I’ve been away from RiverDevin too long my friends. I poked my head out once this winter but that was it. Since the snow melted I started moving about more. The early fishing was killer! I was out early and often with much greater success than previous seasons, and I was able to explore and fall in love with some new areas more local to me here in Augusta (I’ll tell you more about these in later posts). I had hoped to keep it going and had hoped to have good adventures to write about here in RiverDevin but unfortunately my body had other ideas. Back in May I got diagnosed with Osteoarthritis (which explains all these increased aches and pains everyday for the past few years) and a pretty severe case of bi-lateral carpal tunnel/thoratic outlet syndrome. It’s been a struggle trying to come back mostly because half of my problem is something you just don’t come back from. Arthritis is lifelong once you have it and if you don’t learn how to manage it and your pain it can make life miserable. For most of the Spring I was miserable. I’ve worked hard to learn my body better and have been going to therapy for the carpal tunnel/thoratic outlet syndrome. Since summer kicked into gear I’ve been able to push through and get out more. I haven’t always been able to sit and write though because it can really key the carpal tunnel up if I’ve also been kayaking or fishing recently. So that’s the excuse. I’ve got a billion others but I ‘m sure no one cares to hear them. You’d rather me take you down to the riverbank and so I will.
This post’s riverbank is that of the Roach River inlet which lies on Spencer Bay on the northeastern side of Moosehead Lake, Maine. Despite my success slaying brook trout this spring I decided it wasn’t enough. I’ve always been a dabbler of a fisherman and am only now starting to get serious about it. Throughout my childhood I fished the waters of Cobbossee Stream in Gardiner, Maine. There I caught my fair share of bass, white perch, yellow perch, and pickerel all with a little Zebco 202 rod n’ reel. My Dad wasn’t a fly fisherman and we didn’t have a boat to troll the local lakes and ponds so trout, and landlocked salmon were varieties of fish I never came across. Though I personally believe that a whopper bass (especially a stripped one of the sea/river run variety) puts up the funnest and most violent fight in all of fishing I still covet the fish of the Salmonid family, both for their beauty but also for their flavor! As far as fight goes up to this weekend I could only tell you about the brook trout or the splake (a brook trout/lake trout hybrid). For years the big fish I’ve most coveted that have eluded me are the landlocked salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout, and togue (a Maine term for lake trout). I still haven’t made my conversion to fly fishing yet (that’s coming soon) so rainbows and browns will continue to elude me. In the right place at the right time of year landlocked salmon are catchable from shoreline, but for all the other times, and for the huge lunker touge you’ve simply got to have a watercraft and you’ve got to have the right gear or your never going to get one.
Of course for a guy like me no generic State Park is good enough though; I’ve got to choose the wilder spots, the ones away from people. And also it might not be a true RiverDevin excursion worthy of writing about if there ain’t a little potential danger involved too…
Back in the Summer of 1981 my parents took the family on a camping trip to Lily Bay State Park on the very same Moosehead lake I fished this late July weekend. The defining moment of that trip was and will always be for my Mother and sisters a face to face encounter with a massive bull moose, but for me I’ve always thought about that pretty pink tasty landlocked salmon my Dad caught from shore on a Mooselook Wobbler lure and then cooked on the campfire. This was nothing like the scaly slimy fish I pulled out of Cobbossee stream back home in Gardiner. It had a beautiful slender silvery smooth body and it tasted like no fish I’d ever tasted before. For years and years I’ve sworn myself to get up to Moosehead someday and repeat the experience. Of course for a guy like me no generic State Park is good enough though; I’ve got to choose the wilder spots, the ones away from people. And also it might not be a true RiverDevin excursion worthy of writing about if there ain’t a little potential danger involved too…
About two thirds way up the eastern shore of Moosehead lake lies Spencer Bay. Save for Casey’s Spencer Bay Camps (A Wilderness Family Campground at the narrows on the southern extreme of the bay) the entire shoreline—sparsely dotted with primitive and wilderness campsites—is all Maine Public Reserve land. Some of these campsites sit near one of two boat landings on the bay, but the best of them sprinkle around the bay’s shoreline, and a couple of its islands; these are only accessible by watercraft.
A guide of the area can be found here:
Late July is not the time to fish for landlocked salmon in Maine. Despite this I’d heard that I might still get lucky fishing the inlet of the Roach River which holds landlocked salmon year round. The river itself is regulated as fly fishing only and any landlocked salmon caught must be released alive at once so my only chance at a dinner was going to be with pure luck somewhere at the threshold of river/lake. I’d spied on the map a MPRL campsite right at this location, which was sitting on a little tiny island aptly named “Salmon Island”. My plan was to put my kayak in at Jewett Cove on Thursday morning and paddle a little more than a mile or so up the shoreline to Salmon Island for two days and two nights of fishing along the bay and inlet with wobbler lures or anything that might snag a wayward mid-summer landlocked salmon. After great success I was then to paddle back to my car and spend Saturday hiking up Big Spencer Mountain which looms in the distance with its smaller sister over the northern shore of Spencer Bay.To do this I needed a different kayak. My Old Town Rush —which used to belong to my beloved sister Bobbie—has been an awesome lightweight kayak to tote around Maine in the summer and runs wicked good in smaller rushing rivers and streams. Things go south in the big water though and it’s a real struggle when things are excessively choppy or I’m weighted down. There was no way I was going to be able to pack my camping gear into that thing and make it more than a mile up Moosehead lake let alone 100 yards. So I borrowed my Mother’s kayak, a much larger, much safer, much more stable kayak from Old Town known as the Vapor 10XT.
It’s a long drive north to Moosehead from Augusta but Thursday morning went off perfectly and by 10AM I was headed down the Hardwood Valley Road for Jewett Cove on Moosehead lake. Halfway in and to the north on my right I could see the cloud shrouded peaks of the Spencer Mountains. Clouds and thunderstorms were in the forecast for the rest of the day.
A very little wind on these broad lakes raises a sea which will swamp a canoe. Looking off from a lee shore, the surface may appear to be very little agitated, almost smooth, a mile distant, or if you see a few white crests they appear nearly level with the rest of the lake; but when you get out so far, you may find quite a sea running, and erelong, before you think of it, a wave will gently creep up the side of the canoe and fill your lap, like a monster deliberately covering you with its slime before it swallows you, or it will strike the canoe violently and break into it. The same thing may happen when the wind rises suddenly, though it were perfectly calm and smooth there a few minutes before; so that nothing can save you, unless you can swim ashore, for it is impossible to get into a canoe again when it is upset Since you sit flat on the bottom, though the danger should not be imminent, a little water is a great inconvenience, not to mention the wetting of your provisions. We rarely crossed even a bay directly, from point to point, when there was wind, but made a slight curve corresponding somewhat to the shore, that we might the sooner reach it if the wind increased… Think of our little egg-shell of a canoe tossing across that great lake, a mere black speck to the eagle soaring above it.
With a fully loaded kayak I looked out from Jewett cove into the big water and observed a stiff breeze and a steady chop streaming up the lake from the southwest. Away from the protection of the cove the waves were good three foot whitecap rollers. While the wind and the direction of the chop we’re greatly in my favor I still had never taken a kayak this loaded down into water as big and dangerous as Moosehead Lake looked that morning. There was no telling how well I’d handle it until I got myself out into it. Remembering Thoreau’s harrowing canoe trip up the entire length of the lake in 1857 I decided to take the advice of his Indian guide Polis and keep the kayak close to shore while also trying to not let the waves hit me at right angles. I had to keep the kayak pointed towards the middle of the bay even though my course was up its eastern shore. I had to keep paddling pretty steady lest the wind drive me straight into the rocky shore. The mile or so up shore to Salmon Island was fairly short but very strenuous. As I approached the island exhausted I saw kayaks and canoes already perched along a sand bar on its southwestern side. The island and its one campsite were already occupied by a rather large camping party. This was thoroughly discouraging for without making a major paddle a few miles or so up the shore or heaven forbid, across the wide and presently violent bay. I knew of only one other campsite in the vicinity—across the Roach River inlet from Salmon Island. More paddling big water and this time without the advantage of shore close by. I couldn’t see the site and didn’t want to paddle across the inlet and potentially land in the wrong spot or find that site occupied too so I asked my camping companions who were boarding a boat from their island and they pointed it out for me directly across the inlet from them. I bee lined for it and was in and setting up camp in short order albeit sore from the strenuous paddle.
I spent the remainder of my day gathering wood, relaxing and fishing the shoreline by my campsite. Kayaking up the inlet for fish would have to wait for tomorrow. By evening a fiery cloud congested orange sky across the blowing wide lake provided my evening entertainment.
The next morning I woke to sunny skies but the wind had turned from southwest to northwest and the lake was still very choppy. After a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal I gathered my fishing gear jumped in the kayak and made way down into the inlet. The breeze and chop was so strong that I hardly needed to paddle. Just sitting still I could observe the trees and rocks on the shore just off my left shoulder go flying by at a good clip. Once I was far enough up the inlet and tucked close enough to it’s northern side I had a wind break and the water was calm enough, if not deep or cold enough for fishing. I fished all morning long to no avail. Many rocks and boulders lie strewn all across this inlet and become more congested towards its mouth. I snagged quite a few and lost one too many good lures before I decided to head back to camp for lunch and try again later.
By midafternoon the wind was starting to abate and the lake was getting calmer and I decided to spend all of the remainder of the afternoon and early evening down on the inlet casting and praying for salmon or even a wayward brook trout, and set out for it again.
After hours of casting all I’d managed was one little whitefish. With the sun starting to sink lower I decided on a few last casts and ended up landing a whopper largemouth bass from the shoreline. It was big, it was beautiful, and it would have made a healthy tasty meal but it wasn’t what I wanted so I tossed it back and headed back up to camp. There’d be another chance in the morning before leaving for Big Spencer Mountain, I still had a good meal for the night and besides, this evening’s sunset across the bay held the promise of spectacular and I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.
Friday evening’s sunset was epic. A blood orange melting into a miasma of blazing pink, red and purple hues across a grand and wild landscape…
Friday evening’s sunset was epic. A blood orange melting into a miasma of blazing pink, red and purple hues across a grand and wild landscape. I watched it all with a flask of moonshine in hand which was fitting because not soon after the sun sank the moon followed its trajectory and provided a beautiful moon glow off the now dead calm vast water of Moosehead Lake. I slept like a rock that night due mostly to the complete silence on the lake. Not even the gentle murmur of water lapping a rock against my shore was heard.
Saturday morning I packed the campsite up and loaded the kayak for my trip back to the car at Jewett cove. I had a mountain to climb this morning. The lake was still a calm still glass. Halfway across the Roach River inlet I decided to give a few casts of my line to see if a fish would rise to the morning and my lure, and rise one did. The split second my lure hit the water a huge bass shot out of the water like JAWS and put up one hell of a fight as I worked it into the kayak. This one was even bigger than the one from the night prior but still not the fish I was looking for. I tossed it back and paddled away down the lake. As I took out at Jewett cove I was starting to feel a bit run down. Over tired perhaps, no doubt a tad bit dehydrated, and definitely sore as hell in just about every bodily nook and cranny.
As you ascend the Hardwood Valley road away from the lake an old clear cut opens up giving a view to the north of the Spencer Mountains. Here also with the bright morning sun blasting me directly in the face I fell nauseous and had to pull the car over to let it loose. After a few unpleasant moments hanging out the drivers side door I was able to compose myself and determine that I was in no shape for hiking a mountain of the magnitude Big Spencer offered. A better bet would be to find a quiet campsite on a remote pond somewhere nearby and try and take it easy today. Maybe I could find a good stream for brook trout fishing. I consulted The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer…
With over 43,000 acres of wild mountain forest dotted with abundant trout ponds and criss crossed by numerous brooks and streams the Nahmakanta Public Reserve Lands directly to my northeast looked like a good bet. I stopped at the Kokajo Trading Post for some provisions, a last chance stop before heading into deep wilderness. All I had for that nights supper was a big russet potato but nothing to go with it. In spite of this fact I still passed on the opportunity for a steak or some chicken to cook over the fire, and instead grabbed some granola bars and a few cookies to stuff my face with now, and a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon for the afternoon and evening. I told myself that fishin’ was the mission and so if I didn’t get the fish I was looking for it was going to have to be beef jerky for supper with that potato and I did not want beef jerky for supper.
It might only be ten miles you see you need to travel to a landmark on the map but that ten miles might take you over an hour to make. Through it you’ll have to drive around massive boulders, through old washouts and bogs, and around or through massive potholes. At some parts the road narrows into nothing more than and ATV trail and the trees will lean in from both sides brushing both driver and passenger side. Is this the right road? Are you sure?
It’s a hard ride on the northern back roads of Maine. It makes it even harder when you don’t drive a four wheel drive vehicle, and even harder if your vehicle sits naturally low like mine does—a PT Cruiser loaded up with gear and a kayak on the roof. Making things even harder is the fact that nothing is clear in that vast network of twisting dirt road and trail. Though the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (which for years was put out by DeLorme) has always done a good job of keeping up, sometimes a good job simply isn’t enough particularly if your map is older than just a few years. Because of tree harvest the roads come and go, and for the inexperienced ill equipped traveler these many side roads that go nowhere can cause you to get lost quite easily. There is no cell service in this neck of the woods so your smartphone will do you no good. Even a map as good as the Maine Atlas can lead you astray if you don’t know the area. It might only be ten miles you see you need to travel to a landmark on the map but that ten miles might take you over an hour to make. Through it you’ll have to drive around massive boulders, through old washouts and bogs, and around or through massive potholes. At some parts the road narrows into nothing more than and ATV trail and the trees will lean in from both sides brushing both driver and passenger side. Is this the right road? Are you sure?
I was aiming for a place in the public reserve land called Wadleigh Pond, a little pond on the western side of the ridgeline that traverses the western shore of Nahmakanta Lake which looked promising for trout. Sometime in the early afternoon I’d made it as far as Penobscot Pond and entered the public lands. Shortly thereafter I made a wrong turn. It seemed too many miles had passed and I wasn’t seeing the expected landmarks. What’s more is that my dashboard compass kept me travelling more steadily Northwest on this road when I was supposed to be going Northeast. I compounded the situation when I found a fork in the road and chose the one that went Northeast. After a slow and at times harrowing forty five minute ride up a ridgeline to the middle of nowhere I determined I wasn’t getting any further and turned myself around. I was lost. Time to crack a beer, settle down and gather my bearings. I tried the phone again and still no service. Shit I wish I had a real GPS! I thought to myself and that was when I remembered I did! I have an old dash mounted Garmin that I’d stuffed away in a compartment and forgot about back when I got my iPhone. After plugging it in and linking to the satellites it indeed showed me what I knew to be true. I was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I could see where it was on the map but the Garmin wasn’t showing any roads. No choice but to go back out the way I came in and the Garmin stayed on as my backup and reassuring companion.
I cast the line far, made a real slow ten count as it drop drop dropped, and then I slowly began to reel it in…
A long and rough ride really puts a workout on a body and my body was already sore. At 3:30 I arrived at Wadliegh Pond completely wiped but eager to set up camp, explore some, and catch my damn supper. At 5:00 I finally slipped the kayak in to the serene evening water of the pond. Beautiful Wadliegh Mountain loomed over its western shore casting a deep shade that slowly stretched across the water. Save for one unoccupied northern hunting cabin and a few newly hewn and also unoccupied lean-tos the entire shoreline of the pond is undeveloped. I was in complete serene silence and solitude. Just the way I like it!
I paddled across the northern shore of the pond seeking the outlet in hopes I’d find some brook trout lingering there. The outlet was a beautiful spot and from here I sipped beer and fished as the sun melted deeper into the western horizon. Nothing, nothing, and nothing. I even lost a lure or two—par for course. I left the kayak on the shore of the outlet and worked my way down its lazy late summer evening brook hopping from boulder to boulder jigging for brookies but all I kept snagging were voracious aggressive beautiful little sunfish! This was not the northern fishing I was looking for! My stomach started to twinge in hunger. Back in the kayak I noticed it would be getting dark soon. I tied on a steel leader, stuck a red devil spoon on its end, and paddled towards the middle of the pond where a deep hole lies. I never catch a fish this way but what the hell, the old red devil is the tried and true I told myself and I was betting on some luck. I cast the line far, made a real slow ten count as it drop drop dropped, and then I slowly began to reel it in. Halfway through my retrieval I felt a tug on my line. Fish on!!
As I reeled the line in I knew it wasn’t another bass. No bass would be hanging that deep in that part of that pond, and no bass would be taking my line the way this thing was. Bass attack from the bottom and fight their prey at the surface; the thing on my line was trying real hard to dive straight down to the bottom of the pond. The closer I got it in towards my kayak the harder it dove. I knew I had to have a big trout on my hands, and sure enough after a little more fight I wore her down and she surfaced—a beautiful gleaming 19” tougue glistening in the waning evening sun. I felt like a Super Bowl champion as I leaned back in my kayak fist pumping the sky, whooping and hollering YES! This is what I came for! I now had my never-before-caught fish, and I now had my supper. No beef jerky tonight! Holy cow did I have my supper! I paddled for shore where I cleaned out my fish, sipped a beer and watched the sun slip behind the trees across the pond. Back at camp I butterflied the trout and removed all of its bones. I had one massive solid hunk of fresh togue on my hands and I shook it up in a Hannaford bag with some cracker meal. After cooking it on the open campfire I finally gorged myself on the fruits of my labor and went to bed a very stuffed and very happy man.
It’s been a few weeks since I took this trip but it still hangs with me. I keep having fish thoughts and fish dreams. And since this trip (even though the fishing sucks this time of year) I can’t stop fishing. The past few weeks I’ve turned my attention more to the coast though, surf casting for stripped bass without much luck. I’ve got every intention of making my way back up to the Nahmakanta Reserve Lands again in September or October when the waters cool down again and the fishing really picks up. Next time maybe I’ll land that salmon. If you’re interested in exploring the reserve as well this pdf is a great overview and guide of the area: http://www.maine.gov/dacf/parksearch/PropertyGuides/PDF_GUIDE/nahmakanta-guide.pdf
To see more photos of this trip visit my portfolio here: