"Sorry I'm late there, I had an unexpected bowel movement there."
That's how I began fishing the Miramichi River, our guide was a bit late, Mac said, "at least he was honest about it." I won't name the guide because George knows where I live, and it WASN'T him.
We're fishing streamers, The Gray Ghost, the Butterfly, the Conrad, Mickey Finn and Green Butt Black Bear, 6 pound tipit, regular backing and sink line to get down to where the fish are.
On The Miramichi the salmon season runs from April 15th until October 15th but Salmon isn't the only fish in the river, "The brook trout is beautiful here, they run anywhere from a ½ pound to 7-8 pounds, got stripers here as well," George yells from the back of the boat.
George knows salmon: "If you see a salmon jump, he's moving upstream, he's not looking to take a fly, he's just holding, but if you see one porposing, that's the one you go after, one who has stopped. A fish on the move will not take a fly."
We're looking for pools near the banks knowing the salmon spool there waiting for the millions of smelt who come up stream hugging the shore. And George knows the fishing holes whether they be in the Miramichi or its tributary next door, The Renous River: Bootjack Eddy, Donovan Pool, Dunk's Eddy, Gravy Train, The Devil's Back, Elbow Pool, Stan's Run, Buzz's Bar, Bath Tub, and Annies Rock named after you know who.
Going up river on the Renous we pass Buzz Bezanson's boat who yells out, "The skunk is out of the boat," meaning after a couple of days he caught a fish, five actually, two salmon and three grilse (sort of a teenage salmon about to go out to sea and come back as a real ass bright salmon).
Buzz is no rookie to this, his name is up on a plaque on the lodge wall telling all that on 9/19/97 he hooked a 25 ½ pound Hen (female Salmon) using a No. 8 hook with a Butterfly fly. Back on shore he tells me, "My guide told me he would rather spend 8 minutes with Dolly Parton than eight hours fishing with me."
Stopping in a pool only he can see, George is in the stern manning the outboard, Annie is in the middle, and I'm in the bow. It's been several days without fish, the river was high, the current was swift and there was debris, dirt, grass and logs, everywhere. We couldn't see the fish, and they couldn't see us, or more importantly, our flies. George is smiling, the wind is right for fishing, "It's a southwest wind, that's good, my father had a saying 'Fish bite the least when the wind is in the east."
Lines cast out, Mickey Finn thrown in a 45-degree angle so it fishes tight, "When you cast straight across it's going to have a belly, with the belly in the line, the slack, when the fish hits that with slack he may not hook," says George as he effortlessly does just that. "What I like to do is throw it out at 45 degress and put the rod tip 2 inches above the water, put the rod tip down and let it follow the fly around, this way you don't got to set your hook. When that fish hits, it's tight, but if you leave your rod up he's going to feel the rod, and you don't want him to feel the rod. If everything is tight when he touches it, he's hooked."
Short casts to start, don't want to throw 50 feet when the salmon may be just six feet off the stern, first cast is 8 to 10 feet, every other cast after another 2-3 feet of line is added. And within 15 minutes, Annie hooks and boats a Salmon. It's 40 to 41 inches long, maybe about 15 pounds. Annie, arms raised in the air yells, "I caught a fish, I caught a fish," and immediately lights up another camel unfiltered, the old butt sails over my head.
Heading back to the lodge I turned to see George wipe what looked like a tear from his face. Onshore, I found out that's just what it was.
"When the fishing is tough, I think of my father, Roy, and the times I spent fishing with him. We had a lot in common, and I thought that maybe he is watching over me today, I thought that maybe he was in the pool here with us when Annie caught that salmon. Seemed like he was there all along."
Walking back up to the lodge, I also wiped a tear away.
Zen Mac and Karma
Me, "What day is today."
Mac, "If you have to ask that question, that's good fishing."
It was T-bone steak, mashed potatoes, peas, fresh made bread and strawberry shortcake day made to order by George's wife, Jean.
Mac and I were sitting on the front porch overlooking the hypnotizing river, he smoking a fat cigar, me gagging from fat cigar smoke. And he was humming. This song:
"The river flows
it flows to the sea"
The Ballad of Easy Rider by The Byrds. He was up to something, I could feel it.
"I think we should stay another day."
Cough, "Figured already called home to say I would be late."
Puff smile, "The rivers dropping, clearing up, could be some good fishing ahead."
Cough rub eyes if only I knew what an understatement that was going to be.
Back in the boat with George, Mac all happy, this was going to be his first time fishing with the master, heading down river on the Miramichi, wide turn around the mouth, back up river on the Renous, seagulls on every bank, smelt in every beak straight past Bootjack Eddy slight turn at what I called "Cramp Eddy," a spot George used as an "Emergency Pit stop."
Power down as we float into "Yankee Pool." A pool of still water only there in the spring, in summer it's just rock and sand. "We'll anchor here at the edge of the current, cast a little ways out there into the pool near the bank, bet those Salmon are stacked up there, going to be the very best, you'll see."
Over my head Mac casts a "Renous River Special" a fly INVENTED by George's father, Roy. I'm thinking, We're on the Renous, using a fly the dude's father made up, fishing a pool named Yankee, which in fact, would be us.
Then wham and the sweet sound only a reel ripping off drag can make. Mac was on his first fish, and we'd been here all of 15 minutes now. In the boat, a grilse, quick picture of him holding the fish to prove to the wives that we being expert fisher-guys knew all along why we needed to stay an extra day, then another cast, and wham again.
And on and on, and on through a quick beaching of the boat on shore for a well needed pee stop through untwisting the fly line from around my head the result of the wind not an errant cast I was told through the line somehow getting stuck under the bench seat in the boat and even the casting of just a fly line, the Renous River Special stuck on something INSIDE the boat. Through all this, Mac caught fish.
George, "How about you catch a dozen, then we can head home for dinner, meatloaf you know."
Bam another fish number seven I think.
Mac, "Does salmon count as one of the twelve."
Bang a salmon I'm starting to look for George's brother Darryl under the boat in a wet suit.
Bang eight bang nine, and so on. All in all, Mac caught 13 fish, in 90 freakin' minutes. In fish math that's one fish every seven minutes peeing on the bank included. It was a 20-fish day, in the morning he caught three salmon (a 40, 44 and 46 inch monster) and several grilse.
All on one fly, all with a sink tip line. Mac; "Five salmon a day is a great trip, 10 salmon in a day is almost unheard of, but 20 fish in one day is the penultimate salmon trip. It won't get any better than this. It made the last 999 fishing trips worthwhile, you really always shoot for that one perfect day when everything comes together just right the temperature was right, the river conditions were right, the water quality was right. We were in the perfect spot, every single cast you make you'll get that kind of rush, where any second the biggest fish you ever caught in your life could hit your line, and they were hitting every third cast I made. It was Karma"
Heading back to the lodge and the meatloaf, Mac was sprawled out in the bow of the boat, if there is such a thing as Zen, I imagine this was the face of it. Behind me, George yelled through my two hoods and one hat that this was his father's favorite fishing hole, "knew he wouldn't let me down."
But it was back on shore, within yards of the Caramel Pie desert that George took me aside and told me something I will remember forever, be it about fishing, or life.
With his gnarled angler hands on my shoulder, he looked at me as I'm sure his father once looked at him, and this man of the river told me, "We're a long time dead, you scallywags need to enjoy this while you still can."
And in front of me, walking up the sidewalk to the lodge, three poles over his shoulders, Mac was humming
"Wherever that river goes
that's where I want to be "
Don Barone is a feature producer for ESPN. Other stories of his are available on Amazon.com. You can reach him at Don.Barone@espn.com
For more information about The Black Rapids Salmon Lodge you can go to www.miramichiblackrapids.com