In July 1954, my father returned from a fishing trip to Aziscohos Lake and Parmachenee Lake. He would for the rest of his life, say it was one of the greatest times of his life. I remember vividly the stories of his trip, which was much more than a fishing trip, and he often referred to it as an experience.
His trip started at the southern end of Aziscohos with three friends and a guide. They motored their Rangeley canoes up to the Magalloway River and then up to Parmachenee. After they made their way the ten or so miles up the lake, the guide instructed the guys to set up camp on the shore of the lake while he returned to the bottom to bring up more supplies. He said he would return shortly after dark. So Dad and his friends did as instructed, and true to his word the guide returned after dark. The guide was very excited, and he told the guys to break camp and move it up the shore a hundred yards or so. When asked why, he said because the camp was set up on an active moose trail.
Sure enough the next morning at daybreak, there were a cow and a bull standing in the lake right where the tents were the night before. The cow waded up the lake away from the guys, but the bull waded out into the lake until it was swimming. The guide ushered the guys into the canoes, and he jumped into the canoe with Dad. He instructed Dad to pull him alongside the bull. He did. Then suddenly the guide hopped out of the canoe and onto the bulls back! Dad couldn’t believe his eyes as the guide sat on the bull, grabbing a tuft of hair on its back. About the time the guide thought the bull might be getting its footing, he had Dad pull up to let him get back in the canoe. As it turns out this was a fairly common feat among the guides of the day. It was almost considered an initiation of sorts.
Moose Riding Theodore Roosevelt
Dad and his friends spent the next seven or so days fishing the lakes and the river. Dad would often refer to the land there as “God’s country.” He never went into any detail about the fishing other than using single word adjectives to describe it as “terrific,” ”great,” or “wonderful.” Unlike many of his trips, there were no photos. He would often return from such trips with pictures of him and a friend holding a stinger with 25 or 30 trout. I guess it was better in some ways for this 9 year-old not to see pictures so my imagination could run wild. He said more than once that it was “the best experience” of his life or “the best week of his life.”
A Typical Vacation Photo of Dad’s
I often wondered why they picked this particular area. Keeping in mind much of this planning, if not all, was done by mail. There is only one realistic answer, the book “We Took to the Woods,” which was very popular and written by Mrs. Rich 16 years earlier. I can’t imagine how else they would have heard of this very remote area when there were so many more famous places like Moosehead Lake. Mrs. Rich was on a guided canoe trip starting in Parmachenee Lake that would lead to her meeting her future husband along the way.
So I’ve had this urge to get there, and I had reached Aziscohos with Tony last year. Parmachenee was a problem though, as it is behind locked gates and miles from any reasonable form of access. However an opportunity arose this year through a friend whose family owns one of the 12 or so camps on the lake. I jumped at the chance even if it was only for a day.
Finally I was getting to fish this place that my father so cherished. Tony and I arrived early on a cold, 30-degree, foggy morning.
Foggy, 30-Degree Morning
The 20-mile dirt road ride was uneventful, except for one moose sighting. We evaluated the situation, and decided on the smallest boat and the electric motor. That proved to be the right choice. Our loading of the equipment was with a serenade of loon calls coming out of the fog.
Loons in the Fog
Suddenly we noticed a small splashing sound coming from the edge of the boat. We looked, and to our amazement a minnow (blacknose dace) was thrashing about in the grip of what we initially was a crayfish. Upon a closer look, we discovered the hunter was a toe biter–a flying, swimming insect, about 2 inches long and almost as wide. It injects a digestive juice into its prey with a device similar to that of a mosquito. We were amazed at its quickness.
Toe Biter with Fish
We had more important fish to fry than to watch the entire episode, so it was back to readying the boat. The fishing started out slow, largely because we were not expecting the conditions we were experiencing. The surface temperature was 59 degrees. That’s 13 degrees cooler than our host had experienced just two weeks earlier. On his trip, he was consistently taking fish down 20 or more feet, and we were equipped to do the same.
We finally caught our first trout while paying out line, just 10 feet behind the boat! That did it. We changed tactics going for slow sinking and sink tip fly lines. The change paid off immediately with some nice trout and very nice salmon coming to net.
Wild Brook Trout
The weather worsened. The winds and rain picked up, and the temperature barley made it above 40 even at midday. We caught our last fish later in the afternoon, and with me shivering noticeably it was time to pack it in.
Wild Landlocked Salmon
Earlier in the week, I sat down at the fly tying bench to tie some flies especially for this trip. I tied 14 flies. Four patterns were juiced-up versions of some of my own patterns that I tie and use everywhere. I added jungle cock to them, as is the norm for flies in the region where streamer flies were invented. Then I tied three entirely new patterns–all this while I had some 2000 other flies in the boat with me. All we needed were my new 14! All but one of the fish were caught on them. They will be forever known as my Parmachenee patterns.
It was a very good day of fishing in a very beautiful place. We were never out of sight of loons. At one point five of them swam out of the fog to check us out. They were as curious about us as we were them. We saw so many loons that I truthfully could not tell you how many there were. We could always tell when an eagle was around, which was often, because the loons would scream bloody murder every time one was near.
An Asylum of Loons
We saw an amazing amount of waterfowl–geese, mergansers, wood ducks, mallards, and teal.
It was everything I had hoped for and imagined 60 years ago. If I couldn’t experience it with my Dad, then I was very grateful to experience it with his grandson.
Parmachenee: Everything I Imagined 60 Years Ago