River Report

Salmon Lodge featured in Forbes Magazine

Forbes Magazine has a feature article about Salmon Lodge in their May 9 issue. The article is called “Salmon Zen”  A close group of five friends including Yvon Chouinard the founder of Patagonia sportswear enjoy a weeks fishing at Salmon Lodge.

Salmon Zen

Monte Burke

Forbes Magazine

Five friends fish for Quebec’s elusive prize.

After a feast of local lobster on our first night at Salmon Lodge, Yvon Chouinard, the 72-year-old founder of Patagonia sportswear, tells us about his first pursuit–blacksmithing. We are five friends, all a long way from home here on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, and we’re fishing for Atlantic salmon, two circumstances that tend to induce patient, drawn-out dinner table conversations.

Chouinard is a concise man, both physically and with his shared thoughts. His love of blacksmithing, he tells us, eventually grew into his global outdoor-apparel company. There was something about the repetitive hammering, the glow of the hot iron on the anvil, the blast of burning breath from the furnace: “After a while you start to feel like you’re stoned,” he says. Fishing for Atlantic salmon–the cast after cast, the matrix of flowing water–produces the same feeling, according to Chouinard.

This notion of the preeminence of means over end, of doing things the right way, has successfully informed Chouinard’s business career. It also has equipped him with the perfect temperament for Atlantic salmon fishing, a sport in diametric opposition to our society’s frantic quest for instant gratification.

Atlantics are known as “the fish of 1,000 casts.” They do not actually feed at all when they enter freshwater on their spawning run and take flies only on some mysterious whim. Fishing for these big salmon is “the pursuit of that which is elusive but attainable,” as John Buchan, the first baron of Tweedsmuir, once put it. Precisely the point.

Chouinard’s sentiments are fresh in my mind the next morning as I wade into the stunningly clear Bonaventure River, where I’m fishing with my friend Tom Montgomery and our guide, Roddy Gallon. On my more centered days I agree wholeheartedly with Chouinard about the joy of the process, yet I will admit that for me the emphatic tug of an Atlantic salmon has become something of an addiction–I do want to catch fish. But as I wade and cast on Slocum Pool I realize that there is plenty to please a person in just being here: the beautiful, slender, glossy rods, the stunning natural surroundings and, not least, the handsome flies, alluring to both fish and fishermen.

So it comes as a surprise when midway through the morning Gallon hands me a large yellow-and-brown dry fly that looks like something the cat disgorged on the living room rug. “It works,” laughs Gallon, who is Falstaffian in both girth and mirth.

I trust him. After all, it was Gallon who earlier on that chilly, overcast morning had given me a Picasse–a gorgeous little fly tied with pheasant feathers–which produced a bright, 20-poundsalmon. So I tie on the unnamed, ugly fly and heave it out into the water, where it floats high on the surface. Its garishness seems an insult to the Bonaventure’s limpid waters and the vibrant greens of the surrounding maritime boreal forest of the Gaspé. “That thing looks like a parakeet!” yells Montgomery from downriver. I nod in agreement and start to lift my rod in preparation for another cast when a salmon crashes the surface, grabs my fly, then goes berserk, unnervingly splashing and tail-slapping all over the once serene pool.

Over cod fillets Bill Taylor, the energetic 50-year-old president of the advocacy group the Atlantic Salmon Federation, tells of a 20-pound salmon that rose six heart-stopping times for his proffered dry fly but never took. It’s a fish he will remember far longer than some he has actually caught. Charles Conn, the Internet-startup phenom (citysearch.com, match.com), who now works for the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, relays his tale of hooking a fish that snapped his 14-foot spey rod in two. By pulling in line by hand he eventually landed a 16-pounder. The nights go on like this, with tales of fish and dreams landed and lost until, regretfully, the trip comes to its inevitable end.

On the sun-sweetened morning of our last day, Montgomery and I opt to float the river with Gallon. Standing upright in the back of the 26-foot, green-hulled canoe, Gallon wields a 10-foot cedar pole and guides us through a treacherous rock-strewn series of rapids with the nonchalance of a Venetian gondolier. It’s a type of skilled canoeing that harkens back to the late 1800s, when wealthy Americans took trains to the mouths of Gaspé rivers, then were push-poled upstream to their fishing lodges.

I decide to take a step back, seeking shallower water where I might gain some measure of control. Instead I trip over a submerged boulder and fall backwards, going completely underwater–head and all–and watch as the river closes over my face like a double-doored casket. When I arise, the fish, somewhat miraculously, is still on my line. Montgomery and Gallon howl in laughter from the riverbank. Numb, and perhaps in the first stages of shock from the 50-degree water, I fall in again, just as the fish spits the hook.

I reel up and stagger toward shore, river water dripping from my hair. Montgomery is still laughing. Gallon darts into the woods. For a moment I think he’s done with us–the uncoordinated American and his cackling companion. I start to calculate how long it will take to walk the mile upstream to the primitive road that’s another 5 miles or so from a paved one. Then Gallon emerges from the trees cradling a bundle of gathered sticks. He builds a streamside bonfire. I strip down to my boxers and lay out my sopping clothes on crossed sticks that Gallon has arranged around the fire. Twenty minutes later I am, amazingly, completely dry, reeking of sweet wood smoke and back in the river casting.

And I have a story to tell. That night we all gather back at the Salmon Lodge, windburned, sore and refreshed. The 100-year-old lodge, with its white wooden exterior and well-appointed guest rooms for eight anglers, is perched on a bluff overlooking another great Gaspé river, the Cascapedia. A huge porch wraps around its exterior, and a warm fireplace centers the convivial living room. The lodge was originally built by an heir to the Dun & Bradstreet ( DNBnews people ) fortune and was a gathering spot for prominent Canadians and Americans throughout the 20th century–and now, open to the public, it still is.

In one placid part of the Bonaventure I gaze down to the bottom of a 30-foot pool through water so clear I get a brief sense of vertigo. Gallon stops occasionally, and Montgomery and I toss flies through perfect runs. Neither of us gets as much as a nibble. Not that we care. Our end was achieved the day we arrived.