|Restigouche -- Paradise Lost|
The Restigouche is one of those rivers that has it all --- wrapped in majestic scenery, shrouded in legend, and blessed with a bountiful run of Atlantic Salmon, a fish coveted by anglers the world over. This is the peaceful Eden General Schwarzkopf fled to when his soul sought respite from the horrors of Desert Storm -- a haven for world-weary warriors of the battlefield and of the marketplace as well.
It's precisely this calming combination of natural beauty that has led to the great river's downfall. The many fly fisherfolk who spend fortunes to sit in the long square-ended canoes and tempt the salmon cannot tolerate the hordes who launch fleets of heavily-laden party boats at the junction of the Kedgwick and the Restigouche Rivers all summer long.
It works both ways ... the canoeists loathe the wealthy landowners who roust them from the campsites on private land, and the wake of the huge freight canoes hauling anglers upstream to the salmon pools at full bore has caused many a paddler to grip the gunwales in fear.
It seems there is an imposing, dominating lodge, flanked by four-by-fours and gleaming sport utility vehicles perched on every bend in the stream. A fleet of motorized canoes awaits at the dock, poised to transport the wealthy paying guests to their private pools. If you, the canoeist, get between the angler and that prize fish he's been trying to land for the past half-hour, well ... I shudder to think what might happen.
I've been in both boats, seen the conflict from both sides. I've had the privilege of staying at Larry's Gulch, where the government bigwigs get to play, and caught three magnificent fish ... one six-pounder, the next 12 pounds, and the monster, a 40-pounder. I let the two bigger ones go, and took the small one home. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience ... not one I would enjoy as much if a fleet of drunken canoeists spoiled my casts and shattered the serenity.
I've also run the Restigouche three times. Twice from the headwaters of the Kedgwick, and once from the head of the Patapedia. The scenery is awesome in these streams rising in the northern Appalachians. I think the most stirring sight was on the upper Kedgwick, when we floated over shoals of salmon heading to their spawning grounds upstream ... some of them were wide and long as logs. It was breath-taking ... when Pete and I saw the big one, we really thought it was a sunken log, until it switched its tail and darted upstream in a blur.
However, I couldn't call it a wilderness experience, not by a long shot. Government wardens followed our progress down the stream, and on several occasions, pulled alongside and looked into our boat checking for illicit salmon. On one occasion, we were asked to open our cooler. They even approached our evening campfire to check up on us. No fishing and no trespassing signs nagged us at many salmon pools as we floated downstream.
Guides would rise from their seats in the stern of their freighters and wave us down the far side of the pool so the sport could cast to the fish untroubled. I'll admit it was interesting the first time, but the novelty wore off pretty quick.
On another occasion, I pulled ashore at the mouth of the Kedgwick to dry out our tent, still wet from the showers we slept through the night before. The wardens pounced on us in a flash, warning us we couldn't stay. We had a difficult time convincing them we were only waiting until our gear was dry. They stood unflinching guard, watching us like beefy state troopers until we finally launched back into the stream. Sure takes the edge off that wholesome outdoor experience.
Lest you think I preach, I am not blameless either. I seem to recall our boat had a few cool ones nestled in among our gear as well. We went early in the season, however, before the huge flotillas appeared in July and August.
For the whitewater enthusiast, this river does not offer much. There are some quick drops between pools, but no thrill rides ... the drop is steady and serene from top to bottom of this long river. The largest rapid is a five-foot drop at Chamberlain Shoals, easily slipped by on the left shore. Another quick turn at Gilmore's and that's about all the quickwater there is worth mentioning.
So, short and sweet ... been there, done that. I think I'll leave this river to the salmon anglers. I'll go back to the other streams that haven't been overrun yet ... there still are some out there, I know.
Bones treats us with a night paddle on the Restigouche.
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