November 10, 2022
Because I’m a native of New Brunswick, Canada, the Restigouche River Lodge feels to me like both a second home, and also like one of Canada’s best-kept fly-fishing destinations. This place is sacred to me, and although I want nothing more than for the fly-fishing community to experience this hidden gem, one nearly 4-mile stretch of private water along the Restigouche River also plays host to many of my most joy-filled and memorable days on the water—days that I’ll always hold close.
One of those moments occurred as I was considering how to frame this article effectively—I didn’t want to simply reiterate what you can easily learn from one of the river’s longtime guides or from the Restigouche River Lodge website. Instead, I want to convey what it’s like to spend your days in Mann’s Mountain, combing the river’s clear flow for Atlantic salmon fresh from the salt.
To do that, I only needed to reflect on my last trip to the Restigouche early in the 2022 season. During the morning of the second day, I was out fishing with Keith Vanacore, one of the lodge owners, when I stood up in the belly of our canoe to make a short cast. On my second cast I hooked a fish, eventually landing a 30-pound-plus Atlantic salmon—my third year in a row of hooking fish like that on the Restigouche.
Three years ago, when I hooked my first 30-pounder, I remember someone telling me, “That is a once-in-a-lifetime fish.” Though of course I was excited about my catch, I turned to them and simply said, “No, it isn’t. Why would I limit myself to just one?”
In the years that followed I’ve caught several “once-in-a-lifetime” fish at Restigouche River Lodge, and I’m still hoping there are more. But I don’t recount these details to toot my own horn as an angler—instead it’s a testament to the nature of this lodge, and what it’s like to fish on some of the most beautiful Spey water in eastern Canada, if not the world.
Waters of the Restigouche
The Restigouche River Lodge—known for its transparent water, exclusivity, and large Atlantic salmon—is nestled on the banks of the Restigouche in Mann’s Mountain, New Brunswick. Every season, the Restigouche gives up salmon that weigh in at 20, 30, and sometimes 40 pounds. The lodge owns exclusive fishing rights to nearly 4 miles of water—beginning at the junction of the Matapedia River in Quebec across from New Brunswick and extending upriver, with one shore in Quebec and the other in my home province of New Brunswick. An additional non-contiguous 2 miles of water is available to lodge guests from the spring into June, and then again from late summer through the end of September.
I’ve had the opportunity to fish the Restigouche both while wading and from one of the lodge’s famous 26-foot, motor-powered Restigouche River canoes. The canoes are made by Sharpe Canoes—a company with a long history in the region. In 1947, current owner Barry Sharpe’s grandfather Raymond Sharpe started building canoes as a hobby. But his pastime quickly developed into the preferred fishing and transport craft for this river. Each Restigouche River canoe is a 250-pound work of art. Though it takes some experience to stand and balance in a Sharpe canoe while casting a fly, the canoes are built to withstand tipping, made to carry up to 2 tons of gear, and can easily glide over the shallows without disturbing the salmon below.
The Restigouche is host to numerous named pools with long, broad runs, making for prime Spey water. Five different tributaries flow south from Quebec’s Notre Dame Mountains on the western edge of the Gaspé Peninsula: the Kedgwick, Gounamitz, Matapedia, Upsalquitch, and Patapedia rivers. The geography makes this part of the river unlike any other.
The lodge’s enviable location boasts some of the river’s first holding water for chrome-bright salmon moving in from the salt water of Chaleur Bay. Below the Matapedia, the river is wide, slow, and tidally influenced along its 4-mile course to the open ocean.
Atlantic salmon are coldwater, anadromous fish that require fresh water to reproduce. The juveniles migrate to the sea to feed and grow. When they are adults, they use their homing instincts (their sense of smell plus the Earth’s magnetic fields) to embark on a 2,000-mile journey from the North Atlantic to return to their home rivers. As an endurance athlete myself, I can’t help but be in awe of the strength, stamina, and navigational skills required of these fish to simply survive and begin the next generation.
The reason why Atlantic salmon even take a fly is a question of ongoing debate. Once they return to the river, they are no longer feeding. Some believe that salmon take flies because of instinct—others say it’s an act of aggression, or maybe even playfulness or curiosity.
What I’ve experienced in my time fishing on the Restigouche—and know for certain—is that when the salmon do take the fly, I’m filled with a sensation that compares to no other. The salmon’s readiness to put up a fight in an energetic and acrobatic back-and-forth between fish and fly fisher is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. When hooked, salmon make strong runs, often taking you into your backing time and time again. In the process, you will experience firsthand why the Atlantic salmon is known as “the leaper.”
Though fishing at Restigouche River Lodge is fruitful throughout the traditional fly-fishing season, the lodge has come to recognize distinct seasons and opportunities from May to September.
Beginning the second week of May and extending into the third week of June, the Restigouche boasts an early spring run of very large Atlantic salmon. Might I emphasize again: . . . very large salmon. Many anglers, myself included, consider this prime time, since the largest female salmon start migrating upriver well before the smaller fish do. (Yes, it’s the female salmon that lead the way!)
More male salmon enter the runs around the fourth week of June through the second week of July. This is also when grilse usually start appearing in the lodge’s waters. These are smaller salmon that have been at sea for just one year. They are eager to grab a fly, and their presence increases the action for guests.
From July until the end of August marks the summer dry-fly season. With the increased water and air temperatures, the salmon seem to prefer spun deer-hair Bombers floating on the surface of the water. This is also when the Atlantic salmon are no longer migrating and hold in their pools as resident fish.
The final season on the Restigouche happens from late August until the end of September, when some new fish arrive from the sea, and the salmon get more aggressive as the spawning season gets closer.
When staying at Restigouche River Lodge, my day starts early, beginning with a country-style breakfast the dining staff serves from 7 to 8 A.M. A brief digression on the food here: The chefs at Restigouche River Lodge are truly incomparable. In addition to that hearty breakfast to get you ready for a day of fishing, the kitchen team serves their main meal at 1 P.M.—and what a meal it is. At this point in the day I’m usually ready to recharge after a morning out on the water, and the staff’s expertise doesn’t disappoint. The meal begins with a hot appetizer, soup or salad, a main dish, and then of course some type of homemade dessert. All the food served at the lodge is as close to farm-to-table as possible, including locally sourced seafood. Some herbs and vegetables come from gardens on the lodge grounds, and the desserts, pastries, and preserves are made by their team in the kitchen. The lunch meal allows time to rest or socialize during the least productive part of the day and gets you back on the water for afternoon and evening fishing.
A third meal—if you can find room for it!—is available at 9 P.M. after you come in for the night. This is definitely a lighter meal, but is still accompanied by desserts or pastries to top you off for the evening. All the meals are served in the dining lodge, which is open 24/7 for snacks, drinks, coffee, and always dessert. While some lodges arrange the fishing around the staff’s set mealtimes, the Restigouche River Lodge takes pride in making your time on the water the priority. This schedule always allows me to get in some fishing time in the late evening, right up until the sun sets.
Since the lodge’s current owners acquired what was once a private salmon camp, they’ve been working to gradually transform guest accommodations to make the Restigouche River Lodge one of the premier fishing destinations in North America. In my time staying and fishing there, I’ve been witness to many of these changes, coming back each season to see ever more improvements, upgrades, and new guest residences in the process of being built.
The lodge has a few different accommodation options, depending on your needs and the size of your party, including the primary guest lodge, a two-bedroom cottage, and a three-bedroom guest camp. During my recent stay, I was able to set up in the three-bedroom camp with some friends.
The dining area is the lodge’s main gathering space, where all meals are served, and also where guests can hang out between fishing runs, meet other guests, and take in the view from the screened veranda that overlooks the lodge’s home pool.
While many lodges are situated on the water to provide prime views for guests, but don’t keep transport time to the actual fishing locations in mind, at the Restigouche River Lodge this is not the case. The main lodge and all other lodges and cabins on the property are a short 10-minute canoe ride from any casting-off point along the lodge’s stretch of river. This means you’re never wasting time getting out to or coming back in from a fishing session. Instead, you’re able to cast until the last minute while also enjoying your time taking in the property.
The principal lodge, Highland Camp, is the newest and most private building on the property. It’s available for a single fly fisher or a couple, and was custom built using cedar logs and metal roofing. The camp faces the Restigouche, offering views of what you’ll experience on the water, right from the moment you first step outside in the morning. All the furniture in each of the guest houses was made from locally sourced white cedar, another nod to the lodge ownership’s commitment to keep everything as true to its eastern Canadian roots as possible.
The two-bedroom cottage, Camp Head, and the three-bedroom, Camp McBrearty, round out guest accommodations for the lodge. And though I could go on about the impeccable service, the quality inherent in each of the camps, and the calm serenity I feel every time I set foot back on the grounds, it’s my time out on the water that really makes the Restigouche a respite like none other I’ve experienced in my years of traveling the world as an angler.
Fishing the Restigouche
A fishing day at the lodge begins after a hearty breakfast, when the guides head out with their guests for the day. I love the feeling of anticipating what each day will hold—will it be a day where I simply get to practice my casting, or will today be when I’m rewarded with a skyrocketing salmon?
Fishing from the canoe is the best way to cover as much water as possible. The guide anchors at the top of the run, and then the angler begins by making very short casts at a 45-degree angle downriver, allowing the fly to swing across the pool to the stern of the canoe. Depending on the run, this process is next repeated on the opposite side. You lengthen your line with each cast until you’ve reached your casting limit—inch by inch, covering as much water as possible.
Salmon fishing is about reading the water, covering the water, and holding on to the hope that the fish are there. The guide then pulls anchor and makes a “drop” farther down the pool, and the second angler in the boat takes a turn. Atlantic salmon have been called the “fish of a thousand casts,” so when packing your bags for your trip, be sure to double up on persistence!
My time spent both in the boat and on shore with the guides is always informative, and educational. The guides’ passion for salmon fishing, plus the history of the Restigouche River and the surrounding landscape, is palpable in the stories they share.
One such story recounts how the river was turned into the premier fishing destination it is today. Mostly in the 1800s, wealthy industrialists bought up the entirety of the Restigouche, counting on the reputation of Restigouche Atlantic salmon for being large in size and great in numbers. Today there are two million-dollar clubs along the river, meaning it’ll set you back a (mere!) million bucks to become a member and fish on their property. Luckily for me, the Restigouche River Lodge is not one of these clubs. Thanks to this reputation that started more than 200 years ago, the river has welcomed many leading sportsmen, including the Duke of Windsor, George H.W. Bush, Bing Crosby, William K. Vanderbilt, Hubert Humphrey, and many others.
Today, the provincial government’s Department of Natural Resources auctions time-limited fishing leases for physical sections of the river and riverbed to the highest bidders. There is really no public salmon fishing on the Restigouche. The government retains ownership of the resource, uses it as a source of revenue, and depends heavily on their private partners along the river to keep eyes on the river to regulate and enforce conservation rules and ethics. Throughout New Brunswick, every visitor must hire a local guide to go salmon fishing.
Once in a Lifetime
When I hooked my first 30-pounder on the Restigouche, I was told a fish this spectacular may never come my way again. Over and over in my life, I’ve been told similar stories, about how these moments we wish for, prepare for, and train for only come around every so often, most likely only once or twice in a lifetime. In my time as an angler, and simply as a person, I’ve refused to lower my expectations in an effort to fit that diminished belief system. One place where I learned this was at the Restigouche River Lodge.
The lodge, the river, and its Atlantic salmon promise a once-in-a-lifetime experience every time you visit, because each visit and each fish is unique and memorable. But don’t just take my word for it—see for yourself, and listen to the countless other sportsmen and women I’ve met there who have added the Restigouche to their annual rotation of fishing trips, simply because their experience there is spectacular, time after time and year after year. That first large catch was not a never-to-be-repeated fluke. Rather, it was only the beginning of my story with the Restigouche River Lodge and the fish that keep me coming back to these waters year after year.
Book your Destination
The Mann Mountain Settlement is about a 12-hour drive from New York City, and an 8-hour drive from Montreal, Canada. You can also fly to Bathurst, New Brunswick, where the lodge will arrange a shuttle. Restigouche River Lodge – restigouchelodge.com
The Canadian Atlantic Salmon Taper (C.A.S.T.) fly line is designed to slice through the strong winds common on eastern Canada’s Atlantic salmon rivers, while its moderate front taper and long rear taper provide stealth in low water.
Emily Rodger is a leadership coach (emilysrodger.com), former elite cyclist, triathlete, and 70.3 Ironman world qualifier. She is the subject of the short film Cadence, the story of her near-fatal collision and how she recovered (emilyrodgercadence.com). A one-hour version of the same film entitled Chasing the Current will aired in Canada in September on CBC.