Posts Tagged ‘Fishing’
It was a drizzling, blustery, and too cold mid-April day to be fishing, and I decided to put on a ridiculous looking yellow lure I found in the bottom of my tackle box, troll back to the truck and call it a day. About halfway across the pond something solid hit the lure and I set the hook and wondered what was on the other end of the line, as it felt way to heavy to be a typical brookie. After playing it enough to get it into the boat I was shocked and surprised to see the biggest brook trout I had ever caught, and it tipped the scale at over three pounds. It was, in my opinion, a fish that deserved to be mounted. Being a young working Mainer however, the cost of having that done was prohibitive and at the time there was no way I could swing it. So, I used a little Maine ingenuity and some backwoods engineering and figured out a way to do it myself for next to nothing, and the picture above is the mount of the fish I caught that day.
Here’s how you do it; get a container that is bigger, wider, and deeper than the fish – I used a tupperware container that my mom used for cookies, and fill it half full with beach sand ensuring everything is level and even. Put your fish into the sand so that half of the fish is in the sand and half is out of the sand keeping everything level and even. Arrange the fins and mouth to your satisfaction – you can use small pins for this to get the desired effect. Next mix some plaster of paris per instructions on the box and pour over the fish ensuring you’ve got everything covered plus enough on the sides to have something to attach it to your wall with after. Allow the plaster to harden and carefully remove it from the sand and fish. You can take a break and clean your fish at this point and come back to the project whenever you’re ready. What you have now is a negative mold of your fish. From any hobby store you can get a mold release spray and spray or brush your mold with it ensuring good coverage. At any local hardware store pick up some fiberglass and resin/hardener. Cut the fiberglass into small strips, the smaller the better, and (wearing gloves) gently start filling your mold with the fiberglass strips/resin, ensuring coverage everywhere. Allow plenty of time for everything to dry/harden, and carefully remove the mold from the glass being careful of the fins and other delicate areas. This part can be tricky but have patience and keep working at it, and it will come off. You now have your fish. From the picture above you can see the detail that the plaster/glass provides – including seeing the fishes lateral line. The glass of course will be resin colored, I’m not good at painting detail so my Dad painted the colors on the fish you see above to try to get it as the original – but you could get artsy with it and spray or paint it any color you want.
So, the next time you have a fish you’re thinking is worthy of mounting give it a shot – all it takes is some time to do it yourself fish taxidermy.
because it is said by an authority,
or if it is said to come from angels,
or from Gods,
or from an inspired source.
Believe it only if you have explored it
in your own heart
and mind and body
and found it to be true.
Years ago I read a book called The River Why and I was instantly struck by several paragraphs in the book that I have remembered to this day. It’s not a casual read, although on the surface it is book about fly fishing, over time the reader discovers that although the story is about fly fishing, the book is not about fly fishing at all, rather fishing is a metaphor for a much deeper story. It’s a fascinating book, and now that I am thinking about it again (and knowing I now have to re-read it) I realize I have at moments throughout my life reflected on the stories in the book. It’s a book about the discovery of life itself, and that is what makes it powerful.
What struck me about the book is when Gus, the protagonist, is looking for self discovery and compares and contrasts his attempt to achieve a “vision” with that of a Native American Tillamook becoming a man. They are quite moving words..take your time to read them..I have actually used them when I was tired..when I was cold…you can substitute any situation you need to overcome in your life similar to the name game song from the 50′s..
When a young Tillamook was ready for manhood, he was led to the fire by the elders. He was made naked. His boyhood name was taken and burned. The people of his village then closed around him like trees round a clearing. He was given a blanket, a knife, and a pine knot. The pine knot was lit. He took the knot and departed; his people sang him away. The nameless boy carried his knot into the mountains. He walked slowly, protecting the flame from wind or rain as if it were his soul, shielding it with the blanket, moving inland for as long as it burned. The knot burned long; he had to walk far. When the knot burned low he found the nearest stream. He made a camp, gathered wood, lit a fire before the knot could die….
The Tillamook lit his fire and huddled down beside it. Then he waited. The night came on. He paid it no heed. He knew he’d be waiting a long time. He’d nothing to eat. He’d no clothes but a blanket. He felt the cold, the hunger, the loneliness. He knew he’d be feeling these things. These things were not so important now. He had come to meet them, to journey past them. So, as each came in turn, the Tillamook greeted them; Ah; Hunger! You have come. Good. Sit down by the fire. Sit down in my belly. Twist and writhe, make awful faces. Good! But how my belly growls at you. How it complains! Go ahead belly, go ahead hunger; fight! To fight each other is your work. Me, I am not hungry. To fight with you is not my work. You will both grow tired. You will leave me in peace….
The Tillamook stayed by his fire. Cold sneaked up behind him and gnawed his back and legs, so he turned them to the fire; then cold gnawed his face and knees. He turned first one way, and then the other, but it gnawed his shadowed side. Ah cold! You are here. Good. Sit down by the fire. Sit down in my shadow and make awful faces. Gnaw at my skin and bones. But how my skin and bones fight you! Go ahead cold, go ahead bones; fight! You will grow tired. But I am not cold; I am not bones or skin; I am not tired and to fight you is not my work. You will leave me in peace….You will leave me in peace….
If you’ve ever been in The Boy Scouts, and been inducted into the Order of the Arrow, you can see at least some of the similarities to the story of the young Tillamook, and the three honors of the Order of the Arrow.
The book is also very humorous, and it does help if you are familiar with fishing and some of the long standing arguments in fishing – for example, Gus’s Mother only uses bait, and his Dad only uses flies. The story of how they met, and how Gus meets his love are also very funny. The book is a story about fishing, love, philosophy, self discovery, and life. It’s amazing to me that the author can relate through Gus fishing on a stream everything in life.
I knocked on the door, and the old man opened it and seeing the big ham I had for him said “what’s that for?” “You” I replied. “Jeez, you didn’t have to do that” he said in his downeast Maine drawl. You didn’t have to show me how to get to that pond either” I said as I handed him the Christmas ham. “Now we’re even”. “Ha Ha, ok then, we’re even” he said as he shut the door.
I wonder if that term came from the Great Depression, or even before, when people did a lot of bartering and trading instead of just outright buying things. It certainly has persisted here in Maine. “Making it right”, “settling up”, and “we’re even” are still used quite a bit. Often times a passer by will do something to help someone out, for example, a few years ago my truck slid off the road during a snowstorm and one of the people in town that was driving by helped to tow me out. A few days later I bought him a bottle of rum. I “made it right”.
The old man owned a sand pit where he would crush rock and then sell it. He had a big front end loader and a dump truck. It appeared that he did all the work himself. There was a small road going through the pit that led to a very large tract of woodland that I was using for hunting and fishing. I was always thankful when he wasn’t there when I drove by, I had the impression that he was ornery. It appeared that he had been irritated by the ATV’s that had been accessing the same woodland that I was, so he went up there with a back hoe and dug a big hole so they could get through anymore. In addition, he took a chain saw to one of the old wooden logging bridges up there as well. I didn’t want to cross him.
I was on vacation for a week from work, and was up there each morning. And each morning he would drive up near where I was, and then loop back around to where he was going to work for the day. I thought it was a little odd. So, one morning I walked up to his truck as he was looping around. He rolled down the window, and showed a bit of surprise when I asked him if I was in his way where I was parking. “Hell no” he said sticking his head out the window. “What are you doing up in there?” he asked, looking me over. I replied that I was doing a little hunting. “Do you ever hunt coyotes?” he asked. “Sometimes….” “Well”, he replied, “the state ought to give you a medal for doing that.” I laughed. We actually talked for some time, and I could tell that he thought I was OK. Finally he put the truck into drive, and as he was pulling away he told me to park there any time I wanted.
We would see each other on and off when I would go up there – now he would wave from inside of the cab on the loader. He was a Mainer, tried and true. An old cap jaunted to one side, with a black lab that was always with him. Pierce blue eyes that had energy in them, and looked younger than the rough skin surrounding them. The inside of his truck had probably never been cleaned, and had a layer of dust, receipts, and other flotsam and jetsam within it.
There was a pond up there I had spied on a map that I wanted to get to. I looked at the layout of the land surrounding it, and tried to make it in there on a couple of occasions without success. One day I was talking with the old man and I mentioned I was trying to get in there to check it out, but I couldn’t seem to make it. “What do you want to go way up in there for?” he said and without waiting for a response – “you can’t find a place like that on your own, someone has to SHOW you….c’mon hop in”. It wasn’t really a question, so, I hopped in. As we rode down the woods road he was telling me hunting and fishing stories, and reminiscing about what it was like there when he was a kid. Finally we got to where we couldn’t drive anymore and we got out and started walking. The path was barely discernible and quickly faded out as we headed deeper into the woods. He told me it was a very old hunting trail, and showed me the faint axe marks on the trees made many years before by the people that hunted in there to mark the way. Eventually, he seemed to be lost, and started swearing. I was a little nervous that he was going to have a heart attack from the exercise, or that we would end up spending the night out there, lost. But eventually after much meandering we found a couple of the marks on the trees and pushed on, eventually making it to the pond. It was beautiful and remote, just as I hoped it would be. I looked down and found a giant moose antler there near the bank. We looked around a bit and then made our way out.
I wonder why the gruff and ornery old man decided to show me how to get to a place that was obvious a place that he considered “his” . Perhaps he was showing me because he thought I would use it “right”, or perhaps because he couldn’t get up there much anymore. Regardless, he was passing information to me that he considered secret and sacred. So, when Christmas came a month later, I bought a big ham and delivered it to his house for him and his family.
We were even.
Everyone that fishes has a secret spot where they go to fish. A spot that they found on their own, or through a family member, that they call their own where nobody else goes. Mine lies in the heart of Acadia National Park. It was found by my Grandfather who showed my Dad how to get there, and when I was old enough to go Dad took me. It was a ritual every summer to make the trek to the secret spot. We would go no more than twice, and it was usually just once per year because we wanted to be sure there would be fish there the next, and it never failed that we would catch a fish out of there to bring home. I suppose secret spot is kind of a child’s term, but we call it that to this day. It is also a magic spot. I can go there today and bring home a fish for you. It is also magic because my Dad brought me there, and told me to keep it a secret, which I have and still will. The secret spot will never change, as it’s within a National Park. It will be there, as it is now and as I know it now, until the end of time. The spirit at this spot belongs to my family. And believe it or not it really is a secret spot. I’ve never seen anybody there, or even evidence of anybody there. It involves a myriad of trails and then a little bushwacking to get there. I’ve watched deer feeding there, and moose maple grows near the bank, which is perfect for making a holder for the fish you bring home. It’s peaceful to sit there, as quietly as possible waiting for the lighting strike of the brook trout.
Guard your secret spots well, you never know how easy they are to give away. For years and years my parents had a favorite perch on Cadillac Mountain where they would go to watch the hawk migration in the fall, and they always had this particular place to themselves, even though the mountain is often crowded in the summer and fall. It was their own place. One day, a Park Ranger wandered down to them and asked an innocent question.
“ Hi folks, what are you watching here?”
Personally, despite the giveaway of having binoculars I think I would have said “nothing in particular” or “just enjoying the afternoon”. But, hindsight is 20/20. My parents said they were watching the hawk migration. The ranger was intrigued — tell me more.
The following year, the perch my parents had sat on alone for all those years was a crowded throng of people. The Park had started a migrating hawk watching program. So, we always joke that my parents founded the hawk watch on Cadillac Mountain. You can argue that it was for the “greater good” that thousands of tourists would now be exposed to migrating hawks. Personally, I would have kept the secret. Like I’m keeping the one about our secret fishing spot.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been there, this summer I need to go for the long walk, catch a fish and just sit there a while.
The Allagash River. What image comes into your mind when you read those words? A riverman standing on the spring log drive to the mill? A fir tipped horizon on a calm lake at sunset? Class III whitewater? Or how about an American Indian watching you silently from the bank? A large trout bending your fly pole? Allagash itself seems a harsh word, invoking images of jagged dark rocks and dense seemingly impenetrable forests. At one point in history any one of those images would be true. The Allagash cuts a 100 mile ribbon from Chamberlain Lake to its confluence with the St. John. American Indians used the Allagash extensively as a travel route and Above the Gravel Bar: The Native canoe routes of Maine is a very interesting book, and well worth the read if you live in Maine or not. The book (linked at bottom of post) describes how and why the waterways are named the way they are, and the different routes Native Americans used.
Standing at the official put-in for the trip on the Chamberlain Lake thoroughfare is seemingly like standing at an old fork in the road. Heading to the right takes you into Telos pond, portage around Telos dam, down Webster cut (famously described by Thoreau), into Webster Lake and down Webster stream into Grand Lake Matagamon. There are gorgeous views of the mountains in Baxter Park, which is on your right going down Webster Stream. Webster Stream is wild and narrow, and should only be attempted by very accomplished paddlers. Baxter State Park maintains the campsites on Grand Lake Matagamon as well. At the end of the lake is the East Branch of the Penobscot river, which after wonderful views and lots of portages, dumps you into the Penobscot itself. Taking the left way though leads you to Chamberlain Lake, and into the heart of the Allagash river.
Chamberlain lake is both beautiful, and slightly forbidding because of its sheer size. The day I set forth on Chamberlain it was windy and rainy, and the lake was like a kettle of boiling water with waves reaching up to the gunnels of the canoe. Hindsight being 20/20 I probably should have stayed at the campsite at the end of the thoroughfare and gotten an early start the next morning, but I was anxious to get started. The weather was unforgiving and began to get worse as sheets of rain blew down the lake and into my face. A good portion of the shore is rocky, and prevents an easy canoe landing. Finally I found a spot to stop and take a rest, huddled under a thicket of cedar. As the afternoon wore on, it began to clear, and by late afternoon the wind had calmed down, eventually turning to glass as I paddled along and landed at Lost Spring campsite for the night. After dinner I went down to the shore and caught trout after trout on the flypole, right from the bank. One of the things I find fascinating about camping , especially in Maine, is that as the night darkens and you are sitting by a campfire, lost in your thoughts, it is a timeless moment. With the loons beginning their calls, it could be any moment in history. If you want to travel through time, go camping in the remote Maine wilderness. It’s been wild and free forever. That first night on Chamberlain had that feeling.
Most guidebooks tell you to go across the lake at Ellis Brook to Lock Dam to continue into Eagle Lake. I disagree for a couple of reasons, first being that you will miss some of the tramway. The tramway was a railway that took the logs to the mill, and was a vast improvement over booming them down the lake to the Penobscot river. At most of the campsites on the west side of Chamberlain a short walk leads you to the old railbed, which is now grown up, but still visible. Stand there and imagine the roaring of the steam engine as it passed laden with its load of logs. I wish I could have gone for a ride on one. As you go up the lake it’s a short jaunt up into the start of Allagash Stream to see the old trestle. The right side has fallen into the water, with the rails from the left decending into the depths. It’s a shorter distance now to the east side of the lake, where you will find a portage trail that is about a mile. This is the other thing you would miss if you went via lock dam. Prior to the tramway, there was a steam (donkey engine) conveyor that hauled all the logs from Eagle across to Chamberlain to be boomed up for the journey down the lake. Everything is still there in various stages of decay. A short walk into the woods reveals more, and how nature will always grow back. If memory serves it took the better part of three hours to accomplish the portage, with a special treat at the end. The locomotives that ran on the tramway are still there in the woods in all their glory. They have been somewhat restored (over time one of them had fallen over) by a local group. To get the locomotives there, they were hauled across the thick ice during the winter. Imagine…each one of them weighs 90 tons, looking at a chart of what weights ice can support, it would require 60 inches of ice. The thickest I’ve ever seen was 38 inches. It is magnificent to view, and worth spending some time poking about the area, which is a good place for lunch. These are accessible by taking the Lock dam route as well, but it’s a bit of a paddle.
Eagle Lake has an interesting story surrounding it. In 1976 4 men claimed to have been abducted by a UFO and subject to testing by aliens. A good story to relate around the campfire at night. Check out the story here .
When I left the trains to paddle across Eagle Lake, I was taught a valuable lesson about paddling big lakes. Eagle was glass when I started out, without even a ripple on its surface, or a cloud in the sky, headed for Farm Island. Suddenly and without warning, as the shore I was headed to was in view, and the shore I was coming from a good distance behind the wind came up with a vengeance. If you know anything about boating, you want your bow into the wind and into the waves. With this wind that came up it was behind me, and so I had what is called a following sea. The waves grew in size, enough so they would break over the stern and get my back wet. I was in a predicament for sure, and I was becoming more worried by the minute. The trouble with a following sea is that the waves are rolling with you, which makes it a lot easier to get swamped. I pictured the canoe swamped with water, with my gear in disarray around me, as I paddled along, quartering to the waves before each one came through. As I described it after, I swore my way across Eagle Lake. After what seemed like hours, it looked like I would make Farm Island, and it was with relief that I stepped onto its shore for the night. Preparing to be windblown (too windy to paddle) is a must for your itinerary on this trip. The wind slowed at sunset, but did not stop through the night, and I had one more big lake to make before I got onto the river, so at three am under the moon I got up, packed, and with a last look at the Katahdin range, set out to put Eagle Lake to my stern. The wind typically picks up during the day, so I knew this was the prime time to make some distance before it got too windy to go anymore, and I didn’t stop. There is nothing like watching the sun come up from a canoe. By noontime I had made it to the end of Churchill Lake safely and stopped for the night. After setting up camp I wandered down to the sandy shore, went for a swim, and spent the afternoon napping with my feet in the cool water, watching the puffy clouds, and relaxing. All of the campsites are maintained by the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) and are great places.
The magic thing about any remote camping trip, starts on the third day. For the first couple of days you are “settling in” and still have some of the vestiges clinging to you of the life you are leaving behind. Typically on day three I become free. I deliberately usually don’t bring a watch, or a way to keep time, one of our biggest enslavements as a society. You get to find what cycle of time fits your body the best. When you wake up, eat, sleep all of that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s out the window. And it all starts on day three. I did bring a watch on a long canoe trip once, and discovered how my rhythm compares to our society’s time. I’m usually up and packed around 4 am, watching the sunrise from shore, or while paddling. Lunch on a pretty spot on the river is right around 10. Depending on if I find a spot where I just have to stay there because it’s so nice, or depending on how far I want to go that day I usually have camp set up by 1pm, afternoon snack and a nap, followed by swimming, fishing, or exploring. Dinner around 6, and a paddle, fish, sunset watch. A drink by the fire lost in thought and then bed around 10 or 10:30. That’s who I am when I’m free, and without the constraints of time. Try it – find your rhythm and see who you are when you don’t “have” to do anything but what you want.
After dinner I walked down to Churchill Dam to scout for the next morning, for I would be officially on the river in the morning, and running Chase rapids. One of the great things about the Allagash is there is a ranger at Churchill who for a modest fee (when I was there it was $10.00) to portage all of your gear 10 miles downstream where the river opens up into Umsaskis Lake, and is well worth the price. Chase rapids is rated a strong class II or mild Class III rapid depending on water level. I don’t remember it being all that difficult to get through, most of the time it’s basically just dodging rocks, and exciting. A group of Boy Scouts behind me overturned and broke a thwart. I gave them some duct tape (a must have item to repair a canoe on a trip) so they could get it fixed. One fascinating and exciting thing for me about running rapids is the decision making – you make a calculated best decision with your knowledge, and you instantly know if you were right or not. Where else do you have that instant gratification? In life you always wonder if you are making the right decision, here on the river if you are right, you stay afloat. If you are wrong, you get wet. It’s basic and simple principles, and I like that. After what seems like a long time, around one of the bends is your gear on the bank where the ranger put it. There is still moderate current that brings you into Umsaskis. On the right as you approach the lake is a campsite called Chisholm Brook. I didn’t stay there, but the next time I run the river I am, what a beautiful campsite tucked away in the tall spruce and fir trees…absolutely beautiful. After a short narrow spot you come to Long Lake, where I stayed at Grey Brook campsite.
After a short piece of river, you come to Harvey Pond and then Long Lake dam, which I portaged. It is possible to run it, although supposedly there are spikes still sticking up that can damage your canoe should you hit one, so I played it safe. Of course, if I was thinking, there is a campsite there where it would be easy to stay since you have all of your gear out anyway. After the dam is a good stretch of river that brings you to Round Pond, the river divides up into threads before emptying in to the pond, and the water is quick. I think all of the separate channels are runnable, I picked the river right channel and made it safely. I stayed at outlet campsite on the end of the pond, before it becomes river again. A passing ranger told me about a must see firetower that was a short walk on the other side of the pond. Her definition of a short walk and mine I believe are quite different. After I finally got to the tower it looked (to me) too rickety to climb. I did climb halfway up and took a look around, and it was a pretty good view. Halfway down the trail I got caught in a thunderstorm that I had to wait out before heading back to camp.
Sitting around the fire that night, a giant frog suddenly appeared just within the firelight. I had never seen, nor have I seen since, a bigger frog. We both sat there looking at each other for a few minutes, when I hatched an idea. I had nightcrawlers for fishing with me, and I slowly reached in the cooler and got one out, and placed it in front of the frog. The frog sat there for a few minutes, and just when I began to think he wasn’t interested, with lightning fast speed he grabbed the worm with both of his front legs and stuffed it in his mouth, pushing it in. It seems it took a millisecond to happen, and then he went back to just sitting there with a blank look on his face. I fetched him another, and then two more. The fifth one he ignored, and then as quick as he was there, he was gone, probably thinking about how lucky he was.
The next morning started uneventfully, but just after getting settled into a good paddling stroke I came around the corner to find a big moose in the middle of the river. The river was narrow here, and I hesitated, trying to decide what to do, and what he was going to do. There didn’t seem to be enough comfortable room on either side of him for me to get by, so I backpaddled and waited. He stood at looked at me for a bit, and then ate a little and then stood some more. Some time passed and I was beginning to think I should make a go of it, when something in the woods caught his interest, and he stared intently at the opposite bank. Shortly another moose appeared on the bank, and they looked at each other for a while. Then, the moose on the bank turned and ran into the woods. The one in the river started chase, running across the river on the side I had thought about getting by him on, making an incredible bow wave in front of him. Lots of excitement that morning. Just past Round Pond on the right is the tornado path. I remember you have to turn around to see it, and I’m not sure what year it happened, but its on the side of a hill and you’ll know it because in the midst of all the conifers is a narrow swath of birch and maple trees. There are occasional rapids and a beautiful stretch of river through here, I pushed hard and made it to Ramsay Ledges just before a fast moving thunderstorm. Exploring that evening I came to a beaver dam and fished it for a bit, and had the pleasure of watching a couple of beavers come over the dam and swim right under the boat. It was a warm July night, and after dinner I waded out into the shallow water and laid down in it, letting the current of the Allagash pass over me for a while. During the night I was awakened to a loud splashing in the river, I stuck my head out of the tent, and shined the headlamp out onto the river to see a big moose staring at me. She raised her ears just like a horse does, and stared at me for a few moments before proceeding upstream, now oblivious to my presence.
Upriver from Ramsay Ledges is a campsite called Cunliffe Depot. Stop in here to see a derelict Lombard steam log hauler, invented in the early 1900′s. It was essentially a steam locomotive with skis on the front to steer, and caterpillar tracks on the back. Truly a leviathan of the woods.
Downriver a ways is Michaud Farm, and past that you will begin to here the roar of Allagash Falls, an unrunnable falls that you portage on the right. Start staying to the right when you hear the falls, and you will see the trail. It’s worth spending some time at the falls for it’s beauty.
Between the Falls, and the end of your journey there are some interesting places. The AWW gives you a free map at the beginning of your journey, with the campsites and rapids listed on it. Look for a site called Ghost Landing bar. During the 1800′s a large pine tree fell on and killed the man that was cutting it. The log was found to have a hollow heart when taken taken to the water in preparation to be floated to the mill and was left on the bank. Since then, some folks passing down the river have reported seeing a ghost of the logger standing next to the log crying out to them to put the log in the river so his soul could rest.
Also watch for McGargle Rocks ( I wasn’t quite sure where they were) which are not a problem for canoeists, but were a big problem for loggers. The area is named for a river driver that was killed trying to loosen a log jam.
After Allagash Falls, I stayed at Twin Brook for the night, and prepared to get back to civilization the next day. It got really cold that night, down into the mid 40′s. The next day brought twin brook rapids, Eliza hole rapids, and finally Casey rapids, none of which are bad, before coming around the corner to see the road at Allagash, and bringing the trip to an end.
So there you have it -you have tested your mettle, and found out what you are made of. You have found yourself and lived as we should live. You have disappeared off the map for several days without news, phones, or other distractions other than making the trip. Congratulations.
Here’s a short video of the trip down the river I took in 1997;
And a video of the history of the river;
Some interesting books:
It took me three attempts in a five year period to finally reach this beautiful place, one of Maine’s most remote waters, Allagash Lake. The lake is accessible only via a long hike in from Johnson Pond, or by canoe, and there are no internal combustion engines allowed on the lake. To access the lake by canoe is more involved than it may sound. One way is to paddle all of Chamberlain Lake (an Allagash River headwater), a distance of about 16 miles, and then pole 6 miles UP Allagash Stream to the eastern end of Allagash Lake. It is also possible to drive to a put in on Allagash Stream and paddle downstream to the western end of the lake. Both methods involve their own set of hardships. Another way I have read about to get in is via a carry trail coming in to the south end of the lake, which I never attempted to find, nor have I found any accounts of anyone that has actually entered the lake this way. Allagash Lake covers 4,360 acres and spans 3 and a half miles, averaging 35 feet deep, it’s deepest being 89 feet. It is renowned for it’s brook trout fishing. My first attempt to visit this lake was during a trip down the Allagash River. In the deadwater that signifies the transition from lake to stream at the northwestern end of Chamberlain Lake, we glided by the derelict Umbazookus railroad trestle, with it’s twisted rails decending into the tannin colored water. The canoe was laden with a weeks worth of provisions for the river, and the stream was swollen with three inches of thunderstorm rain from two nights previous. The situation quickly became unmanageable and went from bad to worse. I paddled and then fashioned a makeshift pole, and then hopped in the chest deep stream and pulled the canoe upstream before discretion became the better part of valor and I turned around. Resting as the current took it’s hold on us I noticed the beauty of the fir and spruce covered banks of this narrow stream, and the peaceful feeling of how remote this was. I instantly vowed a return trip, and to make it a destination instead of a side trip. After poring over maps, a year or so later I attempted the trip again, this time driving to the put in on Allagash Stream with the hope of paddling down to the lake and returning back upstream, a distance of about three miles. Due to the numerous logging roads a current and updated map is essential. DeLorme map publishes the Maine Atlas and Gazateer, which is a must have for this region. Logging roads change constantly so use other landmarks such as streams when using a map to get to the put in on Allagash Stream. Driving in this way had it’s own set of hardships, and I was very happy that I was in a 4 wheel drive vehicle. There were numerous brook crossings and a beaver dam with a washed out culvert that had to be crossed as well. I made it to the put in, there appeared to be enough water to float the canoe, and no shortage of black flies. With the canoe packed, we headed downstream only to bottom out around the first bend. We were able to walk the canoe for a while and ever the optimist I reassured myself by thinking surely around the next bend there will be enough water for us to float, but eventually were forced to turn back. The return trip came in June of 2002, this time with my father who was a large part of my interest in canoeing and a fitting companion for a finally successful trip. My main goal at the lake was the ice caves, which lie on the southwestern shore and take their name from the ice found in them year round. We arrived at the put in and loaded the canoe. Our first trial was the clouds of black flies. At one point I stuck my head in the truck to get my water shoes, and several minutes after closing the door the sun’s heat killed the black flies that had come in with me, which turned the dashboard black with their remains. In all the years I have spent canoeing in Maine, I truthfully have never seen the black flies as bad as they were then, and I would have given my paycheck for a bug net. The first bend, where I had bottomed out before floated us just fine. I smelled success for a moment before the stream captured my full attention as we twisted and turned the canoe around the rocks and occasional spruce branch strainer. On the way we noticed where turtles had crawled up onto a sandbar and deposited eggs. The stream began with good current and as we neared the lake it got deeper and slowed down considerably. We watched a huge trout zip under the canoe, headed upstream. Rounding a bend the lake came into view – I had finally made it! The first campsite was just past where the lake begins, and we waved to it’s occupants as we went by. Maine fishing is legendary and Allagash Lake is renowned for it’s fishery. I believe this lake is as good as it gets as far as the way “fishing used to be”. The lake surface that day was smooth as glass which, as any person who has canoed a large Maine lake before would agree, is not the normal state of affairs. So, without further ado, we hopped back in to the canoe after setting up camp for a little trolling. Trolling by paddle is one of the best fishing techniques there is, because every stroke of the paddle varies the lure speed, and gives it a more natural appearance. We fished for several minutes before my rod bent over, and the line began singing off the reel. There we were on a lake that looked like a mirror, in the remote Maine wilderness, with a big fish on. For a moment I forgot the bugs in the excitement. Several minutes later I landed a nice 17 inch brook trout. We caught and landed several more fish in the 18 inch range before hunger brought us in off the water. After an enjoyable dinner and evening, we went to bed amidst the chorus of loons. Early the next morning we had a quick breakfast and hit the lake again in search of brookies. Someone was looking over us this trip, as my paddle made the only ripples across the surface for another day. We explored the lake which is extremely beautiful and rugged. After lunch, we went to the ice cave which had an easily visible path to it. We made it in as far as I dared to go, which was a point where you would have to ease through a little crevice in the rocks, almost cervix like in appearance. Upon getting back to camp I saw a timber-jack, a/k/a a canda jay. Legend has it that these birds are deceased loggers that have come back to life and that it is good luck to feed them. They are by nature very tame, and as I hadn’t seen one in many years, I fed it some crackers. There was a baby nearby in a tree, and it got some crackers as well, brought to it by it’s mother. On the day we left, as we packed and took pictures of the sunrise, a bald eagle sat in a tree and watched us. The trip upstream was much easier than I had anticipated, only taking us a couple of hours. This trip was extremely rewarding, and the possibilities surrounding it, and other trips in the region are seemingly endless, all of it in fascinating country, both in history and scenery.
A great satellite image of Allagash Lake can be found here.
Note: this is a portion of a story I felt lucky to get published in the now defunct Paddle and Portage magazine Summer 2003. I wish it was still in print, it was a great magazine.
I used to ice fish most of the weekends during the winter on Jordan Pond which is in Acadia National Park. It is a rugged looking area especially in the winter. The pond has mountains erupting from the east and west sides which create a wind tunnel effect and the wind is often blowing consistently there. Jordan Pond is deep – upwards of 150 feet in some places and multiple springs that used to make the portable depth finder on my canoe go haywire and not be able to find bottom. Lake trout (togue) and landlocked salmon are found within it’s depths. It was originally part of the ocean and carved during the last ice age which also left a large erratic rock on top of one of the mountains next to the pond known as Bubble Rock. As the glacier melted till was deposited at the south end of the pond and cut it off from the ocean. On the west side of the pond is an area known as the tumbledown where rocks from the glacial age continue to fall to this day, especially in the spring. On the left side of the pond before the tumbledown is an area known as ice cove where ice used to be harvested in the days before we had electricity for refrigeration. My family still has pictures of the ice being harvested with large hand saws that cut the ice into blocks. During the winter months ice shanties dot the ice which people use to stay warm when they go fishing. They are typically eight by 12 with windows to view the tip ups outside used for fishing. Some have wood stoves in them and some are heated by propane, and some are even heated simply by the sun. I had one of those shacks and ventured out one weekend day when the temperature was 22 below 0. There was little wind that morning but I froze on the way out to the shack. After warming up some by the fire I kindled in the woodstove, I ventured out and drilled the first hole of the day as the sun was beginning to peak onto the ice. The auger I used drilled a 10 inch hole and after getting the tip up out and ready to go, a process that only took a few minutes at the most the hole had frozen enough that I had to break the ice with my foot and re-clear the ice from the hole. I stood and watched as the hole refroze again. I cleared the ice and again stood to watch the water freeze. It seemed to fill up with tiny air bubbles, almost as if boiling water without the rolling boil. I watched the phenomenon a couple of more times, and then drilled a new hole for the next tip up. By then the wind had begun to pick up a little bit and the small smelts I was using for bait would literally freeze solid in the few seconds it was out of the bucket, put on the hook, and into the drilled hole. By this time I was feeling that this was a futile attempt to try to catch a fish, packed up and went home, but I’ll always remember the day that I watched water freeze.