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Restigouche River, New Brunswick
Paradise Adrift
Photo courtesy of Atlantic Salmon Journal
Guide Richard Adams (left) watches former president Jimmy Carter play a salmon at Elm Tree pool. Later, Carter would declare:"Richard Adams is one of the five most impressive men I've ever met." (Photo courtsey of Atlantic Salmon Journal)

   In the 1980s, Richard Adams guided his most famous sport, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

   Outdoor writer Art Lee, who was fishing in Carter's group, recalled that Adams, then in his eighties, was in fine form, except for one morning when he was looking pale and weak and often had to rest in the canoe. Forever the gracious southern gentleman, Carter asked his guide if he was feeling poorly and he admitted that he was. Carter suggested that they beach the canoe immediately and he would walk back to camp. Adams insisted that he pole the president back upstream to the dock. He helped president and Mrs. Carter to the beach and then collapsed on the ground unconscious. Secret Service agents fetched a doctor and he was found to be running a temperature of 105. They had to find a replacement guide for that evening's fishing.

   The next morning, Lee reported, the Carters were amazed to find Adams, looking bright and cheerful, leaning against their car.

   "I feel like a grilse," he said. "It's a beautiful day to fish salmon."

   Two men from vastly different worlds came together on this river and in their own way expressed their greatness - Carter through his humility, Adams through his physical courage.

   Later, Carter would declare: "Richard Adams is one of the five most impressive men I've ever met." The two men have corresponded ever since their time on the river together.

   David Richards writes that the world of our wilderness rivers changed dramatically as his uncles grew older.

   "The river was much cleaner, the salmon more plentiful," he writes.

   "All of this is gone now, gone forever. Eighteen-wheelers carry the pulp and hardwood along arteries of roads, and those roads are travelled by fishermen and hunters who would have had little access to those faraway pools a generation or two ago.

   "There were more salmon and trout then, and biologists and conservationists have been telling us since the commercial fishery of the sixties that things must change in order for the great fish to continue. When I see nets string out across our river or listen to the tales of certain poachers, I realize there are many hard lessons ahead of us, and that our children or our grandchildren will some day pay the price we were unwilling to pay.

   "The manufactured world has done more for us, and less for the salmon, than anything I know. The politics are more polite, but like all politics, vulgarity rests just under the surface. And it is this political environment and this manufactured urban world that has set out to distribute salmon as if you would wealth or property. It will not be, and can't be done."

   You can't own a stretch of river any more than you can own an expanse of blue sky or a sunset. You can't tame a wild river and expect it not to lose what makes it great. And while we argue over who has what "right" to various parts of the resource, the river is oblivious to such trailsient struggles. In the words of Thomas Wolfe, "always the rivers run ... flowing by us, by us to the sea."

   For thousands of years, Micmac families lived beside the Restigouche and used the waterway as a link to the St. Lawrence by way of the Patapedia and Kedgwick tributaries to the north, and to the St. John River system through a series of portages in the river's headwaters. The Malecites of the St. John River valley also used the Restigouche for a transportation and trade route.

   Today, the people of the Listiguj First Nation live on a reserve at Pointe-à-la-Croix on the Quebec side of the river opposite the city of Campbellton. For the past 20 years, this band has been embroiled in a fishing war with the governments in Quebec and Ottawa.

   In 1980, Micmacs blocked the north-bound lane of the bridge that crosses the river at Campbellton after federal wardens started searching their cars for salmon. The next year, the Quebec government raided the reserve in boats, police cars and helicopters, seizing 140 nets. Gary Metallic (the leader of this summer's logging protest) went to jail for refusing to remove his nets from the river. From 1989 to 1992, 130 people were arrested for illegal fishing.

   In 1992, on the strength of a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling, the band declared it was responsible for its own salmon fishery. They claim the right to fish for salmon throughout the Restigouche system, although they now confine themselves to 15 kilometres near the mouth of the river.

   Micmac rangers in speed boats monitor the fishery and protect the fishermen from outside interference. The Micmacs say they catch anywhere from l,200 to 1,400 salmon a year, but no one from the outside knows for certain the extent of the kill.

   For the Micmacs, their fishing in the Restigouche is an essential expression of self government and their right to shape their own destiny, which will always be closely tied to the river.

Evening-Restigouche River, New Brunswick
Restigouche River evening. "You can't own a stretch of river anymore than you can own an expanse of blue sky or a sunset. You can't tame a wild river and expect it not to lose what makes it great."

   Jacques Cartier sailed into the Bale des Chaleurs in 1534 and marked the beginning of European settlement of the Restigouche valley.

   Resilient French and Scottish settlers farmed the land, ran trap lines in the woods and netted salmon, eventually developing a lucrative commercial fishery. In the early 1800s, they were shipping out four million pounds of salmon a year. Nets were Strung across the river at every accessible point, blocking the salmon as they tried to swim to their spawning grounds. The Restigouche salmon stocks collapsed, until a new Fisheries Act in l858 allowed clubs to purchase private fishing and hunting rights. The clubs were granted riparian rights in the tradition of British Common Law, allowing a property owner (who owns the ripa, or bank, of the stream) to have exclusive fishing rights to the midpoint of the river. The river is still open to public navigation, but the fishing is privately owned and jealously guarded. In 1871, the clubs convinced the government to pass a law prohibiting the netting of salmon.

   About this time, American adventurers started coming to the river. Dean Sage of Albany, New York, was one of the pioneers and he spread the stories of his New Brunswick adventures around the world.

   "Fierce Dean" was the son of a wealthy New York merchant, a philanthropist, expert fly fisherman, boxer and breeder of trotting horses, dogs and fighting cocks.

   Sage first came to the Restigouche in 1875, and when he returned home wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly entitled "Ten Days Sport on Salmon Rivers." Sage's Restigouche adventures were a major undertaking and generally lasted all summer. He and his companions packed several months worth of supplies and equipment, boarded a steamer from New York to Boston, and then took another steamer to Saint John. They travelled by train to Shediac, where they boarded another steamer to Dalhousie. There, they rented wagons and drove to the Matapedia River where they hired Micmac guides and travelled slowly upstream by canoe and horse-drawn barge.

   On his first trip, Sage camped on a bluff overlooking a swirl of mists and currents at the confluence of the Restigouche and Upsalquitch rivers and realized that he had found a place to which he would return.

   He later wrote: "We made a raft to transport our luggage down, and that night pitched our tent on a beautiful bluff at the junction of the Upsalquitch and Restigouche, and just over the pool. Here we were comparatively free from flies, with good fishing all about us and a delightful view up and down both rivers."

This article was taken from the New Brunswick Reader, August 29/98

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