October means fall foliage and 2014 was a spectacular foliage year. We had early frost giving us a hint of what will soon follow. There isn’t much that can rival the contrasts of early morning light reflecting from brilliant orange, red, and yellow hillsides capped with dark green spruce—except when the dark green top is fringed in white! The gardens are harvested, the firewood is safely stacked and dry, and it is time to enjoy the last days without snow and real cold. I love to get out into the woods in October simply to smell the scent of falling leaves and perhaps shoot a grouse or two.
Of course “Moose Rut” was the first weekend in October, and with earlier success we were hoping for some real action. Conditions were perfect, but the moose were not cooperative. Even our night calling failed to bring a bull in close. Usually timing is the key, but it varies from year to year. The choice of the weekend becomes a critical factor.
According to IFW, winter ticks caused unusually high mortality last winter resulting in a significant drop in the moose population. After looking at the signs in our best calling places, I would have to agree that there are not nearly as many moose around. We had a great time anyway with very special guests, Alysse Cleasby and her mom. Alysse is the granddaughter of one of our veteran guests, Diane Clay. Alysse first came with her younger brother, Cory, for a woods walk. They were both able to learn the use of a map and compass to find Bear Brook Bog at the ages of 8 and 10 years. Grandfather Joel Packer was particularly amazed at how easily they learned. Later Alysse wrote an essay about a trip to Claybrook Lodge and won a New England contest with it. This trip was the second attempt to call a moose for Alysse. Laura Freeman and my sister, Eileen Drummond, were also on the trip. Ron and I did our best imitations, but we simply couldn’t tempt a bull. I guess if it was easy and predictable, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
The big event for Pat and me in October was a trip to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. I went there as a boy on a family trip, and it remains one of the best adventures of my life. Pat had never been to the Cape, so I was excited to show it to her. On Cape Breton is the Margaree River, noted for a surviving population of Atlantic salmon. Over the years at Pierce Pond I guided several men who loved to fish the Margaree. One man in particular urged me to go if I ever got the chance. Ben Fuller was a retired CIA man, who fought as a tank commander against Rommel in Africa. I have not met anyone who had such a history and lived to old age. One of his adventures was to dig a tunnel under the Berlin Wall and tap into Russian phone communications during the Cold War.
Ben told me that of all the places he fished, the Margaree was his favorite, and he would go there even if there were no fish. When I questioned him about this, he simply said to go there and I would see why. Ben has been gone a long time now, but I still see him standing casting from the bow of my Grand Laker while his brother Bob trolled a line along the shores of Pierce Pond.
Well, I finally got a chance to see what he loved at the Margaree. My friend, Paul Stanilonis, went to a little lodge on the Margaree last fall, and Pat and I were supposed to go, but a conflict arose causing us to cancel our reservation. Paul and his wife Peggy spoke so highly of the Normaway Inn that we were determined to make it there one way or another. It was difficult to find a period of time when we could leave home for so long, but Jason and Anna were here to take care of things. Of course as always there is some calamity when it comes time to leave. We intended to drive Pat’s Subaru on the trip and trade it for a new car when we got home. In the process of preparing it, the garage found so much wrong that it was no longer inspectable. Rather than rush around to buy a new one we rented a car and we were off on October 8th.
We aren’t used to driving long distances, and we like to go slow and enjoy the scenery wherever we go, so we allowed plenty of time to get there. The coastal route was a little longer but more scenic. We stayed the first night in St. John, New Brunswick, and the next in Sydney Nova Scotia with a number of stops along the way. Before we got to the Normaway, we stopped at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and spent a lovely sunny afternoon there. It’s definitely a place to visit if you are up that way.
Entering the Cape Breton Highlands was spectacular with the best fall foliage the people up there could remember. The Normaway was in an area quite similar to being home with narrow, sparsely populated rural roads through rolling hardwood hills that line the Margaree River Valley. The driveway was long and tree lined with mowed fields a barn and horses in a pasture. Everything in the Inn was old, and we got a small upstairs room. As soon as Pat saw it, she vowed she would never leave! The fire escape was a coiled rope by the window. The food was as good as it gets, there was live music every night, and we were made to feel welcome by everyone. We took a couple of hikes on trails around the Inn. On one trail was a blueberry barren operated commercially by the man who owned the Inn. Coyote, fox, and bear scat was so abundant it was difficult to avoid, and for all our “birders”, Pat saw her first Boreal Chickadee and a Spruce Grouse on the same trail.
We also took one day to drive around the Cabot Trail; probably the most stunning views of any highway I have driven. It has such changes in elevation that you go from coastal hardwood forests to Boreal Black Spruce and Alpine Meadows in a matter of minutes. (If you are afraid of heights this is not the drive for you!) The smell of hot brakes fills the air at the turnouts of which there are many since every bend has a new and more amazing view. A day isn’t enough to see it all, and we arrived back at the Inn after dark.
I took a drive around alone and started exploring the river. Near the Inn was a Provincial fish hatchery next to a pool in the east branch of the Margaree. The hatchery pools were full of Atlantic Salmon and Brook Trout in their fall spawning colors. I am always mesmerized by these, and it is difficult to pull myself away. There were two young men fly casting in a pool with an elderly gentleman looking on. He said they were his grandsons. I could see no fish in the pool but evidently there were some. Every pool in the river has a path to it that is open to public access. Not only are you allowed to cross private land to fish, there are benches at each pool to sit and rest or wait your turn if others are fishing the pool. There doesn’t seem to be any great competition for the pools, and the atmosphere among fishermen is relaxed and friendly.
Paul and Peggy arrived at the Inn during our last two days and Paul had arranged for a guide to take us out for the day. John was a Cape Breton native with a vast knowledge of the river and the fish. He also had some great story telling skills! As he drove us from pool to pool in an old beat up truck, he’d make observations about almost any subject. It all seemed kind of familiar. With John and me doing most of the talking, Paul didn’t get a word in edgewise.
Upstream from the hatchery was a pool under a bridge in a big bend in the river. We fished above the bridge pool on the first morning with John, and as soon as we arrived a big salmon rose to greet us. Others were fishing under the bridge and while Paul and I were casting, John was watching the river. We were unable to stir any fish, and when the others gave up and left, John showed us a rising fish in their pool. He watched from the bridge while we cast that pool and occasionally pointed out a spot to cast that was right over a big fish. It took me a while to actually see one, but when I did I was shocked at the size of it. John said that particular fish was a thirty pounder. I didn’t hook any salmon in my day with the guide, but it was a wonderful experience just the same.
On my last morning I got up early and was on the bridge pool alone in the first light. I sat on the bench, soaking in the sounds and the smells, and when it was light enough to see I stood up to cast. Almost on cue a big fish rose and for thirty minutes or so there was a constant display of big salmon rising, rolling and jumping. They had no interest in my offerings, but I will always have this memory to look at now and then, like a little home movie. While I sat on the bench, I could almost hear the voices of my old friends and see them wading in the Margaree. Thank you Ben Fuller for sharing this place with me.
We also owe a “thanks” to Paul and Peggy Stanilonis for not giving up on us. We took the scenic route again on the way home; it was beautiful, but home was even better! The last event for me in October was a day with Paul Driscoll, Timi Mina, and Bill Green from “Bill Green’s Maine” outdoors program. Paul had a dog that was very good on Woodcock, and I was able to find a few for the camera man to record. They were all great company in the field including the camera man, who has the most difficult of jobs. I can’t remember his name but he was good at his job. When I finally found the right cover, the dog did its job, the birds did theirs, the hunters shot accurately, and the film they were looking for was made. Some days being a guide is the best job there is.
Pat and Greg