Three Generations of Dry-Fly Fishermen

Three Generations of Dry-Fly Fishermen

In the movie and the book, A River Runs Through It, the author quotes his father, a Presbyterian minister, about the different types of fly fishermen.

“He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume…that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.”

There is something extra special about fishing and catching fish on a dry fly. It is hard to explain to a non-fisherman or for that matter a fisherman that does not fly-fish. Maybe this story about my first trout on a dry might explain it for you and me.

I was fishing with my father at Nashoba Brook in Acton, MA one evening. We were fortunate enough to have our favorite pool to ourselves. We were fishing with the tried and true garden tackle–worms. We were catching absolutely nothing, but there was one trout consistently rising under the alder bushes on the lower left side of the pool.

I went into the back pocket of my fishing vest and pulled out an old Pflueger fly reel that my father had given me. I attached it to my 5.5-foot Horrock-Ibbotson ultralight fiberglass spinning rod that my father had purchased for me earlier that year from a department store on Washington Street in Boston. It was anything but a fly rod, but as soft as the action was, I thought I could make it work as a fly rod for this instance. My father looked on kind of puzzled at my actions, but said nothing. The fly line was silk, and the leader was catgut. Both were very old, and God only knows how long it had been since my dad used them last.

I had never used this reel ever before, nor had I ever cast a fly rod in my life in a fishing situation–only having practiced a time or too with my father’s 9-foot bamboo fly rod. I had already started to collect some flies, including a few I had tied with my father and had them in a old metal fly box. I knew I had a fly that would be a close match to the mayflies that were hatching. So I put on a Yellow Sally in about a size 12.

Yellow Sally

Yellow Sally

I made one cast and fell a few feet shy of my mark. My next cast was exactly where I wanted it. I watched without much expectation as the fly drifted right over the spot where the trout had been rising, and much to my surprise the fly suddenly disappeared in a splash. I instinctively set the hook, and the rainbow trout was airborne. I swear that my father was twice as excited as I was. He started repeatedly yelling, “Don’t horse him!”

And I could hear him scuffling around behind me. Finally, I brought the 12-inch trout to the net. Today that would barely be an average trout, but back then it was considered much better than the 8- or 9-inch average that trout were then. My dad was beside himself with joy. Repeatedly patting me on the back both physically and verbally. That was not the father that I knew on a daily basis.

That was where and when my passion began. Later that year, Dad gave me that bamboo fly rod for my 13th birthday. That’s right; I was 12 that day on Nashoba Brook. I have spent the rest of my life trying to repeat the perfection of that evening.

Fast forward 61 years, and I was introducing my grandson to this aspect of my life. With me was my son Tony, who had long ago become a believer and a skilled dry-fly fisherman. Tony and I were awaiting Ian’s arrival at the Androscoggin River that evening, and we were full of anticipation as we had several trout rising in front of us. I had not managed to interest a fish to an offering until I heard “Hi Grampy.” As I turned to acknowledge Ian’s salute, a brown trout took my fly.

Hooking a Fish Upon Ian's Arrival

Hooking a Fish Upon Ian’s Arrival

It was indicative of what was to follow. Ian was not set up, and the light was dimming fast so I offered him my rod, which had a Griffith’s Gnat on the business end. A little coaching from his grandfather, and soon Ian was into a trout. It was the first trout he’d caught on a dry fly since our 2011 trip to Montana. Tony, across the river, was into some fish of his own.

Tony's 11-Inch Brown Trout

Tony’s 11-Inch Brown Trout

As the darkness overtook the pool, the three of us had each landed a couple of browns each, and Ian and I managed a 14-inch salmon. It was the end of a perfect hour.

Day 2 started out with threatening skies, which worked very much in our favor. We were off to Upper Dam, which lies between Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Upper Richardson Lake. It was home to one the most famous fly tiers of all time, Carrie Stevens, the inventor of the Grey Ghost streamer and many others.

With all the history, and the fact that this place is well managed for both brook trout and landlocked salmon, it is exceedingly popular with the fly fishing community, as fly fishing is the only legal method of fishing here. In my many previous trips here, I have never had the place to myself–not even a minute. Ian’s luck continued to play out as that was exactly what we found when we arrived. I was shocked! I sent Ian down to the tail end of the pool, and he promptly caught a brookie and that would be followed by several others. Some were taken on my Village Pond Special (VPS) fly (a wet fly), some on dry flies.

Ian's 11-Inch Brook Trout

Ian’s 11-Inch Brook Trout

Tony was soon into a few brookies and a salmon, using my Grampy’s Copper Flash for one and dry flies for the rest.

Tony's 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

I managed two salmon and three brookies, all on dries.

My 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

My 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Unfortunately the threatening skies cleared, and just like flicking a light switch, two things happened; the fishing came to a screeching halt and other fishermen started showing up. We quit while we were ahead, and we were very grateful to do so. It was the best couple of hours I ever spent in this beautiful and historic place, and I was very grateful to have shared it with my son and grandson.

Ian Casting at at Upper Dam

Ian Casting at at Upper Dam

So now came time to work. A main goal of this trip was to retrieve a boat that Tony and I had literally dragged into another famous place that I’ve written about before called Pond in the River. It was made famous by Louise Dickinson Rich and her 1942 book We Took to the Woods about her life there in the previous decades. Pond in the River has since become famous for its brook trout and salmon. A number of rules changes has made it impractical to keep the boat there any longer.

I remember distinctly that when Tony and I brought the boat in, Tony said “I’ll never take this thing out of here” because it was a very steep, rocky, and stump-strewn drag downhill. Well now that drag was going to be uphill!

Our Former Pond in the River Boat

Our Former Pond in the River Boat

I knew I was not going to be much help, so I settled in the truck for what I assumed was going to be a 30- to 50-minute wait as the boys went down to the pond to retrieve the boat. I was shocked when what seemed to be just a few minutes, I heard their voices. My first thought was one of them got injured. To my surprise, there they were, just 11 minutes later with the boat ready to go onto the trailer. I don’t know how they pulled it, off but they did.

I was so tired after the day’s events that I took the evening off. Tony and Ian put Tony’s square stern canoe in the Androscoggin River below the dam just before sunset. They caught a salmon and a brown but they were into the fallfish big time. They were all caught on dries.

Tony's 12-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 12-Inch Fallfish

Part of my mission on this trip was to introduce Ian to these almost sacred fly-fishing waters so that he will have a lifetime to enjoy them and maybe he will think of me sometimes when he does. Next on the list was another very famous place known as

Camp Ten Bridge on the Magalloway River. Camp Ten Bridge is so famous in fact that if you look closely on most Maine maps it will be on there–in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived, I was not surprised to see five gentlemen, dressed right out of the Orvis catalog, taking a coffee break at their SUVs. I was sure that they had beaten the water to a froth and cast every conceivable fly into that beautiful pool, but I knew the fish in that pool had never seen a VPS. As I went down to the best spot in the pool to cast from I could almost hear the other fishermen saying “fat chance” under their breaths.

As Tony and Ian took up positions at the next pool down, I started casting my trusty VPS. On about the fifth cast, I felt a slight tap. I placed my next cast in the same spot, but retrieved my line at speed equal to the current so as to make the fly look like it was in a dead drift. I saw a flash of silver and instantly felt the strike. A split second later the fish, a salmon was airborne. I think it had to be in full view of the fishermen above me on the bridge, but I couldn’t look now. After a feisty battle, the 17-inch salmon was in my net and a moment later returned to his beautiful home. I turned to hear the SUVs pulling away. What’s that commercial say, “Like that, only better”? I’ve caught many nicer salmon, thankfully, in my life, but that one was special. Ian too put the VPS to use there. He caught a brookie in that second pool.

That evening we returned to the dam on the Androscoggin. Tony took top rod honors that night with a few browns and a salmon, and Ian caught a brookie. I played the role of observer and coach.

Tony's 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 14-Inch Landlocked Salmon

The last day was devoted in part to reaching another goal. It is called Lincoln Pond. Each of the last three years, Tony and I have made serious attempts to reach this placePart of the problem was that topo maps showed several different roads that would get you close, but each year we would try one only to find it more impassable than the last.

Finally we had a good lead thanks to tips from a retired warden and a current fisheries biologist named Elizabeth. We were optimistic. The road was very treacherous, especially as we had some rain the night before.

That said, it proved to be shorter than the others that we tried. Elizabeth had described to a tee the “parking spot,” and but for Ian’s sharp eyes, we would have driven right by the few blades of flattened grass that indicated “the spot.” As close as we were to the pond, about 80 yards from the water, it was still hidden from view by the density of the trees. We finally reached our goal. It was beautiful, and there were signs that others had made the effort to get here too, but they had a distinct advantage. They left boats there, as we did at Pond in the River, but they got here to fish by using ATVs, hence making the treacherous ride much less so. They also fashioned lures out of Moxie soda cans.

Moxie Can Lure

Moxie Can Lure

As Tony put it, “What could be more Maine than that?” I guess they could have tipped the lures with whoopie pies!

Well after all this, we realized we could not be there under worse conditions, bright sun, cloudless and the moon was not right either.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub

Rub-a-Dub-Dub

The only fish we raised were some brookies taking cover in and around a beaver house. So we took solace in our victory of sort, but realized this was not the day that we had pinned our hopes on, and hastily, but not very quickly, retreated.

We made our way to Aziscohos Lake. There I would rest as Tony and Ian did some trolling at what was the worst part of the day on a day that was anything but suitable fishing conditions. Tony did manage a sizable fallfish among the several they caught.

Tony's 16.5-Inch Fallfish

Tony’s 16.5-Inch Fallfish

Well now it was time for Ian to depart. I hoped, and think, he enjoyed this nearly as much as I.

With only the evening left to fish, Tony and I headed back to the Androscoggin. Tony wanted to take a few fish home to eat, as he had some company coming and they were anxious to try some salmon and trout. Sometimes things just work out as you would like, unlike the Lincoln Pond experience. It was like ordering fish off of a menu. Tony caught two very nice (and legal size) salmon of 17 and 18 inches.

Tony's 18-Inch Landlocked Salmon

Tony’s 18-Inch Landlocked Salmon

I added a 13-inch brown trout out of the several that I caught that evening.

Trout and Salmon for Dinner

Trout and Salmon for Dinner

Again it was dry-fly fishing at its best. It was a perfect way to end a perfect trip with two treasured fishing partners.

WLAGS

 

 

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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

…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