President Dwight D. Eisenhower was really looking forward to getting out of Washington in late June 1955, as he wanted to get to Maine and catch his first ever Land Locked salmon.  “Ike” was to fish the storied waters of Parmachenee country as a guest of the Brown Paper Co. Like many fishermen he quickly, struck up a friendship with his Guide Don Cameron of Wilson’s Mills. Their friendship lasted well after the Presidents visit and our museum has several artifacts, letters and mementos shared between the “Leader of the Free World” and his Maine Guide. This includes a portrait of Cameron painted by Ike while still a sitting President, a Finnish made fishing knife and several letters on White House stationary signed by the President.

President Eisenhower with guide Don Cameron at Little Boy Falls.

 

Further testimony as to why so many Americans “Liked Ike” was how he could be just another one of the guys while enjoying some fishing. He was fishing with national spin-casting champion Neal Taylor in 1960…as the story goes, and Taylor, who had never met Eisenhower was understandably nervous but within a few minutes of fishing with the President said that he felt like he had known him for a long time. As the pair continued to fish, Ike sat down beside the stream and had a troubled look on his face. Taylor waited, and then asked if there was something wrong or possibly the President was feeling ill (both he and Cameron suffered heart attacks within months after their Parmachenee trip). Taylor then asked if he could somehow help and it was then that President Eisenhower looked at him and said that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of the many men that were under his command at Normandy.  This was almost twenty years later but the president was still greatly bothered by what had happened on those beaches so many years ago.

General Eisenhower talking with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne about fly fishing just prior to their jump into Normandy.

 

It was early evening on June 5th, 1944, just prior to D-Day and Allied Supreme Commander Eisenhower was visiting with a group of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division. Tensions were naturally high before the dangerous night drop behind enemy lines where the paratroopers were tasked with holding off the expected German reinforcements on their way to the landing beaches. Ike knew, that in a matter of hours, many of the young men crowded around him would perish in battle.  In a now famous photo, it appears that he is giving them a pep talk when in fact, the General had found out that some of the paratroopers were fly fisherman and he was sharing some of his techniques. The 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions executed their missions to perfection, and many brave men did indeed perish never again to cast for trout in their favored home waters.

Later as President, Eisenhower attempted to teach his VP Nixon, how to fly cast. Nixon’s first three casts wound up in a tree and the fourth hooked into Ike’s coat which brought about a quick end to the lesson. The renowned historian Stephen Ambrose commented that “In casting, as in politics…Eisenhower was terribly earnest in his attempts to educate Nixon, with frustrating results in both cases”. Eisenhower was once asked once why he loved fly fishing so much and he responded by telling the reporter, “I don’t use worms anymore because I want it to be fair for the fish”. I bet Nixon was a better worm dunker.

President Eisenhower could not easily escape the pressures of the job, so he had the stream that flowed through the presidential retreat at Camp David, MD. stocked so he could simply walk down to the stream, cast and catch a few trout. Ike once shared, “There are three sports that I like all for the same reason; golf, fishing and shooting…because they take you into the fields, they induce you to take at any one time, two to three hours, when you are thinking of the bird, ball or wily trout. Now to my mind this is a very healthful, beneficial kind of thing and I do it whenever I get a chance”. How true for a busy Chief executive and especially true today for most of us. As an example, in the Summer of 1955 here is just a small example of what was on Ike’s “Plate”; With his proposed federal budget for 1955-1956, the President was expecting to balance the budget for the first time in 5 years and projected a surplus for 1956. The President was also supporting an increase in the minimum wage to 90 cents. There were the tensions of the Cold War with Red China and the irascible Khrushchev and the U.S.S.R. In May 1955, Ike was engaged in the national effort to roll out the new polio vaccine as the massive immunization program was just getting started. He was packing his fly boxes and putting on new leaders by June 20, 1955, just a few days prior to his tour of Vermont, New Hampshire and those awaiting salmon in Maine, as the President addressed the opening of the 10th anniversary meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco.

At the time, Eisenhower was still deciding whether to run for a second term in the 1956 election. During his short fishing trip to Parmachenee, he gave conflicting answers on whether he would seek re-election. In a speech on Main street in Rangeley he hinted on the difficulties of that decision after being given a fawn deer for the National Zoo in D.C. “If I had to leave these woods along these lovely lakes and streams and go to Washington, I would think, twice wouldn’t you? But I’ll take it (the fawn) down and thank you very much”. The 34th President of the United States and Don Cameron continued to stay in touch. Fly fishing can help make some fast friends.

 


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