Almost Famous

Almost Famous

Imagine my surprise when I turned to Page 61 of the Maine Open Water & Ice Fishing regulations (Page 63 of the PDF version). There, below the heading Catching and Releasing Fish, was my 18-inch brookie from the Rapid River.

That Photo Looks Familiar

That Photo Looks Familiar

If you’ve been following this blog, you might recognize that photo as a cropped version of the second photo in our August 19, 2014 post “Rapid River: A Challenge and a History Lesson.”

I emailed with the biologist, to whom I had sent the photo three years ago, and he said that he had submitted the photo for the Catch and Release section.

18-Inch Brook Trout in 2012

18-Inch Brook Trout in 2012

He hadn’t remembered where he had gotten the photo. When I reminded him that it was from me, he put Tony’s name on it as a credit on the online version

I told him that I was flattered that he thought enough of the photo and how I handled that fish that he put it in the “release” section of the regs.

I’m starting to see a trend. A year ago, I turned to Page 100 of the June 2014 issue of On the Water, and saw a photo of myself with that 32” pike. Again, it was the second photo in one of our blog posts. This time it was “Sam’s First Pike.”

32”, 8.3# Pike

32”, 8.3# Pike

Again, it was a photo that I had sent to a biologist—this time a New Hampshire biologist.

I guess we should be flattered that our photos of fish are magazine-worthy.

WLAGS

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Looking for Solitude

Looking for Solitude

Below is my son Tony’s write-up of a float tube trip that we took in October of 2006.

WLAGS

——————

“I don’t think we’re going to find much solitude at Lake Solitude today,” my dad said.

I had forgotten that it was Columbus Day weekend. I hadn’t expected to see so many cars in the “parking lot” at the head of the two-mile trail that leads up a steep hill to Lake Solitude. Lake Solitude. Its name is so enticing, especially for my dad and me, who love fly fishing from our float tubes in ponds that one can only reach by foot. Lake Solitude is perfect for this.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has been stocking Lake Solitude with fingerling brook trout for years. How do they stock a pond that can only be reached by hiking up a steep two-mile hill? By helicopter. That’s one more factor that adds to the mystique of Lake Solitude, making it that much more enticing. Unfortunately, it was also enticing to the owners of the five other cars parked in the tiny pull-off at the head of the trail.

Not Much Solitude

Not Much Solitude

It was sunny and 60 degrees, unusually warm for Columbus Day weekend, and that made it difficult to know how to dress for our uphill hike with float tubes on our backs while wearing waders, particularly knowing that the water temperature would be in the 50s.

The hike proved hot and sweaty. Along the way, we saw a few hikers going up and down the trail. Each set of hikers offered words of encouragement. “You’re not that far away,” they’d say. “It’s just a little further.” I guess it was obvious that we were hot and tired.

The Hike Proved Hot and Sweaty

The Hike Proved Hot and Sweaty

As we approached the pond and were struck by its beauty, my dad said, “After that hike, I’d just like to catch one brookie. That would make it all worth it.”

We Were Struck by Its Beauty

We Were Struck by Its Beauty

There were several hikers walking around the pond. Many of them had questions about our float tubes. Just as we were getting into the water, a woman of about 80 years and her granddaughter, who was about 20 years old, hiked up the trail. As my father and I kicked our way toward the center of the pond, the older woman yelled out, “Hello there.” We responded with a hello of our own. She responded with “Where are your legs?”

"Where are your legs?"

“Where are your legs?”

My dad patiently explained the logistics of a float tube.

“Well isn’t that clever,” she said.

My father started with a fly that he tied himself, a small, olive-colored nymph, and he was quickly rewarded with a pretty 9-inch female brook trout. “That’s it,” he said. “That made that sweaty hike all worthwhile.”

“That made that sweaty hike all worthwhile.”

“That made that sweaty hike all worthwhile.”

I tried a few different flies, including some of my old standbys for brook trout, a Mickey Finn and a Golden Demon. Oddly, neither produced even a tap.

Some trout were rising, but not enough to talk us into changing to a floating fly line. The rises were even more sporadic than the hatching flies we saw, which were tiny midges, not a fly one easily imitates.

Eventually, I became impatient and folded up my fly rod. I put together my ultra-light spinning rod with four-pound test line and put on a small, gold spoon. On my second cast, which was more of a flip just shy of some lily pads, a fish hit the lure hard. Given the location of my cast, I thought a smallmouth bass might be on the end of my line. Instead, it was a pretty, 12-inch female brookie. She fought more than her size.

12-Inch Female Brookie

12-Inch Female Brookie

After a few more casts, I tried another small, gold colored spoon, and I soon had an 11-inch male brook trout in full autumn “plumage” to show for my efforts. True to form, he fought even better than the female. Is there anything prettier than a male brook trout in the fall?

Is there anything prettier than a male brook trout in the fall?

Is there anything prettier than a male brook trout in the fall?

As is always the case when you’re catching fish, the time to head home came all too fast. It seemed that we had just learned how to fish for these fish, but we had to get ready for our hike back to the car.

I put on a third type of small, gold spoon for the short kick back to the spot where we would go ashore. On one of my final casts, which was also to the edge of a patch of lily pads, I lost another trout. It was the pond’s way of telling me to come back soon.

There are rumors of native, wild brook trout in Lake Solitude, but I think it would take a biologist with a DNA testing kit to tell the difference, unless the state were clipping fins on all of the fingerlings before dropping them into the pond. It’s hard to imagine having the time and patience to clip all those tiny fins.

Fall Brook Trout Plumage

Fall Brook Trout Plumage

We didn’t find solitude at Lake Solitude, but we did find some great trout fishing. I’m used to catching 10- to 13-inch brook trout in large lakes soon after they are stocked. Given that all the fish we caught were stocked as fingerlings, they must have been at least two years old, possibly three. Thinking of this somehow made the whole experience that much more special.

Exploring, not Fishing, Part 5

Exploring, not Fishing, Part 5

Below is my son Tony’s write-up of, this, our final installation of the “Exploring, not Fishing” series.

WLAGS

——————

After three days of staring at topo maps, driving dirt roads, being bitten by black flies and mosquitos, and not catching many fish, we decided to take the easy route on our last day. But before we took the easy route, that stubborn streak that my dad mentioned kicked in.

It was eating at both of us that two days prior, we didn’t find the access points described to us to those two remote ponds. We had emailed one of our sources, and he sent us some updated directions. Much to our surprise, we easily found the access to the smaller pond. The path was good, but steep. It was 160 steps to the water.

The Path Was Steep

The Path Was Steep

And the water was inviting.

Inviting Water

Inviting Water

With that easy, successful start to the day, we decided to test our luck and find the bigger pond. Unfortunately, much like the rest of this trip, luck was not on our side. We paced back and forth, bushwhacking our way in the areas we were directed by our source. After more than an hour of this, we finally decided that, since our source hadn’t been there in several years, the path he once used had grown into the standard Maine thick brush. We eventually decided to walk down a gated path to at least see the pond close up.

The Bigger Pond

The Bigger Pond

After giving up on any reasonable access to the bigger pond, I was looking forward to fishing the smaller pond. Its beauty (and obvious lack of fishing pressure) was calling me like a siren’s song. Dad wasn’t falling victim to that song today. He was beat from hiking up and down hills through thick brush on a muggy June day. He was not prepared to drag my grandfather’s 12-foot V-hull down that steep path to the smaller pond.

Instead, we decided to fish another place that Dad had always wanted to try, West Richardson Pond. What’s more, at this pond, we could launch the boat without having to carry it and all of our gear for hundreds of paces. There wasn’t a boat launch, but we could drive right up to the water’s edge and use our electric trolling motor. That combination was a luxury that we hadn’t yet afforded ourselves on this trip.

As we were putting the boat in the water, we saw a stocked brookie swimming around. Having hardly seen our primary quarry all week, save the little one that I caught on a dry fly at Pond in the River our first night and the three little ones that Dad had caught at Little Kennebago, we were understandably excited. My grandfather always said, “The hardest fish to catch is the one that you can see.” With that in mind, we didn’t try to catch that brook trout, assuming that there were hundreds of others. But this being a true “exploring, not fishing” trip, we ended up not seeing another trout all day at this pond.

Part of the problem is that despite West Richardson Pond allowing both spin fishing and fly fishing, we only had fly fishing equipment with us because our intent was to fish the fly fishing-only remote ponds for which we had spent all morning searching.

We trolled and casted every type of fly (dry, wet, emerger, streamer, small, large, dark, light) on every type of line (floating, “slow” sinking sink-tip, fast sinking sink-tip, “slow” full sinking, and fast full sinking). All we could muster were “a brace of dace,” as Dad’s best friend, Bob would say. They weren’t really dace—at least not by name, though they have many names. Mainers call them “Chubs.” We call them Fall Fish. We caught a couple of small Yellow Perch too. Nothing to write home about, as Dad would say.

We Tried Every Fly in the Box

We Tried Every Fly in the Box

Defeated, we headed back to our cabin to regroup and formulate our plan of attack for the evening.

For our last evening’s fishing, we once again decided to take the “easy route.” We went to Big Dummer Pond, a popular, accessible, well-stocked pond. Despite the easy access, people still chain up boats there.

A Sign for Lazy Fishermen

A Sign for Lazy Fishermen

As we were launching, we shouldn’t have been as surprised as we were that it was loaded with tadpoles, just as there had been in the puddles “near” Lincoln Pond, in Pond in the River, in B Pond, and in West Richardson Pond.

Ubiquitous Tadpoles

Ubiquitous Tadpoles

The wind was fairly calm, particularly on one end of the pond. Some flies were hatching, and some of the stocked brook trout were taking advantage of the situation. They were obviously schooled up. We’d see several breaks, even some coming clear out of the water, which is unusual for a brook trout. But by the time we arrived on the scene, they would move just out of casting distance. We’d chase them further, and we’d even anticipate where they’d pop up next. Having put several flies right on them, it was eventually clear that they weren’t susceptible to dries, which is also unusual for stocked brook trout, who will usually hit anything that floats. “Matching the hatch” is usually not necessary. We tried to match the hatch, but it was a numbers game. There were several species of flies hatching. They were all quite different sizes and colors. We tried artificial flies that mimicked any one of the real flies, but we just couldn’t get the right combination of size and color to entice a strike. Our assumption is that they were feeding on the smallest (and most numerous) flies that were hatching, which were too tiny for us to mimic. The loons were successful in catching those rising fish, but we weren’t.

Frustrated, we resorted to our tried-and-true tactic of trolling with high-speed sinking fly line. That produced our only fish of the night—a 10-inch brook trout. Dad caught that square tail on a soft hackle fly that he had tied himself, which always makes catching a fish that much more special. He caught that brookie at 6:30 PM, which gave us two hours to try to repeat our success. Dad did have several more hits. He even had a few on, but we couldn’t get another one to the net.

The Only Brookie of the Day

The Only Brookie of the Day

We knew that the forecast was for heavy rain the next day, so our plan was to just get up and drive home. That made this night our final hoorah. As the sun set and the wind died, more and more fish rose in more places over the pond. The loons began feeding more heavily. One called out several times—I’ll never grow tired of hearing that melancholy song.

Fishing Loons

Fishing Loons

As we watched the sky grow dark, it felt like the bottom of the ninth inning. We wanted desperately to salvage the “fishing” part of this trip with at least one fish over 12 inches, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Bottom of the Ninth

Bottom of the Ninth

Over the course of this trip, Dad and I discussed, debated, and tried to convince ourselves that this was a scouting trip, not a fishing trip. Given that we stopped to buy a topographical map on the way and that we drove by many easily accessed fishing spots to navigate down a thin, dotted line on that map, it should have been obvious that our goal was scouting.

Despite all that, at times it was hard to swallow that this wasn’t a fishing trip. We didn’t pick those places to scout (and fish) by chance. Several of the ponds that we scouted are known to have large fish. We thought, “We might not catch many fish, but maybe we’ll catch one or two memorable fish.” The excitement of potentially hooking into the fish of a lifetime added to the aura of these hard-to-reach waters.

Other places that we scouted are known to have a lot of fish, but not many big ones. We thought, “We might not catch any monsters, but at least we’ll have some fun.”

In the end, it was the fish that decided that this was a scouting trip, not a fishing trip, but it was so much more than that. It was an adventure. What’s more, it was an adventure that we shared together, and that made it truly special for both of us.

Exploring, not Fishing, Part 4

Exploring, not Fishing, Part 4

I had received a suggestion from a Maine biologist to try Lincoln Pond. So I started doing some research, and I was surprised that I couldn’t find a human being that had ever fished it. Many people I talked to were aware of the pond, but no one other than the biologist had ever been there, much less fished it.

Dave,the biologist described it as “under fished,” so much so that they reduced the size limit and increased the daily bag limit on the Togue (Lake Trout). I found out later that the state reaches it by float plane. He warned me that the road was rough and not to even consider using Tony’s Subaru to get there.

So now it became a challenge. It would prove to be a tough one.

We first stopped by a campground on Lincoln Pond Rd. to talk to the owner. When I asked whether he had any tips on getting to the pond, he replied “Never been there. Tried three times, and failed each time.” That was not very encouraging considering that he lives closer to the pond than anyone else.

The first several miles were slow going, but manageable. Each mile after that became more and more of a challenge.

“Each mile after that became more and more of a challenge.”

The one thing I should have taken into consideration was the recent weather. There had been 3 inches of rain there in less than a week, and that did not take into consideration the rain that fell the night before our effort.

Three Inches of Rain Made for Muddy Conditions

Three Inches of Rain Made for Muddy Conditions

My son and I share stubbornness as a trait. Not always, but we hate to accept defeat and will give our goal our best shot. Many times on the way in, and even more on the way out, we and usually Tony, had to exit the truck to check mud holes, puddles, and trim brush. Almost all of those puddles had hundreds of tadpoles in them, by the way. A mistake here would result in miles of walking to reach civilization.

“A mistake here would result in miles of walking to reach civilization.”

The long and short of it is that we were defeated by the conditions. I was forced on more than one occasion to do an eight-point turn where it looked impossible to do, and to back up for several hundred yards with the mud trenches going more than half way up my 20” wheels.

One of Many 8-Point Turns

One of Many 8-Point Turns

We think that we were still 1 to 2 miles from the pond, and we knew there was a section of the “road” ahead that was referred to as “The Boulder Field.”

I only know of one person to even get that far, and he turned back at that point telling me that he didn’t want to risk a busted axle, especially in the late afternoon.

So we lost a whole morning on this adventure, costing us valuable fishing time elsewhere, but I’m glad we did it. First, because it was one of many such adventures I have shared with my son. Second because I am more determined than ever to get there. We are already formulating plans to do just that next year. We will be more aware of the weather next time for sure.

Tony forwarded a video to me about fly fishing for trout in the Italian mountains. In it, the fisherman states “It is better to take the tougher road and lose than to take the easier, known path.” I guess it’s in our heritage.

So the under-fished pond continues to be under fished…for now.

WLAGS