New Brunswick's Sea-run Brookies

New Brunswick's Sea-run Brookies

The Cains River offers the big ones--and it's a lot closer than Labrador

  • By: Jim Reilly
To be perfectly honest, I was a little nervous about doing the canoe trip. Just a few weeks earlier I had a bad experience on Maine's Kennebec River when the canoe I was riding in dumped over (absolutely not my fault, by the way). It spooked me pretty good and I lost some gear-an experience I certainly did not want to repeat any time soon.

Although New Brunswick's Cains River is nowhere near as big as the mighty Kennebec I still had some trepidation about the six-mile float from Bantalor Crossing to Otter Brook. I realized my fear was unfounded though, when we were preparing to launch the boats: Due to a lack of spring rains, the Cains had barely enough water to float a canoe. We were on the Cains fishing for sea-run brook trout, since it's one of the best places to catch these anadromous brookies. "Sea-run" is a bit of misnomer as the fish only spend from one to three months in the salt, typically in estuaries and bays. The seaward run begins in the spring, and in the early summer the large, sexually mature fish move back upriver while the immature brookies stay in the salt until September before heading home. It was this early run of big fish that we were hoping to intercept.

During their time in the food-rich marine environment the brookies put on the weight and size that distinguishes them from resident trout. Although the biggest brookie caught during our stay at Wilson's Sporting Camps was about three-and-a-half-pounds (a respectable trout by any standard), the local guys were catching fish up to five pounds.

As anyone who has ever angled for anadromous fish can tell you, sometimes they're there, and sometimes they're not. It all depends on a variety of esoteric factors including, among many others, weather, rainfall, water temp and the valuation of the Hungarian Forint. Not only had the lack of spring rains all but dried up the Cains, it had also reduced the run and had caused many of the fish in the river to hold in deep pools that were either privately owned or strictly reserved for New Brunswick residents only.

But despite the low water, and the fact that we'd be walking the canoes much of the way rather than poling them, our guide, Keith Wilson, was optimistic. He knows a thing or two about the Cains: Keith's family has been operating a world-class fishing lodge on the banks of the Miramichi for almost 150 years. Since his father passed away in 1983, Keith has taken over the lodge and guiding service, with considerable help from his wife, Bonnie, who cooks many of the excellent meals we had at the lodge.

There was good reason for Keith's optimism: The day before, my fishing partner, Bill Anderson, caught several nice brookies-including the three-and-a-half-pounder-farther downstream. For my part, I landed several in the 19-inch range. All of these fish, mind you, were caught on dries-mostly Atlantic salmon flies such as Bombers and other large deerhair flies. The brookies were actively rising to small insects, and with a cast right on its nose-and a little tug for a wake-the fish would absolutely slam the fly.

We alternated walking and poling the canoes throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Every now and then we stopped at pools that were large enough to hold fish. The fish were spooky, so we had to quietly stalk them and make delicate casts. Bill landed a nice two-pound sea-run on the float, while I caught a dozen or so 14-inch resident brookies just before darkness fell and we pulled off the river to begin the short trip back to Wilson's.

Thankfully, there was an excellent light dinner, or "luncheon" as they call it up there, of soup and sandwiches waiting for us back at our well appointed cabin. Bill and I definitely needed it: In the morning we had fished for salmon on the Miramichi until noon before gearing up for the long float down the Cains. Although it was a little early in the season for salmon, Keith had reports of locals catching grilse earlier in the week. Keith took us up the Miramichi in his 28-foot wooden canoe outfitted with a jet motor, a boat he also uses on the Cains when it is running at its usual flow.

We fished two of Wilson's 16 private salmon pools, but the salmon were either not interested in our Green Machines and Black Bears, or simply weren't there yet. Afterwards we headed to the main lodge building for "dinner," as lunch is called, a full sit-down affair with salad, fiddlehead cream soup and an entrée followed by a slice of pie and ice cream. A brief nap is de rigueur afterwards, at least in my case during our three days at Wilson's.

Our final day was more of the same: breakfast at 8am followed by Atlantic salmon fishing until noon. In the afternoon we were back on the Cains for a short float to a spring-fed hole Keith thought had a good chance of holding brookies. Unfortunately, the fish were even less cooperative than the previous day, and we ended up catching only a few resident fish.

Apparently, the big sea-run fish were still downstream somewhere waiting for higher water before heading up, and that's just way these things work sometimes. It was nevertheless a beautiful day to be on the river and at least the canoe never tipped.

For further information contact Keith Wilson at Wilson's Sporting Camps at 03 McNamee Rd. McMamee, New Brunswick, E9C 2G9. Phone at 506-365-7962 or visit their Web site at