A visit to Syd Matchett's 'one-of-a-kind' Trout Brook Fly Shop

·5 min read
Sydney Matchett, often just known as Syd, has become a living legend among Miramichi fishermen for his local knowledge and service at his Trout Brook Fly Shop. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)
Sydney Matchett, often just known as Syd, has become a living legend among Miramichi fishermen for his local knowledge and service at his Trout Brook Fly Shop. (Shane Fowler/CBC News - image credit)

On the cusp of the New Brunswick wilderness, long past where cellphones can get a signal, is where Sydney Matchett has built his legacy.

People blow by his unassuming shop on their way to fish the Miramichi River.

But when their flies don't raise any fish, their rods break, or their hip-waders start to leak, the guides and outfitters all point them back to the Trout Brook Fly Shop.

"I've met a lot of people, a lot of good friends all over North America, and also a lot in Europe," said Matchett, who opened the shop back in 1989.

He is best known as Syd, and spent his career deep underground, working in the mines of northern New Brunswick. But in 1978 a friend taught him how to tie fishing flies.

Matchett even sold a few, then he sold a few more. Soon he was selling to dozens of fishermen coming to the Northwest branch of the Miramichi River. That same friend who taught him to tie flies suggested he start a business.

"He said, 'You are in the perfect spot right beside the river. You could support a lot of your customers.' And he was right."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Matchett built a humble shop in his front yard. Customers say more celebrities have probably come through the doors of the tiny Trout Brook Fly Shop than any New Brunswick Casino.

He won't drop many names, but he will share a few details, including what gear they needed when they stopped by.

"[One customer] was playing football for the San Diego Chargers, the same summer a guy from the L.A. Lakers was here," he said. "I remember him very well — he needed a size 15 wading boot. The sole had come off his and he come to the shop."

WATCH | Explore the humble Trout Brook Fly Shop on the northwest Miramichi

The walls of the Trout Brook Fly Shop are lined with every type of fishing gear imaginable. In the centre is a cabinet with dozens of drawers. Each year they are filled with an assortment of about 15,000 fishing flies, which Matchett refers to as "hooks."

"That's my bread and butter hook," said Matchett, opening a drawer full of yellow-winged butterflies that he's tied with fur and thread and then coated with a sealant to hold everything tightly together.

"If the waters stay, I could survive on the yellow-winged butterfly," he said of his most popular fly. "We kept track one day — when the water was high and the fish was good in the late '80's — and I tied 95 of those one day. All number two hooks, and the guys were going down to the local pool holding them out the window to get their heads to dry."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Alongside those yellow-winged butterflies are dozens of other colourfully named flies: black ghosts, green rats, and orange blossoms fill the drawers.

As Matchett shows off his work, he lists the prime conditions for a successful catch with each. The silver blues are good for low water. Trout seemed to prefer black bombers a few years ago, but last year they were more attracted to the blue bombers. The Engel's butterflies are best in May, June and July. The Hubert hair special is named after a former neighbour.

"The fish make up their mind on what's going to keep you going, and what's going to make you or break you," he said.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

'Service is everything'

It's that knowledge that keeps a steady stream of customers coming into the fly shop, despite it being a rainy Wednesday morning in April. And it's not just locals. Fishermen from Maine and Nova Scotia crowd the aisle to share their favourite fishing pools, or tell stories of bass invading lobster nets.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

But the "backbone" of the fly shop has always been locals who live along the Miramichi River, and throughout the province. Many drive for hours to visit.

"I had a guy used to come here from the city, he told me, 'The drive don't mean nothing, the service means everything,'" said Matchett. "So it makes you feel good."

Dying breed

Despite the success of the Trout Brook Fly Shop, it's one of only a handful of fly shops left in the province.

"The sad part is all the older gentlemen have passed on."

He credits his local knowledge and service for his ability to compete with online shopping and big box stores. Matchett says most of the materials used these days are synthetic and come from China, but he still traps during the winter and uses some of those furs for his flies.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

And it's not just materials that have changed, said Matchett, the forests are also drastically different from when he started fishing.

"It's sad because of the clear cuts," he said. "Animals don't like clear cuts, fish don't like clear cuts."

He's watched rivers warm and become more shallow, endangering the cool waters of fishing pools that are hot spots for fishermen.

"The sad part is our rivers are getting very wide because a lot of the gravel from the shorelines are filling in the pools," he said. "We need cold water pools."

A part of New Brunswick

Dennis Abud remembers visiting Matchett and the Trout Brook Fly Shop when he was a child going on fishing trips with his father and uncles.

Now a pharmacist in Dieppe, he got back into fishing a few years ago. He found Matchett exactly where he left him all those years ago.

"Syd is like your best friend," said Abud. "Even if you've never met him, when you walk in, it's like you've known him all your life."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Abud says he's watched Matchett replicate and repair flies that were damaged or broken for customers. He knows of people who have driven from Saint John to Trout Brook, a three-hour drive, for his help.

"He's special," said Abud. "There's not many guys like that around anymore. There's a lot of nice people in New Brunswick, but he stands out."

He calls the fly shop one-of-a-kind, and says he dreads the time when Matchett is no longer around to share advice.

"I think he's a part of New Brunswick," said Abud. "I don't think he thinks that, but he's a big part of New Brunswick."

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