Fishing Friends –
Ted Williams White Birch Lodge – Many of us who fish the Miramichi are fascinated by its history of attracting some remarkable people to its waters. At the top of that list stands Ted Williams who was not only a very high profile personality, but someone who became much more involved with the river than simply spending a long weekend at an outfitting camp. Ted’s popularity is particularly broad based because he had two appeals. First was the bigger-than-life persona of the Hall of Fame baseball player who hit .400 or better in three seasons for the Red Sox – in spite of a career interrupted by stints as a fighter pilot in both WWII and the Korean wars. Second, though, was his local appeal to the men who worked along the river. My old guide Willy Bacso said that the local men admired him because like many of them who had worked in the woods and guided their whole lives, Ted was rough and tumble. He took no crap, cussed with the best of them, and was physically able enough to back it all up.
This September my wife, myself, and friends from California visited Ted’s camp White Birch Lodge, hosted by Clarence Curtis who is the caretaker and guide for the current owner Joe Walsh. Clarence’s father Roy met Ted as a guide at Doctor’s Island on one of Ted’s first trips to the river in 1958. Ted soon decided that he liked the river enough to have his own fishing water, and he hired Roy as his personal guide. Ted also hired Roy’s wife Edna to cook and do the housekeeping.
The Curtis family found Ted a great spot in the Rapid’s section of the Miramichi on property owned by Johnny Coughlan. Ted had a hand in the design of White Birch which has a big, high-ceilinged, open layout. Sid Travis from Sunny Corner built the camp in 1961, the year after Ted retired from baseball. Ted wanted to be part of the building process, and helped by running wheelbarrows of hand poured cement.
Williams used to come up at the end of June and fished virtually every day until the season closed first on September 30, and in later years on October 15. The only guaranteed interruption to his schedule was the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Cooperstown. Ted never missed it and drove the 1,600 mile round trip each year to attend. At the end of the season Ted packed up and drove to his winter home; first in Islamorada, then after 1989 to Crystal River near Homosassa Springs.
Roy Curtis died in October of 1988 after guiding Ted every day that season until it closed on September 30. Roy’s son Clarence took over after that, and guided Ted for the next 5 years until the end of the 1993 season. Even though Ted was no longer able to come back to the Miramichi after 1993 he never stopped thinking about the river. He still employed Clarence and Edna to look after the place, and Clarence talked to Ted by phone often during the fishing season keeping Ted abreast of the fish and fishing conditions. Ted passed away in 2002, Edna retired, and her position was filled by Peggy Curtis, wife of Clarence’s brother Arnie.
Even though Ted is gone the attachment that Clarence still feels to the camp and Ted’s memory is very apparent. When I arrived for my visit he was picking up twigs from the lawn after a blow the night before. For Clarence the camp is clearly a shrine to Ted’s memory. Clarence and I looked down the long set of steps to the pool. Ted walked them even in his last year, said Clarence, but he took his time.
I never knew Ted Williams, and I never watched him play a game of ball. To see the camp that he had built for himself though, with the table at which he ate all his meals – he always sat right in that corner as Clarence pointed out to me – the bed where he slept, the table where he tied flies, the pegs on the side of the house where he hung his rod, and the long row of stones that he had placed in his pool, all amounted to practically a religious experience. It all had a timeless feel, even though certainly Ted’s time has come and gone. It reminded me that the river will always be there, and it is us who get only a few seasons to fish its waters. Instead of making me feel sad, though, the whole scene gave me a warm and comfortable feeling. It was Labor Day, I was on the Miramichi, and about to spend several weeks walking in the footprints of men like Ted Williams, Charlie Wade, Seabury Stanton, Harry Allen, and many others who like me felt that there was nothing more worth doing than standing in this magnificent river and casting to its salmon.
The future of White Birch Lodge – The new owner Joe Walsh is an American. In fact growing up in Bangor, Maine, currently living in Texas, and working as a lawyer for Exxon, Joe is as American as they come. His roots, though, are from the Howard Road in Upper Blackville. Joe recounts his first trip to the Miramichi, spring fishing in the lower Cains River in 1972 when he was 8 years old. The river was full of ice, said Joe, but he was hooked for life. Joe’s mother’s maiden name was Katherine Vickers. The Vickers are a big enough Blackville clan to rival the Curtises and Coughlans. Joe is proud of his Blackville roots, and sent me a picture of his great grandparents Florence and Margaret Vickers and their daughter Noreen. The photo was taken while they lived on the Howard Road in 1926.
Joe’s grandfather was Doctor Martyn Vickers of Bangor, who was well known as a fisherman along the river. His son, known to many of us as Marty Vickers – Joe’s mother Katherine’s brother – is also a medical doctor, and has been deeply involved his whole life with Miramichi salmon fishing.
Joe told me about his purchase of White Birch Lodge and future plans: “For several years, John Henry – Ted’s son – and I would talk at the end of each season and I would broach the issue of purchasing the lodge. Upon the passing of Ted and John Henry, I was approached by an intermediary about purchasing the lodge. Thereafter, Ted’s daughter Claudia and I talked and concluded the transaction in a single call. My family has been so fortunate to have Clarence Curtis and Peggy Curtis continue to be an integral part of the lodge. My plan is to continue Ted’s memory and love of Atlantic Salmon and the Miramichi through the lodge and experiences with my daughters, Clarence Curtis and Peggy Curtis, and my family.”
Like Williams Joe Walsh loves to fish, but with his busy career his time on the river is fairly limited. He has chosen to share White Birch with members of the public who will appreciate an opportunity to fish at Ted William’s camp. The camp maintains a website at this link, and you can contact them to make arrangements for your own trip to White Birch Lodge. Beginning on January 31 we will be hosting an auction on this website, and a three day trip to White Birch Lodge guided by Ted’s guide Clarence Curtis will be among the available items.
2019 River Freeze Up – Every year along the Miramichi is a little different. The factors are temperature of course, but also precipitation and resulting water height. Last year the lower river – Blackville and below – froze up much earlier than up in the Boiestown area. It looked like that was going to reverse this year as a week or so ago the river cam at Bullocks showed the river frozen in heavily on the sides and full of ice in the middle. The river out in front of Country Haven and up by Jason Curtis home in Blackville had a lot of floating ice, but was very much open.
A couple of days ago I got an e-mail from Byron Coughlin, and the Miramichi in front of his house is frozen solid, but up in Boiestown it looks more open than it did a week earlier. A lot of this is just where the raise of water is along the river. When it rains the headwaters area fills up first as the myriad tributary creeks empty in to the river. That raise then comes down river like a wave, building in height as it goes and the river becomes larger with more of the biggest tributaries like the Cains being added in. It can still be raising in Blackville when the water is already dropping fast 50 miles upriver.
As of Sunday morning, even though the temperature is very near zero F the river at Bullock’s is still creeping, though completely full of ice. The downriver freeze-up will be fragile, and the coming bout of warm rain could send all the ice out to Miramichi Bay. It is often deep into December before the whole river solidly freezes up for the winter. Even then big winter thaws can cause the river to rise and shift its ice, often with damaging consequences.
Miramichi Salmon Association Events – Those of you who have read this blog for long know that I am a solid supporter of the MSA. I believe strongly that they make the best use of their resources to conserve the Miramichi’s salmon and trout, and to advocate for the overall river environment and for recreational salmon fishing. An interesting fact is that Ted Williams was also a strong supporter and life member #2 of the MSA.
This year I am expanding my support of the MSA by doing two things:
First, my wife June and I are holding a $200 a plate dinner at our Falmouth, Maine home on February 22. In addition to the meal – that I promise will be very tasty – and open bar, Mark Hambrook president of the MSA, and David Roth director of the CAST Experimental River project will be providing updates on the Atlantic salmon population of the MSA and what has been learned to date through the CAST program and its potential to help increase the Miramichi wild salmon population. There will even be a door prize of an original painting of a Cains River scene by Luther Hall drawn that evening. There are still tickets available, and if you e-mail me, Brad Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org I will send you a flyer I made up and answer any questions. There are still seats available.
Second, Beginning on January 31 and running until February 16 we are hosting an auction on my website. We already have 40 lots including some really great Atlantic salmon fishing trips on the Miramichi. These run from spring fishing at Wilson’s to summer fishing at Black Brook Salmon Club, to early fall at Doctor’s Island, or Ted Williams White Birch Lodge, and finally the last three days of the season on the Cains River at Country Haven. There’s lots more with original paintings and prints, hand tied flies, fly lines by Sci Anglers, books about the Miramichi and Atlantic salmon in general, two raffles, and on and on.
As these auction items are completed I am putting them up on the auction website at this link to hopefully give you time to plan the items that you will want to go after. Additional items will be added as we go along so keep checking back. My plan is for all items to be delivered to the U.S. or Canada with no additional shipping. Everything will be in U.S. dollars because that is where my financial services are. As always don’t hesitate to e-mail with any questions.
On the Cains: Atlantic Salmon and Sea Run Brook Trout on the Miramichi’s Greatest Tributary –
My new book is now firmly scheduled to come out on March 1st. Sometime in January I will be sending you all an e-mail offering you a special offer to buy signed copies of the book with a special insert. I’m sorry for the delay, but publishing is not a quick process. It was decided that because of the approximately 400 photos and illustrations – many of great historical interest – that the size of the books format should be increased to 8 ½ x 11. The larger size really gives the readers a better view of the photos. I have already approved the “first pass” and I think you’ll really like the way the book looks and reads.
Thanks Brad Burns