Our Man In Canada
December 18th, 2000

September On The Miramichi

Chris Marshall

By Chris Marshall
Glen Hales photos

Evening on our arrival
Until I retired a couple of years ago, I'd never had the opportunity to fish for salmon in the fall. As a teacher, I'd always been obliged to do my salmon fishing in July and August—not exactly the best time. Therefore, when Glen Hales, our Associate Photo Editor, and I got an invitation to fish the Little Southwest Miramichi this past September, I was more than ready—even though it was a sort—of business trip and I knew I'd spend more time out of the river than in it.

We arrived late Sunday afternoon after a ten-hour drive through the rain from Ontario. As we turned on to the dirt road into the valley of the Little Southwest just upstream from Halcomb, the sun came out, kindling the first patches of gold and vermilion on the trees on the north bank. Rain followed by sun—it was an omen. We weren't surprised to find that anglers at Upper Oxbow Adventures Lodge, where we were guests for the next few days, had taken three grilse that day.

Next morning, we were on the river just upstream from the lodge soon after sun-up, although in the fall there's really no need to get up early. By September, with the sun at mid-day so much closer to the horizon and the water so much cooler, the salmon are more active and the fishing remains good throughout the day.

Early snow and Atlantic! Although I'd fished the main branch of the Southwest a number of times, this was my first time on the Little Southwest—not to mention my first time fishing for salmon in the fall. Therefore, I was grateful for the expertise of my guides for the day, Luke Dyer and Jacques Heroux of Salmon Anglers Online. Jacques, a well-known New Brunswick fly tyer, insisted I use one of his favourite fall patterns, Ally's Shrimp, and showed me how to attach it to my leader with the Miramichi knot—a knot designed to impart optimum action to the fly on the downstream swing.

There was no wind, and tendrils of mist rose slowly from the water. Perfect! Step by step, we fished through the pool. Just downstream from me, Luke rolled a fish and magnanimously moved on, leaving it for me. I cast to it half a dozen times, holding my breath each time the fly swung over the lie, but it mustn't have really been in the mood. So we fished on down.

Before we broke for lunch, we'd had pulls from three more fish, but no hook-ups. By this time, the wind had got up and was gusting from the southeast directly on our right ears, which always presents a problem for right-handed casters. As the others rolled in, we were entertained with blow-by accounts of a number of fish missed, lost, and a couple caught. Typical for late September on the Miramichi.

Atlantic with an orange fly

In the fall, spurred by the cooling water, salmon tend to be more aggressive than they are in the summer. They're more likely to hit a fly and they're less finicky about pattern and size. Some fly fishers stick with the same patterns they've used through the summer, while others prefer to shift to something different. Many, such as Jacques, swear by flies which are predominantly orange, sporting prominent Golden pheasant tippet wings and tails. Others simply use their imaginations, producing fanciful patterns such as the Smurf, a blue version of the famous Green Machine. Some, such as The Slime, a chartreuse rabbit-fur monstrosity, would look more at home in a bass fisher's flybox than a salmon fisher's.

Fishing the run

Salmon also tend to hold in different places in the fall than they do in the summer. In the summer, you'll find fish holding in the oxygen-rich water of relatively shallow runs. Not so in the fall. Brent Silliker, Head Guide at Upper Oxbow Adventures, gently steered me away from such a run one evening (I'd been unwittingly fishing it that morning), and moved me further downstream to the head of a pool where the water deepened below a gravel bar. "That's where they're more likely to be holding now that the water is cooler", he explained, "There, and through the pool to where it begins to shallow towards the tail."

Winter 2000 issue

The only downside to fall salmon fishing is that most fish, especially those which have been in the river for a while, don't have the explosive energy of summer fish. They rarely make long, blistering runs and jump less frequently. Most have also lost their quicksilver, early-season brightness and sport trout-like spots on gold-hued flanks, with touches of red by October.

Author Chris Marshall on the right and grilse
It wasn't until the second day that I hooked my first fish, a lean, hook-jawed male grilse - and it wasn't on the Little Southwest but on the Renous River, which runs into the main branch of the Southwest at the immensely popular Quarryville Pool. In fact, although I rose three fish on the Little Southwest, I failed to hook any. But there'll be time for that, for I'm already planning to return next fall. ~ Chris Marshall

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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