“It is the constant – or inconstant – change, the infinite variety in fly-fishing that binds us fast. It is impossible to grow weary of a sport that is never the same on any two days of the year.”
– Theodore Gordan (1914)
You never know what the Maine weather will dish out, especially in mid-May. But there are expectations born of experience in the north woods. Rain, bugs, wind, cold and even a snow squall or two have been the norm over the years. But heat? Who expects heat?
There were four of us, all hardcore trout fishermen. We were off on a four-mile float-tubing, backpacking trek to a favorite trout pond north of Millinocket. At the trail head, we were charged up with Power Bars, high hopes and bottled up energy. As the windless day wore on, a bright sun drove temperatures into the 80s. Our 50-pound packs got heavier in the punishing heat, and each new hill that appeared around a turn brought a snarl or a scowl. We panted, sweated and sucked water from our filter bottles.
We learned lessons en route. Fred Hurley vowed never to attach his float tube inflated to his pack frame. For him, maneuvering around muckholes through alder runs was like trying to get a bull moose through a corn patch. Joe Emerson, a recently reformed smoker, pledged to join a health club. I promised never, ever again to bring any optional items: second flashlight, extra reel, cribbage board, cards, extra jacket, wash towel, ground cloth, or even medicinal Johnnie Walker. My son Scotty, who appeared to swear, scowl and snarl far less than the rest of us, made no outward affirmations. I suspect he may have silently pledged to find more youthful fishing buddies.
We made it to our pond, though. As all trout anglers will attest, a little pond that holds trout is a beautiful thing anytime, but catching the first glint of shimmering water through the dark growth after a punishing day on the trail is a special experience.
As the four of us set up camp, the riseforms of trout began to break the still surface of the pond. It wasn’t supposed to happen. Conditions were not right. What about the Trout Fishermen’s Psalms:
•Trout don’t surface-feed on hot, bright sunny days.
• The alder buds must be the size of a mouse’s ear for trout to bite.
• Trout fishing doesn’t get good until the bugs are about to carry you away.
The fishing during the next two bluebird days on our pond was as much an angler’s aberration as the weather. Among the four of us, we caught and released all but three of close to 100 trout. Fred poked about the pond in his “U Boat” float tube and was always hooking up – often “doubles” – with a dropper lashup that included a brown beadhead nymph and a prince. Joe caught his fair share on a No. 14 Blue Dun on the surface. Scotty came close to matching Fred’s action fishing a Black Ghost Marabou streamer like a nymph. On my best night, a No. 14 Adams made me a popular guy with the native population.
As has been said before: there’s a double reward when the trout are cooperating. Not only the inherent joy of fishing, but a chance to learn more about these mystical creatures called Savelinus Fontinalis. Fred, who has done some highly technical midge fishing in New Mexico’s San Juan River, believes that fluorocarbon leaders really come into their own when fishing trout under the surface.
Our informal, thoroughly unscientific experiment during out two fast-action days seemed to lend credence to Fred’s theory. Coincidentally, in his book “Big Trout,” Bernie Taylor argues that “the usefulness of fluorocarbon leaders is a function of the environment and not the fish.” What he means is that during lowlight conditions or murky water, any old leader material will do, but if you are fishing, as we were, in bright conditions with gin-clear water, those expensive fuorocarbon leaders may give you a distinct fishing advantage.
It may be a shopworn cliche of the advertising age, but it is appropriate. For two days during our three-day trip, we made the overused prayerful affirmation more than once, “Guys, it just doesn’t get any better than this!” Bright sunny windless days, no bugs, and plenty of trout action, above and below the surface.
In almost a half century of chasing after eastern brookies with artificials, I have never seen anything quite like it. The others would agree.
Alas, soon Maine became Maine again. The temperatures dropped, the skies turned a sullen lead gray, and it rained. The winds made casting difficult, and the alder buds appeared along with the bugs. The trout began to pout and steer clear of Black Ghost Marabous and Brown Beadheads. Which is probably a good thing.
We needed the rest, and so did the hard-fished brookies.
V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal.He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]