Chas Salmon, the aptly named owner of Raven Ridge Guide Service in Enosburg, guides fishermen in the summer, sugars in the spring, and logs year-round. He's pictured holding a trophy smallmouth bass on Lake Champlain.

Seasoned Salmon

This Salmon's a fisherman, and oh, so much more

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Chas Salmon lives a life many of us might envy and most of us would flunk. He runs Raven Ridge Guide Service, a charter fishing service that his wife, Olga Lermontov, calls "nothing out of the ordinary." That's possibly true, but Salmon, Lermontov and their sons, 13-year-old Lucas and 14-year-old Nikita, have an existence that's definitely out of the ordinary, perhaps even into the sublime.

Some might call Salmon a Renaissance Man, which Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary says is "a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas."

"Both of us are self-employed up here," says Lermontov, referring to their home and company headquarters in Enosburg just outside of East Berkshire. "We entirely follow the seasons as to what our work will entail. All are small cottage businesses. Spring we sugar, summer we garden and do the charters, and all winter, he logs. He's the fisherman; I sell cut flowers." She loves that he's a fishing guide named Salmon.

Lermontov, the daughter of Russian immigrants, grew up in New Jersey. She and Salmon met in 1976, through a mutual friend, when she was in Vermont attending Johnson State College. They were married in 1980.

Salmon grew up in Underhill. He graduated from Mount Mansfield High School, "and that's as far as I went," he says. "I didn't get along with the formal education system. I've never been a very good indoor person."

He spent pretty much every spare minute working for the family that owned a traditional farm next door. "They had horses, a big sawmill and a big wood lot. My parents ended up buying the wood lot when the farm went out of business in the '60s, and to this day, I'm managing it."

Salmon liked being in the woods and knew he wanted to make a living there. "I had a love of working with animals, so I put the work horses and the logging thing together. Actually, when we had that energy crunch in the mid-'70s, there was an opportunity to sell firewood, and I decided I'd give it a go and never stopped. I went full time into the woods when I was 19."

He logged with horses until about 10 years ago, when he mechanized. "That's all I do now, pretty much a one-man, one-skidder operation, but still very non-disruptive of the woods. The sad thing is, we just put down our last work horse this fall."

The family's sugarbush is in Enosburg near their home, which sits on Raven Ridge and has, arguably, the best view in all Vermont, looking north about 23 miles into Canada.

"We did the complete homesteader thing: moved here, lived in tents, tore down an old barn, built a cabin and barn out of it, had logs milled out, added on here, added on there. It's kind of continuing architecture, New England style," he says with a chuckle. "Our 20-by-30 original building is now about 40-by-80, with various ells and wings in it." He confesses that someday, he'd like to "put in the last nail and go, 'There!'"

Chas Salmon's wife, Olga Lermontov, sells cut flowers from the couple's perennial gardens at their Enosburg home and creates flower arrangements for weddings.

Sugaring is a family affair each spring: "My younger son usually helps my wife in the sugar-house; she does all the boiling; my older son and I do the gathering. We tap some-where around 1,500 to 1,800," says Salmon. "We used to do it all with buckets and the horses, but in the last two to three years, we've put almost all of the rough ground ledgy, thin soil on the pipeline. We still hang somewhere around 700 to 800 buckets."

He likes using buckets, for a lot of reasons, he says. "When sugaring starts, you go in the woods, you break out your roads, it's just the woods, and all of a sudden, you've got buckets hanging on all your trees. You look back, and you're there and involved with the woods every day. When you're done, you're all cleaned up and back to the woods. That pipeline is there all the time." After a pause, he adds, "A lot of the old-timers say you get better sugar with buckets.

"Sugaring draws friends," he says with a grin. "There's usually hot dogs, eggs and beer involved. People show up, and on a nice day, you usually have more help than you need. It usually starts cranking up a little after Town Meeting Day, and we try to have everything put away by Mother's Day."

Around Mother's Day, the fishing guide business starts, spring work begins, and soon the gardens kick into action. "We've always had a garden and raised our own food," says Salmon, who helped organize a farmers' market in Enosburg in the early 1980s, but didn't find it financially productive. He tried out the St. Albans farmers' market. "There again it was once a week, vegetables, and when your green beans are ready, every body else's are, too," he says.

Instead, he says, Lermontov started "selling bouquets to people pick your own and that kind of percolated along." Lermontov expanded the flower business, putting in a lot of perennial beds, and connected with a caterer in Montgomery, who hires her to provide flowers for weddings. "I tell her she ought to be charging for counseling, too," Salmon says, "because the bride and groom come and start talking about how they're being pressured by the parents, and she helps them get through this. She's got a real knack for it, but her love is to be right out there in the garden with her fingers dirty." A sizeable greenhouse off the kitchen allows for winter gardening and the raising of house plants.

Salmon says he'll take a bit of credit for teaching Lermontov what he learned from his mother about gardening, "and she's gone from there." The gardening also allows them to follow through on a commitment they made when they began raising a family: that one of them would always be home with the children.

They began home-schooling the boys three years ago. Nikita was about to enter middle school and Salmon and Lermontov took part in a better-parenting workshop. "All they did was keep on telling us these stories about all the horrible things our kids would have to deal with and what they would be exposed to all the time, and we said, 'Why would we do that?' They both have a lot of talents and urges to explore that they weren't really allowed to explore."

Unlike the image of home-schoolers as survivalists who hide from society, says Salmon, his family remains very much involved in the schools. Salmon coaches the boys' junior high soccer team, both boys play sports, and they were in the school band until this year. "Nikita plays drums, Lucas plays saxophone and I play the banjo," he says.

Becoming a guide was a mid-life decision launched about eight years ago, when Salmon turned 40. He had always wanted to be a guide or trapper, often wishing he had been around to be part of the Lewis and Clark expedition or had spent time in Alaska as a guide. "I said, 'Well, I'll just try it here.'"

The guide business has proven relatively successful financially "and very rewarding in other ways," Salmon says. He owns a 21-foot, center-console boat, 10 canoes and three kayaks. The typical booking would come from someone who's found the company on the Internet, he says. "They call from wherever, making plans to come to Vermont for a week or a few days, heard a lot about, say, Lake Champlain. We talk about the fishing and what I have to offer, and sometimes what I offer is not what they're looking for.

"What we offer is somewhat more a 'sneak and peek,' called flats fishing on the ocean, where you're sight fishing, working edges of weed beds, drop-offs and points and actually casting and working your lures, not just riding along waiting for a downrigger to go off. It's hands-on, and I enjoy that a lot more." Occasionally, the boys take on clients, he says, especially if the clients have children.

Seated in their kitchen are Chas Salmon (right), his wife, Olga Lermontov and their younger son, Lucas. Their son Nikita stands behind them. Clients with children occasionally ask for the boys to lead fishing trips.

Salmon is president of the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association and serves on the steering committee of the Missisquois River Basin Association.

Naturally, the family consumes a lot of fish. "Knowing where your food is coming from is really important," says Salmon. Important enough that the family raises its own meat, too. "We sell freezer lambs we keep five ewes and get about eight to 10 lambs a year and usually raise one beef a year. We keep half for ourselves and sell the other half. That may expand in the future if the interest in organic beef keeps going up," he says.

Salmon confesses there's a rough side to his lifestyle. "It's not easy by any means. A lot of people have a romantic view, you know, the Vermont Life kind of thing, with a crusty old Vermonter working in harmony with nature and definitely, that is there, but it's not easy; and it's definitely not a steady income." He laughs.

"It's dependent on clients and the weather. If I had to rely on one thing totally to survive, I've figured out the logging end of things, and we manage. We're not getting wealthy. I make a decent living, but there's more things important in life than chasing the dollar bill.

Originally published in February 2004 Business People-Vermont