I rest easy when I'm in the north woods. The deepness of the green and the water and the night are a comfort for me. We spent the last week camping in northern New Hampshire and western Maine.
I spent a lot of time exploring water - the Rapid River, the Magalloway, the Upper Connecticut. Many wild fish were caught, some big ones lost. A thunderstorm came in over two hours one night. We sat by the fire and listened as it worked its way south out of Canada and finally fell asleep as torrential rain rolled its fingers across the roof of our camper. It was a good, hard sleep that night.
The humidity hit later in the week, slowing us a down a bit. Another storm came early Friday morning - 4 a.m. - and pushed in a cold front. The breeze stuck with us for a few days. We woke up late, ate a hearty breakfast at the local diner, hiked Magalloway Mountain, and in the evening caught landlocked salmon, brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout on a high floating caddis.
I hadn't stepped foot in Maine for almost ten years. A lot has changed since then. I no longer bust my back doing trail work, I'm married, I've got a great dog, I fly fish. I've been antsy to get back to the North Woods for awhile now, to check out some places that I used to go, to explore some new ones, and to catch some nice brookies and landlocked salmon. I love the wildness that still exists in Maine. After living out west and visiting most of the lower 48, I feel that Maine is the wildest state down here, Alaska light some might say. I could easily see myself making it my home one day. There's a lot of poetry to be written up along those cedar-lined banks.
After spending a few days on the coast, we took a rainy day and headed up to the West Branch of the Penobscot. The only way to get there is the Golden Road, a rough logging road that, if you get through without a flat tire or getting run down by a logging truck, you should count yourself lucky. It was pouring down rain when we got to camp, so we heated up some hot dogs on our stove and quickly crawled into bed to nap off the weather. It worked. By the time we woke up, the rain had broke. I took that first evening to explore the water right outside of camp.
I began fishing at the top of an eddy where a set of rapids came in, working the edges and the seams. The Penobscot is big water. Rafters use it all the time to send its Class 5 Rapids. I don't have much experience fishing water like this, so I took it small and fished the water right in front of me, trying to pick apart each current and little riffle. I eventually got into some nice wild brookies using a nymphing rig. While doing so, an old timer, Richard, came out to the river about 30 feet below me. He was throwing a big spoon in the rapid, but wasn't having any luck. With each fish I would land, we would just nod his head and give me a grunt. I took it as a good sign, like I was doing something right, something that he approved of. Eventually, I worked myself up to the top of the rapids and began nymphing a small eddy in the middle of two sets of pretty rough water. I landed my first landlocked salmon out of it, a small guy that took for me a wild ride. Landlocks are ferocious fish. They attack your fly and when hooked, will take you for runs up, down, and deep into the water. They'll jump a few feet out of the water, trying to shake that damn hook out. They're a blast. A large (at least for me) landlocked grabbed my hare's ear and took off down stream. I fought him for what seemed to be minutes (it wasn't), and eventually got him close to net. As I reached out to net him, I hear Richard yell, "Watch out for the eagle!" right as I come face to face with a large Bald Eagle swooping down, wings fully outstretched, talons out, trying to poach the salmon I'm about to land. Luckily, he misses by a few inches and flies away, down across the big eddy and perches himself at the top of a big pine, watching us for the rest of the night. It was enough to break the ice between Richard and I. We shared a good few minutes of amazed laughter and "Holy shits" before swapping stories about fishing and life in Maine. It was a great way to end my first night up in the North Woods.
After a few days on the West Branch, we took another rainy morning and headed southwest to Lily Bay State Park, situated on Moosehead Lake. We took the Golden Road all the way to Kokadjo. 38 miles in 2 hours. It got rougher the further out we got, so we went a steady 15 mph. It was a great drive, though a bit stressful at times due to the road conditions. We did see a moose along the way. The road turns to pavement in Kokadjo so we decided to stop in at the general store to get a cup of coffee. As I pulled up, I could smell bacon wafting out of the windows. We got inside and immediately decided to get a second breakfast. It was one of the best breakfasts we've ever head.
The Lower Magalloway is a beautiful tailwater just outside Rangeley, Maine. I only had a morning to fish, so I woke up wicked early and took a long hike to get into some good water. It was worth it. I was taking the skunk until I tied on a bugger with a nymph dropper and started stripping it up the banks of the river. I quickly got into some nice brookies and salmon. I worked my way downstream until I got to a really nice looking pool. I picked up a few more fish stripping the bugger and then, due to the time of the day, decided to throw on a nymph rig and see what I could pick up. I quickly got into some of the nicest, largest wild brook trout I've ever landed. They were all in the 12-14 inch range. The largest and last fish I pulled out of the pool was between 15 and 16 inches. Unfortunately he slipped out of the net before I could take a photo of him, But the old timer in hip boots on the other side of the pool gave me a thumbs up, so just ask him about it. I threw on a big stimulator and worked my way back to the car, picking up a handful of brookies and landlocks along the way. It was a great morning of fishing and I can't wait to go back.
We finished our trip with a few days in the White Mountains. After doing some hiking and checking out some falls, I fished some nice water in the National Forest. Using a 3 wt and a big stimulator, I was able to bring a few native brookies and some wild rainbows to hand. After fishing some really big water in Maine, fishing these wild mountain freestone streams was a nice way to clear the head and keep things simple. A good way to end the trip.
Ah, a week later, and I'm slowly falling back into the "home for the summer" routine - waking up, drinking coffee, riding down the bike path to Shock's Mill Bridge, reading on the porch, and planning my next fishing journey. I've also had a bit of time to reflect back on our Vermont/New Hampshire road trip we just got back from. First off, we absolutely fell in love with Vermont. The greenness, the mountains, the vibe, the water, Everywhere we went, there was water and there were inevitably people enjoying it - fishing, rafting, swimming. It was great to see. We will be going back there, maybe for a long while some day. Montpelier was especially awesome.
The first piece of water I fished was the West River, which ran right next to our campsite in Jamaica State Park (great place to put up a tent, by the way). It's large water and would probably be great in the spring right after a stocking. However, it was more of a Warm Water Fishery during the time I was there. I got a lead on a small brook outside of Jamaica that I got to check out one evening. Big boulders, gravel, black bears. Great stretch of stream that put me on some beautiful Vermont natives. Jess & I also hiked up to Hamilton Falls one afternoon. I decided to take my glass 3 weight and got into a few small brookies right below the falls. This is how we do vacation - find a great little hike that takes us to a good place to sit and I meander down the stream fly fishing while Jess sits and water colors. It's a good life.
Rock Art Along the Trail
Eventually we made our way up to northern Vermont to a cottage we rented along the North Branch of the Lamoille. I got to stop in at Green Mountain Troutfitters for some intel and flies. A perfect fly shop - nice folks, willing to help, and even to laugh when I said LAMWHAA instead of LamOIL (not Frenchy...). We really dug that area - vibrant small towns, beautiful meadows that roll right up into mountains. The streams are different up there than the brooks I was fishing in the southern part of the state. Giant, round boulders giving into really fine gravel. As the gradient increased, so did the amount of random "potholes" formed in the swirling water. I got lucky and landed some wild rainbows on a yellow stimulator and rolled some nice browns with a crazy looking bugger that I picked up at fly shop.
We ended our trip with a few days in the White Mountains. Probably the closest to feeling like I was "out west" anywhere on the east coast - dramatic mountains and alpine lakes strewn throughout. Cool place, but way too touristy for our liking. I'm glad we saw it, glad I fished it and landed some beautiful natives, but it's not on our list to get back to anytime soon. It's a fine line between preservation and exploitation. It's hard for me to enjoy a place of natural beauty when everything is monetized - want to go see this cool flume? gotta fork over 15 bucks. Oh, you'd like to canoe on this lake? 20 bucks an hour. It's great to see these places "preserved", but sometimes I can't help but feel like they are being "loved to death", or in the case of the Whites, bastardized by economics.
One last thing - I think Jess & I are finally figuring out how to vacation. One of the highlights - the first night we got to Vermont it was raining. We set up our tent and canopy and sat in our gravity chairs (the ones Jess made us buy and which are amazing) and just listened to the rain hit the top for hours. That's vacation. We did miss Whitman and his stupid little face, which is why we are on the hunt for a small fiberglass trailer...
And because I've been listening to way too much Dead this summer (sorry Jess), here is a great "Eyes of the World" (gotta love that Lesh bass). Watch out for that dude with the fire.
I stumbled upon the name "Raftman's Path" walking the river trail that traverses through the little town I live in. It was named during the days when lumber was a huge commodity in this area. The Susquehanna River was an industrial thoroughfare - bearing down loads of lumber from the northern reaches of Pennsylvania towards the Chesapeake. Marietta was a stopping point, a place for the lumber either to go to the mills lining its banks or shoot further downstream through pig iron smoke. Raftmen would guide the lumber down to the mouth of the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake - an estuary of salt, water, lumber, ore, eel and shad. When their job was done, they would walk the raftman's path back through the Susquehanna Riverlands of Lancaster County towards their homes. The path is now wooded and meanders through some of the only "wild" places left in the county.