Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not the fish they are after.
When it comes to fishing Downeast Maine’s fabled Grand Lake Stream, the high poo-bah for that special place, in my opinion, is Brewer’s Bob Leeman. My son and I have been the grateful beneficiaries of Mr. Bob’s Grand Lake Stream savvy. Having fished the Stream for years, Leeman knows the water and where the salmon lie. And he loves to share it all with those fellow fly fishers whose passion for the sport matches his.
A few weeks ago, six of us, plus Bob, rented a place from Al LaPlante at the Stream for two days. We flailed away at our favorite pools for Salmo Salar. Included in the impromptu Leeman lash-up were Bob Leeman, Norm Plourde, Pete Caron, Greg Goodman, Paul Huston, Scotty Reynolds, and myself. The weather was nasty. A cold, driving rain and stiff northeast wind, along with high, fast water on the stream made for challenging fishing conditions. Nonetheless, it was, as the old axiom goes, still preferable to the best day at the office. We caught some fish, too.
And we ate well. Crockpot beans. Venison Stew. Grilled steaks. Shrimp Quiche for breakfast. Camp-mate Paul Huston, who is the new co-owner of Brick Oven Bakery in Bangor, supplied us with a bagful of his light and legendary bulky rolls.
Then there was the chili.
Norm Plourde, who casts a good fly, also tries hard in the kitchen. His chili received mixed reviews, however. Spicy food wimps Caron, Leeman, and yours truly demurred after sampling the incendiary chili. But fire eaters Goodman and second-generation Reynolds liked the chili so well they embellished Plourde’ s already well-spiced concoction with an extra measure of Ultra-Heat from a bottle. The chili maker, Plourde, a quiet, self-effacing guy, ate his creation with one comment: “Well, it’s a little hotter than I expected.” A hurtful turn of the lip could be seen under his mustache, though, when I faked a cell phone call to the Volunteer Fire Department of Grand Lake Stream.
On Day 1, fishing was slow at first. A robust water flow from West Grand Lake produced high, fast water, making it tough to find the fish holding anywhere. We avoided Dam Pool altogether and worked the water below Big Falls and Little Falls. By mid afternoon, Paul Huston discovered the magical fly after seducing three handsome land-locks above Little Falls (near that flat rock). “Olive woolybugger with bead head. That’s the ticket, Uncle,” offered my nephew Paul, when I met him on the stream path. A solid angler and a good-hearted sort, he found an extra woolybugger for me when my own fly stash failed to deliver.
Then I began to catch fish. The Bead-headed Olive Woolybugger was the key to angling bliss that particular snotty day on the Stream. Soon the terminal tackle tip spread fast among our camp mates and the whole gang was into fish. The olive woolybugger was the key to success — at least that day. Greg Goodman cleaned his fish and showed us its bellyful of half-digested green pupa. No wonder the olive woolybugger made the difference.
The next day the rain let up, though the cold and wind persisted. The woolybugger still performed. As you might expect, Mr. Bob brought home the biggest fish. After supper, he caught, on a green woolybugger of course, one of the 100 big breeder salmon that had been released in the stream earlier in the week. Scotty Reynolds and his olive woolybugger, with a couple of tiny split shot tied a foot above the fly, caught and released a dozen salmon in one pool below Little Falls. (The weight helped get the fly down in the fast water). Fishing the same pool, Pete Caron, a Winterport sportsmen purist with a maverick streak, decided that the olive woolybugger was taking unfair advantage of the salmon and switched to a disgustingly garish and unbuggy-looking fly he calls a Golden Retriever. Ugh! Yep, Pete caught a bunch, and on a fly named after a dog!
Still, the olive green, bead-headed woolybugger was the fly to have on the end of your tippet that week. We watched many other skilled but hapless Stream men go fishless needlessly. If they had not been too proud to ask, we would have shared our discovery, gladly.
To their credit, Leeman and Huston shared with the rest of us their knowledge gained on the river. Among fly fishermen, I ask you, is there a more selfless, fraternal act than sharing a killer fly? Or perhaps pointing out that place on the other side of the rock where fish are holding?
The author 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, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his new book is “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook.”