The first in a three-part series that I’ll call the “Maine Special.” I’ve recently returned from an eight-day camping tour across the Downeast Woods and would like to share some black and blue reflections (fishing and otherwise) with you. Unfortunately I forgot to pack the bigger camera for this trip, so we’ll have to deal with some pedestrian images taken with my point-and-shoot, but hopefully you’ll enjoy.
1. It had been a long day’s journey into potholes, corrugated mud and rock, then the sweetness of river music at night. We’d driven 13 hours into northern Maine, left a frontier village for yet another hour’s drive over gut-wrenching, white-knuckle roadway used by lumber trucks and recreational vehicles, but finally settled to the task of setting up our tent beside the dark, brawling river.
The next morning I would note that we had passed the night just 20 feet from the edge of the West Branch Penobscot River, with no one else around as far as I could see. And I’d probably never slept a sounder sleep.
Our backcountry site, reserved for us by the Chewonki Foundation’s Big Eddy Campground, was located near the gateway to the Allegash Wilderness and near the shadow of Mt. Katahdin. I had been here once before, with wife and kids, but this time we were really digging in. We would also visit Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park, followed by another camp-out in northwestern Maine, at Rangeley.
2. Good fishing was just a cast away from our grill site built from natural granite and river stones. It was good fly-fishing-only water, at least potentially. Wild brook trout and landlocked salmon swam among the deep currents and backwater eddies pouring from the Ripogenus Dam a couple of miles upriver. Fishing was slow because of late summer conditions but fast enough to keep things interesting. I considered it a treat to find wild brooks and salmon taking everything from a streamer to a dry fly.
From our tent site I could look upriver and become absorbed by morning mist rising off the Class IV and V white-water in a section of Penobscot called the “Cribworks.” I could look downstream past the rapids to the world-class salmon fishing hole referred to as “Big Eddy.” Bald eagles, ravens, osprey, and various gulls flew between these river sites or perched with hungry anticipation on a great white pine or balsam fir.
3. Our first morning at the site was warm and sunny. I fished a little eddy near the tent and caught a couple of nice brookies and a small salmon there. Several groups of whitewater rafters floated through, and it was amusing to watch some of the occupants get thrown into the drink and then be rescued after a lot of shouting and swimming toward the boats. Their passage through the campground was swift and hardly intrusive.
In the afternoon, Leighanne and I buckled up and drove down to the entrance of Baxter State Park but, due to weather conditions and the late hour, plus the $14 entry fee, decided not to enter the wild country on the Tote Road. Instead, we would eat our picnic lunch in the solitude of Togue Pond and its “laughing” loon, with broad-shouldered Mt. Katahdin leaning on eternity just north of us.
That evening I night-fished the Penobscot at our tent site but the moon rose and reflected gorgeously on the river caps and pretty much put the squeeze on any fish potential. The next morning I did better.
4. Leighanne had cooked another great breakfast, this time consisting of scrambled eggs, hot biscuits and coffee, and I was ready to tackle the misty river. Stripping in a Black Ghost streamer, I got a hit from a large fish right in front of me, a hundred feet from camp. The rod bent deeply and I called out to L. to come and watch the antics.
Landlocked salmon are incredibly powerful fish, and even the little ones, when hooked, will sometimes leap to amazing heights above the water. This one fought me hard but stayed on long enough for me to see its silvery flash and golden tones, well over 20 inches in length, and rich enough to leave a powerful imprint in the memory bank.
5. It rained on our final day at the Penobscot (the name has been translated from Native American to mean “place of descending rocks,” for damn good reason) and poured through my evening work with the rod and reel. I was switching my tackle so quickly that I made a fool of myself, committing a wilderness faux pas that a loon could laugh about for hours…
I’d been casting into the driving rain for at least 10 minutes, making graceful shots with the old “Maine Special” bamboo rod, before deciding to check on how the fly was doing… Uh, what fly? No wet fly… no streamer on, no nuthin’! Nothing more than the beauty of the act itself, the madness of an old guy casting into the wind and water at dusk when no trout or salmon in the history of the art had yet to bite on a tapered leader that has no hook.
I can say this now because, before and after that non-event, I did catch lots of salmon up to 15 inches and some pretty brook trout, as well. I caught them on emergers, dry flies and streamers. Not bad, considering that the water was seasonally warm. (The new corporation that owns the upstream dam, unlike the previous owner, doesn’t seem to care much for anglers, and releases top and bottom water when it should be releasing only from the bottom of the lake).
Next stops, Acadia National Park and the Rangeley waters of western Maine.
What a joy to read! A quiet campsite, fishing on your doorstep, fine breakfasts, and time to let it all sink in. Seems like you had quite a time out there – gaffes and all. (It’s practice…) The photographs have me itching to head to Maine, looks really beautiful.
Thanks for sharing, and looking forward to parts two and three.
Thanks Plaid! The time and place was what I needed to experience again. Serene and wild, relaxing but challenging, as well. I’m glad you’ve got the itch for the moose and moss country. Some day you’ll have to take one of your vacations out this way!
Walt you lucky fellow. Maine is a special place. Landlocks fight like pit bulls. And those brookies.
Can’t wait for your Rangeley report.
Alan, I was lucky to have my wife come along with me. She fit right in, and cooks some mean chow, although I think she harbors some regret that I can’t take a fish or two for the frying pan (not an option where I was fishing this time). And yes, those landlockeds are something else, especially when you see them rise to the fly and then keep on flying! As for Rangeley– a wonderful experience. Thank you.
Not having been to your part of the country, I could only stare in amazement at how beautiful it is. I guess you don’t need mountains to be awe-inspired. Well done Walt.
Howard, Sometimes I wish I lived closer to northern Maine than I do. It’s a pretty long haul, although I don’t have any reason to complain, really, since beautiful country can be found rather close to ground zero. That said, parts of Maine are special, wild and forested, with many lakes and ponds, and I can’t get there often enough. Thanks much for your appreciation! P. S.,please see my response to your comment on “About.”
Sounds like a fantastic trip! Even with a point-and-shoot camera, the beauty is undeniable. And you escaped our 90+ degree heat and humidity. Looking forward to the next two installments. Acadia is one of my favorite places.
It was great, Leigh, and I think we missed your heat wave, although prior to our visit, northern Maine had had some really warm weather. Yeah I think I underestimated the point-and-shoot. I’d been feeling glum because I forgot the better camera, and I wasn’t seeing much on the point-and-shoot images until I brought them up on the blog. Am feeling better about that now. Thanks, my friend, and stay tuned for Acadia.
Point-and-shoot camera or not, that’s some spectacular scenery you grabbed. Katahdin could almost stand as a visual metaphor for that part of Maine–lonely, serene, timeless, beautiful, and even dangerous.
I really wish I could’ve joined for this trip, but I’m glad you and mom had a great time and that you didn’t fall in and wash up in Bangor.
Brent, I agree that the mountain, when the clouds and mists finally part and then display it, could stand as a visual metaphor for northern Maine. It’s quite impressive close up. And dangerous in bad weather. Thoreau actually climbed to the “table land” area, without a guide or a path to lead him, way back in the 1850s, I think it was. The top parts got to him, though, and the Natives of the region knew an evil spirit (Pamola) that inhabited the higher regions.
We had a real nice time there, but yeah I did fall into the river at one point. Luckily I could visit the East Coast later on in a vehicle rather than having gone down with the current.
Wow Walt, looks like you and Leighanne had a great time. That country is amazing and the photos show the majesty of a perfect environment. The fish were beautiful. A match for the streams and up-streams in which they were captured. Awesome brother. I enjoyed every step of this blog and look forward to the continuing parts of the “Maine Special.” Beautiful man. Just beautiful.
The place is quietly majestic, Doug, but I can vouch for the fact that, if you’re camped close to the river there, the water’s voice can carry some eerie undertones. That said, the overall feeling one gets is that of peacefulness and bounty. We enjoyed it. A spectacular environment. Thanks, my friend.
Walt, you just took this “kid” back to, dare I say……1970.
Must be flexing my transcendental muscles there, Les. How so? A visit to northern Maine?
Yup, my folks and I took a drive to Eagle Lake that then seemed to take “forever’. I recall catching lots of little brookies, and some pretty landlocked salmon. My mom would probably have claimed that the real reason for the trip was to feed the mosquitos.
Les, You caught the essence of it there– long drive, brooks and landlockeds, and… in season lots of mosquitoes. At this time of the year, however, the only bug we seemed to run into everywhere was the stonefly. Big ones. Nice to have around.
Beautiful surroundings! I’ve had an itch to see Maine for years. Haven’t quite made it up that far yet. (I guess “up” is relative when I’m saying this from Alaska!) Love the photo of the adirondack chair and tree stump by the river/lake. Nice-sized salmon, too! Why did they become landlocked there?
Thanks Mary Anne! I hope you get up/down/whatever this way some time, but being from Alaska you’ll no doubt find the countryside rather modest in comparison. But I’m sure you’d find plenty to appreciate. The Atlantic salmon became “landlocked” by virtue of the retreating glaciers that reformed the land and blocked off passage to the sea in some locations. Landlocked are virtually the same species as Atlantic, but reside in some cold New England lakes and in a few rivers, too.
I would especially love to spend some time on the rugged Maine coast. Interesting about the salmon. We have landlocked salmon too, but I haven’t caught any while out for trout.
Acadia Nat’l Park is the place most people think to go when seeking out the beauties of the Maine coast. The best time to go there is any other season than summertime. As for salmon, I didn’t know you had landlockeds near you, but there’s every other variety of Pacific salmon all around. Quite nice!
Brother, your skill with words never fails to move me. Add the images and I’m there with you, vicariously. And better to have realized the disappearance of your fly late than never, lest you become a fly casting Sisyphus!
Thanks bro, and I’m glad they’re working for you. That’s why I go the route. A fly-casting Sisyphus! If the bald eagles there in the driving rain had been like gods in the days of olde, they might have seen me like that. A scary thought, but funny in retrospect.
Another great post. Looks and sounds like you had a wonderful time. Its great to get away from the rush & into big woods. Great pictures too. Looking forward to the rest of the story.
Ross, Hope you’ve been having a good summer. The North Woods are intriguing this time of year. Thanks for your time and commentary, and will look forward to seeing you later this month.
Hi Walt it’s Tim we met in the Mag below the bridge I was there with my Girlfried. Hope you made it to some of the rivers we talked about later that day. I did really well up on the Cupsuptic. Realized that we had met when I was browsing through the Slate Run section of the 50 best places. After the trip I was talking with my friends about the bamboo rod and the nice loops you were throwing and how we hooked up on salmon at the same time! Though I lost mine and you landed yours!
Pleasant surprise! Not only that we met on the Mag and had Slate Run in common, but that we also hooked up on a salmon simultaneously, and that you managed to find me here on the blog. Sometimes my world seems to shrink at warp speed!
Glad you did well on the Cupsuptic. I will have to try that system, hopefully with another visit next year. We only had another day left before departure so didn’t do a lot more. The Steep Bank Pool was full on my revisit (no surprise there) but I did really well on a small stream near Rangeley, catching/releasing so many brook trout I kind of tired of bringing them in. Also had a wonderful visit to the Museum in Oquassic.
I’ll be doing a couple more posts on the trip to Maine here at the blog, so please stay tuned. I do want to mention the fun we had on the rivers around Rangeley.
Thanks for commenting here, and our best wishes to you and yours, on the river and in the home.
Next time in Maine I will have to take you out in my boat wish you could have come out with us the next day. Please let me know any of your return trips. Enjoy your posts and looking forward to reading some of your literature. I would love to fish with you on one of our return visits to Nothern PA.
Thanks for that, Tim. A drift in Maine would be lots of fun, I’m sure. Will try to keep you posted. And if you’re fishing PA and want some company, let me know. I’m not that far away. And thanks, too, for your support of the blog!
This is the kind of trip a lot of us would love to make; lucky your wife was along too enjoy the outing. That bamboo fly is awesome, along with the colorful streamer. Enjoyed the read, thanks for sharing
You’re welcome, Bill, thanks for reading. Hope you’re enjoying the holiday, too.