A Plan and a Whim

A Plan and a Whim

On our last day, we made plans to fish a small and somewhat difficult pond to reach. On the drive there, we had the pleasure of seeing a cow moose kneel down right beside our truck to drink while her calf (a young bull with knobs on his head) whimpered like a dog. He was more concerned about our presence than she was.

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

Cow Moose Drinking with Baby Bull

That was quite a sight, and it was a great way to start our morning. Now on to that remote pond. It would require carrying the boat and all the equipment over a fairly steep, rock-strewn and root-covered trail.

Heavy Lifting

Heavy Lifting

As usual, Tony did most of the heavy lifting as we dragged his 15-foot canoe and all the necessary equipment to the pond. And thanks to the cold, wet spring we had, the black flies were mixed in with the mosquitoes, even though it was Father’s Day weekend, not Mother’s Day weekend when you’d normally see black flies.

We made our way to the brush-choked shore. It was worth it almost for the view. It’s a gorgeous little pond, even by Maine standards. We were anxious to get started.

Can't Beat the View

Can’t Beat the View

The weatherman had promised an overcast day and maybe even a little drizzle. No such luck! As soon as we launched, the sun broke out of what turned out to be a cloudless sky, and the temperature shot up; not exactly the prime conditions we were hoping for.

We did as well as could be expected, catching my first creek chub, and a few small brookies–both stocked and native.

My First Creek Chub

My First Creek Chub

We lunched on the porch of the only camp on the lake.

A Rustic Camp

A Rustic Camp

It was a throwback in time in its structure and what passed for furniture and equipment. The only access is by boat or across the ice. It looked like it had not been used in several years, but one can only imagine the many wonderful days and nights spent there by so many hopeful hunters and fishermen.

A Hopeful Fisherman

A Hopeful Fisherman

Of note was the cardboard cutout, which was often done back then so you could eat your catch, of a 17-inch brookie with the date and name of the lucky fisherman and the fly. After lunch, we left our respite and headed across the pond to our truck to make ready for an evening of fishing.

After a hearty supper, we started to head for one of the more famous rivers when I once again got a whim. I turned to Tony, as we passed a stretch of a river that looked great and suggested that we drop the canoe in there.

It is one of those places that is very difficult to wade, and it is almost impossible to cover all of the good water with a fly rod.

So we dragged the canoe down yet another steep, rocky bank, and we launched. This worked out great. The darker it got, the more fish rose, and we had a great night of dry fly fishing.

Landlocked Salmon

Landlocked Salmon

We landed five salmon and one brook trout, and one rainbow trout, along with the odd fallfish and smallmouth bass.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout

Again a whim paid off!

WLAGS

Things That End Well

Things That End Well

Instead of being on the road for our annual Father’s Day week fishing trip, I found myself in the E.R. with a bad case of dehydration. After being treated with a bag of saline, I was discharged and told to rest for 24 hours.

Heading to the ER

Heading to the ER

Thus our trip started out a day late, and we would have to revise our plans, at least slightly. We were going to try to stick to a few goals we had set.

After arriving at our cabin at midafternoon, we made our way to a boat that we had left at the famous Pond in the River.

Our Boat at Pond in the River

Our Boat at Pond in the River

It was a beautiful day, but a bit breezier than we would have liked.

We reached our destination, the northeast end of the mile-and-half-long pond with about two hours of light left.

Like almost everything about this trip so far, things started off slowly. When I was seriously thinking about starting the long trek back, Tony suddenly hooked up. We knew instantly that it was a salmon, as it was spending almost as much time in the air as it did in the water. After a great battle, we released it.

Tony's 14-Inch Salmon

Tony’s 14-Inch Salmon

Not long after that, Tony hooked up again. Another salmon, and it too had fallen for a fly that Tony had tied himself many years ago.

The light was dimming quickly, but I told Tony to try for another minute. Sure enough, two casts later, he hooked and landed another salmon—no easy task on a single, barbless hook, which is required at Pond in the River. That was last call, as it was almost dark.

Tony's Last-Cast Salmon

Tony’s Last-Cast Salmon

We had a lightweight battery that we used because of the rugged trail we needed to negotiate. Could that battery stand up to a stiff 10- to 15-mph wind that was now blowing right down the chute at us? Well, we may have overheated that little battery, but it got us back to the truck about 45 minutes later.

Our Sunset View on the Ride Home

Our Sunset View on the Ride Home

We hoped that this start to our trip, although brief, was a sign of things to come.

More to follow.

WLAGS

What Spring?

What Spring?

Just 14 days ago, I sent an email to friends and family touting signs of spring. Well, that was like calling a no hitter in the 8th inning. Since then it has snowed seven out of those 14 days, and sometimes those flakes lingered into the next day.

We have had eight consecutive Winter Severity Index (WSI) days with no end in sight. As I explained in Winter Severity Index Report for 2015, a WSI day is any day that the snow is more than 18” deep or the temperature is below zero. If both of those criteria are met in the same day, it is then a 2 WSI day.

The average snow depth right now is 27” on the level. Here is a photo of our front picnic table with a yardstick protruding.

 

A Yardstick Shows 27" on Our Picnic Table

A Yardstick Shows 27″ on Our Picnic Table

The birds—juncos, blue jays, and cardinals—are going in and out the end facing you as well as the tables on the deck and under the Lund to seek shelter from the snow and wind. We are now putting birdseed in those spots to help them out.

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Our Tables and Boat Offer Birds Shelter from the Snow

Here is a photo of our moose weathervane that is now sitting on 27” of snow. It still has another 29” protruding above the snow line. In the winter of 2015, it was completely covered by snow.

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

Our Moose Weathervane in 27” of Snow

 

This winter has been tough since about the Super Bowl, but I have seen many worse winters. For example, the winter of 1968 – 1969 killed hundreds of thousands of deer in New England, especially in VT. It started snowing the night before opening day, and it seemingly never stopped until March. I shot an 8-pointer on the day after Thanksgiving that year, in the middle of a blizzard.

Then in 1993, we bought the camp in Antrim. When we passed papers in January, the ground was almost bare, but it was the worst March ever. We got snowfalls of over 2 feet on several occasions. We had to get help from neighbors to get into the driveway almost every Friday night, and we had to hire people to shovel the roof.

In 1999, when we bought our first place in Washington, we had to hire a frontend loader to get in the yard, as the snow banks were 8 feet tall and at least that wide.

So why has this winter been so bad? Because it has been like death from a thousand cuts. The most snow in any one storm was only 9”, but we have been getting 1” to 5”seemingly daily. Even on the days it doesn’t snow, it blows so much I have to use the snowblower anyway. I have used more gas in the snowblower in the last week than I did in the truck. Having said all that, I know if I want to live here, and I do, I have to accept it as a form of dues that I must pay.

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The Guide Snowblowing on February 12

The snow does have its upside. To the farmers of centuries past it was “poor man’s fertilizer” or “white gold” because of the nutrients that leeched into the soil for spring planting. From a fisherman’s view, it provides the necessary runoff to provide spawning conditions and suitable fishing conditions for many species. That was never more evident than it was last April when Tony and I could not get into the setbacks to hunt pike because the water was so low.

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

Low Water in the Setbacks Last April

That in and of itself is almost funny. Ten months ago, we went to great lengths to catch a pike in New England, but seven months ago, we were for the most part very disappointed to hook one when were in Labrador. We were seeking more vaunted species, such as brookies, salmon, and lakers. Nevertheless, we appreciated the pike when the other species were not active. We enjoyed catching them on poppers and better yet when they provided us with a meal as our food supply got low.

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Pike Was Added to the Menu

Here we consider them at the top of our list of targets for good reason. Their size, their fight, and their slashing strikes. It’s all on your perspective at the time and place you are in at the time. I’m already looking forward to getting into those setbacks this spring.

It’s the same with the snow and winter in general. I have not been able to get out ice fishing or snowshoeing nearly as much as in years past, and that makes a difference. Despite the rigors of this winter, the ice fishing conditions have not been good in large part to a milder than usual January. So much so that there have been several fatalities of snowmobilers going through the ice just in the past 10 days or so, both here and in VT and Maine.

A couple nights ago, wardens rescued a Canadian man and his two dogs from Mount Lafayette near Mount Washington, at 1:00 in the morning. They said that all three would have perished in just another hour or two.

I’m sure that my game cameras are level with the snow and maybe even under the snow in places as I write this. If the weatherman is right, and we hit 40 on Sunday for the first time since January 21, I’ll try to reach them then.

The upside to all this is that whenever spring gets here, it will be thoroughly appreciated!

WLAGS

 

Lodge Rating: Gray Ghost Camps 2016

 

We here at WLAGS want to give you what we deem an honest evaluation of lodges, camps, and other places we have been. Today, we’re giving you our opinion of Gray Ghost Camps, and sharing some of our photos of our stay there.

——————–

Cabin #9: Fool’s Gold

Cabin #9: Fool's Gold

Cabin #9: Fool’s Gold

Location: 10

Service: 10

Check-out time (10:00): 9

 

* Cabin overall: 9

Water pressure: 9

Water temperature: 10

Beds: 10

Cabin location: 8

Cabin view: 8

Cabin temperature: 8

Cabin structure: 9

Good Cabin Structure

Good Cabin Structure

Boating facilities: 10

Great Boating Facilities and Fishing Access

Great Boating Facilities and Fishing Access

Fishing potential: 10

Fishing access: 10

 

 

 

The Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

The Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

Of all the things that an outdoorsman has to deal with as far as weather in concerned, wind is the one he has the least control over. Rain is easily dealt with, for example. Put on the proper apparel and you are good to go. Snow and cold? That’s the same scenario. With wind however, in most instances, there are is nothing we can do to alter its effect on us or our activity. Maria simply wins out.

Such was the case on our most recent trip to Moosehead Lake. We arrived late afternoon only to find the wind churning up the lake to the point that even boats larger than ours were tied up to their docks. No one was fishing.

An early alarm Tuesday was just to get an earlier start to the same gusty, even stronger winds. We launched and took a brutal and wet beating for a couple of hours that included snow flying horizontally, but even the fish were sitting this one out. A few days before our arrival, the annual smelt run had started and everyone was catching fish even the feathered fishermen. Eagles, osprey, mergansers, were all enjoying the spawning fish and the larger salmon that were in hot pursuit of the smelt. The cormorants arrived with us.

The next morning was marginally better, and Tony managed a nice salmon (shockingly caught on a perch Rapala, even though there were smelt everywhere). Now the problem included a bright sun that salmon shun. It was bitter cold and windy, and the sun was now another obstacle to any success at all.

 

Tony's 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 17.5-Inch Landlocked Salmon

After a morning of more frustration, we decided to let Maria have her way for the rest of the day, catch up on our sleep, and take a badly needed hot shower. While Tony showered, I took to the dock to take a few casts. I put on an old favorite lure that had served me well in similar circumstances over the years, and I proceeded to lose it on the bottom on my very first cast. When would my luck change? I went back into the cabin and purposely put on a lure that I had never caught a fish on and would not blink if I hung it up on the bottom.

My first cast with it resulted in the lure getting tangled on itself, no doubt due to the wind. I pulled off my next cast without a hitch. The lure landed at just about the midpoint of the river, and I started a very aggressive retrieve. BANG! I hooked a beautiful salmon, but now, not having not thought this situation through, I found myself in an awkward place. Here I am on this dock, a couple of feet above the waterline, between two boats that the salmon could use to hang me up on, and not a soul around. I resolved the the dock issue by borrowing a boat net from one of the boats, but I had to keep the fish away from props and such. It worked. I landed him, and as luck (good) would have it, Amy the camp owner came by just in time to take a picture so I could release the 20″ salmon quickly without harm.

 

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

My Surprise 20-Inch Salmon

By all that is holy, that incident broke many standing rules for catching a salmon, but I don’t care. It worked and I was officially off the schneid. Well that turned our luck around. We conceded the lake to the wind and decided to fish smaller bodies of water where the wind would be less of a factor.

To do this we would have to enlist the services of an old friend, his son, and even his daughter. Mike, a retired game warden has known us for thirty years. Someday I’ll tell you how we met, but not today. Mike’s only son, Kody at 20 years old, is a mountain of a young man, whose arms are bigger that my legs. That said, he could not be more soft spoken, gentle, or more respectful. Top that off with an intimate knowledge of everything that lives in these parts, and he is the perfect guide.

Tony and I had pretty much made up our mind to fish a secluded pond where we had had success on previous occasions, but Kody was very convincing in an effort to get us a to fish another pond. We had some luck at this pond many years ago, but our last few trips there were anything but rewarding. Kody convinced us that by adding a canoe to the mix, it would be a good place to go. Who were we to question a young man who spends his days working with game wardens and biologists surveying streams and lakes?

He would supply the canoe and meet us there down a long, rough dirt road. He beat us there, and by the time we arrived, he had taken the 140-pound canoe on his back and set it in the pond for us!

As Tony and I got into the canoe, we noticed a leak. I didn’t think much about it, thinking that we could bail if we needed to. Kody however was having none of that, insisting that he was going to fix it now. I was thinking to myself “How’s he going to fix a leak in a fiberglass canoe here, now? No way!” He walked back to his truck and returned with a small propane torch, a plastic Gatorade bottle, a knife, and some duct tape.

This, I had to see. Kody proceeded to heat the surface of the canoe. Kody then takes the piece of the Gatorade bottle and heats it on the bottom of the canoe, partially melting it. He then covered it all with the duct tape. It worked! Yankee ingenuity at its best.

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

Kody Repaired the Leak in the Canoe

This pond is a beautiful, solitary place, and it was a great break from the hustle and bustle of the lake. However, it was not out of Maria’s reach; even this little pond had whitecaps. The long and short of it was we did not catch a fish. But we had many short strikes and follows from what were exactly what Kody had promised, some beautifully sized and colorful brook trout. We left very pleased, and knew that under better conditions we would have some success at this beautiful pond.

As we departed in the dark, we saw several woodcock, snowshoe hares, and a moose. We agreed then to come back the next evening.

We were exactly right. A change in the weather resulted in a change in the trout’s attitude. The next night they were so aggressive in their strikes that they all but took the rod out of our hand. We caught several gorgeous brookies, the smallest of which was 13″.

Tony's 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 14.5-Inch Brook Trout

This evening made the trip, thanks to Kody and his sister Delaney, who came along the second night to help us and later help her brother check smelt nets to check the runs for Fish and Wildlife biologist surveys. She, by the way, shot her first buck last year, at the age of 15, with the help of her brother, after putting on 15 miles in those mountains in one day!

Kody's Smelt Net

Kody’s Smelt Net

When you meet two young people like these, you are left with so much hope and appreciation. The hope being that there are many more out there like these two hard working, caring, and respectful young people. The appreciation that these youngsters have managed to become who they are in a place so void of the now expected norms of what a teenager needs to just exist, is astounding to me. Yes they have cell phones, but with limited service and they use them for more practical things, like a flashlight, a GPS, or for an emergency. I never heard a ring tone, nor did I ever see them checking their phones once in my presence.

Tony and I discussed next year’s trip during our six-hour ride home. Was it worth it? We are getting tired of the hassles involved in fishing the big lake, such as depending so much on trying to time the smelt run, finding the accommodations to meet that timing, putting up with boat traffic, and very unpredictable weather.

We came to the same conclusion. We would not come back next year but for the fact that we are blessed with a good friend and his wonderful children. We, at this point are planning to go back, but only if we get to spend more of our time with Mike, Kody, and Delaney.

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Mike and Kody Towering Over Me

Many years ago, when I first started taking Tony here, we did it simply. We fished the smaller rivers, lakes, and ponds using only waders and a 10-foot Jon boat. As we got older, we increased our tools, our expense, and our levels of aggravation.

Sunset Over the Pond

Sunset Over the Pond

What brought me here originally with my father so many years ago was the simplicity and beauty of it all. Thankfully, the place has not changed a bit. We have to change back to those simple ways with simple expectations, and a greater sense of appreciation for what was and what is…

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

Tony and I Getting Back to More Simple Fishing

On many occasions while we were here, my father would say, “This is God’s country” or “This has got to be Heaven.”

I hope heaven is half this beautiful.

WLAGS

Carrie Stevens: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

Carrie Stevens: A Woman Ahead of Her Time

I was 9 years old in the summer of 1954 when my father returned from a fishing trip to the Great North Woods of Maine. I listened intently as he described in detail his adventure—the guides, the lakes, the fish, and the flies. He might as well have gone to Darkest Africa, because it all seemed so unbelievable to me.

After that, I read everything I could get my hands on to learn more about the big brook trout and the most mythical of fish, the landlocked salmon. One article in Field & Stream said that it required more man hours to hook a landlocked salmon than any other fresh water fish. I think it said that it took an average of six hours to hook one and eight hours to land one because of their incredible leaping ability. The one lure or fly that always came up in those articles was the Gray Ghost streamer. That fly was invented by a lady from Upper Dam, Maine by the name of Carrie Stevens.

Carrie Stevens

Carrie Stevens

She was the wife of Wallace, one of the most noted guides at one of the most famous fishing places in the country at the time. Upper Dam was home to a sporting camp that sat at the dam between Mooselookmeguntic and Upper Richardson lakes.

It was the heyday of sport fishing that started in the 1860s and lasted until the 1940s.

Carrie had experience as a milliner and worked with feathers and fur for ladies hats. She soon started tying flies for the sports that came from the big cities to fish these most historic waters.

In 1924 Carrie caught a trophy sized brook trout on a fly partly suggested to her by a friend. It was called the Shang’s (Wheeler) Go Get-Get ‘um for the man that requested a fly with certain colors.

Shang’s (Wheeler) Go Get-Get 'um

Shang’s (Wheeler) Go Get-Get ‘um

She walked to the dam to try it, and she would hook a brook trout so large (6 pounds, 13 ounces), that it would take her over an hour to land the fish. That fish took second place in the Field & Stream contest that year. Today that would be equal to a Super Bowl appearance. She was immediately vaulted to national acclaim, and her flies were in demand from every corner of the continent and Europe.

Her single most famous and consequently most productive pattern was the Gray Ghost. If you were going fishing in the wilds of Maine you had to have one.

Plaque at Upper Dam Dedicated to Carrie Stevens

Plaque at Upper Dam Dedicated to Carrie Stevens

I have a poster in my home that has 120 of her patterns, and she is credited with many more.

Tony and I with the Carrie Stevens Pattern Poster

Tony and I with the Carrie Stevens Pattern Poster

She supported her and her husband with the flies. She tied until 1950, and she lived until 1970. Her flies sold for the handsomely some of $1.50—a lot of money in those days. Today, every manufacturer of fly tying hooks in the world has a Carrie Stevens hooks. They are extra-long shanked and just the right gauge to handle big fish without inhibiting inhibit the action of the fly.

Carrie Stevens Hooks

Carrie Stevens Hooks

No one was every allowed to watch her tie a fly. One of her secrets was that she would glue, I’d love to know what kind of glue, all the feathers together before attaching them to the hook. I can tell you that I have tried that method, and it is just this side of impossible. I have never heard of another fly tier that succeeded in doing that. It would require far more patience than I—and I guess any other tier would—possess.

A Few of My Versions of Carrie Stevens' Flies

A Few of My Versions of Carrie Stevens’ Flies

I give you this history lesson merely so you may better understand my obsession with the flies, the fish (thankfully there still are fish—trout and salmon—born in these waters, never having seen a hatchery), and most of all the places where she and her famous “neighbor” Louise Dickinson Rich lived and fished.

Louise Dickinson Rich

Louise Dickinson Rich

They were two women way ahead of their time, making a life for themselves while living where they wanted to and doing what they wanted to, in what was then a man’s world.

WLAGS

…And Sometimes You Figure It Out

…And Sometimes You Figure It Out

After a season of coming up mostly short of our plans and expectations (Exhibit A: Just When You Think You’ve Figured It Out), it’s nice to have a trip meet or beat those plans and expectations. This was that trip. I had been humbled too many days this season. I, or rather we (Tony and I), needed this one.

The trip was to Bosebuck Mountain Camps on Aziscohos Lake, but the fishing was to be done at Parmachenee Lake, where we had fished for a day last September. (See 60 Years of Waiting.)

Like last year, it was to be a quick, one-day-plus trip. The goals were simple, catch fish, native brook trout and wild landlocked Atlantic salmon, and hopefully one of us would catch the biggest brook trout of our life.

Things did not look bad as far as the weather forecast was concerned, but those forecasters had been a major factor in the disappointments in our earlier trips, especially in June. Sure enough the forecasters were wrong again. They had called for clouds and maybe some showers, which would have been beneficial to our cause. Instead, Monday morning’s fog broke with an absolutely clear sky and no wind. We started to think that we were jinxed again.

The Fog Broke to Reveal Clear Skies

The Fog Broke to Reveal Clear Skies

We had a big advantage this time though. A good friend had fished here last week, and he gave us some strong tips on where to start. If the fish had not moved much, that information could save us hours of exploration. His info was still right on target. Once we neared the rocky shoreline that he suggested to us, we were almost immediately into fish, and it was very obvious why. There were dimpling bait fish in a variety of sizes all along the shore and the rocks.

In fact the first brookie I caught regurgitated a 3½” baitfish that we think was a fallfish. We were not able to get a great look at it as it slipped towards the bottom as we netted the 13½” brookie.

It did tell us that we were on the right track by fishing my Carrie Stevens-style streamers that I had tied over the last month. The law requires that we use only flies here.

Again the conditions were far from ideal for anytime of the year, but particularly for August, so we were still guarded in our optimism, even after a few fish had come to net and quickly released.

A 13.5-inch Brook Trout

A 13.5-Inch Brook Trout

We were sticking to our plan, regardless of conditions, and we were getting enough strikes to keep us optimistic and motivated. We managed a couple of landlocked salmon and smaller brook trout.

16-Inch Landlocked Salmon

16-Inch Landlocked Salmon

We each even caught a six-inch rainbow smelt; a first for Tony, and only the second time I had a smelt take a fly or lure.

Six-Inch Rainbow Smelt

My Six-Inch Rainbow Smelt

 

Tony's Smelt Shows Why They're Called "Rainbow" Smelt

Tony’s Smelt Shows Why They’re Called “Rainbow” Smelt

Suddenly Tony chirped “I’ve got one,” followed by “it’s a good one!” I knew instantly it was just that. Now the only question was, “Was it a salmon or a brookie?” Not that there is anything wrong with a landlocked Atlantic salmon, but our primary target was the native brookies of the Kennebago strain.

The fish was obviously heavy and then started shaking its head. At this point, we were hopeful that it was a brookie, but we were still not sure. As it neared the boat, it became obvious that it was a brook trout. Suddenly it came into view from the depths, and it was confirmed.

Tony's 17-inch Brook Trout

Tony’s 17-Inch Brook Trout

It was a fat, hooked-jawed male that was starting to color up for the upcoming spawning season, still a month away. I started to shake as I said to Tony, “It’s the biggest brookie of your life!”

The Parmachenee Belle fly I tied appeared in the corner of its mouth as I slipped the rubber net under it.

My Version of a Parmachenee Belle Fly

My Version of a Parmachenee Belle Fly

Tony mounted a GoPro on the handle of the net to help capture the moment on film.

Net With a GoPro

Net With a GoPro

I was visibly shaking as the fish came to the net. I believe that I was at least as excited as Tony, if not more so.

Video: Netting a 17-Inch Brook Trout

Video: Netting a 17-Inch Brook Trout

He had worked hard for this moment, and had had several close calls in recent years. I’m sure it was a moment that we will remember forever.

A Moment That We Will Remember Forever

A Moment That We Will Remember Forever

That moment made the tribulations of our earlier trips a distant memory, and we are already making plans for next August on the lake named after a beautiful Abenaki princess.

WLAGS