Sutters Club in Doaktown, New Brunswick, Canada, began as a private fishing camp in 1994, open on a limited basis to friends and family members. In August of 2000, I was invited to the camp by Joe, an old friend and club member at the time, for a salmon fishing expedition on the Miramachi River. Joe flew seven of us up on a private plane, which was a thrill. My attitude on the flight was to keep my mouth shut and keep a low profile. The others on the trip were all young Wall Street types and Joe was their boss. I sat in the back of the jet and read while the rest of the group kept up an animated work- related discussion for the duration of the flight. After a few hours travel time, we arrived at Sutters camp, located on 50 pristine acres of Canadian wilderness.
The lodge was understated, with small but comfortable bedrooms. There was a master bedroom for Joe, our host, who came to breakfast the next morning in his pajamas. We all followed suit for the rest of the trip, so each morning we met in our pjs for an all-you-can-eat feast. It was such a casual and cool atmosphere, I will never forget it. Breakfast was the traditional fishing camp menu: eggs, bacon, sausage, bread baked that morning, fried tomatoes and urns of freshly brewed coffee. I took a few Pepcids afterward, then we all went off into canoes to fish the pools assigned to us—two guests to a canoe with a guide. My companion was a Harvard Business School grad who was just starting out in the finance world. He seemed nervous about saying or doing anything that would burn him with the boss. I was just there to fish and enjoy myself. We were casting from a 20-foot wide-bodied wooden canoe, typical of Canadian waters. I had my 8-weight rod and the guide provided the flies. Of course, after a while with no activity the guide started with the usual excuses: “the water is too low” “the water is too high” “you should have been here last week” “we should have fished in another pool” “the sun is too bright” and on and on. The usual excuses until someone strikes. I could tell my fishing companion was feeling competitive with his colleagues. I did not care about keeping score. Sure, I would have liked to bring a salmon to the net but it wasn’t the end of the world for me. The Pepcid was doing its job and I loved just being out on the water. I understood the competitiveness amongst the others, in a way a reflection of a desire to prove their worth. This excursion was another aptitude test, like the one they took to get into business school. I felt a bit sorry for them. Here we were fishing the beautiful Miramachi River—one of the best salmon rivers in North America—the sun was shining, the weather was warm, and it all seemed idyllic, but they were self-conscious and couldn’t really relax, even when they were in their breakfast pajamas. I had not felt that level of competitiveness since 1972, when I left a big New York City law firm for the country, to control my own destiny. I had no one else to account to, only myself and my willingness to succeed. For those young guys catching a fish was like grabbing the golden ring on a merry-go-round. I was probably the only other guest with fishing experience aside from the host and as it turned out I was the only one to hook a nice salmon. The guide was thrilled that our pool had produced a fish on his beat.
At the end of the day my canoe mate tried to conceal his disappointment. He had watched me struggle to finesse the salmon to the net and offered his congratulations. Of course, I felt good but downplayed my satisfaction. Upon landing at the dock, when asked how it went, I deflected any attention with a quiet “Okay” and left my canoe mate to tell the story. Fishing is about more than the catching. It is about the camaraderie and being in nature. You need to maintain your humility for those times when everyone around you catches and you get skunked.