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Subscriber John Harrison was among the first anglers to fish Old River Lodge in New Brunswick since its recent modernization. He did so through our FREE fishing program. To get opportunities like this to fish FREE at great places around the world, simply upgrade your subscription to Online Extra. You can do so on our Web site at www.anglingreport.com.
In July of this year I was the lucky recipient of a free seven-day trip to fish for Atlantic salmon on the world-famous Miramichi River in New Brunswick, Canada. I stayed at the Old River Lodge (www.miramichisalmon-fishing-canada.ca), which is now owned and operated by Paul Michaels of Blissfield Sporting Camps. Over the last 12 months, at a cost of $3.5 million, Paul has done a masterful job of rebuilding and modernizing the old lodge. The thought and detail he put into it (he is a design engineer) is obvious as soon as you enter the place. There are now three exceptionally spacious new cedar chalets, all overlooking the river, each with two self-contained en suite bedrooms, a co-joined “great room,” and a large covered deck overlooking the river. There are also drying and rod rooms on the side of each chalet. The general level of comfort and finishing is exceptional for a fishing lodge. The separate bedrooms in each chalet are outfitted with king or queen beds and are equally suitable for either single fishermen or couples, a rare benefit in most fishing lodges. The main lodge has also been completely renovated and is used for all meals and for socializing.
My free trip there was donated to The Angling Report by Justin Maxwell Stuart of Where Wise Men Fish (www.wherewisemenfish.com), an international fishing agency in England that provides fishing opportunities worldwide. Where Wise Men Fish is a principal agent for the new lodge. The information pack Justin sent me prior to the trip was excellent; it provided very comprehensive guidance on fishing the Miramichi.
Old River Lodge is located just north of Doaktown, overlooking the banks of the Miramichi, a river historically renowned for its large runs of Atlantic salmon and grilse, which has shown steadily improving numbers of fish over recent years. The run continues from late May to mid-September and was estimated at more than 40,000 salmon and grilse the last two years. Typically, July is the prime month, with fresh fish entering the river daily and conditions perfect for surface flies. (There is also exciting fishing for kelts—spawned salmon returning to the sea—on the Miramichi, by the way, after the spring ice melt.)
Whereas I have no hesitation about recommending the excellent staff and amenities at this lodge, it is simply not possible for me to give a worthwhile opinion about its fishing potential. Prior to my arrival, Doaktown had been experiencing temperatures in the 90s for several days, and when we commenced fishing on Saturday evening, the water temperature was 82 degrees. It felt like a warm bath. Due to these hot and very dry conditions, the river had dropped close to four feet during the previous three weeks. Although it cooled somewhat during our stay, the water was still an unfishable 74 degrees the following Friday.
It’s well known, of course, that Atlantic salmon seldom take a fly at such temperatures, and although we had some very experienced anglers in our group, no one had any success during our six days on the river. It has to be said that as the hot and dry days continued, we spent less and less time on the river, but not before trying every proven Miramichi fly pattern on 14-foot leaders and down to #16 flies.
High-water temperatures are a particular frustration on the Miramichi, as the river holds numerous cold water springs and streams. The salmon quickly congregate in these areas, and they become lethargic to the detriment of fishing elsewhere in the river. Under more normal conditions, I am fairly confident that we would have taken fish in most of the pools we fished.
The literature for the lodge states that it owns 10 pools and has access to an additional five. We fished only three of these (Mercury Island, Arlie B, and Edmunds), and, of these, Mercury Island, a half-mile beat with well-structured pools, seemed by far the best. Arlie B and Edmunds were fairly shallow channels without a lot of obvious structure, but again it is impossible to judge how these might have fished under normal conditions. There was talk of our fishing Black Rapids and the Miramichi headwaters, but these possibilities never materialized. As a consequence, we spent two days on the public waters of the Renous Tidal Section, where we had to wait in line to fish!
Old River Lodge seemed somewhat limited in its options during the heat wave and low-water conditions we experienced, and certainly I was not given the opportunity to fish any cold water pools. I believe the lodge should provide more specific information on which pools it owns, which it has access to, as well as a log of fish taken. It would also be good to see a schedule detailing your pool and guide for the day, as this was not at all clear during my stay. I was disappointed that rather than travel to the various pools in Miramichi canoes, we were transported in two trucks, which meant disassembly of our spey rods each morning and afternoon session, as the trucks did not have rod carriers. Canoe travel is a delightful way to experience the Miramichi River and would have been preferable in every respect to the trucks.
The lodge serves a full breakfast, with lunch usually the main meal of the day, and a light supper (soup and sandwiches) on return from the river late evening. However, the staff and guides were extremely flexible. They were willing to rearrange fishing and meal times to suit clients’ preferences. Darlene, the head cook, is masterful, and we were served gourmet meals every day with the lodge’s own wines, plus a tremendous barbecue the last night, prepared by Paul Michaels.
It is indeed a tremendous credit to the staff that we all enjoyed our stay at this lodge despite possibly the worst weather conditions I have ever experienced in several decades of Atlantic salmon fishing, including numerous trips to the Miramichi. It was some consolation that we saw an abundance of wildlife, including numerous bears, moose, and bald eagles during our time on the river.
Travel to Old River Lodge is relatively easy with Air Canada connections to nearby Fredericton from several airports (Toronto, Halifax, or Montreal). Fredericton is the provincial capital of New Brunswick, by the way. Architecturally delightful, it sits on the banks of St. John’s River. It is well worth a day’s sightseeing.
Old River Lodge can accommodate a total of eight anglers. Prices for the opening was a universal two-for-one offer of $7,515 CAN, including all taxes. That covered the cost of full board, all house wines and beers, and transport to and from Fredericton. It does not include gratuities or fishing license ($113 for seven days).— John Harrison.
Postscript: So, how is the fishing at Old River Lodge when conditions are better? To get an answer to that question, we turned to our Atlantic salmon editor Paul Marriner. He writes: “Old River Lodge has an excellent group of pools to offer clients. Some are owned or leased by the lodge; others are available through rental arrangements. I have fished perhaps half of them at some point during the past 40 years. For example, Weaver/Witherell provided great catches for me when I fished it some time ago. Back then, it was only a run. Today, it has some excellent holding water at the tail, making it an even better pool. Another top producer is Mercury Island. During a visit some 25 years ago, under low and warm water conditions, it rewarded me with a grilse when very few fish were being landed in the area. The lodge’s ‘stable’ includes a good variety of low and high water pools, including a portion of the Home Pool formerly owned by Pond’s Resort. I have seen several hundred salmon holding in a 300-yard section of this all-water-level pool. Readers of my book, Atlantic Salmon: A Fly Fishing Reference, will find an image of this area with a representation of some of the lies. Guests at Old River Lodge who want a wilderness experience have access to the camp at McKiel Brook (and the surrounding private water), about two hours upriver from the main lodge. When I stayed there in 1986 it was only accessible by canoe, and the facilities were run down. Old River Lodge is a partner in a group that built a new, road-accessible lodge. Their time-share is two days/week. Sadly, no inventory of private pools could overcome the terrible conditions experienced during the summer of 2012. Even in a cold-water brook pool such as Morse Brook (owned by the lodge), the salmon were lethargic. Pools like this, of course, are the first to be closed by the government under conditions like those that prevailed in July. However, one need only look to last season’s outstanding catches to understand the Miramichi River’s potential and the share of that available to guests of Old River Lodge.