Salmon Lodge

Grand Cascapedia & The Bonaventure

4-11 June 2023

Destination: Eastern Canada

Holiday: Salmon Lodge, Camp Bonaventure, The Club - Bonaventure

I was pretty sure it was simply a matter of time before I landed my 30lb+ salmon on one of the fabulous Northern Rivers on the Kola Peninsula.   Whilst a fish of that size is far from guaranteed, you could pretty much be assured that you were casting over a number of very large fish on any given day of the week, regardless of when you went during the season.   Sadly the invasion of Ukraine has put that dream to sleep, potentially for the foreseeable future.   I am no stranger to the rivers of the East Coast of Canada.   They produce huge Atlantic Salmon relatively consistently over any given season, even if they are undeniably far less prolific than those in Russia.  

Big Atlantic Salmon are my weaknesses, and I will easily take that fly, regardless of the presentation.  Given the opportunity to take a group to Salmon Lodge on the Grand Cascapedia and armed with the knowledge that two 30lb fish had been caught over that same week last season, 4-11 June, I took the fly as hungrily as a hitched sunray, even with the knowledge that early weeks on any salmon river are something of a lottery.  

High and cold water is typically the main concern and that was the case over what turned out to be a very successful week for the lodge in 2022.   Early June 2023 was very different.  Limited snow over the winter meant that the rivers were far from high and instead were at a level that would not have been out of place in late June or early July.   On paper, perfect conditions and indeed when the season opened on 1st July, the expectation was that it might be a bonanza.   Salmon runs are sadly no less predictable in Canada as they are anywhere else, frequently defying expectations.  Whilst some fish were caught up and down the length of the Grand Cascapedia, it became evident from early on that success to a degree would require a reasonable degree of luck as to whether or not you were in the right place at the right time to intercept running fish.

Although Salmon Lodge occupies one of the most spectacular spots on the Grand Cascapedia, situated on a high-bluff over-looking the lower section of the river, anglers fish a variety of water, mainly covering the upper sections of the Grand Cascapedia as well as the Petit Cascapedia and Bonaventure with access via a lottery system.  This categorically does not mean that if you do not ‘win’ the lottery you will find yourself twiddling your thumbs at the lodge.   There is always good water that you can access, including the public water, but you have to accept that you will not necessarily know where you are going more than 48hrs in advance.   Anglers are paired together so if your fishing companion gets a ticket, you accompany, and vice versa.

My fishing partner, Michael and myself had openings that gave us fishing for the first 5 days on the Grand Cascapedia with our final two on the Bonaventure.   This should have been good news, as the Grand Cascapedia run of fish is normally in advance of those on the Bonaventure.   This year however the opposite seemed to be true, with the first catches made at the lodge coming from the Bonaventure.  Despite the loss of a fish on Day 3 it was not until Day 4 that Michael managed to land two nice salmon.  Having seen a good number of fish over the afternoon session, hopes were subsequently high for the following day.  The run had arrived en masse! 


Sadly that was not to be. Although we were fishing similar water and indeed fishing the pool where the biggest fish of the week had been hooked and landed the previous day, it appeared they were no longer at home!  With the water close to 14C it is very possible the fish that were there were all running hard.  Having bumped into an old friend and the previous owner of Salmon Lodge no less, David Bishop, he was reporting an envious amount of action even higher up the Grand than we were. He has also been successful fishing flies of under an inch or so in length as well as having had a fish on a bomber, unusual for the time of year but representative of the unseasonal conditions.


Our final 2 days were on the Bonaventure, fishing the B section.   The difference between the Cascapedia and the Bonaventure is nothing short of striking.   Everything about this river is different.  The water clarity being the most obvious in that it is extraordinarily clear, but the river is much more open compared to the upper sections of the Cascapedia, and with the height of water that we had, it certainly felt as if we had a lot more fishable water than some of the upper Cascapedia beats.


The river-bed of the Bonaventure is the colour of flint.   During high water it retains a greenish tinge but as the water drops, it is about as close to tap-water as you will find. Spotting fish is very much part and parcel of the game on the Bonaventure and although untrained eyes will struggle, confidence in our guides instruction allowed for some targeted casts, one of which resulted in another delightfully fresh fish for Michael.   All that day and the next we were sure that we would add a few more fish to our eventual tally.  On the final day we encountered a very good pod of 5 fish with another MSW salmon of very significant proportions just to the side.  With each cast I was almost certain that a take would be forthcoming, but after 3 or 4 flies and no reaction we gave them a rest, hoping that on return in an hour or two they would be more receptive. 


Alas it was not to be.  When we returned, they had gone!   I suspect running fish which had stopped for a quick breather and then headed on.   We came across a number of fish like this on the Bonaventure, there one minute, gone the next, although these fish had appeared quite settled and were definitely not running when we first saw them.  I often hear anglers say with absolute confidence that if there is a fresh fish in the pool it will take anything.   My honest opinion is that this is just something people say, particularly when they do not feel there are many fish around, but that is a conversation to be had late at night with a glass of whiskey!

It had been exactly 10 years since my first stay at Salmon and without a doubt the standards and service have remained impeccable, from the guides, to the lodge staff and management.  I can genuinely say that I have never encountered ‘picnic’ lunches as elaborate as those on offer, including soup, salads, main course, fruit, desert, cookies, snacks, coffee!   Very comprehensive!  The only thing missing was a 5 mile hike to justify the indulgence!   At the lodge the meals were all excellent including a very extravagant individual lobster on one evening, with the proportions of all the evening meals spot on!

As much as I had hoped to replicate the brace of thirty pounders from the same week in 2022, that was always going to be a long shot!  The best salmon amongst our group for the week was a mid-twenty pounder, a fabulous fish, but all the others caught were veritable bars of silver and suitably strong to boot.  An early June week will always carry an element of risk, but you also get the very first crack at the big fish when they arrive.   The water conditions we faced on the Cascapedia were about as low as you would ever expect for this time of year, high water is the more usual worry, although the 2022 week which delivered such good results had very high water.   No week comes with any guarantees, you take your chances whenever you go.   Earlier, less fish, but a better chance of a really big bright fish, later on more fish, but with the worry of low and or hot conditions!  What should be 100% guaranteed is exceptional attention to detail in every aspect of your stay at Salmon Lodge.

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