Fishing Deadwater

August 2021

I stole a few days away from our rental in Kennebunk last week to do some brook trout fishing up at my camp. The weather in Maine had been overcast with some heavy showers, but the forecast was for a few sunny days from Wednesday after 10am. Can you believe it but somehow, they got it right? The drive north from Kennebunk is a straight four-hour trip on I 95. Traffic was light except for the long haulers going back and forth to Canada, which is still open to commercial traffic, and a few campers with bikes on racks and canoes on the roofs. Mostly young people from my vantage point. A brief stop for a lobster role at Gardeners in Old Town and then back on the road to camp. I was eager to see the progress on a new studio under construction which will house my office, painting studio and fly-tying set up –and of course my books. I plan on sending up some 1000 books I have accumulated that are now double shelved in my library at home in East Hampton. Finally –a place to store all my books so my kids can have a grand camp file when I am gone. Greg the caretaker was excited about me coming up since he had cut a trail off River Road. He dragged my aluminum Grumman canoe down to the beaver dam at the head of a quiet dead water spot known only to him. I got to camp in time for dinner and Katie was ready for us to sit down and share a meal together and to catch up. The conversation was about fishing, fishing, and a bit more about fishing. Greg lives for the sport and with his breadth of knowledge of the land and area waters he is a fantastic guide. He gets paid to do what most people who love the outdoors pay others to do. Greg’s daughter Darcy and her new boyfriend also joined us for dinner. Her boyfriend is a local young man who works at the mill making wood products. He is also as expected an avid fisherman. After dinner we went through all and I mean all my fly boxes and settled on an assortment of nymphs to use the next day. OMG as the kids say—I didn’t realize how many flies I have accumulated over the last 35 years. After much examining and consideration, we set aside a dozen flies Greg maintained would catch brook trout. Well we hoped so anyway.

The next morning Greg was ready after picking up some logs for the studio in progress. He left his camp at 4 am with his construction partner, Jimmy, to go to the mill for a special trimmed half log to be used for the exterior of the studio which will match the existing camp building. By 11am he was ready to move out and find those trout with the handpicked flies in his back pocket– beneath his can of beer. I turned off my cell and left the message for my office that I had “gone fishin’.”

The excursion began with the ride along River Road west into the wilderness. The trails into the woods are overgrown this time of year unless the timber companies visit to capture some fresh cutting. The truck pushed aside the overgrowth as we went through, and I kept my arm inside to avoid getting slapped and scratched by twigs and branches in our path. The black flies were non-existent compared to last month, thankfully. After a few wrong turns Greg found his plastic tag flying in the wind as his trail marker to the hidden fishing spot. I was suited up in my waders, Greg was dressed as usual-old sneakers and dungarees. He never wears waders or boots—they are not his style.

Greg had spent a week last month cutting the trail into the woods. It wasn’t exactly the Appalachian Trail all neat and level, but I was able to keep up and never lose sight of him. We arrived at the water fairly quickly and there was my canoe turned over with a few leaves stuck to its side. My gosh Greg and his son had dragged it from the path down to the water. What great pals they are! We were onto the water in a matter of minutes. I sat up front in the bow, a bit cramped in my waders and boots which were unnecessary, since I didn’t have to step into more than a foot of water. Next time I will dress appropriately like Greg.

I have been told that fishing the shore is best since trout want the cover from predators beneath the overhanging shore growth. I was casting with my 5 wt and had the nymph on from last night’s prep session. There are several springs that feed into this dead water. It is called dead water because the beavers dam it up at one end. Our plan was to fish from the trickle spring all the way to the beaver dam. I cast into the small channel of the spring with a few short attempts to warm up my casting arm. I tend to be unfocused during the initial casting and never anticipate that the first time the fly hits the water the fish will take if they are eating. Well yup-a fish hit my fly immediately and yes, I was unprepared. Whack! I felt the tug and lifted my rod to set the hook, but the trout broke off the fly and yes this was the fly tied by Greg last night. What a jerk I am. If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a dozen times–a life lesson: know your trout. It will take a first time cast every time if they are eating. Greg was all over me but in a nice way—the usual common-sense stuff. He got over it and I did too.

We continued to fish, and the rest of the day was quiet except for Greg who fished with bait and caught several large trout. I refused to use live bait and suffered a lunch-only day. After lunch I waded upstream and cast repeatedly without success. Speaking of lunch, we found a wonderful spot under a tree on the brook. We sat in the canoe and dined in luxury. It was worth the outing just to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in that quiet pristine spot under a lumbering old apple tree.

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