Friday, March 7, 2014
By Ken Allen
Thomas McGuane, an acclaimed American novelist, wrote a superb collection of fishing essays collected into a book entitled "The Longest Silence," published in 1999 and reprinted since. In the beginning essay, a line reminded me -- emphatically I might add -- of my home river.
McGuane quoted a man who once told him about dumb fast-water trout as opposed to smart slow-water ones, describing my home river perfectly. In short, anyone can catch salmonids in this river's rushing rapids, but it took advanced skills to fool salmonids in slower currents with a flat, picture-window meniscus, so typical on flat-surfaced glides and pools.
I grew up on this small, classic, dry-fly river with wild brown trout, hatchery brook trout and the occasional small landlocked salmon. The browns and brookies liked a long, pocket-water stretch that rushed and tumbled from a pond above to a densely wooded bottomland, where the river flattened into long, gravel-bottomed glides that smiled up evenly at the sun.
Browns and occasional brookies liked this bottomland, and to catch them in such flat pools during hatches with dead-drift bugs required perfect, drag-free floats. If a fly had a subtle drag -- even a barely perceptible drag -- rising browns and brookies would ignore the offering. Often it would frighten them enough to stop sipping bugs, and they would go hide.
In springs during my teens and early 20s, I learned the intricacies of dry-fly fishing on this home river but back then, never appreciated this water. It bothered me to grow up in Windsor instead of in more storied spots like the Rangeley region, the Ripogenus stretch of the Penobscot's West Branch or other legendary locales.
Years later I would recognize that I had grown up on one of this state's most classic fly-fishing rivers with wild browns. Across the world, when people talk trout fishing in world-renowned places, they mean "browns." Brook trout aren't even trout -- they're char.
Fortune smiled when life put me near this classic river that taught me plenty. I've sold articles to most of the big national fly-fishing magazines and have my home river to thank. It didn't hurt to be able to offer brown trout as the quarry with a smattering of brookie anecdotes for purists.
One recent year, just below a dam on the pond above, I had a fast evening of June brook trout fishing with small dry flies on glides below fast water boiling from the dam. The evening also offered me two 16-inch wild landlocks that fought like demons against a 4-weight rod. Wild fish do fight harder than hatchery pets, but I wouldn't debate that claim with anyone.
The following evening, John Diffenbacher-Krall accompanied me to the same spot, and we cast dry flies and emergers -- a fast time casting to hatchery brook trout. They were fun all right, but neither wild nor native. John grew up fishing Catskill rivers with utra-wary trout and liked my home river.
John lives in the Bangor area and called me this spring, and naturally it took us no time to remember that special evening the last time we met. Good times while fishing stick in the mind.
That spring, Heather, my oldest daughter, fly-fished with me on the same glides just below the pond and did well, too, pleasing me big time.
I've said this here before, but in case you missed it I missed my college graduation ceremony because of fishing on that very stretch of river. With trout dimpling the glides everywhere, it was impossible for me to leave.
When Heather finished college, she didn't skip that big day, but she did accompany me on that river right after her graduation, completing a family circle that felt special to me, fishing that same stretch of river after our last day as undergraduates. It showed one stage in life had passed, but it offered promises of what was to come.
My mother was less understanding about me missing the big day. Catching browns and brookies on dry flies rather than standing in line to get a diploma infuriated her. But what fly rodder would begrudge me?
That's May and June in Maine, though. Fishing hits a crescendo that continues into July and August for salmonid trollers, northern Maine brookie ponds, and rivers and large streams that have micro-hatches such as blue-winged olives and tiny light Cahills. My home river has Tricorythodes, which in my humble opinion are uncommon in Maine -- and fun to fish over.
This weekend, before the big summer holiday marks the end of fast May and June salmonid fishing for lots of Maine anglers, serious fishers turn their thoughts to black bass, striped bass, mackerel and maybe blues.
However, veteran anglers know the truth: Salmonid action can continue with micro-patterns, deep-trolling gear or trips north. If tiny flies intimidate folks, salt water and bass ponds and rivers provide sport until waters cool in September, and trout and salmon fishing picks up.
That's what's so grand about Maine -- something going on every month for outdoors types looking for exercise and sport.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: