Camp with the Kids

My adult children and grandson were waiting for me curbside at Bangor Airport.  They had all arranged to gather at LaGuardia to fly up together for their exclusive week with Dad at camp. My son-in-law Peter was on his cell catching up with business as my daughters waved me over.  After quick hugs and hellos, everyone piled in the Bronco, anxious to get to camp–but not before our planned stop for lunch at Governors, a family restaurant which is part of a chain exclusive to Maine. 

                A family week together at camp has become an annual event for the past several years. When we are all under one roof again it is immediately like old times, though we have had our separate homes for years now.  Shared meals and campfire stories of times past and plans for times to come reconnect us and deepen bonds. 

                I planned to take everyone to Sucker Lake for fishing and a cookout.  Kara and Peter opted out for yoga and conference calls.  Brooke and Billy drove with me in the Bronco over the snowmobile path to the entrance of the lake area.  A bumpy ride but the Bronco handled it as advertised.  Greg met us there with a portable battery-operated motor for the rowboat moored at the shore.  The motor was silent so the quiet of the lake was maintained as we traveled the short distance to a small island for a barbeque.  Greg started his campfire while I waded into the water for a few casts.  Billy tried his hand at wading and casting alongside me and I noticed he was more confident in his technique this year.

                Lunch was a typical Lenny picnic menu:  hamburgers with mustard and relish.  The appetizers and dessert were catching a bass, so after a few bites I rushed everyone into the rowboat to find a spot where the fish were waiting for us. 

                We maneuvered over to a promising-looking cove and before long Brooke and Billy caught several mid-size fish.  Dad landed a few but the exercise was to have the kids experience the lake and its surroundings.  There were no camps along the lake shore, no signs of anyone else.  Just pure wilderness.  Truly a heavenly place.

First Cast

          I headed to camp solo this past week. I wasn’t alone intentionally, but my invited guests declined for various reasons.  Anyway, I wouldn’t really be alone once I got there.  I envisioned days of backwater fishing with my camp caretaker, Greg, using my new 4 weight rod—a birthday present from an old colleague—and I would spend at least a day on the water with Andy, my long-time fishing guide at Wheaton Lodge. 

My first morning back I awoke easily at 5:45am, the sun dousing me with warmth through the bedroom window.   Quick to caffeinate and with metal coffee cup in hand, I sprinted down to the dock for a few casts off toward the rocks, past where the local ducks were sunning themselves.  The bass were disturbed by my casts and fled, so I sat for a bit at the edge of the dock, scanning the lake and the few boats trolling for landlocked salmon and lake trout. East Grand Lake never ceases to amaze me.  What was my hurry this morning? The water lapping at my feet at end of the dock and the quiet sound of nothingness was like a soothing balm.

After a time I was ready for fishing – perhaps the gods would provide for a bit of catching. I headed to Wheaton’s and Andy greeted me with a grin. Knowing I would not arrive at daybreak he had already trailered over to Spudnick Lake and dropped his East Grand canoe into the water.  Wheaton’s had prepared us a cold lunch, which would give us more time fishing – no lakeside picnic over an open fire–as there was a thunderstorm forecast late afternoon.  We set off into a breezy but beautiful, partly cloudy morning on the lake. Sitting with the wind at my back I closed my eyes and savored the moment, the sun on my unshaven face, with only the sound of the small motor pushing us along to break the silence.  Andy steered us over to a small cove sheltered from the gusty winds.  We dropped anchor and using one of Andy’s hand-tied yellow poppers I cast into the still water among the rocks and downed branches.  Andy advised me to think like a bass: first scan the fly, then swim around it a couple of times then, if the fly moves, lunge for it.  So using my bass mind, I retrieved the line a few times and…whack a hit!  I set the fly and stripped in the line with my left hand.  I brought a lovely small mouth bass to the canoe.  Andy excitedly scooped the fish into the boat and grabbed his cell for a photo. He was as excited as I was to have caught a fish first cast out.

First cast first catch.  In a larger sense, it is almost a metaphor– for those times in life when taking a new chance on something yields results.  There have been times, when faced with a challenge, I went for something new—a first attempt at a solution—that led to a success. For instance, in my early years practicing law I decided to review the dissent in a case as the starting point for an argument to overturn precedent in a forthcoming case. This was an unconventional, fresh approach into unfamiliar waters that in the end resulted in a win. I used that strategy a number of times after that.  My first big case in the Hamptons that received some press came about when I argued against the Town preventing a portion of beachfront from development without any legal basis to support the ruling. My challenge came from the dissent in another case which argued that “policy does not make law only a properly enacted legislative act of the municipality.” In that case I cast into an area where the courts wouldn’t usually venture in overturning an action of the Town. The day fishing with Andy was a delight as always. Things don’t change much in northern Maine.  Andy’s Maine style reflects the nature of the water. He is even yet spirited. A great fellow to fish with.
Back at camp Greg and Darcy prepared for the next day at the backwaters off River Road.  I had in past years tried fishing from the top of the water, but now with nymphs I would try my hand below the surface. My old Grumman canoe was propped against a fallen tree when we arrived at the edge of the pond. The paddles were in tattered shape having been ravaged by a bear per Greg. As usual Greg used a tree branch as a paddle to get us into the middle of the pond.  I cast out, using my new rod and waited.  A very slight, almost imperceptible movement of the bopper sitting on the water surface was the signal that a fish was on. Greg yelled at me to set the hook. Like I wasn’t moving as quickly as I could once my brain registered that yes Lenny a fish was on one of the nymphs below the surface. We did not have a net so Greg brought the fish to the canoe by hand over hand stripping in the line.  A beauty–the colors of a Monet thrashing around in the bottom of the canoe while I took a few photos. Once again it was the first cast into fresh water.  I wish every cast could be a first cast.

July 4th, 2022

This year I decided, in anticipation of the July 4th holiday, and with the conflict in Ukraine on my mind, to do some reading about wartime heroism and bravery. I had read through some of Stephen Crane’s works over the winter, including his biography, so decided to tackle his classic novel, “The Red Badge of Courage”, as my war fiction read and, for a more current, nonfiction military account, “Against All Odds: A True Story of Ultimate Courage and Survival in World War II” by Alex Kershaw. I started with Crane and finished on July 4th with Kershaw.  Crane was a bit difficult and without the footnotes in the Oxford World Classics edition, I would have had difficulty with some of the references taken from contemporary Civil War sources. Crane penned this incredible book of man’s destiny in war in 1895.

            Four American heroes of WW II are the subjects of Kershaw’s book.  This book was faster reading, with vivid, detailed accounts of the heroic actions of the soldiers highlighted in the book – Audie Murphy, Keith Ware, Maurice Britt and Michael Daly – set against the backdrop of Hitler’s relentless, destructive efforts to thwart the U.S. invasion Europe. Each of these soldiers earned multiple medals for bravery. Each earned their their own “red badge of courage” i.e. wound from battle.  Their stories of heroism leave an indelible impression. 

            I ask myself why I am drawn to read certain books and authors. In Crane’s case, my interest was aroused by a review in one of the many book-related publications to which I subscribe, of a recent Crane biography by Linda Davis.  After that I was inspired to read his work, and started with his short stories.  When I picked up “The Red Badge of Courage,” I quickly realized I had read it once before, in college as part of my American Studies program. I recalled very little of it, remembering more of the scenes from a movie version which we also watched in the class. It was like reading it anew.  Crane was an exceptional writer who had only one trick pony so to speak.  Red Badge was it, and Crane was recognized after publishing it, but he died young without another full-length book to his credit. Many of his short stories are book beginnings. Crane was a war correspondent and bravely covered various wars and skirmishes for several newspapers and magazines. The Civil War was the great conflict of the time, but Crane, a generation removed from the action, was late to the rodeo. Instead, he wrote The Red Badge of Courage about the war hero he wished to be.  Kershaw focuses on the heroic acts that pushedHitler’s armies back to Germany, as well as the lives lost and the souls beyond repair after the war ended.

            My interest in both these books and particularly the significance of reading them during the July 4th holiday was to give context to the bravery and heroism we see today. We might consider brave soldiers those public figures, activists and people who do battle to heal the divisions in our society and—most importantly to me—those who fight to preserve our democracy as did the heroes of WWIl.  I read daily reports from the war in Ukraine, the stories of selflessness and dedication to the cause. These men and woman are fighting for Ukraine’s independent democracy.  Here in the U.S., we battle to preserve the freedom to make our own decisions as to whom we elect to higher office, for the freedom to make our own decisions as to whom we marry and the freedom to control our own bodies.  The heroes in our country today are those brave souls who fight for the rights of everyone to be their own person and true to their own values.

The Riverman

Lenny Ackerman

The Riverman

While on a recent fishing trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains, I finished reading “Riverman” by Ben McGrath.  On the surface it is a biography, but it is also a mystery, and at the heart of it, the author’s own story within the story.  McGrath, a young man from the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York and a writer for the New Yorker, describes meeting Dick Conant, a Hudson River canoeist traveling south, and how shortly afterward, he learns of Conant’s untimely and mysterious death.  What started as a casual meet up for the author turns into an obsessive search for information, to understand the canoeist’s eccentric, solitary, wildly adventurous life.   McGrath finds a trove of Conant’s writings, photographs and diary entries detailing a lifetime of river travel in a storage locker in Bozeman, Montana.  These documents create a trail for the author to follow as he sets out to find the truth behind them and about Conant himself.  In doing so the story becomes one as much about the author as the adventurer, as McGrath travels the country, seeking the people and places touched by Conant in his travels and studying the impressions left behind.  He learns that Conant was an elusive, larger than life character who measured his days by distances traveled on the water, and who was completely disconnected from the modern, digital world.  The truth of Conant’s adventures varied from stopover to stopover and McGrath concludes there may have been a great deal of fiction in the storage locker writings.  Conant’s mysterious and unsolved death is the ultimate unanswered question in the book since no body was ever found, only his canoe, with some scraps of paper, including one with the author’s name and phone number.   In truth, Dick Conant was many people – he had a vivid, imaginary love life, but many real friends that he made along the way –many of them like him, loners and forgotten by family. 

I began reading “Riverman” on my trip from New York to the High Sierras in California.  Little did I know when I started the book that I was traveling to a place very much like those the author found in his quest to unravel the mystery of Conant’s life and death.  Downieville, the County Center of the Sierras, is remote and in many ways like a step back in time.  I envisioned running the rapids, like Conant, in a pontoon boat down the Yuba or Big Truckee River, with stops in small towns of bygone days, meeting people along the way.  “Riverman” leaves the reader moved, and longing for a wilderness adventure.  

Summer Morning in Kennebunk

It is 8:00am July 3, 2022.  Patti and I are in Maine at our cottage in Kennebunk.  Next week I am off to my camp for a few days of undisturbed reading and of course fishing with Andy and Greg on East Grand Lake.  This morning I take my usual drive along the ocean, Route 9 to Cape Porpoise, where I first stop to buy my coffee and New York Times.  Then, it is on to my bench at the fishing dock on the Point overlooking the harbor and the inlet where the fishing boats are moored.  The cashier at Bradfords is decked out in his Boston Red Socks hat and a red, white and blue flag tie.  He is scowling.  The man ahead of me helpfully reminds the cashier that today is a holiday and he should be smiling.  With that the cashier laughs and his lips curl as he is about to say something but glancing at the long line of people he decides to keep his mouth shut.  I sip away at my coffee.  The early morning rush of weekenders and cyclists are here, fueling up, buying lunch and iced coffees to take down to the beach.  I pick up a paper and see the newspaper rack is low, which may be a result of the reduced volume of papers delivered each day.  Seems only half of what it was last year?  The papers on offer still represent a relatively wide range geographically, from Boston to Portland to New York, as well as a local weekly with mostly real estate ads. 

I drive the short distance to my bench on the waterfront and sigh with contentment in my solitude. I don’t feel like a conversation before I am fully caffeinated.  The parking lot is empty of fishermen–unusual except today is Sunday, the day before the holiday, and the lobsters have a day off before they succumb.  The wind is making my newspaper reading difficult, so I take a walk out to the dock. There are a couple of locals working the repair of the lift for a heavy catch like a tuna.  The large dog in the fisherman’s truck barks at me then realizes it’s a day off and he calms down.  I see among the strollers coming down the road a familiar character from last summer:  the mysterious older woman who lives in the large house on the water.  She is wearing a long raincoat and she makes her way up to the highest rock to scan the horizon for ships.  There are none coming in and she walks back, down the road, brushing her fingers along the flowering bushes as she passes by.  I think of approaching her but I recall last year she was abrupt with me when I tried to engage her.  A group of cyclists stream by slowly, looking around – probably for a public restroom, of which there are none, except in the restaurants and they are not open yet. 

The boats are like bowling pins in the harbor.  The low tide makes them stand out as if on stilts.  Off in the distance waves break.  A single sailboat is navigating cautiously.  With the tide out, Cape Porpoise is not safe sailing. 

It is a glorious morning.  I decide to take the top off the Bronco for the ride to our cottage.  I try a new route over the backroads to Kennebunk along the ocean.  There are signs offering handmade deck chairs and quilts.  I would like to stop but I know I will get into a conversation that will result in the purchase of something I don’t need.  I am happy and looking forward to going grocery shopping with Patti before lunch.  I will email my daughters Kara and Brooke to check in.  July 4th is very special to all of us as it was our anniversary – their late mother’s and mine.  This year would have been our 60th.    

Father’s Day

Growing up in upstate New York in the 1950s, what I remember most clearly about Father’s Day are the homemade gifts that we worked on for weeks in advance in shop class, before school closed for the summer. One year I labored over the construction of a tie rack, designed like a cowboy holding a long stick, over which the ties would drape in a row.  Like my father even wore ties?  Anyway, that was the task for all of us kids, to come up with something that showed great effort for our fathers.  By the time I was in high school, shop class long behind me, my mother would choose a Father’s Day gift from the family.  Despite her frugality, a week before Father’s Day my mother and I would take the bus downtown to buy dad a gift—usually something he could wear to work, like winter gloves or a flannel shirt—all on sale during the summer.  Afterward, we would walk over to dad’s parking lot and wait for him to close up. Then we would all ride home together, his present hidden in mom’s shopping bag.  

My mother’s gift to my dad on Father’s Day was to cook his favorite meal for dinner- beef brisket with sides of baked potatoes and roasted carrots, followed by chocolate cake.  Before sitting down to eat, my dad downed a shot of whiskey.  Then he dug into mom’s dinner like it was his last supper.  No restaurant could offer the same level of satisfaction and happiness as his favorite meal homecooked by my mom.   Whether the children attended this sumptuous meal on Father’s Day was beside the point with dad.  My sister usually found a reason to drop off a present and skipped out on the dinner.  My brother always seemed to be somewhere else—college, law school or selling something.  With mom in the kitchen, I was usually my dad’s sole companion and of course I watched what I said and how I responded to any questions he threw at me.  “Yes, school was fine.” “No I was not looking forward to summer because I am not going to camp.”  That one was my attempt to get him to agree with mom that I have two weeks away at Camp Seneca.  Usually between the first and second helping dad would be amenable to discussing the camp request which usually was about the cost. 

During my teens dad wanted me working the parking lot during the summer to cut down on his payroll.  I learned my negotiating skills by trading off hours at the lot for two weeks at Camp Seneca.  I was being paid, ha ha, and the salary was to be applied to camp fees.  Years later, when I got married and headed to law school, my mother presented me with a passbook to a savings account in my name with the notation, “Parking Lot Money.” My gosh my dad had kept his word.  I think there was $2,500 in that account.  My folks were real savers. I can almost hear my folks today, seeing the presents kids lavish on their father for Father’s Day: “Save for a rainy day, Lenny.”

Managing Expectations: More on my Travel Out West

June 2022

On my trip out to California, my flight arrived in Reno late in the day. Notwithstanding the time distance in my favor, the experience at the airport was a bit unsettling. First of all, from the minute I exited the plane I was never more than a few feet from a slot machine. I can understand gambling at casinos but at the airline arrival gates? It was Reno but slots on the way to the men’s room?

The ride to Downieville was easy. The traffic out of Reno during rush hour was not the Long Island Expressway, that is it didn’t seem like much traffic at all. The exit into the valley was like an off ramp to the wilderness. I opened the windows in my rental car to take in the fresh mountain air. With Frank Sinatra on the Sirius radio I was in heaven. Cruising along with one eye on the GPS the time seemed to pass quickly as I headed to my accommodations at The Lure.

The Lure is not a hotel but a scenic arrangement of cabins along the Yuba River. I found my cabin attractive and well-furnished and looked forward to falling into bed. My first surprise was when I read in the list of Lure details and learned there was no wifi or cell service at the site. I sat myself down on the sofa and took a deep breath. Was this good or bad I thought to myself. Good—no one to bother me. Bad– withdrawal from life as I know it? I would deal with the issue in the morning. I live by an Apple watch and I phone. I went ahead and plugged all my gadgets into power, ready for whatever was to come in the morning. I was scheduled to meet Bill Copren for breakfast at Bassetts, a diner-service station about 45 minutes north on Route 49, followed by a day of fishing. Without cell service I had no GPS. Oh well, I would find the place as Ali had given me brief directions.

Of course, I set my travel alarm for 7:00 am forgetting that it was 2 hours earlier. In fact I arose without an alarm, at 5:30 a.m. Eastern time. The cabin came with a coffee maker but no groceries. Despite Ali’s admonishment that she outfit the cabin in advance of my arrival with basics, I, the big shot, told her I would handle groceries when I arrived. Of course, I didn’t realize the grocery store was in the opposite direction of Bassetts. I arrived at Bassetts before it opened at 8:00am and waited for someone to open the door. As soon as the “closed” sign was turned to “open” I stumbled in, in search of my first coffee of the day. Whoa am I addicted! Bill soon showed up and we sat together chatting about fishing and catching. I repeatedly told him I came to fish and catching was extra. I don’t think he bought my line. We left together in his truck to Gold Lake, off Route 49 in the mountains. Bill explained that Gold Lake got its name from the rumors that spread during the gold rush years, that there were massive deposits of the yellow ore beneath the lake floor. It drew hundreds of hopefuls but the rumors proved to be just that.

We approached the lake through a magnificent row of fir trees pruned by nature to form a canopy over our path. As we parked and pulled on our waders, we noticed an elderly couple – as a cohort I know how to define elderly—carefully rowing off into the middle of the lake. The sun beamed overhead between the high clouds, the sky pierced with contrails of passing jets. The woods teemed with life, including some busy blue jays hunting for breakfast. It was a peaceful, idyllic scene.

Bill and I waded chest deep into the water. The cold penetrated my feet and the shock was refreshing. The air temperature was in the 50’s and the water no more than 45 degrees per Bill’s reading. We were the only fishermen for some reason. After a while with no takes, Bill decided we should go to Mallard Cove at Davis Lake. Still no takes, but our time together was grand – a fishing and history lesson. Bill was a meticulous fly tier and we used the flies he had personally tied. The next day we traveled a distance to the Little Truckee River, where I went in barefoot in my wading boots. The water was icy cold and I cast with a 5-weight rod that allowed for a terrific drift. There was no action, but the stream was a delightful soft run of casual water that I am certain on the right day held lots of brook trout.

My time with Bill was a wonderful opportunity to not only hear but experience the history of the High Sierras. Bassett Station, where we met for breakfast, was a way station, since the 1850s, where horses were changed when pulling wagons over and through the Yuba Pass. Bill explained how a gold miner from Connecticut named AP Chapman discovered the valley in the 1800s and after a successful run of mining brought his family west to settle there permanently. He was the largest landowner in the area and is considered the founder of the Valley. In 1859 the Comstock Lode was discovered in Virginia City, Nevada and the miners abandoned the Downieville area.

There are still a few local gold mines, but not like they were in the heyday of the ‘49ers. The old mining towns exist today as Downieville, Sierra City, and many others. The rich history of the area is preserved by people like Carl and Bill, who keep it alive through word of mouth and through The Mountain Messenger – a nostalgic tribute to a wonderful pocket of American history.

Here in Downieville

June 2022

I spent last week in the High Sierras visiting with the owner-editor-publisher of The Mountain Messenger, Carl Butz.  It was a trip I had planned to take back in 2020 before the pandemic set in.  Finally, this spring I was able to comfortably plan a visit with Carl and explore the area that I briefly visited some 12 years ago with my good friend Gere, who was celebrating his 70th birthday with a trip to the California National Parks.  This time I was motivated to talk with Carl and learn more about the area surrounding Downieville, which is the center of Sierra County, and to explore some of the mountain wilderness.  My visit more than met my expectations.  Not only did I spend evening time with Carl, but he introduced me to one of his close friends, Bill Copren, who grew up in the area.  Bill was tasked with taking me exploring and fishing which we did together for a couple of days with enthusiasm. Not only did Bill give me a history lesson of the area but drove me through some of the most dramatic mountain ranges in North America.  I visited Sierra City and Truckee, all of which were within reasonable driving distance of my cabin on the Yuba River.  I urge those of you who read the Messenger from afar to visit the Downieville area.  The town is a classic, northern California gold rush town with lots of history.  Many of the buildings are historical sites occupied by local retailers of sports equipment, morning coffee, bars, and a grocery store.  Downieville, as county center, brings morning traffic from points north and south.  I took away from my trip a better understanding of Carl’s goal in purchasing and bringing back to life the paper.  “Nostalgia” responds Carl to my query about why subscribers and readers both local and far away read his weekly paper.  Of course, local news is important, but the history of the area prompts readers as well.  Carl’s enthusiasm for providing both a service of local interest as well as the historical aspect is palpable. Caffeinating with Carl on the second-floor porch of his office, we spoke of the importance of maintaining a weekly paper with local news.  Coming off an interview about the Supervisor race for the county job, Carl was focused on the positions taken by the candidates.  Over 40 locals participated in the session where the candidates answered questions and stated their positions on issues that are similar to those in races throughout our land—gun control, the environment, climate warming and affordable housing.  Carl’s reporting in last week’s paper articulated the views of many of the participants.  Those of us who cherish the free press and liberties associated with the right to express our opinions are fortunate to still have people like Carl who invest their time and money to preserve a local paper.  P.S. For my readers, including my friend Arnie, who were praying for me to catch a salmon on my last afternoon of fishing the Restigouche in Quebec – I am sorry to report I was “skunked.”   I tried Arnie!

Restigouche Day Two

June 2022

After an “uncatching” afternoon my first full day on the water, I joined the rest of the Sports for dinner– a humbling experience.  The biggest news was that one of the guys caught a bright salmon – a big and sparkling specimen who swam upriver from the Atlantic Ocean to spawn. It was a happy report for all of us. There were several smaller kelts caught among the group, but the news of the bright ocean salmon was the highlight of the evening supper.  That night, I went to sleep dreaming of a knock from a salmon on the drift of my cast.  

There is a bit of backstory to my fishing the Restigouche River.  In 2017, I was invited by my friends Lori and Ted to a beautiful private fishing lodge in New Brunswick, Canada.  The seaplane fly-up included a stop at their camp on East Grand Lake, next door to a property that was my camp to be.  That trip was the impetus to buy my camp on the lake. The side story is that at Restigouche, Ted and Lori caught their limit of salmon and I caught nothing.  I was looking forward to a hook-up or two this time.  

The morning of my second day it was rainy and overcast with temps in the low 50s.  Jere awaited me at riverside, eager to get going.  Dressed in waders and rain gear I slid into the canoe.  Jere, bundled for the weather, carefully sat himself down in the middle seat. The object when fishing these waters is to have a guide who knows, based on experience, where to locate the fish, then cast away and hope for the best.  Our guide motored out into the middle of the river directly in front of the lodge.  Setting the anchor, we were positioned away from the others who were off to their guides’ secret sites.  I asked Jere to cast first so I could watch his technique.  Jere cast like a maestro while remaining in his seat.  With both hands on his 19-foot rod he drew the rod back from the right side of the canoe and with the thrust of his right hand directed his cast to the left side careening some 20 plus feet.  Smooth and effortless, it was a quick and quiet motion but for the swoosh of the line.  I watched the line drift to the right on the water surface, waiting for the slightest knock from a salmon.  The line was nearly straightened as Jere and I talked fisherman small talk about nothing much when a sudden grab on the line startled all of us including the guide.  The first cast of the day and a take! OMG! Jere responded with “Oh s—t.”  His face broke into a smile that could have brightened the entire river.  The guide gave Jere directions to set the hook and hold on as he pulled the engine to start for the shore to land the fish.  We traveled carefully with the salmon on the line, careful not to lose it with a slack line.  On shore the guide netted the large, beautiful kelp specimen.  Jere was thrilled.   We high-fived each other and of course the pressure was now on me to catch one.  We still had some three hours before lunch and I cast until my shoulder ached.  I was mindful of the need to relax my grip in the unlikely event a fish knocked into my fly.  These fish I am told, set the hook by attacking the fly and by turning set the hook.  Not the customary cast, drift, strip and set upon the take.  Standing in the canoe and extending my cast almost as far as Jere had from a seated position, I had a few knocks but no takes. It was not meant to be.  I did not look forward to facing all the Sports at lunch with a no-hit record on the boards.  

Restigouche River Lodge Day One

May 2022

The trip north from camp to the Canadian border at Houlton was a pleasant hour drive in my new Bronco.  Through the car’s Bluetooth, I picked up WQXR radio out of New York which was reporting 90-degree weather in New York—quite aa contrast to the brisk 40 degrees outside my window.  The Bronco was a bit noisy on the highway, but the fresh new car smell and the knowledge that my fishing bag and rods were tucked in the trunk gave me a sense of freedom and real excitement for my first post-Covid adventure fishing trip in North Country.  The Restigouche River Lodge had been closed since 2020 due to Covid.  The guides, all from the Quebec side of the river, had been quarantined and virtually blocked from crossing the bridge between Quebec and New Brunswick.  When I reached the border, the female officer seemed a bit bored and robotic in her inquiries of me –where and why the trip?  Never a look at my face, only a look-see at the computer and a continuing conversation with of the other officers at the window.  It was a routine, though heavily armed and tattooed welcome to Canada.  

The GPS reported some 170 miles to my destination.  The rain started out lightly as I-95 merged onto the Canadian highway system.  For the next 80 miles there were some trucks and a few cars but I mostly had the road to myself.  Surprised by the signs that read 90 speed limit I pushed the Bronco to 80mph. Of course, at that hour I was not sufficiently caffeinated to realize that the Canadian signs are not in miles per hour but kilometers.  Luckily, I was not pulled over, since my French is non-existent beyond parlay vu fransay.  It was too early for office calls. I did all I could to stay focused on the route and my GPS.  

The countryside was magnificent.  Open space for miles and gracious, unobstructed vistas of mountains and fields.  It reminded me very much of Wales, which I have visited several times on fishing trips.  As I drove further north off the highway onto local roads I passed through small towns only recognizable by the fact that there were gas stations and scattered motels.  The northern Canadian landscape is primarily a forestry-driven economy.  I passed trucks laden with lumber traveling both north and south.  Lumber mills occupied the center of the various small towns I passed through.  The music of WQXR kept me alert behind the wheel -a lively Bach concert was the ideal morning program.    The only thing missing was a third cup of coffee and the New York Times.  Oh my addiction to that paper—an addiction I can’t seem to satisfy with the online version.  I have to hold the newsprint in my hands. I wouldn’t be doing that for the next few days.   

At the turn off from Route 17 onto Flathead Road which runs parallel to the river, I rolled down the window to take in the fresh smell of burning wood from the fireplaces in nearby houses and the sound of rushing water which was music to my ears.   I would be home in the woods for the next few days.

Restigouche River Lodge is a beautifully built camp along a broad expanse of the Restigouche River.  Chris, the manager, greeted me warmly and gave me a welcome gift of assorted hand-tied flies which, earlier in the week had caught several kelt salmon. Perhaps a good luck charm.   Kelt are defined as salmon that have spent the winter up the river under the ice and are now on their way back to the ocean to feed.  The salmon swimming back upstream are called ocean bright salmon—they are fully fed, big, and now ready to spawn.  I think I got that right… Anyway, the flies were a beautiful and touching arrival gift.  

It was late afternoon and after the long drive I was excited to fish.  I was paired up with Jere, who would be my canoe mate, and who was anxious to get on the water as soon as I could wader up.  I emptied my fly-fishing bag onto the bed in my cabin and layered up with fleece, a beanie cap, rain jacket and wading boots.  I had not donned my cold-water fishing clothes in two years They felt a bit stiff and uncomfortable but they would be worn in again soon enough.  

Our guide was from a small town across the river in Quebec and spoke perfect English mixed in with a few French words here and there – Franglais.  Jere had been out fishing with him for several days now and caught three kelt so far.  No pressure mind you.  The grand canoe was similar in design to my camp canoe.  Jere cast seated.  I needed to stand to get the distance and we alternated casting.  He would cast out a comfortable length of line and then I would go, though it was not really casting on my part.  I had a 12.6-foot two-handed Spey rod which I had last used in Iceland in 2017.  At least that was my excuse for hooking the guide on my initial attempt.  Jere wisely kept his head down when I stood up to cast.  I spent most of the first afternoon relearning how to cast, and thanks to my companions I had some damn good instructors.  By the end of the trip I was in fact getting the line out.  More on that next week, folks.  Just for the record I did not hook a fish my first day out.  And wait til you hear what happens that night, when the rest of the Sports at camp reported on their day on the water.  Boy was I humbled.