Crown Reserve Salmon – Groundhog Landing 2016
A few years ago, as we began getting further and further addicted to fishing, we decided to try out the “Crown Reserve” lottery process to try to gain access to what are said to be some of the province’s top angling areas. New Brunswick has a number of stretches of prime salmon angling areas that are available by lottery only. By description, most of the areas have a cabin and can be booked for a 48-hour period throughout the summer angling season. In addition, there are a number of daily trout and salmon stretches and lakes that also are only accessible through the draw process.
None of us had ever gone on a Crown Reserve fishing trip before, and we found the instructions and documentation to be a bit intimidating, but we dove right into it. The applications are done in February each year, and the results come out in April, so a great deal of preparation and forethought is required.
The Crown Reserve Lottery was not kind to us for a number of years, and being members in other groups we went for four years without a win. Lottery applications are done in either groups of 2 or 4 members, depending on the stretches. In 2016 we would be applying with an entirely new foursome, made up entirely of what could be termed as “salmon fishing amateurs.” Although a couple of us had caught salmon before, none of us had done so intentionally or on a fly rod. We all have limited fly fishing experience but it’s an ability that we’re all trying to develop further.
Finally, this spring, we found out we had been successful at winning at “Groundhog Landing” on the North Sevogle River for the New Brunswick Day long weekend! We would have the lodge and the fishing stretch from 2pm on Saturday until 2pm on Monday. After winning, we sought out everyone we knew with experience at that lodge, and we were able to get a lot of great advice about equipment, trails, what pools were typically the best, and some other tips about arrival and departure. For preparation, the Wilderness Obsession crew decided to enroll in the Miramichi Fly Fishing School, and you can find our review about our class here.
The summer of 2016 was hotter and dryer than average, leading to the closure the week of our trip of 25 salmon pools on the Miramichi system… but thankfully the North Sevogle River was not affected, the trip would go on! The four of us met in Moncton at Wayne’s house early Saturday morning so that we could take our time getting to our destination. We are often known for needing a few last minute stops, and this weekend would be no exception. We were advised that we should plan to arrive at the crown reserve camp somewhere around 1pm, so that we could talk to the previous group before they left (but also being clear that we weren’t pushing them out and that they had the spot until 2). Several that we talked to also advised us how we wouldn’t want to miss stopping over at Sid Matchett’s Fly Shop… and we would be sorry if we didn’t do so.
We could hardly contain our excitement as we pulled into Sid’s fly shop, and found that he was open and waiting for us. He said he always makes sure to be available on Crown Reserve changeover days. The visit with him was absolutely as advertised, as he offered tips, knowledge, advice about what was working, and tons of interesting stories about fly tying and the sport. If he’s willing, we hope to get an interview with Sid in the near future so that we can share some of those stories with our readers.
After spending too long visiting with Sid, we arrived at the camp at about 1:45 but were pleasantly surprised to find the last group still scrambling and packing up. They told us that they saw salmon in several pools, but that they couldn’t get any to take the flies they tried. The water level was incredibly low. Some locals visited us on their four-wheelers and told us that they had never seen the water so low. We made some burgers and got prepared for the evening fish, discussing and planning our strategies for success. We separated and explored several of the salmon pools to scout for fish, as there are 11 named pools in the Groundhog Landing stretch. Things were just as we were told… there were some fish holding in the lower pools but we couldn’t believe how low the water was. Some of the pools were unrecognizable and we couldn’t imagine how they could even hold fish this summer. The water was a warm 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Saturday fishing was extremely exciting for us, but ultimately uneventful. The lower pools were very clear and it was easy to see at least 6 or 7 salmon in them, some of impressive size, however we couldn’t convince them to take any of our flies. Near dark, there was a fish raising at the flies two of our party was throwing but he didn’t take them, and we headed back to the camp.
Sunday we focused on the same pool that had been holding the most fish, and in the evening the fishing heated up. Around lunch we tried to get to the farthest upsteam pool (called Boo Bey pool) but we couldn’t follow the directions and gave up. At the same lower pool in the evening, we all had fish raising at our flies, and though they sometimes took them down, none took them enough to get a hookset. The water was slightly cooler at 76 degrees Fahrenheit. The highlight of the fishing was when David hooked a salmon and had a short but exciting fight as the fish leaped immediately, before going on a run in one direction. Then it immediately turned and went the other direction and leaped again, spitting the hook. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it on video but it was great to watch!
For our final fishing Monday, after another uneventful morning at the lower pools (76 degrees Fahrenheit) we decided to try to get to Boo Bey Pool again, and finally figured it out. The signage was often missing/fallen down, and there wasn’t much of a path. Despite the dry conditions several of us went up to our knees in swampy areas on our way there and we couldn’t believe how steep it was… but we made it! That pool was significantly cooler than any of the others we had encountered (68 degrees Fahrenheit) and on the bend of the river there was hardly any flow to it, but it had some depth. We were surprised to find that the pool was holding at least 6-8 salmon and they were actively swimming back and forth. One experienced salmon fisherman told me afterwards these fish could have been swimming to get enough oxygen, because of the lack of current in that area. Whatever the case, the fish were there but we didn’t get them to raise or pay any attention to our flies.
The cabin at Groundhog Landing is wired for a generator and has an inside flush toilet and sink, with gravity fed but undrinkable water. There is a small campfire pit and a picnic table outside, and a kitchen table indoors. For cold weather, there is also a wood stove inside the cabin. The cabin, with a plaque showing it was constructed in 2002, was terrific and met all our needs with four single beds in two bedrooms.
In terms of evaluating the pools and fishing area, we believe it to be mostly well-outlined and as expected. We found most of the pools were well described with well groomed and maintained paths to get there, although several of the banks to get down to them would be admittedly too steep for some anglers who would have to instead wade and go an alternate route. The lone exception was Boo Bey Pool which is picturesque and worth the walk… but extremely hard to find and poorly described. We were advised that a four-wheeler makes some of the travel easier and we do agree… and we explored every single pool and trail on the stretch. On our walks it was not uncommon to stop for a few minutes to pick blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries, and we saw a moose running through a bog on the way to the Boo Bey pool.
Our Crown Reserve Groundhog Landing trip was an amazingly good time, and we spent as much time sitting outside around the campfire or inside playing cards and telling stories as we did fishing… and that’s part of the glory of the great outdoors! If you don’t understand why we would go out to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no power, limited water, and no cell service to spend a weekend fishing, this may not be the place for you. But I can tell you that even without landing a fish, we made memories that will last a lifetime and we hope to go back again!
Contact us and let us know!