Fraser remembers when the Ristigouche Salmon Club members used to travel upriver in houseboats, taking three weeks for such trips and fishing wherever the water looked inviting. If the club itself did not own the fishing rights, undoubtedly one of the millionaires' friends did, for sportsmen from New York controlled nearly all of the 50-mile length of the Restigouche (the river has another 150 miles of tributaries—the Little Main, the Kedgwick, the Upsalquitch, the Matapédia and the Patapédia). In 1883 the fishing rights had been established by law. People who owned land on the riverbank as of that date were granted riparian rights—they owned their own waters. But on the stretches of the Restigouche where there were no property owners the provincial government assumed the fishing rights. The government then leased these miles of the river at 10-year intervals. From the beginning, Americans were the high bidders in the auction of leases.
Houseboats—transformed lumber scows—were used for river trips until the 1930s. Luxury cabins were built on the 50-foot boats, and one industrialist of the time called them "more comfortable than home." There was a lounge, bedroom, pantry and kitchen and behind that a room for the cook. On the aft deck were tethered lambs and caged chickens that would be slaughtered during the trip—sometimes even a cow was carried for fresh milk. Farm horses towed the houseboats upriver, their iron shoes clattering on the gravel banks. They would wade and swim the heavy currents three abreast to the cajoling of their mounted driver. The salmon fishermen would sit on the verandah in the bow. "They'd be dressed like they were going to Parliament," a guide recalls. Smudge pots would be lit to ward off sandflies. It was a time of pleasing ease and grace.
A conspicuous Restigouche figure in those days was Stanford White. He lived with a lusty verve and died flamboyantly—shot dead by Harry K. Thaw for a dalliance with his wife, whom White had occasionally sent soaring through the air in a red velvet swing. White was the arbiter of taste for America's new wealth, for those not to the manner born. He built Renaissance estates for Vanderbilts and Whitneys, designed their yachting cups, croquet shelters, indoor squash and tennis courts, swimming pools and rifle ranges. White was called "the Moses and Aaron and Mahomet" of Society. He modeled New York's Tiffany & Company on a Venetian palace and the Herald Building on the town hall in Verona. So diverse and remarkable were his talents that White was commissioned to design parlor cars for the Pennsylvania Railroad, mausoleums for Morgans, yachts, necklaces, churches, stables and picture frames. He even left his mark on the White House. Few people get to view its grounds from the topmost floor, but a number of Presidents' wives might have been shocked if they had looked south from this personal vantage point and seen, outlined by White's walks and shrubbery, a lady of Rubens proportions with well-groomed knolls providing her full bosom. Stanford White's gargantuan joke went undiscovered by many Administrations. Certainly Mrs. Harding and Mrs. Taft must have lived in ignorant bliss of the supine lady in their backyard.
Another of White's unheralded creations stems from his Restigouche days. It is a salmon fly that he designed and named for himself—the Night Hawk. So successful was the Night Hawk that fishermen throughout the world still use it. Old guides on the Restigouche recall White tying flies, his artful fingers wrapping the shanks of hooks. Goog Mowat, now 75 and retired, remembers selling White a fly as a child. "I'd made it on a bait hook with rooster feathers," he says, "and I'd been using it trout fishing on the bank by the clubhouse in Matapédia. My father worked for 50 years for the Ristigouche Salmon Club as head warden, and the members didn't mind us children throwing out some line. This day I hooked a 12-pound salmon and landed him, and Mr. White came down to look at my tackle. He was a big man with a red mustache. He offered me 25¢ for the fly and asked me how many more I could get for him. I made him six and he paid me $1. I was a rich boy then."
Other famous salmon-fly patterns have originated on the Restigouche. One of the most effective, the Rusty Rat, was devised by Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He first came to fish on the river in the 1930s and bought his own camp—Grog Island—three miles above Matapédia. Pulitzer was nearly blind. "He had no vision in the left eye and only 20% in the right," says Frank Fitzgerald, who guided him and managed his camp for many years. "But there was never a gamer or better fisherman. He could never see the fly on the water. If a cast was good I'd say nothing, but if it wasn't I'd say, 'Do that over.' " A 37-pound salmon killed by Pulitzer hung until recently in the lobby of the Matapédia Hotel.
Pulitzer's pride in designing the Rusty Rat is reflected in a letter he wrote to the "Sports Editor" of FORTUNE in 1949:
"Having devised a new salmon fly on the Restigouche River this summer, I took it to J. C. Arseneault, the local fly-tier...and had him tie a number for me and others and told him to name it the Rusty Rat. He informed me that to have this name officially adopted I should write to FORTUNE Magazine. Whether this information is correct I have no means of knowing....
"For your information this fly is an imitation of an old, worn-out Black Rat Bucktail on which I took a 41-pounder, and from which the black body had disappeared, leaving the rusty-colored dental floss wrapped around the body of the fly. Rusty Rat proved quite effective and I hereby make formal application to have the name officially adopted."
Fortune, which probably has among its readership the highest number of salmon fishermen per capita, printed Pulitzer's letter, thereby establishing his claim as designer of the Rusty Rat, but suggested Pulitzer file a similar notice with the U.S. Patent Office. The fly has become a standard pattern which can be bought from London to Auckland.
Knowing such esoteric facts is part of the enjoyment of salmon fishing. One looks at a Rusty Rat with nostalgia. History intrudes on angling—or makes it. And to describe the present Restigouche scene is to savor the past. The rhythm of a fishing day, with its long pauses and interludes, lends itself to tale-telling, and nearly everyone who spends time on a salmon river is master of the art. The guides admit to small larcenies, of filling fish with stones to make them weigh more and win bets. There have been instances of proud sportsmen dispatching their salmon immediately to New York banks to have sworn affidavits drawn up regarding their weight.