Rich Man's River

You can’t get a rise from a Restigouche salmon unless you’re a millionaire. Even the fish flies are gold-plated

IAN SCLANERS April 15 1947

Rich Man's River

You can’t get a rise from a Restigouche salmon unless you’re a millionaire. Even the fish flies are gold-plated

IAN SCLANERS April 15 1947

Rich Man's River

You can’t get a rise from a Restigouche salmon unless you’re a millionaire. Even the fish flies are gold-plated


YOU'D EXPECT a $5,000 fish to he as big as a barn. This one tipped the scales at a mere 10 pounds. Serving it at a small dinner party, a Wall Street financier calculated that it had cost him approximately its weight in gold. And to get it he had travelled by airplane, car and canoe, and had been burned by the sun, drenched by showers and bitten by mosquitoes. It wasn't a rare and wonderful specimen, eitherjust a salmon. He could have bought it for $10, at the most, at a store within two blocks of his Manhattan mansion, saving $4,990 and avoiding exposure to the elements and the insects. Instead, he caught it himself in the Restigouche River, which flows along the New Brunswick-Quebec border.

To fish that fabulous stream in the manner in which it is accustomed to being fished, he had to .lease pools and a lodge, hire guides, stock up with provisions, beverages and fancy tackle, and contribute to the maintenance of a private force of wardens. All this, plus such incidentals as plane fare, came to $5,000 and in two weeks he landed only one silver beauty.

The financier’s case was unusual—not because he spent so much but because he caught so little. By Restigouche standards, his outlay wasn’t impressive enough to cause the slightest elevation of an eyebrow. But with any sort of luck but the worst, he should have bagged a couple of dozen salmon.

That would have brought the cost per fish down around the $200 mark, which is the average amount it sets sportsmen back for each prize they take from the crystal depths of the river that draws more multimillionaires than any other fishing haunt in Canada and probably in the world.

The Restigouche is where international bankers,

merchant princes and industrial tycoons let down their dignity and wander around in clothes that they hope look old.

It’s where front-page celebrities fry their own ham and eggs—when the spirit happens to move them. It’s where elder statesmen act like schoolboys.

And it’s where the angler’s dreams come true if his bank roll can stand the strain. But most of us might as well dream of harpooning whales in the Antarctic.

The Restigouche is definitely not for people who have to worry about such things as grocery hills and furniture installments. Excepts for a few miles it’s all owned or rented by the sort of folks who have town and country estates, butlers and chauffeurs, custom-built limousines and streamlined yachts, swimming pools and opera boxes.

They aren’t very hospitable to uninvited guests especially uninvited guests with fishing rods. The reception accorded intruders may be described as hot, not warm, and there’s quite a difference.


The signs posted on the trees say “No Trespassing” and your chances of slipping by them are about equal to your chances of breaking into the vaults of the Bank of Canada. The Restigouche Riparian Association, financed by those who hold angling privileges, employs 60 tough, sharp-eyed wardens to make sure you don’t.

And even if you did, the odds are that you would eventually wind up in the arms of the law. A Quebec man, a bush-league politician, yielded to the urge to haul a salmon from the

Restigouche illegally. He showed his heels to the warden who spotted him poaching but he couldn't elude private detectives who were engaged to track him down.

Cornered, he tried to gain immunity by pulling political strings. The Riparian Association countered hy retaining a lawyer who was a big-loague polit ician in Quebec. The detectives and the lawyer divided $3,000. The culprit was convicted.

You can hardly blame the plutocrats of the Restigouche for wanting to keep their angling water exclusive. After all they have paid enough for it. Their investment in the main river and the lesser rivers which feed it the Pataj>ediH, Matapedia, Upsalquitch and Kedgwick—is estimated at more than $5 millions. The value of the choicer pools those deeper spots where the fish

pause to rest on their way upstream is such that if the ordinary individual owned one he’d be more likely to sell it than fish it, and live out his days in luxury on the proceeds.

Best known of all is the Million-Dollar Pool, and it’s not called that without reason. It’s the pride and joy of the 24 members of the Ristigouche Salmon Club, who insist that Restigouche should be spelled with an “i” instead of the generally accepted “e” for closer conformity with the Micmac pronunciation.

In 1928 a government survey opened up the question of whether they had a clear title to the whole pool or whether a comer of it remained the property of the Province of New Brunswick. Club members were fairly sure, almost certain, that their deed

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included the corner as well as the rest. But to remove any possible doubt they gave the provincial treasury $75,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

As they handed over their cheque the ghost of old Phineas Wyers must have been chuckling in the background. Because Phineas, a century ago, acquired the Million-Dollar Pool with a pinch of gunpowder and a small charge of buckshot.

New Brunswick, at the time, was having a boundary dispute with the Province of Canada (Ontario and Quebec). As you hear it in the Restigouche Valley, the governors of New Brunswick and Canada both liked to fish, so they turned the argument into an excuse for journeying down the Restigouche together. They figured they could look over the border locale personally—at odd moments when the salmon were refusing to rise to the fly.

As they reached the point where the Patapedia enters the Restigouche, there was a loud report and lead tunnelled into the water ahead of their canoes.

“Come in here, you fellers,” shouted Phineas Wyers who stood on the shore flourishing his blunderbuss. “I want justice and, by crickey, I’m going to get it.”

The governors and their surveyors and their secretaries and their Indian paddlers obeyed his command.

“You can’t do this,” protested one of the secretaries. “That’s the governor of Canada, and that’s the governor of New Brunswick.”

“I know it,” snapped Phineas. “Listen here, guv”—he addressed the governor of New Brunswick—“I’ve got a grievance that I want fixed up right here and now.”

Fixing up Phineas

Prodding the viceregal chest to drive home his points, he told how he’d been promised the grant of a certain piece of land which had subsequently been given a man who had more influence with the New Brunswick Government.

“Woe unto politicians,” sighed the governor. “Well, come with me and I’ll see if you can’t be fixed up.”

So Phineas climbed into the canoe with the governor of New Brunswick, and the tall timbers echoed with laughter as they swapped tall tales. In the end the old woodsman obtained all the land around what is now the MillionDollar Pool, and $100 in cash to compensate him for the way he’d been treated.

The Restigouche even in the 1850’s was gaining an international reputation for its salmon. Imperial Army officers who were sent to New Brunswick spread its fame when they returned to the Old Country. Titled English sportsmen heard about it, tried it, found it good. When fashionable New Yorkers learned that titled Englishmen were fishing the rivej, nothing could keep them away. It finally reached a stage where angling on the Restigouche was one of the prime qualifications for a top-grade social rating in Manhattan.

Men with huge fortunes built “camps” on the Restigouche that were, and are, like no other camps on this continent. It was, of course, a lavish age in which capitalists who were later to be styled “robber barons” were planting grotesque castles all over the American landscape. Their castle complex stayed with them when they invaded the wilderness in Quebec and New Brunsw ck.

The most noted establishment on the Restigouche is the Ristigouche Salmon

Club, with its Million-Dollar Pool, more than 20 miles of other pools, its rambling clubhouse, six lodges, guides, quarters, boathouses, stables.

Paintings by modern masters hang on the walls of the clubhouse. So do autographed photographs of such guests as Princess Louise and the Duke of Argyle, the Duke of Devonshire, Lady Willingdon, Harry Hopkins, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, three or four admirals, some generals and some representatives of minor royal families of Europe.

There are big stone fireplaces, thick soft rugs, deep comfortable couches and easy chairs, shelves covered with trophies of rod and gun, silver trays the size of truck wheels, cases of richly bound books.

Macy to Tiffany

To be elected to the Ristigouche Salmon Club, you require a pedigree as long as that of a prize Pekinese, or an impressive record of personal accomplishment, or, preferably, both. You must also hold a share in the club, and a share is about as hard and costly to come by as a seat on the stock exchange.

Of the present two dozen members, two are Canadians — Izaak Walton Killam, Montreal financier, whose parents called him after Izaak Walton, the greatest of all anglers, and George B. Webster, Toronto mining man. Canadians who formerly belonged included well - remembered figures like Lord Strathcona, Sir Montagu Allan of steamship fame, and the sportsman, J. K. L. Ross.

Among the American members have been Vanderbilts, Schylers, Lamonts, Goelets, Belmonts, Whitneys, Cadwaladers—names you associate with multimillion-dollar fortunes and the stratosphere of U. S. society.

Pickle King Howard Heinz, Jeweller C. L. Tiffany, Rubber Magnate David M. Goodrich, Merchant Princes like Marshall Field and W. K. Macy, Auto Maker William Dodge, Standard Oilman Walter C. Teagle, Dun and Bradstreet’s R. G. Dun—they are all on the list of past and present members. And the Saltonstalls and Pinchots are' there with other political aristocrats, and you note, too, the name of Stanford White, the great architect who was murdered by Harry K. Thaw in one of the more sensational crimes early in this century.

The club has kept careful statistics. These show that since it was formed in 1880, its membership (always limited to 24) has landed more than 75,000 fish with a total weight of 1,100,000 pounds. In a good year the catch runs around 2,000 salmon, averaging 17 pounds, and 300 grilse, or half-grown salmon. Usually 200 to 300 of the fish top 25 pounds.

The heaviest on record, 48 pounds, was caught in 1927 by Admiral W. H. Bronson of the United States Navy and eaten at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge.

Even the Guides Bite

Sixty guides serve the Ristigouche Salmon Club. They aren’t exactly backward about admitting that they have more than a casual acquaintance with so many notables. And they have an inexhaustible store of yarns aboùt them.

One of the best stories is about one of their fellows whose courtesy was the boast of the river. When a society dowager, who didn’t see very well without her lorgnette, took a wild cast and planted the bark of her hook in his ear, he didn’t even say “ouch.” Much as it hurt him, he extracted it without a

grimace, then identified the fly as a Jock Scott.

“That, ma’am,” he said sweetly, “is the first Jock Scott I’ve riz to this season.”

Until 1884, land grants on the Restigouche gave the grantee rights over the water front and the water. Since then those rights have been retained by the Crown, and for the most part are leased to the highest bidder.

New Brunswick, which has the lion’s share of the fishing pools, has an auction of leases every 10 years—the next one due in 1952. It’s held in the assembly chamber of the old sandstone legislative building at Fredericton, the provincial capital.

It’s a big event, the auction. The lieutenant-governor is there, and the premier, and the cabinet ministers. Rubbing shoulders in the bedraped and draughty assembly are men in morning coats and men in mackinaw shirts, men with brief cases and men with knapsacks.

The galleries are jammed with curious students from the University of New Brunswick and the Provincial Normal School, and pretty civil service girls. Somehow, despite the sombre surroundings, the affair manages to take on a festive spirit.

Sold American

The auctioneer, an employee of the department of lands and mines, stands directly in front of the canopied Speaker’s throne. The bidders—some of the wealthy American fly-casters appear in person, others are represented by polished corporation lawyers whom any commoner might mistake for millionaires—bid the sum they are willing to pay in annual rental. Bidding goes as high as $60,000 for most of the pools, and the fortunate winner is required to plunk down the first year’s rent on the spot to secure the deal, future payments being made annually to the provincial government.

Arthur Train, the author, who created the most lovable lawyer in modern fiction, Mr. Tutt, based one of his stories on the sale. Angling Enthusiast Tutt was the hero, and, of course, emerged victorious.

Admirers of Mr. Tutt throughout the United States and Canada, people who perhaps had never heard of the Restigouche before, wanted to fish it after that. They filled mail sacks with the enquiries they sent to New Brunswick. Unfortunately, only a five-mile stretch of water on the Restigouche is open to the public. On this there is room for six anglers at a time—no more. From May 24 to July 14, you may fish the stretch for a fee of $30 a day, plus $16 a day for guide, camp and canoe, plus various extras. You may fish it, that is, if there’s a vacancy on the date for which you apply. There hardly ever is. From July 15 to August 15, the poorer part of the season, the fee is reduced to $15, and there still aren’t any vacancies—unless you’re luckier than four persons out of five. Some people have applications in for the same date annually for years to come. Among them are a California couple who travel all the way to New Brunswick each summer for a few days of angling.

New Brunswick and Quebec are not without those who get hot under the collar because the best Atlantic silver salmon fishing in the world, although in Canada, is so thoroughly monopolized by American millionaires. There is something to be said for this point of view.

But if the Restigouche were accessible to all, it would soon cease to be the best Atlantic salmon river. Before wealthy sportsmen bought so much of it and organized the Restigouche Ri-

parian Association in 1897 to protect it, the stream, like so many others in this country, was rapidly being fished to death.

In those days there was a continual procession of scows taking supplies to upriver settlers and lumber camps. Every scow had a net. Then, too, dynamiting salmon was a common if illegal practice. A stick of dynamite, set off in a pool, may kill dozens of fish.

Money Goes to Bat

Conservation laws were laughed at. There was an actual case in which an Englishman who owned some water caught a dynamiter red-handed. He laid a charge against him before two justices of peace (two J.P.’s holding the authority of one magistrate in New Brunswick at the time).

At the hour set for the trial, the accused was conspicuous by his absence. The justices of peace, both of whom were his friends, downed a bottle of overproof rum while they waited for him to show up. Their crock empty, they grew impatient and decided to continue without him. After they heard the evidence they arrived at a verdict of guilty—but not against the poacher, against the Englishman, who was given the alternative of paying a fine or going to jail.

Only money could combat conditions like that—and the Americans had the money. They appointed Max Mowatt, a rugged, fearless lumberman, as chief guardian of the Restigouche Riparian Association. “Be tough, and spare no expense,” they instructed him. He was, and he didn’t.

And the fishing, which had been gradually deteriorating, improved rapidly. The increase in the value of fishing rights was correspondingly rapid.

Ironically, Mr. Mowatt missed cashing in on his own work. He owned a piece of land on the river, and sold it to Americans for $14,000. As the angling picked up, they sold it to some other Americans for $60,000. Several years later a third group of Americans bought it for $125,000.

The Restigouche Riparian Association now has Max Mowatt’s son, G. A. Mowatt, as chief guardian. It doesn’t confine its efforts to combating poachers.

It has locked horns with pulp mills, to have waste disposed of in such a way as not to pollute the river and destroy the fish. It has bucked schemes to harness power by damming Restigouche tributaries. If there ever are dams, it’s a foregone conclusion that there will also be plenty of fishways.

Better Than 100 Years Ago

The Restigouche Riparian Association has constantly campaigned to curtail commercial fishing at the mouth of the river. The rod and fly fishermen of the Restigouche and the net fishermen of the Gaspé coast could not, as a result, be called chummy, although many of the net fishermen have profited from the sale of shore rights in tidal water. The association bought these up so it could put shore nets out of business—a step which eliminated some of the hazards which lie in wait for salmon swimming in from the sea.

One thing is certain—that as long as dollars can turn the trick, the Restigouche will remain the world’s best Atlantic silver salmon river. Because of the heavy expenditures of the multimillionaires, there’s better fishing on the Restigouche today than there was a century ago, when old Phineas Wyers stopped the governor of Canada and the governor of New Brunswick with a shot from his blunderbuss at what was not then—but is now — the Million-Dollar Pool,