Sporting Life

Sporting Life

  • By: John Gierach
First Night Out.jpg

THE ADVENTURE BEGAN WHEN MY fly rods turned up missing. I’d flown from Denver to Bangor, Maine, via New York to meet my friend Jim Babb, but for unknown reasons Delta Airlines decided to fly my rods to Boston instead. When I asked how they’d managed to lose my rods with only one connecting flight, the woman behind the baggage counter cheerfully corrected me. “They’re not lost,” she said, staring at a computer screen and tapping keys, “They’re in Boston.” A purely technical distinction that I didn’t find helpful.

She said not to worry, that it was their policy to deliver sidetracked luggage whenever it came in, and since Bangor is still a relatively small and friendly airport, she even introduced me to the guy who drove the delivery van. But when they learned that we’d be an eight- or nine-hour drive north, in the Miramichi Valley in New Brunswick, Canada, their confidence began to wither. When we added that we’d be at a private Atlantic salmon camp down a monkey puzzle of unmarked logging roads that not even Jim and I were sure we could find—not to mention halfway across the province from the nearest airport—it began to dawn on all of us simultaneously that I’d be fishing with borrowed tackle.

It could have been worse. Jim is a lifelong fisherman with a stack of fly rods that resembles a cord of firewood, so I had my pick of what was left after he’d packed his own gear. I ended up with a two-handed 14-foot, 8-weight that felt perfectly good except that it wasn’t my own familiar Spey rod, but I resolved not to get into a snit about it. Lately I’d been telling myself that fishing tackle—among other things—was just stuff, and here was my karmic opportunity to cowboy up.

Jim and I drove up the next day and hit the ground running when we got to the camp. (Normal people tend to kick back and relax a little at the end of a long drive, but fishermen seldom qualify for that benefit.) There were some quick introductions and a brief look around; then we hustled into waders, strung up rods and hit the river with a few hours of daylight left.

The Sevogle River, a major tributary of the Miramichi, was running clear, but tea-colored and a little too high to fish well, though not quite high enough to make fishing pointless. That wasn’t the best news I’ve heard at the beginning of a fishing trip, but it wasn’t the worst, either. Neither of us got a pull that evening, but no one thought anything of a few fishless hours, since Atlantic salmon are famous for coming days, weeks or even months apart, if at all. We were just getting the feel of a new river and keeping our hooks in the water, which is the first rule of salmon fishing.

Drinks and hors d’oeuvres started at about 8. Dinner began at 9 and was still going strong seven courses and multiple bottles of wine later at a little after midnight, or two hours past my normal bedtime. When I excused myself going on 1, someone said there was no need to get up early because fishing didn’t start until late morning. I could guess why.

What I’m calling a “camp”—because that’s what you call it in this part of the world—was a small, privately owned estate carved out of second growth boreal forest for the single-minded purpose of living well while fishing for salmon. The place was owned by a man who Jim described as “unnecessarily wealthy” and I was there by virtue of being the friend Jim was told he could bring when he got the invitation. Of course all Jim had told me on the phone was that the fishing was good and that the accommodations might be a cut or two above my usual program of looking for a cheap motel and a passable café.

When he finally got around to asking me what I thought of the place—with a hint of mischievous grin on his face—I said it was nice, but it probably wouldn’t be the way I’d spend my own fortune if I had one. Deadpan western populism meets laconic Down East humor. I’d call it a tie.

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Order John Gierach’s latest book, Fool’s Paradise, at flyrodreel.com.