weekly, and there is a daily mail and telegraphic communication
with the outside world. A few tourists, mostly from Montreal and Quebec,
fill two or three small boarding-houses.
The next morning we started in wagons for Matapedia, thirty miles up the
river, where we expected to secure canoes and Indians for our trip to
the upper waters of the Restigouche. Our road was good, following a
terrace about fifty feet above the river, which here is about a mile in
width, and flows placidly through a wide valley, with high hills on both
sides covered with a growth of spruce and cedar. Fifteen miles above
Dalhousie, at the head of navigation for large vessels, lies the village
of Campbellton. Here the character of the river changes: it becomes more
narrow and rapid, the hills come down closer to the shore, and it
assumes the features of a true salmon-river. It was formerly one of the
most famous in the provinces, and the late Robert Christie, for many
years member for Gaspé, used to take two thousand tierces of salmon
annually from the Restigouche.
Here we fall in with the Intercolonial Railway, which has its western
terminus at Rivière du Loup, below Quebec, and its eastern at Halifax.
The line is to cross the river at Matapedia on an iron bridge, and
follow down the valley. About 1 p. m. we crossed the ferry in a
row-boat, just below Fraser's hotel. The river is deep, swift and very
clear, with a rocky bank, from which they are getting out stone for the
abutments of the bridge. This bridge, and another similar one where the
line crosses the Miramichi, are building at Phoenixville, Pennsylvania,
and we saw at Campbellton a large bark discharging her cargo, consisting
of the bridge-work ready to set up.
We arrived at Fraser's in time to partake of a fine boiled salmon, and
we observe a constant improvement in this fish. Those in Montreal were
better than those in the States; those in Quebec still better; those we
ate on board the Gulf steamer a shade finer still. At Dalbousie we
thought that salmon had reached perfection, but were undeceived by those
upon Fraser's table, which far surpassed all that we had yet tasted in
succulence and flavor.
We had hoped to go up the river on the morrow, Saturday, but found it
was a great festival of the Catholic Church, and the Indians would not
start till Monday. Great was the indignation of the British officers who
were preparing to go up the other river. To be delayed by the religious
scruples of an Indian was too absurd. But even the "superior race" had
to submit. So the next day we all went down the river trout-fishing.
I went about two miles to the "flat lands," and fished some pretty pools
and rapids: the day was very bright and hot, so that I thought the trout
would not rise to a fly, and I put on a small spoon, which I dropped
into the rapids at the end of a long rod. After catching three or four
they grew suspicious, and I changed my lure for an artificial minnow,
and with it I had better success, though I have often tried it in
Western trout-streams ineffectually. I got about a dozen, from four
ounces to a pound weight: they were sea-trout, Salmo Canadensis, and
the first of that species that I ever saw. They are handsome and active
fish, lighter in color than the brook-trout, with silvery sides and
belly. The flesh is red like a salmon, and is of higher flavor, I think,
than that of Salmo fontinalis. My companions, Rodman and Kingfisher,
both used the fly, and got, I think, more fish than I did.
The next day, June 30th, was Sunday, and the law of the Dominion
prohibits fishing on that day. The weather was intensely hot, and we
stayed in the house and enjoyed the fine scenery all about us. At night
a heavy thunder-storm cooled the air for our next day's journey.
July 1. Our canoes and Indians arrived this morning about ten o'clock,
and instead of being shepherds of the forest, with their blankets tied
with yellow strings, they had no blankets at all, but wore coats and
trowsers—yea, even boots, which I had always been told had no business
in a canoe. There were four bark canoes and eight Mic-macs—one boat for
each of us—and as we had a large amount of baggage and provisions, it
was thought best to send off the canoes with these, while we went in
wagons across a great bend of the river to the house of Mr. John Mowatt,
the river overseer. We crossed the Matapediac in a dug-out: this is a
tributary of the Restigouche, which comes in at Fraser's. On the other
side we found wagons which took us to Mowatt's, seven miles over the
hills, arriving at 4 p. m. The canoes arrived about sunset, having come
twelve miles since noon against a strong current.
July 2. Starting in the morning at sunrise, the canoes took us six
miles by seven o'clock, when we stopped in the woods for breakfast. The
river has a very strong current, and from two to three miles an hour is
all that can be done against it with setting-poles when there is a heavy
load in the canoe. In places the water was too shallow even for a bark,
and the men stepped over-board and lifted her along. The Restigouche is
a beautiful river, with few islands or obstructions of any kind: the
water is perfectly transparent, and very cold—the chosen haunt of the
salmon. We see few houses or farms: rounded hills, from three to nine
hundred feet high, border the stream, leaving only a narrow strip of
beach, which is free from bushes or fallen trees. These are probably all
swept away by the ice in the spring freshets. The hills somewhat
resemble those on the Upper Mississippi, except that here there are none
of those cliffs of yellow limestone which are remarkable on the great
river of the West. About eight miles farther on we stopped for dinner
near a cold brook, from which I took half a dozen trout. In the
afternoon we proceeded five or six miles, and then camped for the night
upon a rocky beach, and, though somewhat annoyed by the sand-flies, we
slept well upon our beds of spruce boughs.
July 3. Broke camp at 5 a. m., and went up six miles to a place
called Tom's Brook, where we breakfasted. Here I killed a dozen trout
with the spoon. Six miles from Tom's Brook we came to the first
salmon-pool, of which there were six in the portion of the river
assigned to us—viz.: First, Big Cross Pool; second, Lower Indian-house
Pool; third, Upper Indian-house Pool; fourth, Patapediac Pool, called by
the Indians Paddypajaw; fifth, Red Bank Pool; sixth, Little Cross Pool.
These pools are the places where the salmon rest in their journey from
the sea to the headwaters of the river. They are usually in spots where
there is a strong but not violent current, perhaps six or eight feet
deep, running off to shoal water on one side of the river. The pools
have been found by the Indians, who search for them by night with
torches, which show the fish as they lie near the bottom, and they do
not differ materially in appearance from other parts of the river where
no salmon are to be found.
The salmon is what is called anadromous—that is, though an inhabitant
of the ocean for most of the year, it ascends the fresh-water rivers in
summer to spawn. In this function it is guided by curious instincts. The
female deposits her eggs in swift shallow water at the heads of streams,
in trenches dug by herself and the male fish in the gravelly bottom; but
it must not be fresh gravel: it must have been exposed to the action of
water for at least two years, or they will have none of it; and if a
freshet should bring new gravel from the banks, they will abandon the
place and seek for new spawning-grounds. It is only when the salmon are
resting in these pools that they will take a fly.
The first pool was at a point where the river made a short turn around a
large rock: the current was swift, with a hole at the foot of the rapid
perhaps twenty feet deep, with a rock bottom. Here our leader,
Kingfisher, rigged his salmon-rod, put on two flies and began to cast. I
trolled in the swift water as we proceeded, and with my spoon took a few
small trout. A salmon rose to the fly of Kingfisher, but was not
hooked; this was the first fish that we saw. (The term "fish" is always
applied to the salmon by anglers: other inhabitants of the water are
spoken of as "trout" or "bass;" a salmon is a "fish.") Although we had
seen none before, our keen-eyed Indians had seen many as we came up the
We then went on to the Lower Indian-house Pool, two miles farther, and
Kingfisher made a few casts; but raising no fish, we went up a mile
farther to our camping-ground, an island between the two pools, having
plenty of wood upon it, with a cold spring brook close by—an old and
famous camping-place for salmon-fishers—and here we intended to make
our permanent quarters. We had four tents—one to sleep in, fitted with
mosquito-bars; one for an eating-tent, with canvas top and sides of
netting: in it was a rough table and two benches, hewed out with an axe
by one of our men. There was also a tent for storing provisions and for
the cook, for we had brought with us a man for this important office. A
fourth tent for the Indians, and a cooking-stove with camp-chests and
equipage, completed our outfit, which all belonged to Kingfisher, and
represented the results of many years' experience in camping out. The
cooking-stove is made of sheet iron and packs in a box, and is one of
the most valuable utensils in the woods.
It took the rest of the day to make the camp, and in the evening
Kingfisher and the Colonel went in their canoe to the lower pool, and
the former killed two salmon, weighing eighteen and twenty-two pounds.
These, our first fish, were objects of much interest to us new hands.
The Colonel took his first lesson in salmon-fishing, and thought he
could do it himself.
July 4. We proposed to celebrate this day by each of us killing a
salmon, but I thought it would be prudent first to go out with
Kingfisher and see how he did it, before attempting it myself. So I got
into his canoe, and the Indians paddled us to Upper Pool, within sight
of our camp but for a bend in the river. Kingfisher had the canoe
anchored within casting distance of the channel, and there, as he sat
in the bottom of the boat, he made his casts with a nineteen-foot rod,
first about twenty-five feet, and rapidly letting out more line he
increased the length of his casts to sixty feet perhaps, the big
salmon-flies falling lightly on the water, first across the channel to
the right; then letting the current take the flies down to the end of
the line, he drew them round to the left in a circle; then raising them
slowly from the water, he repeated the process, thus fishing over all
the water within his reach. Now the Indians raise the anchor and let the
canoe drop down a few feet. At the first cast after this change of
ground a bulge in the water showed where a salmon had risen at the fly
and missed it. "We will rest him for five minutes," said Kingfisher, and
lighted his pipe for a smoke. Then he changed his fly for a larger and
more brilliant one, and at the first cast a big fish rolled over at the
fly and went off with a rush, making the reel whiz.
"I've got him," said Kingfisher, calmly putting up his pipe and bringing
his rod to a nearly perpendicular position, which threw a great strain
on the mouth of the salmon from the spring of the rod. He ran about
twenty-five yards, and then leaped six feet into the air. Kingfisher
dropped the point of his rod as the fish leaped, and then raised it as
the salmon went away with twenty yards more of line.
"Up anchor, Hughey: we must follow him." So they plied their paddles
after the salmon, who was making down stream, Kingfisher reeling up his
line as fast as possible. Up went the salmon again, striking at the line
with his tail as he came down; but this trick failed, and he then
sulked, by diving into the depths of the river and remaining there
motionless for half an hour. Suddenly he rose and made for the heavy
current, from which Kingfisher tried to steer him into the still water
near the shore, where it was about three feet deep, and where he could
be played with more safety. After about forty minutes' play the fish was
coaxed alongside the canoe, evidently tired out and having lost his
force and fury, when Hughey struck the gaff into him near the tail, and
lifted him into the canoe, where he struggled very little, so nearly
beaten was he.
"About nineteen pounds, I think," said Kingfisher, who from long
experience could name the weight of a fish very correctly.
Returning to the spot where he had hooked the fish, Kingfisher after a
few casts rose and hooked another, which he killed in twenty-five
minutes—a fish of twelve pounds. After seeing the method of this artist
I was presumptuous enough to suppose that I could do it also, and I
determined to open the campaign the next day.
July 5. Bent on salmon-killing, I was off this morning at five, hoping
to bring home a fish for breakfast. The Upper Indian-house Pool is for
Rodman and me to-day, the others going to Patapedia, three miles above.
Kingfisher fitted me out with a Castle Connell rod, quite light and
pliable, with which he has killed many a fish; a click reel, which
obliges the fish to use some force in getting out the line: of this I
have one hundred yards of oiled silk, with a twelve-feet gut
casting-line, to the end of which is looped a brilliant creature almost
as large as a humming-bird—certainly the likeness of nothing inhabiting
earth, air or water. Mike and Peter, my Indians, took me to the pool,
and I began casting at the place where Kingfisher got his salmon
yesterday, while Rodman took the upper end of the pool, which was three
or four hundred yards in length. I had fished for trout in a bark canoe,
and knew how crank a vessel it is; so I did not attempt to stand up and
cast, but seated myself upon the middle cross-bar with my face turned
down stream, and began to imitate the casting of Kingfisher as well as I
could. I had fished but a few yards of water when the quick-eyed Peter
cried, "Lameau!" which is Mic-mac for salmon. He had seen the rise of
the fish, which I had not. And here I may observe that good eyes are
necessary to make a salmon-fisher, and a near-sighted person like the
Scribe can never greatly excel in this pursuit. All the salmon which I
hooked fastened themselves: I had only this part in it, that I was the
fool at one end of the rod. I waited five minutes, according to rule,
and cast again. "Habet!" There can be no mistake this time: my eyes were
good enough to see the savage rush with which he seized my fly and
plunged with it down to the depths.
"Hold up your rod!" cries Peter, who saw that, taken by surprise, I was
dropping the point of it. I raised it nearly upright, and this, with the
friction of the reel, caused the fish, which had started to run after he
felt the prick of the hook, to stop when he had gone half across the
river, and make his leap or somersault.
"A twenty-pounder," said Mike.
When he leaped I ought to have dropped my point, so that he should not
fall on the line, but I did nothing of the sort. I felt much as I once
did in the woods of Wisconsin when a dozen deer suddenly jumped up from
the long grass all about me, and I forgot that I had a gun in my hands.
I had so much line out that, as it happened, no bad consequences
followed, and the fish started for another run, at the end of which he
made his leap, and coming down he struck my line with his tail, and was
gone! Slowly and sadly I wound up my line, and found the gut broken
close to the hook, and my beautiful "Fairy" vanished.
Then I looped on another insect phenomenon, and went on casting. Rodman,
I perceived, was engaged with a salmon on the other bank. Presently I
raise and hook another, but he directly shakes out the hook.
I move slowly down the pool, casting on each side—which I find is hard
work for the back and shoulders—when, just opposite the big rock where
Kingfisher raised his second fish yesterday, I feel a pluck at my fly
and see a boil in the water. The robber runs away twenty yards and
leaps, then turns short round and comes at me, as if to run down the
canoe and drown us all. I wind up my line as fast as possible, but,
alas! it comes in, yard after yard, so easily that I perceive all
connection between the fish and me is at an end.
"He got slack line on you," said Peter.
By this time it was seven o'clock, and I returned home to breakfast with
what appetite I had, a sadder if not a wiser man. Rodman brought in a
nine-pound fish, and Kingfisher had three—thirteen, ten and twenty-one
pounds. The Colonel had made a successful début with a fifteen-pound
As we sat at breakfast Rodman asked, "How many salmon did you ever kill
in a day, Kingfisher?"
Kingfisher. "I once killed thirty-three in one day: that was in the
Mingan, a North Shore river, where the fish are very numerous, but
small—not over ten pounds on an average. I knew a man once to kill
forty-two in a day there, but he had extra strong tackle, with double
and treble gut, and being a big strong fellow he used to drag them out
by main force."
The Colonel. "If he had played his fish as you do here, there would
not have been time in the longest day to kill forty-two. You average
half an hour to a salmon, which would have taken twenty-one hours for
his day's work."
Kingfisher. "True enough, but those little fellows in the Mingan can
be killed in ten or fifteen minutes."
Rodman. "And what was the longest time you ever spent in killing a
Kingfisher. "Once fishing in the Moisie, where the fish are very
large, I hooked a salmon at five in the morning and lost him at six in
the evening: he was on for thirteen hours, but he sulked at the bottom
most of the time, and I never saw him at all."
Scribe. "Perhaps it was no fish at all."
Kingfisher. "It might have been a seal, but Sir Edmund Head, who was
with me, and I myself, thought it was a very large salmon and hooked
foul, so that I could not drown him. I think from his play that it was a
salmon: he ran many times round the pool, but swam deep, as heavy fish
are apt to do. How do you like the cooking of this salmon?"
Scribe. "I think it is perfect. The salmon have been growing better
ever since we entered the Dominion, but we have reached perfection now.
Is this the Tweedside method?"
Kingfisher. "It is. Put your fish in boiling water, well salted, boil
a minute to a pound, and when done serve it with some of the water it
was boiled in for sauce. You can't improve a fresh-caught salmon with
Worcestershire or Harvey."
The day proving very hot, we stayed in camp till evening, when
Kingfisher and the others went to the nearest pool for salmon, and I
went trout-fishing to the little rapids and took a dozen of moderate
size. Kingfisher brought in four fish—seven, ten, seventeen and
eighteen pounds; Rodman got two—twelve and sixteen pounds; the Colonel
failed to secure one which he had hooked.
July 6. To-day Kingfisher and the Colonel take the Upper Indian-house
Pool, and Rodman and I go to the Patapedia. We start at 4 a. m., so as
to get the early fishing, always the best. It takes an hour to pole up
the three miles, the current being very strong, and when we arrive the
pool is yet white with the morning mist. It is a long smooth rapid, with
a channel on one side running close to the high gravelly bank, evidently
cut away by spring freshets. On the other side comes in a rushing brook
or small river called the Patapedia. Rodman took the head of the pool,
and I the middle ground. I fished down some fifty yards without moving
anything, when, as I was bringing home my fly after a cast, it was taken
by a good fish. Away he went with a wicked rush full forty yards, in
spite of all I could do, then made a somersault, showing us his huge
proportions. A second and a third time he leaped, and then darted away,
I urging my men to follow with the canoe, which they did, but not
quickly enough. This was a terribly strong fish: though I was giving him
all the spring of the rod, I could not check him. When he stopped
running he began to shake his head, or, as the English fishing-books
say, "to jigger." In two minutes he jiggered out the hook and departed.
I had changed rods and lines to-day, having borrowed one from Rodman—a
Montreal rod, larger and stiffer than the other: although heavier, I
could cast better with it than with the Irish rod. Unluckily, there were
only about seventy yards of line on the reel, and the next fish I hooked
proved to be the most furious of all, for he first ran out forty yards
of line, and before I could get much of it wound up again, he made
another and a longer run, taking out all my line to the end, where it
was tied to the reel: of course he broke loose, taking away my fly and
two feet of casting-line. By this time the sun was high in the heavens,
and we returned to camp—Rodman with a salmon of seventeen pounds and a
grilse of five pounds.
A salmon has properly four stages of existence. The first is as a
"parr," a small bright-looking fish, four or five inches long, with
dark-colored bars across the sides and a row of red spots. It is always
found in the fresh water, looks something like a trout, and will take a
fly or bait eagerly. The second stage is when it puts on the silvery
coat previous to going to sea for the first time: it is then called a
"smolt," and is from six to eight inches long, still living in the river
where it was hatched. In the third stage, after its return from the sea
to its native river, it is called a "grilse," and weighs from three to
six pounds. It can be distinguished from a salmon, even of the same
size, by its forked tail (that of the salmon being square) and the
slight adhesion of the scales. The grilse is wonderfully active and
spirited, and will often give as much play as a salmon of three times
his size. After the second visit of the fish to the sea he returns a
salmon, mature, brilliant and vigorous, and increases in weight every
time he revisits the ocean, where most of his food is found, consisting
of small fish and crustacea.
As we dropped down the stream toward the camp we saw a squirrel swimming
across the river. Paddling toward him, Peter reached out his pole, and
the squirrel took refuge upon it and was lifted on board—a pretty
little creature, gray and red, about half the size of the common gray
squirrel of the States. He ran about the canoe so fearlessly that I
think he must have been unacquainted with mankind. He skipped over us as
if we had been logs, with his bead-like eyes almost starting from his
head with astonishment, and then mounting the prow of the canoe,
On the bows, with tail erected,
Sat the squirrel, Adjidaumo.
Presently we paddled toward the shore, and he jumped off and disappeared
in the bushes, with a fine story to tell to his friends of having been
ferried across by strange and friendly monsters. Kingfisher got eleven
salmon to-day, and the Colonel one.
July 7 was Sunday, and the pools were rested, as well as ourselves,
from the fatigues of the week. Kingfisher brought out his materials and
tied a few flies, such as he thought would suit the river. This he does
very neatly, and I think he belongs to the old school of anglers, who
believe in a great variety of flies.
It may not perhaps be generally known that there are two schools among
fly-fishers. The "formalists" or entomologists hold that the natural
flies actually on the water should be studied and imitated by the
fly-maker, down to the most minute particulars. This is the old theory,
and whole libraries have been written to prove and illustrate it, from
the Boke of St. Albans, written by the Dame Juliana Berners in 1486,
down to the present day. The number of insects which we are directed to
imitate is legion, and the materials necessary for their manufacture are
of immense variety and difficult to procure. These teachers are the
conservatives, who adhere to old tradition. On the other side are the
"colorists," who think color everything, and form nothing: they are but
a section, though an increasing one, of the fly-fishing community. Their
theory is, that all that a fish can distinguish through the watery
medium is the size and color of the fly. These are the radicals, and
they go so far as to discard the thousand different flies described in
the books, and confine themselves to half a dozen typical varieties,
both in salmon- and trout-fishing. Where learned doctors disagree, I,
for one, do not venture to decide; but when I remember that on some days
no fly in my book would tempt the trout, and that at other times they
would rise at any or all flies, it seems to me that the principal
question is, Are the trout feeding or not? If they are, they will take
almost anything; if not, the most skillful hand may fail of tempting
them to rise. As to salmon, I think no one will pretend that the
salmon-flies commonly used are like anything in Nature, and it is
difficult to understand what the keen-eyed salmon takes them for. Until,
then, we can put ourselves in the place of the salmon and see with his
eyes, we must continue to evolve our flies from our own consciousness.
My small experience seems to show me that in a salmon-fly color is the
main thing to be studied.
But to return to Kingfisher, who has been all this time softening some
silk-worm gut in his mouth, and now says in a thick voice, "Do you know,
colonel, I lost my chance of a wife once in this way?"
Colonel. "How was that? Did you steal some of the lady's feathers?"
Kingfisher. "No, it was in this way: I was a lad of about seventeen,
but I had a sweetheart. I was at college, and had but little time for
fishing, of which I was as fond as I am now. One evening I was hastening
toward the river with my rod, with my mouth full of flies and gut, which
I was softening as I am now. Turning the corner of a narrow lane, I met
my beloved and her mother, both of whom were precise persons who could
not take a joke. Of course I had to stop and speak to them, but my mouth
was full of hooks and gut, and the hooks stuck in my tongue, and I only
mumbled. They looked astonished. Perhaps they thought I was drunk:
anyway, the young lady asked what was the matter. 'My m—m—mouth is
full of guts,' was all that I could say; and the girl would never speak
to me afterward."
Rodman. "That was lucky, for you got a wife better able to bear with
your little foibles."
Kingfisher. "I did, sir."
July 8. Rodman and I were to take the Upper Indian-house Pool to-day,
the others going to the Patapedia. Kingfisher and I exchanged Indians:
he, having a man who was a better fisherman than either of mine, kindly
lent him to me, that I might have a better chance of killing a salmon, I
being the only one of the party who had not succeeded in doing so. I
found in my book a casting-line of double gut: it was only two yards
long, but I thought I had better trust to it than the single gut which
the fish had been breaking for me the last two days. I also found in my
book a few large showy salmon-flies tied on double gut: with these I
started, determined to do or die. I was on the pool at 5 a. m., and had
raised two salmon, and caught two large trout, which often took our
flies when we were casting for bigger fish. At 6.30 I raised and hooked
a big fish, which ran out twenty yards of line, and then stopped. I
determined to try the waiting method this time, and not to lose my fish
by too much haste; so I let him have his own way, only holding him with
a tight hand. Joe, I soon saw, understood his part of the business: he
kept the canoe close behind the fish, so that I should always have a
reserve of line upon my reel. My salmon made two runs without showing
himself: he pulled hard, and was evidently a strong fish. He now tried
to work himself across the river into the heavy current. I resisted
this, but to no purpose: I could not hold him, and I thought he was
going down the little rapid, where I could not have followed, when he
steered down through the still and deep water, and went to the bottom
near the camp. There he stayed, sulking, for more than an hour, and I
could not start him. The cook came down from his fire to see the
conflict; Joe lighted his pipe and smoked it out; old Captain Merrill,
who lived on the opposite bank, came out and hailed me, "Reckon you've
got a big one this time, judge;" and still my line pointed to the bottom
of the river, and my hands grew numb with holding the rod.
They have tied me to the stake: I cannot fly,
But, bear-like, I must fight the course.
Suddenly, up from the depths came the salmon, and made off at full speed
down the river, making his first leap as he went, which showed him to be
a twenty-pounder at least. We followed with the canoe. On the west side
of the island ran the main channel, wide and deep, gradually increasing
in swiftness till it became a boiling torrent. Into this my fish
plunged, in spite of all my resistance, and all we could do was to
follow. But I soon lost track of him and control of him: sometimes he
was ahead, and I could feel him; sometimes he was alongside, and the
line was slack and dragging on the water, most dangerous of positions;
sometimes the canoe went fastest, and the salmon was behind me. My men
handled the canoe admirably, and brought me through safe, fish and all;
for when we emerged into the still pool below, and I was able to reel
up, I felt him still on the hook, but unsubdued, for he made another run
of thirty yards, and leaped twice.
"That's good," said Joe: "that will tire him."
For the first two hours of the struggle the fish had been quiet, and so
had saved his strength, but now he began to race up and down the pool,
trying for slack line. But Joe followed him up sharply and kept him well
in hand. Now the fish began to jigger, and shook his head so hard and so
long that I thought something must give way—either my line or his
spinal column. After about an hour of this kind of work I called to
Rodman, who was fishing not far off, and asked him to come alongside and
play my fish for a few minutes, so that I might rest my hands, which
were cramped with holding the rod so long; which he did, and gave me
fifteen minutes' rest, when I resumed the rod. The fish now seemed
somewhat spent, for he came to the surface and flounced about, so that
we could see his large proportions. Still, I could not get him
alongside, and I told Joe to try to paddle up to him, but he immediately
darted away from us and headed up stream, keeping a parallel course
about fifty feet off, so that we could see him perfectly through the
clear water. After many efforts, however, he grew more tame, and Louis
paddled the canoe very carefully up to him, while Joe stood watching his
chance with the gaff, which he put deep in the water. At last I got the
fish over it, when with a sudden pull the gaff was driven into him just
behind the dorsal fin; but he was so strong that I thought he would have
taken the man out of the canoe. The water flew in showers, and the big
salmon lay in the bottom of the boat!
I could hardly believe my eyes. That tremendous creature caught with a
line no thicker than a lady's hair-pin! I looked at my watch: it was
eleven o'clock, just four hours and a half. "Well, I have done enough
for to-day, Joe: let us go home to breakfast." Arrived at the camp, we
weighed the salmon and measured him—twenty-four pounds, and forty
inches long—a male fish, fresh run from the sea, the strongest and most
active of his kind. It had been my luck to hook these big ones: I wished
that my first encounters should be with fish of ten or twelve pounds.
Rodman came in with two—fourteen and sixteen pounds.
That evening I went again to the same pool, and soon hooked another good
fish with the same fly; but though he was nearly as large as the first,
weighing twenty-two pounds, I killed him in thirty minutes. He fought
hard from the very first, running and vaulting by turns without any
stop, so that he soon tired himself out. Rodman got another this
evening, and Kingfisher brought seven from the Patapedia, and the
Colonel one. Thirteen is our score to-day.
July 9. Rodman and I went this morning to the Patapedia, but raised no
salmon. Either some one had been netting the pool that night, or
Kingfisher had killed all the fish yesterday. I got a grilse of four
pounds, which made a smart fight for fifteen minutes, and Rodman hooked
another, but lost him. That evening we went again to the pool, and I
killed a small but very active salmon of nine pounds, which fought me
nearly an hour: Rodman got a grilse of five pounds. Strange to say,
neither Kingfisher nor the Colonel killed a fish to-day, so that I was
for once "high line."
Having killed four salmon, I concluded to retire. I found the work too
hard, and determined to go to Dalhousie and try the sea-trout fishing in
that vicinity. So, after an hour's fly-fishing at the mouth of the brook
opposite our camp, in which I got a couple of dozen, hooking two at a
cast twice, and twice three at a cast, I started at seven o'clock on the
10th, and ran down with the current and paddles forty miles to Fraser's
in seven hours—the same distance which it took us two days and a half
to make going up stream.
Of all modes of traveling, to float down a swift river in a bark canoe
is the most agreeable; and when paddled by Indians the canoe is the
perfection of a vessel for smooth-water navigation. Where there are
three inches of water she can go—where there is none, a man can carry
her round the portage on his back. Her buoyancy enables her to carry a
heavy load, and, though frail, the elasticity of her material admits of
many a blow and pinch which would seriously damage a heavier vessel. The
rifle and axe of the backwoodsman, the canoe and the weapons of the
Indian, are the result of long years of experiment, and perfectly meet
The rest of the party remained and fished five days more, making ten
days in all, and the score was eighty-five salmon and five grilse, the
united weight of which was fourteen hundred and twenty-three pounds. The
salmon averaged sixteen and a half pounds each: the three largest
weighed thirty, thirty, and thirty-three pounds. Nearly two-thirds of
the whole were taken by Kingfisher, and our average for three rods was
three fish per day each.
It is asserted by Norris in the American Angler's Book that the salmon
of the American rivers are smaller than those of Europe, that in the
Scottish rivers many are still taken of twenty and twenty-five pounds
weight, and that on this side of the Atlantic it is as rare to take them
with the rod over fifteen pounds. If this statement was correct when
Norris wrote, ten years ago, then the Canadian rivers have improved
under the system of protection, for, as above stated, our catch in the
Restigouche averaged over sixteen pounds, and nearly one-third of our
fish were of twenty pounds or over.
Yarrel, in his work on British fishes, says that in 1835 he saw 10
salmon in the London market weighing from 38 to 40 pounds each. Sir
Humphry Davy is said to have killed a salmon in the Tweed that weighed
42 pounds: this was about 1825. The largest salmon ever seen in London
was sold there in 1821: it weighed 83 pounds. But with diminished
numbers the size of the salmon in Scottish waters has also diminished.
In the Field newspaper for August and September, 1872, I find the
following report of the fishing in some of those rivers: The
Severn—average size of catch (considered very large) is 16 pounds; fish
of 30, 40 and 50 pounds have been taken. The Tay—one rod, one day in
August, 7 fish; average weight, 18 pounds. The Tweed—two rods, one
day's fishing, 12 fish; average, 20 pounds. The Eaine—fish run from 12
to 20 pounds.
In Lloyd's book on the Sports of Norway we find the following reports
of the salmon-fishing in that country, where the fish are supposed to be
very large: In the river Namsen, Sir Hyde Parker in 1836 killed in one
day 10 salmon weighing from 30 to 60 pounds. This is considered the best
of the Norwegian rivers, both for number and size of fish. The
Alten—Mr. Brettle in 1838 killed in fifteen days 194 fish; average, 15
pounds; largest fish, 40 pounds. Sir Charles Blois, the most successful
angler, in the season of 1843 killed in the Alten 368 fish; average, 15
pounds: largest fish, 50 pounds. The Steenkjaw—one rod killed in
twenty days 80 salmon; average, 14 pounds. The Mandall—one rod killed
35 fish in one day. The Nid—two rods killed in one day 19 fish; largest
fish, 38 pounds.
The following records are from Canadian rivers prior to 1871:
Moisie—two rods in twenty-five days, 318 fish; average 15-1/7 pounds;
three largest, 29, 29 and 32 pounds. Godbout—three rods in forty days,
194 fish; average, 11-1/8 pounds; three largest, 18, 19 and 20 pounds.
St. John—two rods in twenty-two days, 199 fish; average, 10 pounds.
Nipisiquit—two rods, 76 fish; average, 9-1/2 pounds. Mingan—three rods
in thirty-two days, 218 fish; average, 10-1/5 pounds. Restigouche,
1872—three rods in ten days, 85 fish; average, 16-1/2 pounds; three
largest, 30, 30 and 33 pounds.
The greatest kill of salmon ever recorded was that of Allan Gilmour,
Esq., of Ottawa, who killed in the Godbout in 1867, in one day, 46
salmon, averaging 11-1/2 pounds, or one fish about every fifteen
The largest salmon taken with the fly in an American river have been out
of the Grand Cascapediac, on the north shore of the Bay of Chaleur. In
1871, by the government report, there were 44 salmon killed with the
fly—two of 40 pounds, one of 38, and four others of over 30 pounds;
average weight, 23 pounds. In the same river in 1872, Mr. John Medden of
Toronto, with three other rods, killed 2 fish of 45 pounds, 4 of between
40 and 45, 5 of between 35 and 40 pounds, 7 of between 30 and 35 pounds,
15 of between 25 and 30 pounds, 16 of between 20 and 25, besides smaller
ones not enumerated.
From these data it would seem that the average size of the Canadian
salmon is as great as those of Norway, and very nearly equal to those of
the Scottish rivers; while the number of fish taken in a day in the
Canadian rivers, particularly in those on the north shore of the St.
Lawrence, surpasses the best catch of either the Scottish or Norwegian
S. C. Clarke.