VASSALBORO — Who would have thought a trout fisherman would enjoy fishing for black crappies?

But that’s what happened last week when longtime Kennebec Journal columnist George Smith cast a spin-casting rod to black crappies and largemouth bass with his friend Ed Pineau – and the lifelong trout fisherman laughed his way through a morning of catching warm-water species.

However, this spring fishing season is very different from any other for Smith.

A year ago Smith, 69, told his friends that he had ALS and it was uncertain how the disease would progress.

“Nobody knows what will happen,” Smith said Wednesday.

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, mainly involves the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement. The disease is progressive, and currently there is no cure and no effective treatment to halt or reverse its progression.

In 2015, I went hunting with Smith after years of reporting on his work at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, where he was the executive director for 18 years before retiring in 2010. That deer hunt ended up as one more hunting story Smith loves to tell – a tale of more than a dozen whitetail sightings, only a few shots fired, and a whole lot of arguing between two strong-willed people.

Yet in the woods of Maine, in this fierce sportsman whose family goes back generations in Down East Maine, while mine goes back generations in New York City, I found a friend. Our pasts and personalities are very different, but our love of the outdoors is the same.

So last week I fished with Smith and Pineau to learn just how my friend’s life had changed, and to check that his love of the wild places in Maine had not.

There were plenty of smiles during Smith and Pineau’s fishing trip, with the longtime friends happily trading verbal jabs.

Smith walked with a cane slowly down Pineau’s lawn toward the dock. When he got to Pineau’s 17-foot Lund motorboat, he stopped and asked for a hand as he carefully stepped in, since his right leg is now too weak to lift.

In the last six months Smith has had more difficulty walking, and now uses a cane. His hands have tightened and lost strength. He can type with his index fingers, but nothing more.

He uses an adaptive razor, and has a computer that uses voice-activated software so he can write.

“I can’t open anything. I have an adaptive device to button my shirts, but it takes so long, so Linda helps me,” Smith said of his wife of 40 years.

Smith knows soon he won’t be able to do many of the things he and Linda love to do together.

When they go to Monhegan Island to bird this month, he will bird from town while Linda goes off on the woods trails. When Linda does the 4-mile morning walk they used to do together every day, George now waits for her in their yard.

“Today I was ecstatic I could fish. I really was,” Smith said after nearly cancelling the trip, uncertain he would be able to cast.

“Our home is a warbler heaven,” Smith said, referring to the outdoor activity that has taken the two to Italy, Costa Rica and the Southwest.

Last week, Smith almost didn’t go fishing. He didn’t know if he could step into the boat, or cast. But he changed his mind a few days before.

And just as the boat pulled away from the dock on Webber Pond, even before the first fishing rod was cast, the mood started to change. The stories began. Then the two men were bossing each other.

By the time Smith started to cast, the insults were already flying, as if they were overdue.

“I’ve been carrying you for 15 years, what’s one more day?” Pineau said as he unhooked a bass from Smith’s line.

Smith held the spinning rod in hands that are bent and no longer grip. But he could set the hook and turn the reel, and cast.

He was delighted.

He landed dozens of fish, losing count after an hour.

All the while Smith and Pineau told stories of the last log drives in the ’70s. They talked of hunting dogs they each had, about the one that ate the duck Smith shot. There were wildlife stories of bald eagles that ate loons, of loons that ate the fish off the fishing line, and the loon that flapped around the boat Smith fished from with his dad.

And after two hours, when Pineau asked Smith if he wanted to head in, his friend smiled.

“No, I’d like to fish a little more,” Smith said.

For an outing that had been uncertain, it was a success.

“Yup, he did enjoy himself,” Pineau said. “His quote when he cast: ‘Hey, I can do this.’ And he was in the company of good friends.”

After, as Smith drove away, he talked about his beloved camp of 27 years in the Maine woods, just beyond Baxter State Park, and how he won’t be able to fish his favorite remote stream there.

But he refuses to focus on what he can’t do.

“I had so many adventures in there, seeing bear and moose,” Smith said. “Will I miss it? Oh, very much. But the thing is, I am determined not to be negative. My life has changed dramatically. It’s frustrating I can’t do so many things. But I’m trying to enjoy life. I’m trying to enjoy the view.

“Today I was ecstatic I could fish. I really was. I didn’t think I’d be able to cast. At camp if I hit the hex hatch just right on Nesowadnehunk Lake, then I won’t need to cast more than eight feet.”

Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPph

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