Editor's Note: This is part one of a two part story that rbaileydav wrote... if you want to read the rest of the story, join us as a registered member of smallstreams.com!
You can’t be lost………………… if you don’t know where you are going. That is one of life’s truest statements and one of life’s greatest luxuries. I am not a “young un” anymore and to be honest, I am a hell of a lot closer to fifty that I care to admit….. read that as less than another calendar year, but when I have a chance to disappear into the woods with my backpack strapped on and no specific destination in mind that is a true luxury. I recently had a business trip scheduled for late in the week in Portland Me. I can hear you guys out there already, so yes I know my business schedule doesn’t suck all that much does it … regardless of how much I might pregnant dog about it. Anyway if you were going to end up in Portland Maine on a Friday midmorning with the choice to fly back to a 105 degree, 80 percent humidity Atlanta for the weekend or go find yourself a slice of legendary Maine woods to go explore for the weekend … … well what would you do. Fortunately for me, I have a few close friends that have fly fishing pedigrees that are beyond reproach and they are the type of caring and sharing guys that a rank amateur like me can simply shoot them an email with dates and the type of fishing/ experience needed …. In this case … scenery, solitude and a chance to catch a Maine Brookie or two … … and a return email from sources so far beyond reproach that it makes even me cringe in embarrassment, appears in your in-basket. After the usual disclaimers about this isn’t the season or the time to do what you want … … but if you are dead set … … here is the general area I would head to.
So a game plan was formed and backpacks were lugged to the airport and I found myself at 11 am on a Friday morning in Portland ME with fly rods in hand, a rental car full of gas, a Woodford Reserve bottle that was virtually full and four or five cigars safely buried in the back pack and no specific plans other than to lose myself in the Maine woods for a while. The experts had assured me I could catch a few fish but they had also allowed that this was too late in the summer and the water would be too low and that it wasn’t going to be a fish crazed high pressure fishing trip where the expectations were nearly impossible to live up to. So I had no pressure and no expectations which trust me is a situation that I can live up to, all I had to do was lie around enjoying the scenery and let my soul catch up with my jet lagged body. I was practically skipping across the motel parking lot as I headed out. I knew I was headed to the White Mountain National Forest area between Maine and NH but that was about as much as I knew. The drive up was scenic and anxious as I wondered what my mystery weekend had in store for me. I headed to a local fly shop in Bethel Maine that had assured me in a previous phone conversation that they could steer me in the right direction for a backpacking fishing trip in this area, but when I got there, all they wanted to do was sell me a smallmouth float trip with a guide and didn’t seem to know a single camping spot in the entire national forest that wasn’t going to make them some money, and according to them Brookies at this time of year were rarer than sit down dinners with a Sasquatch. Which while I understand their conversation from a business point of view, it sure as hell didn’t mean I had to like it and in the end it probably lost my business, but then I live in Atlanta so that probably isn’t a big loss for them anyway. I was feeling lost and a little worried as I back tracked to the edge of the national forest and stopped at one of those big large placard maps set in cement that are the mainstay of national forests around the country. On that map I saw a river that my world famous expert had mentioned in his email as one I should look at …. … and better yet I saw a campground at the end of the mapped road… … and to further make up my mind I saw about three more inches of blue line stenciled into the map beyond where the campground was and beyond where the road stopped. Well a light bulb went off somewhere deep in the recesses of my slow redneck brain … … and I jumped back into the rental car and tore off up the dirt road with a mental picture of what could be.
After what seemed like twice as much time as it should have taken to reach the dot on the map that I was hoping would be my destination, I pulled into a national forest campground complete with a smattering of RV’s and generators noisily humming. I found the camp hosts, who were entertaining a large group of retired RV enthusiasts. I introduced myself as a dumb lost redneck from Georgia who was trying to get out and enjoy the Maine woods. The wife of the host couple politely pointed me to a camp spot between two roaring RV’s and pointed to a wide river bed overgrown with weeds and brush with a small trickle of water rolling down the middle. Well to say I was disappointed would be a severe understatement … … but hey we all make do with what we have to don’t we. I parked my car across from them and lugged out my back pack and leaned my fly rod tube against the side of the car wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into … … when an Elderly gentlemen from the host camp spot broke away from the group of people that they had been entertaining and walked up to me. He asked me rather briskly if I knew what the hell I was doing here … … and well honesty has always been one of my stronger points so I told him I didn’t have the slightest clue of what I was doing and went on to describe to him what I “wanted” to do … … mentioning yet again scenery, solitude and brookies. He just smiled and said that was what he thought from my gear, and proceeded to tell me that if could strap that big ass backpack on and could still walk, about a mile up the rail bed I would reach a wildlife refuge area and that there was a perfect camping spot where nobody will bother you, right by a swinging bridge across the river. He then mentioned the river was smaller up there but ran with a lot more volume and speed and that was where the river came out of the mountains with some white water. He then stated that from that camp spot I could walk another mile or so and be into some serious brookies… … some might even be larger than what I expected. He said the last with that knowing smirky smile that makes us fishermen quiver in our boots as we know we might just have found what we were looking for. I hesitated about 2 seconds and told him that sounded perfect and that I already had my Maine fishing license and was ready to go. He laughed out loud, looking at me as if I was a complete idiot … … which is a look I must admit, I get a lot of … … and then he mentioned to me I might want to re-think that part as I was about a mile into NH … and then still chuckling to himself, he told me the closest place to get a NH license but then he smiled at me and told me I wouldn’t be disappointed …. … well I knew that maybe this old blind sow had found an acorn.
About two hours later, a new license in hand and about a mile or so hike in a drizzling rain later, I dropped my pack at my proposed campsite. I could hear a river rumbling and tumbling just out of eye sight so I stumbled toward that sound wondering what I would find.
Well to say that a smile spread across my face would be a gross understatement and to say that I practically sprinted back to camp to set up my tent and rig a fly rod would be an even larger understatement. I knew this water even though it was the first time I had ever seen it and a big ugly stimulator with a soft hackle dropper materialized without a conscious thought. My new Oyster 4 weight bamboo sang in harmony as the first few casts flew through the afternoon rain. Boom I am on the board
And just as quickly I am holding what I came for … … a Maine Brookie.
The strikes were slashing and violent with no time to react. Small mountain streams strikes are always slashing and boiling like winter’s starvation for the fish are just a few weeks away and up here that probably isn’t far from the truth. It beats anything I have ever seen and always make me smile and giggle even if the fish are small. Thank god for small mountain streams and unpretentious and undemanding fish. The rest of the afternoon became a wonderful tonic of casts rolling out smoothly before me and fish rising and flashing hard after my high riding stimi. The steady rain couldn’t do anything to dampen my spirits which were soaring at the realization that I was deep in the Maine woods, really NH but who is counting and there was no way I could be happier or more content. Every time I turned a corner water like this just kept opening up in front of me. The rain was falling harder but the air was warm and the rain felt good against my skin so I just kept “fishin and grinin” … … not a bad way to go through life. And with virgin water like this ahead of me … … all I could say was life is good… … d**n good.
I hooked and landed a really nice brown that was the largest fish of the day but managed to drop him while trying to balance rod, fish and camera… … Oh well I guess I should be glad that this time I dropped the fish not the camera. By this time the rain was pounding down hard enough that even a boy that my Momma claimed was “too dumb to come in out of the rain” … … decided it was time to get out of the rain.