How about this “Cliff’s Notes” version of Day 1 to whet your interest?:

Flyfishing in a deep and remote pond that is one of a half-dozen lakes that harbor a very rare Maine trout, which is located in the middle of the largest tract of “Old Growth” forest in New England, (if not the entire eastern U.S.), …requiring that we backpack all of our gear and food the last mile after driving 40-plus miles northeast of Moosehead Lake on intermittently rough to very rough logging roads with poor to non-existent signage (thank heaven for the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer for its excellent and detailed maps) to get to that last mile trailhead,,….then paddling all of our gear another 3/4 mile to get to the rustic, old log cabins on a far cove of the lake that housed us for three nights?

Now, to refresh your memory, loyal readers:

As most of you know, Peter Christensen and I have been doing canoe/camping/fishing trips to the wilds of Maine for 14 years now.  They have all been multi-day canoe trips (including the epic 100+ mile Allagash Wilderness Waterway) in Maine with one notable exception.  About 3 years ago we paddled and camped in the famed St. Regis Canoe Wilderness on the northern edge of the massive Adirondack Park in Upstate New York…another fine adventure.  This year’s trip was a bit of an exception as well, in terms of our non-tent accommodations, and the added requisite backpacking element…yet, it very much qualifies as a paddling/fishing adventure in a very, very remote part of Maine.

Peter and I enjoy many things in common; the wilds of our beloved state (and Adirondack Park, NY, as well), paddling canoes and/or kayaks, camping in the wilds of the state(s), a full appreciation for nature and the varied plants and wildlife found in this special part of New England, a robust sense of humor, reading good books by headlamp after nature’s lights go out, and detailed conversations about anything and everything of mutual interest.

We differ slightly regarding two things;  1. I love nature photography and have been the official trip photographer, although Peter is slowly catching up now that he has a smartphone, and  2.  Peter loves flyfishing, and is very good at it…especially laying out those long casts with ease that I find so irritating because my fly-casting skills remain acceptable at most, although still a work in progress.  I guess I just spent too much time in the less fine skills-oriented fishing while a kid in Minnesota, using spinning equipment to catch walleyed pike (the unofficial, yet highly prized, state fish of Minnesota… just as brook trout is the worshiped fish species in Maine).  However, please note: I am getting better under Peter’s patient guidance.

This all brings us to this year’s destination.  There are less than a dozen small northern lakes and ponds in Maine that harbour a population of “blueback trout”.  This ancient fish species is found only in Maine in the lower 48.  While actually a sub-species of arctic char and differ from the brook trout in a number of characteristics including a more forked tail instead of the brookies’ signature square tail.  And of course, they have a blue back.  And they are very difficult to catch, residing deep in the cold waters of northern Maine.

Big Reed Pond is the second destination we have chosen to explore because of the presence of the legendary bluebacks.  The other was a chain of small lakes in western Aroostook County a few years back.  Unfortunately we caught only brook trout on that trip. Peter won’t admit this, but I am convinced that he is obsessed with the prospect of landing one of these rare cold-water fish.  I am not nearly as obsessed, but I do love the remoteness of the pursuits.

The other unique feature of Big Reed Pond is that it is surrounded by 5,000 acres of “Old Growth” virgin (having never been logged) forest, easily the largest tract of such very old trees of varying species in all of New England.  This old, and fascinating, forest is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Maine.  It is a chapter of the national Nature Conservancy.  Their mission is just as their name implies, to conserve historically natural habitats for a number of good reasons.  Their mission also means that a pond in the middle of one of their conserved forests is plenty hard to get to.

Most avid trout fisherpersons (politically correct term, I think) who want to fish Big Reed Pond and hopefully land an elusive blueback get there the easier (and more expensive) way.  They are flown in via the Cessna float plane owned by Igor Sikorsky and his wife, Karen who operate the iconic Bradford Camps on Munsungan Lake, a short flight away to the northeast.

We, of the more frugal sort, opted for the more physically demanding route; starting at the end of a couple miles of a road (if you can call parallel wheel ruts a road) followed by a mile of slightly uphill trail, through a unique and interesting Old Growth forest while laden with backpacks filled with food and equipment sufficient for three days in a spectacular setting!

One of the two cabins we occupied…this one also was the kitchen/dining room cabin that proved to be luxurious by comparison to our prior 13 adventures Allen Wicken

We did, however, pay Igor’s fee for three nights in the two very rustic, if not palatial, cabins when compared to our usual couple of two-man tents that are always spaced at least 40 ft. apart due to alleged, yet unproven, snoring issues.

Actually, Igor flew in early that first evening, to be sure that we made it, and to answer any questions we had about the cabin peculiarities, and fishing for the bluebacks.  He landed near our canoe as we paddled across the pond in a Nature Conservancy-provided canoe, laden with our gear as we headed for the cabins on the opposite side of the pond… on an absolutely gorgeous evening.  We conversed while he stood on one of the plane’s floats at a distance well in excess of proper “social distancing”.  It was a priceless moment among many we would have on Big Reed.

Propane tanks in the cabin that was equipped for cooking made for luxurious dining.  The gas lights made for exceptional ambiance, and late evening reading without headlamps.  The cabin experience proved to be our most “luxurious” of all 14 trips so far.

Paddling across Big Reed Pond with our well-laden backpacks and other gear to reach the rustic log cabins that we would call home for three nights Allen Wicken

The next three days demonstrated what consistent wind can do to a well-regulated fishing experience.  One can not only obey the “fly fishing only” rule, but one cannot troll the flies while paddling.  One can only cast the sinking fly line.  While Peter adjusted quite well thanks to his casting skills and fine fly rod, I did not fare quite as well….thanks to my pedestrian flycasting skills and my stiff 4-section pack rod that felt like I was using an 8 ft. length of 1”x1” pine with grommets attached.  Those are my excuses and I am sticking to them.

Turns out that neither of us landed a sought-after blueback trout despite logging a good number of hours on the water, trying every location, while confronted with every wind-driven nuance that nature could deliver.  Yet, we enjoyed every minute in this gorgeous and colorful hardwood-dominated forest surroundings.  I often put down the fly rod and pulled out my binoculars.  We became quite familiar with the habits of a pair of loons and their half-grown “chick”.  They were trying as hard as they could to teach him to fish so he could have the muscle-power to get airborne and head for the coast before the impending ice closes in on him/her in about a month and a half.

Much more could be said about this wonderful (albeit blueback-less) three days on Big Reed Pond.  I am hoping that my attached photographs will adequately supplement my words describing this signature Maine experience deep in the woods of the north.

Per usual, trip options for next year’s 15th Annual were discussed over our trip home lunch featuring a couple of  cheeseburgers and a couple of IPAs on the deck of Greenville’s “Stress Free Moose Cafe” on our way back to Rangeley.  A fitting end to another adventure whereby “It doesn’t get any better than this” is stated frequently on these memorable trips.

Photographing what Peter thought might be one of a half-dozen terrestrial orchids known to inhabit the forests of Maine.” Confirming identification were to be referred to our wives. Allen Wicken

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

Garrison Keillor

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….And, another “per usual” is warranted at the end of this and every column: Your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.  Just fire off an email to [email protected]  THANK YOU!












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