New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Fishing on the Nepisiguit River in the 1870’s

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This account is by Richard Lewes Dashwood, from his Chiploquorgan; or, Life by the Camp Fire in the Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland, Dublin, 1871. It is the story of a fishing trip with Indian guides. After a short stay on the Cascapediac River on the north side of the Bay of Chaleur, they explore the Nepisiguit River above Bathurst and as far as Pabineau Falls, Middle Landing, and beyond.

Grand Falls on the Nepisiguit River, New Brunswick, 1875

From the National Gallery of Canada


Fishing on the Nepisiguit River in the 1870’s

On the 1st July I left St. John on a salmon fishing expedition to the Bay of Chaleurs accompanied by two brother officers, Captains Butter and Coventry. We reached Dalhousie by steamer from Shediac. Having here hired three Micmac canoes and six Indians, we chartered a schooner to drop us at the mouth of the Cascapediac, a river some distance down the Bay. We commenced the ascent of the stream, each one in a canoe with two Indians to pole, one at the stern, the other at the bow. The stream was so rapid that although our men were first-rate polers, we did not make more than ten miles a day, and that without much delay except for dinner at mid-day. The way our canoes were forced up the strongest rapids appeared to us wonderful. Of what use would a Rob Roy be in such waters? A Rob Roy canoe is a cockney craft, fit only for the Thames or other such sluggish waters, and easily to be paddled by any muff. In a country where the rivers are the only roads, as in parts of America, it is of no use whatever.

After a week’s hard work we arrived at the Forks, about sixty miles from the sea. The river for most of the way ran through a deep gorge, with high and very steep mountains on each side, wooded to the water’s edge. We caught plenty of sea trout on our way up, some as heavy as five pounds. I met a settler coming down the river with his canoe half full of them. His fishing gear was the most primitive I ever saw. A stiff spruce pole served him for a rod, string for a line, and his fly was a bunch of feathers and red worsted fastened anyhow to a large hook. He had no reel, and on hooking a fish hauled him at once by main force into his canoe.

We were much surprised and disappointed at the paucity of salmon on our way up, and when we reached the Forks only succeeded in killing two, after several days fishing. We therefore came to the conclusion that the river as regards salmon was a myth, and decided to return to the sea. It only took us one day to run down to the salt water, so rapid was the stream, especially at one place called Indian Falls, which we ran in our canoes, and very ticklish work it was.

There are no settlers on the Cascapediac beyond a distance of ten miles from New Richmond, the village at the river’s mouth; here we hired a schooner, and having embarked with our canoes and Indians, set sail for Bathurst, a small village situated at the mouth of the Nepisiguit River, where we determined to try our luck; getting becalmed about twenty miles from Bathurst harbour we left the schooner, and prepared to paddle along the coast, the rest of the distance. Going ashore to have breakfast, we found swarms of lobsters in the shallow water among the rocks. We succeeded in gaffing about thirty of them, these made a welcome addition to our breakfast.

The number of lobsters all along the coasts of North America is astonishing; there are many companies who make a lucrative business by potting them.

After a long paddle we reached the head of the tide way of the Nepisiguit, late in the evening, where we made a fire and camped behind an old canoe lying on the shore; a canoe turned bottom up, makes a very good impromptu camp on a wet night.

The settlers here were for the most part French, some of them capital hands in canoes, and first rate fishermen; although their tackle is bad, and their flies very indifferent, they kill many fish, as they know where the salmon lie to an inch, this in any stream is half the battle, as a rising fish will often take a seemingly worthless fly, especially if the man at the end of the rod knows how to place it over him.

The Nepisiguit is one of the most celebrated rivers in New Brunswick. The Indian name is Winpigikewick, meaning troubled waters. The first three miles above the tide way is called “the rough waters;” this part of the stream is wide, and intersected by large rocks in all directions, forming most beautiful pools and heights. The salmon here stand almost always on the ledges of rock at the top of the rapids and pitches, as a small fall is called. Some of these pitches are too steep to pole up, but most of them can be run; to do this requires nerve, and a steady hand, but is not so difficult as it appears at first sight. On a subsequent visit to this river I was able to do bow-man in a canoe, and poled up, and ran places that appeared on my first visit extremely perilous and difficult. The canoes on this river are of Micmac pattern, requiring two men, and are quite steady enough to stand up in, and fish out of. Two miles above the rough waters are the Round Rocks, which is a very fair fishing station when the river is high and the fish are running. Four miles above, at the bottom of the Pabneau Falls, is a most excellent pool; the stream at this spot is not more than twenty yards across, and can be fished with a trout rod. Here is that famous cast from the flat rock, so well-known to all sportsmen who have visited the river. We camped within a few yards of this place, and built a smoke house of spruce bark, as we decided to make this our headquarters, one of us always remaining here during our stay on the river. Some Yankees were camped not far off, so we sent to make arrangements to fish the flat-rock pool day about, as it was the best in the neighbourhood, these gentlemen refusing to come to any terms at all, we sent an ultimatum to the effect, that under these circumstances, one of us would sleep nightly on the flat rock to be ready for the morning cast. This threat was afterwards carried out, and was soon the means of bringing the Yankees to their bearings. We then made an amicable arrangement, and were good friends ever afterwards.

From the Pabineau to the Grand Falls is eleven miles. In this distance there are two good fishing stations viz., Middle Landing and Chain of Rocks; the former is an excellent pool in any water, and easily to be fished; the latter is good only in high water. Grand Falls is the best station on the river, containing four good pools; it was, on our arrival, occupied by a party, so we were unable to fish there until a short time before our departure from the river. The salmon cannot get above the Grand Falls, though steps might be made, and there is sixty miles length of river above, and excellent spawning grounds. There are, however, great quantities of brown trout above, especially at a place called the Devil’s Elbow, where they are large, some weighing three and four pounds. During our stay on the river, which lasted a month, we smoked over a hundred and twenty salmon, which we packed in boxes and sent off to our friends at St. John. The following is the receipt for that process: Split the fish down the back and clean them, cutting out the gills at the same time; this should be done as soon as possible after they are caught, or the fish will become soft; immerse for two days in a strong pickle of salt and water, a trough for this purpose is easily hewn out of a fallen spruce or pine, or, in lieu, use a dish of birch or spruce bark. After taking the fish out of the pickle, wash them in running water, then hang them up in a smoke house for six days. A smoke house is built in the shape of a wigwam, and covered with birch or spruce bark; great care must be taken to keep the fire, which is placed in the smoke house, always burning very slowly, if it gets too hot the fish become cooked and therefore spoilt; it is a good plan to place the entrails of fish on the fire to keep it cool.

The scenery on the Nepisiguit, though pretty, has very little grandeur about it, the land being comparatively flat on both sides of the river, which with the breadth and shallowness of the stream in many parts, soon causes the water to become hot after a drought, when the fish naturally become sulky, and will not rise. I remember once, under these circumstances, whipping the stream for four days without a rise, although there were many salmon up at the time. I consider this river therefore most uncertain, though if one is lucky enough to hit off the right height of water, excellent sport is to be had.

The flies for the Nepisiguit are of a plain description, especially as regards the wings, which should be brown mallard, with a few sprigs of golden pheasant neck feather underneath; body fiery brown with blue and claret hackle, wound on together, is a standard fly, and is known by the name of the “Nicholson,” so called after the inventor, a well-known sportsman of St. John, New Brunswick. Black body, black hackle and yellow tip is a killer, and the same fly with a crimson tip fishes well at Middle Landing. Grey monkey body and Irish grey hackle is very good in clear water. Body half grey, half claret fur, with grey and claret hackles placed on together, is an admirable fly for the Pabineau. This fly was invented by my friend Captain Coventry, who stuck many a fish with it off the Flat Rock.

The climate is charming in the summer, hot days succeeded by most lovely still evenings, which you can never so thoroughly enjoy as when camped alongside a noble river, smoking your after supper pipe; you listen to the shrill cry of the mosquito hawks (a species of night jar); and the notes of the frogs, which vary from a shrill whistle to the hoarse croak of the bull frog, intermingled with the pleasant sound of running water. Your rod, ready for the morning cast, is leaning against a bush; at length you lie down to rest, speculating where you will rise him in the morning, and determined not to miss that fish which comes up by the white stone, as you did yesterday.


Written by johnwood1946

June 7, 2017 at 8:29 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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