Sometimes Nature has ways to astonish us, and it always amazes me how timing is everything in Nature’s world.
For example, take Tony’s and my latest trip to Moosehead Lake this past week. When we made our way near the lake it was obvious that the area was a week or two behind us in the full arrival of spring. The trees were just showing a shade of green, no leafing out yet. There were no signs of our tasty treat, the fiddlehead fern, and only hints of the smelt spawning run. Thankfully for us, that was going to change overnight.
We knew that the smelt were starting to enter the rivers because we could see those that depend on them were arriving too. They included cormorants, gulls (including a Bonaparte’s gull), kingfishers, mergansers (including hooded and common), loons, and the king of the airways, a pair of eagles.
We were always in the presence of loons, and almost always under the watchful eyes of the soon to be nesting pair of eagles. We even got to watch a robbery. A loon had caught a trout so big that it was having great difficulty trying to swallow it. Repeatedly it would take its catch sub surface and try to swallow it, but it just couldn’t quite get it down. The eagles were watching carefully from their nesting tree. Then one of them took to the air and repeatedly dove at the loon. After several attempts and much screaming by the loon, the eagle won out. The loon, fearing for its life, finally dove without the trout, and the eagle quickly scooped it up and carried it to its mate. The eagle, by the way, was being harassed himself this whole time by gulls and ravens.
Everything revolves around the arrival of the smelt, including our quarry, landlocked salmon, lake trout (called “togue” in Maine), and brook trout. Millions of these 3 to 6″ fish run, mostly at night, up the rivers to lay their sticky eggs on the river bottom. At about the exact same time, that wonderful time between Mud Season and Black Fly Season, the tasty fiddleheads begin to sprout.
Last year, with an early ice out and little rain, we totally missed it. This year was going to be different. The opposite situation was in place: too much water. The smelt can deal with that. We needed to adjust, and we did.
We had good success fishing, catching more than a dozen salmon (releasing all but one), two togue, and several brook trout.
The smelt were working their way up the river more each night, and the predators were hot on their heels, tails actually. One of the lakers (togue), had 34 smelt in its stomach.
The other wildlife in the area was coming to life too. We saw four moose, five deer, and 19 snowshoe hare in just one evening ride back to our cottage.
The cottage, by the way, was at Gray Ghost Camps in Rockwood. They are owned and operated by a great young couple, Amy and Steve Lane, who are more than halfway through rehabbing all of the cottages. I think the camps have been there since the thirties.
We were very happy to score a few pounds of fiddleheads on our way home. The warm temperatures of Thursday and Friday along with the rain on Saturday brought them bursting out along the stream beds.
These conditions don’t last long, but if you hit it right it is an incredible experience that I enjoyed with my father and several of my best friends for more than 40 years. In more recent years, Tony and I have shared it with my grandsons, but with their busy school and careers, they were unable to make it this year. I am grateful that Tony has been able to share this with me since he was about 8 years old.
We wouldn’t miss it for the world.