Dwight and I headed out the next morning with Lee Marshall, a guide who had fished these rivers for 30 years. We spent part of the morning at a pool called Two Rocks. The only thing there, aside from the two rocks, were parr. I was able, however, to learn something new about salmon: While an adult fish will often ignore the tastiest-looking morsel, a baby salmon, like Mikey in the cereal commercial, will try anything, including a fly almost as big as it is. Thus it came to pass that my first "salmon" was two inches long.
I began to wonder if parr-for-the-course cracks and a photo of a two-inch salmon would be all I had to show for my hard work. Not to worry. Better things, certainly better fish, were just around the bend. That evening Lee Wulff and I went upriver with Lee Marshall. At a pool called Long Lookum, we spotted two grilse (young but mature sea-fed salmon returning to spawn for the first time). Lee Wulff very graciously allowed me the advantage of fishing the pool first. After we'd both had no luck at the top of the pool, I moved downstream a bit and cast out a wet fly called a Black Bear/Green Butt (so it's not all poetry).
Bam! I felt the weight of the salmon as the hook was set and heard the delicious sound of line whirring off the reel as the fish took out line. All my plans to keep calm went right down the river with the salmon.
Enter Henry Higgins. "Unless you want that fish to take you in over your head," Lee Wulff said calmly from the bank behind me, "I'd suggest you work him over to the net." I looked down near the beached canoe and saw Lee Marshall, net in hand. With a little advice on playing and landing the fish, including a tip not to touch my reel until I could get my rod into a vertical position, I managed to keep the salmon on my hook and, finally, to bring it to the net. It weighed 3� pounds. Although I was brought up in a family of no-kill, catch-and-release fishermen, I decided to keep this one, in case it turned out to be the only one. It didn't look as though I would come up against the limit in New Brunswick, which is two grilse a day, neither more than 25 inches long.
While there have been much bigger fish caught on that river, I doubt any was ever more photographed. In the net and out of the net. Upside down and sideways. With both Lees. But no photograph, not even one by Lee Wulff, can ever recapture the thrill of that salmon taking out my line, leaping completely out of the water. Nor can it evoke a complete remembrance of Lee Wulff playing Higgins.
It turned out that Lee was just as relieved as I was that I'd caught a salmon. He had worried, Joan told me later, that he might have invited me along on a fishing trip with no fish.
As we headed back to our lodge that evening, we decided to fish one more pool from the boat. I took a look at the still, dark mirror in front of us and felt immediate performance anxiety. The nasty little bugs called no-see-ums had begun to bite, making for an additional distraction. (I have a feeling that a no-see-um placed under a microscope would show up as nothing more than a pair of tiny teeth.) Mercifully, Lee Wulff fished the pool first. He dropped a fly onto that glassy surface as though it were a feather. Nary a ripple. No sign of fish, but his casting was a beautiful thing to watch.
And then, my turn. After a few anxious attempts, with many a ripple, Lee Marshall said, "Well, I think they may be gone now. Might's well move on down." What diplomacy.
The next day's blustery weather was a wind-knot special, making casting difficult. Even so, Ginger was able to catch a 14-pound salmon on a fly called a Blue Squirrel. Allan caught a salmon and a grilse. Now we knew that, while fishing was poor, it wasn't impossible. And that knowledge, plus a second grilse in the refrigerator for dinner, was enough to boost all our spirits considerably.
Fishing upriver with Joan early the following day, we saw no sign of fish, but I got a lot of help with my casting. With her 50 years of experience, Joan makes casting look simple, but getting that line to roll out so that it will delicately drop the fly exactly where you want it takes practice. And practice was what I got when we moved upstream. We spotted three grilse at the Long Lookum pool. We worked over those fish for more than an hour, trying to entice them with every kind of fly: Green Highlander, Silver Rat, Rusty Rat, Blue Squirrel, Blue Charm and Skater. I confess that by then I had unsportsmanlike visions of the effectiveness of a well-placed grenade. The only satisfaction of the morning came when I cast the Skater right over the nose of one grilse. "Beautiful," said Joan. The fish, which obviously didn't know a perfect presentation when it saw one, ignored the fly.