My Restigouche River Run part Three
by: Irene Doyle
My Restigouche River Run part 3….
Our run started on an early September morning, with the sun coming up nice and warm, the temperature is at about 15 degrees Celsius, and we are at Englands Flats (Glen Eden). It looks like we have picked the perfect day to canoe down this mighty snake of a river.
Englands Flats is situated between Whites Brook and Two Brooks with Pine Island Lodge to one side of it and Indian House to the other. It is also close to the famous Cross Point Island.
Here at the Englands Flats Lodge, the boats are still waiting for someone to take them for their usual 9 o'clock morning float up or down the river on their stretch of water, but it is now after 10;30 and the canoes are still tied to the shore. This is probably due to the very low level of water in the river right now. This spot is also one of the worse places along the river for black flies, because it is very sandy and a perfect place for them. Thanks to Pat however who knows this, we have come prepared.
We are now approaching the famous Cross Point Island where a lot of people camp during their river run. Here is where you will find a lot of those "Yahoos" that I spoke of earlier. These people can't seem to enjoy nature in a natural environment and they have to "freeze" themselves with drugs or booze to do the run, it becomes just one big party with no respect for others or nature.
Pat tells me that when the project to clean the river began, the one I mentioned earlier, the guys who were working on it gathered 3 half-ton trucks full of garbage in one weekend on this island. I have managed to find a few picture of some of the garbage that was picked up on the sites, some pictures of the sites after a weekend of campers abusing them and some of the abuse to the trees that was found along the river in the past. You can see those pictures here
Today, however, it is very quiet, very calm, and a gorgeous site to see, again because of the low level of the river and the time of the year there are not too many people on the river today. The level of water is so low that Pat has to be extra careful so we are going real slow, which is just fine with me. We have to watch out for channels where the water is deeper. We are using a 26 foot canoe with an 8 speed motor. There are some people who use a 15 HP one but it is not necessary on the river, besides the 8HP takes less gas.
Below Englands Flats the warden tells us he saw a nice white-tailed deer this morning, he says he sees it very often on a point of land that protrudes into the river there. Right in front of this point, there is a mountain that must be at least 300 feet high with a very steep cliff and at the top of this cliff there is a cross, thus the name Cross Point Island. Here the river forms a great big "U" which is usually described by saying it takes a horseshoe shape and from the top of this mountain the view is magnificient, you can see for miles. Here may be a little difficult to see but there is a gorgeous deer and a moose side by side, (So to see the full size picture click here) not something you see every day but a sign there is still wildlife along the river and we must try to protect them and keep them safe.
The crosses of Cross Point Island have been placed there a very long time ago and the story of how they got there is not clear, at least not to my friend Pat. He says he's heard that they were placed there by the first priests who came to the area and with the help of the Indians, placed some crosses on the top of the mountain to remind the passerby of Christ's presence. But who knows the real reason..
On the river there are also many birds for the ornithologist to admire. Pat tells of a story that comes to mind about the Mergansers which sit in flocks of 15-20 and float down the river, eating fish on the way down. This did not sit well with many so, some biologists tried to get rid of these pesky birds that were eating a lot of salmon. This was in the 80's, and it lasted for about 2 years. They provided bullets to the game wardens to shoot these birds and a man by name of Albert Downs, a man with just one eye, was apparently the best with a gun.
We are now leaving the area where the crosses stand high on the top of the cliff and we are getting into the "U" part of the river. All along the river there are gamewardens still, hired to keep watch on the salmon pools especially for poachers (people who fish illegally). These wardens live in small little camps, which are about oh I'd say maybe 15 X 10 feet, and they stay 12 days at a time in these little cabins. I guess they have no electricity, no phone and outdoors facitlities. Here we see one of these little camps and the scene is breath-taking. On the left side of us there is a mountain which is about 400 to 500 feet high, with very steep cliffs with absolutely no vegetation, it looks almost like a gravel pit would. Ouch… my heart almost stops as I hear the motor hitting bottom quite a few times here… this water is really low. Good thing there is a set in mechanism that pushes the motor upwards when it hits bottom, which keeps it from being badly damaged but it is still a scary feeling as I really do not care to get out and walk at this point.
Just below the wardens' camp there is a pool called Cross Point, here we see a canoe with Americans who are fishing, according to Pat, they are members of the Restigouche Salmon Club. Pat is very careful not to disturb these people by slowing down and passing as far away from them as possible, hugging the shore on the opposite side. This morning it is a woman who is sitting in that canoe with the guide. In their 26-foot canoe they have one fisherman and one guide. What they do is sit in a strategic spot and they tease the salmon with a fly. They sit in what is called "the run" where the currant is swift and the water is fresh and full of oxygen for the fish. They do not seem to be very successful at catching a salmon yet although it is a good salmon pool. Pat says that usually you can see when the salmon takes the fly while passing by but this morning seems to be quiet. This pool is approximately 1500 feet in length.
We have just met a warden, the one who works at the Cross Point camp, he is probably doing his rounds. As we go down the river and around a bend another guide is sitting in a canoe with a fisherman, again all seems quiet. Here the river is approximately 100 feet wide and there must be 20 to 22 feet of water in that pool and I'm happy to be in the more shallow water side of the river. Having passed our fishermen, we can now accelerate without danger of disturbing them.
Pat tells me that it is a rare happening but a coyote was seen sitting on a big rock here one day. Here those rocks are different, they are like a wall of cement and they descend into the river as far down as we can see under water.
As we keep rounding Cross Point Island we get to a spot where the water is really shallow and again here my heart almost stops as the motor touches bottom, the boat swings sideways and Pat has to use the pole to get her back on track. But I'm hanging tight and starting to love this as I know that Pat is experienced and he can handle it. He says that normally here the water is just fine, navigation is easy but with the water level as low as it is, it was not an easy spot to cross.
Pat cranks the motor into action again, after quite a few cranks and again I'm afraid of walking the rest of the way. We are finally around the island and on the other side of the mountains I was talking about a while past. Cross Point Island, again, is a very busy, popular one during the summer months, it is where most of the campers stop to eat and or sleep. For this purpose the government and the Restigouche Salmon Club have been providing firewood for the campers to calm their savage instincts and keep them from cutting down trees as they use to. Ninety percent of the time I am told there is wood there ready for them to use. Here we see one of the guys who works at taking wood to the sites and his canoe is full of wood.
I thought that running part of the river this time of the year when the water was low would be the ideal time for me because of my fears of deep water. But apparently it is almost worse because the water is so low, it is more dangerous, you have to be more careful, you have to know the river, know where to pass and not to pass. Although I'm busier looking around at the beauty of the surrounding areas and not paying that much attention to the bottom of the river, that is Pat's job, he is at the wheel and according to him the river lets you read it if you get to know how. One of the secrets of canoeing with low water levels is to take your time, right now our motor is running at about half speed. The mountains, the water, the birds, the ducks, the sun shining down on us, it is almost too beautiful to describe or to take all in. We are now heading back up the river as I asked Pat to go around Cross Point Island, so I could see the other side before going on.
We are now coming to the warden's camp. We see the warden on the beach and stop to talk to him, his name is Denzil Downs and I have my hand-held tape recorder with me and I ask him a few questions. He laughs and says "Am I on the air? Denzil Downs here warden on the Restigouche River, I'm here in my camp at Rock Pool and the water right now is very very low and we're just praying right now to get some rain, to make it better for the clean-up crews, they are doing a very good job at keeping the Restigouche River very nice and clean and picking up their cans and keeping the picnic sites area very very good."
Apparently the clean-up crew he is talking about are the guys hired by the government on the project I was speaking of earlier. The wardens use to leave their garbage in the back of their camp and now the clean-up crew picks it up daily to keep bears and other animals away from the camps. I ask Denzil how big his camp is" Our camp is 14 X 12 feet" he said. I ask "What do you find the hardest being on the river like this?" and as all good wardens would answer, he says " Well I don't really find nothing hard, I just take it day by day and do my job, things have improved over the years, it's improving all the time and lets keep it that way." I thank him and we get on our way.
In the afternoon, when the Americans have finished fishing for the day, the wardens can relax a bit and to kill time they travel to the other wardens' camps sometimes to chat a bit, I noticed that warden Pat Arsenault was with Denzil.
Part 4 next month..