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Fish Wardens Described as Useless Political Appointments – 1863

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Fish Wardens Described as Useless Political Appointments – 1863

This story is slightly edited from Chiploquorgan; or, Life by the camp fire … by Richard Lewes Dashwood, Dublin, 1871. Chiploquorgan is the Maliseet name for the stick used to suspend a kettle over a camp fire.

Our writer fishes the Miramichi, Nepisiquit, Restigouche, and other rivers in New Brunswick, and also Rivers in Quebec. He also makes some interesting comments about over-fishing.

Papineau Falls

Papineau Falls on the Nepisiquit River, near Bathurst

From the McCord Museum


The following year [1863] I paid another visit to the Bay of Chaleurs, and on the 6th of August reached the mouth of the river Bonaventure, having paddled along the coast in a Micmac canoe with two Indians from Dalhousie, a distance of fifty miles. We had employed one of my Indians, named Peter Grey, during the previous year; he was a good poler and knew how to gaff salmon, which is an art that few Indians understand, their idea being to strike him dead in the water, not to land him, consequently many is the fish they have lost me.

The settlers along the south shore of the Bay of Chaleurs are almost exclusively French. They both farm and fish chiefly the latter. Their implements of husbandry are most primitive.

At Bonaventure I was much amused by the inquisitiveness of a storekeeper, who, when asked to change a sovereign, was evidently puzzled as to who or what I was. I was got up in a smock and trousers of blue drill, which I found to be the best dress for the mosquitos, as being both light and impervious to their stings; the ends of my trousers were tucked into my socks to prevent any ingress at that point, of black flies or other villainous winged insects; my head gear was a broad brimmed Yankee felt hat. The man first asked me if I wanted anything out of the store. Answer No. Did I belong to any of the schooners in the harbour? No. Where did I come from? Dalhousie. Did I belong there? No. Was I a native of the country? No. What brought me out there? Because I was sent. What was I doing? Salmon fishing. Why that won’t pay? It pays me. Had I anyone with me? Yes, two Indians. Did these men assist me in any way? I was not likely to keep them if they did not. Was I sure I wanted nothing out of the store? Not today, but I should be obliged if he would change me twenty sovereigns. I then left him, more mystified than ever.

These people can never understand one’s going to any trouble or expense for mere sport the almighty dollar is always uppermost in their minds.

Next morning on presenting myself at the store, my friend of the previous evening was exceedingly civil and offered me a drink, having in the meantime discovered from the Indians who I was. But he looked rather foolish when I entered his shop.

The great peculiarity of the Bonaventure is the exceeding clearness of the water, which is signified by its Indian name. At the depth of twenty feet I could distinguish between the head and tail of a new coin. After fishing a few days with but indifferent success, and finding that the run of fish had passed, I paddled eighteen miles to Pasbeiac [on the bay, in Quebec], a fishing station further along the coast, and arrived there just in time to catch the Canadian steamer which dropped me at Dalhousie. On leaving the steamer I immediately paddled up the Restigouche as far as Campbellton, a village eighteen miles from the mouth. We arrived here at two o’clock a.m., and making a fire on the beach, were soon fast asleep. The next day we continued our course up stream, which was not very rapid until we got to where the Metapedia joins the main river; after paddling about five miles up the Metapedia, a very rapid stream, I camped near two good salmon pools. I remained a fortnight at this spot and had some fair sport, though here, as with the Bonaventure, I was rather late for the best run, which takes place in July.

The flies for the Restigouche and its tributaries are rather more gaudy than those used in the Nepisiguit; orange body with claret hackle; body half black, half orange, with black hackle and yellow shoulder; body half black, half crimson, with black hackle and jay shoulder; with all of these mixtures use a rather gaudy mixed wing, with sprigs of wood duck, and red macaw feelers.

There is good fishing in the Quatawamkedgwick [Upsalquitch?], another tributary of the Restigouche, falling into that river forty miles above the Metapedia.

The worst of the Restigouche is, that the pools are very few, and about thirty miles apart, but the fish are larger than those of any river in the province.

The Miramichi, which flows into the Bay of Chaleurs, at the town of Chatham, one of the chief ship building localities in the Provinces, is a fine stream, having many large tributaries heading far back in the heart of the country. I made a trip up this river on one occasion, and had some very good sport. Burnt Hill, about forty miles from Boisetown, is the best station, where are some excellent pools; ten miles above is Slate Island, also a good place, and higher up still are “Louis Falls;” there are also many other pools where fish are met with.

The Miramichi is a very difficult river to pole, owing to the great number of rocks and rapids. At the time I went up the river we brought Malecite canoes and Indians from Fredericton, there being neither on the river. The settlers use “dug-outs” (canoes hewn from single trees), but I prefer a birch canoe and Indians whom I have been in the habit of employing, I remember polling bow all the way up, and very hard work it was, particularly getting up what are called the “Three Mile Rapids,” which are one continued length of rocks and broken water for that distance. Near the top is the worst place of all, called by the settlers “Shove and be damned.”

A Malecite canoe is much more crank than a Micmac, and is difficult to stand up in at any time, unless to one accustomed to it. The flies for this river are plain; grey body, with mallard or turkey wings, is one of the standard patterns. Most Nepisiguit flies are also adapted for this water. The salmon are about the same size as those in that river, namely, from ten to fifteen pounds, and some few are larger. The country bordering the Miramichi is more hilly than the Nepisiguit, and the banks of the river are steep in many places.

Along the coast, half way between the mouths of this river and the Nepisiguit, is the Tabusintack, a small river with few or no salmon, but celebrated for its sea trout, beyond all other streams in the province. One hundred or more trout may be killed in a day by a single rod, and they weigh from one to four pounds. But one soon gets tired of such sport.

All the rivers in New Brunswick are very much damaged by over netting, both in the tide way, along the coast, and also in the fresh water. At first it appears a miracle how any salmon can manage to pass the labyrinth of nets, set with hardly any restriction; for although there are very fair fishery laws, they are but seldom enforced. The fish wardens are for the most part useless, their appointments sinecures, and mere political jobs. The following is an instance of the way some of these gentlemen do, or rather do not, do their duty: I met an Indian when on the Restigouche, who had been hired by the warden of the river, to take him up in a canoe on his one annual inspection, which I suppose he required to enable him to satisfy his conscience, on pocketing his salary, some 40 per annum. The individual in question called at the houses of the different owners of nets, and after informing them of their proper legal length, without inspecting the same, finished up by asking for a salmon. Having made about twenty such like visits, not forgetting the salmon, he returned home and drew his salary. Some of the wardens are proprietors of nets, and do not trouble their heads how they are set, provided they catch fish.

Several years ago when I was in New Brunswick, the proprietor of a net at Bathurst was prosecuted by the warden for having the mesh of an illegal size. The delinquent wrote to a friend of his, then a member of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, and representative of his county. This honorable member managed to get the law altered, so as to make the net of a legal mesh, not only this, but he made the law retrospective, in the meantime staying further proceedings. Such a state of things speaks for itself.

The only way to protect the fisheries is to abolish the wardens as now appointed, who are chiefly farmers, and have other things to attend to.

Appoint one head inspector for each province, and let him have under his control a staff of water bailiffs, strong active fellows, able to pole either a birch or log canoe, and with sufficient pay to enable them to relinquish all other employment and traverse the rivers and coasts by day and night during the fishing season. By this means poachers would easily be dropped on, and a fear established. For although the settlers talk very big of what they would do in the event of their being interfered with in their illegal practices, yet no people have a more wholesome dread of the law when they know it will be enforced.

Great things are now expected from the “New Dominion,” and I hope that the protection of the rivers, and the proper carrying out of the fishery laws will be amongst them. [His experiences were in 1863, but the book was not published until 1871; thus the reference to Confederation.]

One great drawback is, that with a few exceptions the inhabitants are not sportsmen, and would rather make one dollar than enjoy the sport of killing a hundred salmon.

However, I think things are about to mend in New Brunswick, as the present Governor of that province is fully alive to the importance of protecting the salmon, not only as a source of amusement, but of food and wealth to the country.

A great advantage in the North American rivers is, that they cannot, as at home, be poached by spearing and gaffing in the winter; at that season, Jack Frost proves an effectual keeper.


Written by johnwood1946

September 7, 2016 at 9:14 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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