The intriguing thing about fishing for landlocked salmon in Maine as opposed to trawling from a canoe or river fishing is that it is the closest one gets to Western-style trout fly-fishing. Though we are on a closed freshwater stream – a dam farther downstream forms East Grand Lake—we use the same lightweight tackle and similar small lures. I am no expert but from my experience in Maine, this May was the best trout-like fishing for salmon I have had since building my Maine camp retreat.
Our first time out, the guide, Mark, took me and Ted–all of us in waders– down to Forest City, to a stream that separates the U.S. from Canada. Homeland Security monitors a small, “international” bridge that links the two countries, with a single guard booth on either side. It is not a heavily trafficked port of entry or departure. Fewer than seven cars a day use the crossing. When we showed up it must have been a welcome interruption for the security guard. She came out of her enclosure to inquire of our business near the bridge. We were wearing waders and carrying fishing rods, so it may have been obvious, but her expression stayed firm until a bit of flirting from Mark convinced her our intentions were pure fishing and nothing else. Mind you I said fishing, not catching.
Ted decided to hang back and take photos and make a business call on shore while Mark and I carefully descended the steep bank to enter the stream. Pieces of the foundation of the old tannery that once stood there were evident through the clear, swiftly running water. With the sun over my shoulder, I was ready for anything. A few clouds for cover for the fish were perfect. Mark tied a small, wet fly to my line and instructed me to cast upstream; it would allow a light drift with the current. After a few unsuccessful casts I moved to my right to take advantage of a wider drift. Mark was behind me watching the bobbing fly like a hawk. “Strike!” he shouted into my ear. Clueless me. I never saw the salmon take my fly. Blame it on the sun’s glare. My hand—eye coordination kicked in once I recovered from the ringing eardrum. I lifted the rod and felt the tug. It was a fish, though I could not see it. It dove for the deepest part of the pool area, some 10 to 12 feet down. Mark cautioned me. “Go easy and give it line when it pulls,” he said. I felt like Mark was sitting on my shoulder. I played the fish like I have always done. Tight line and rod high but not too high and not too tight. Figure that one out. Anyway, I maneuvered the line and brought the fish to within a couple of feet from where I stood. The fish pulled hard, and I let out the line to give him the play he wanted. Spooked after eyeing us from the water the fish sprang forward with a jolt of adrenaline, and I feared it was game over. I was determined not to lose him. Unlike the dainty brook trout I had caught earlier that day this was a grand fish and I wanted a picture of it to show my gal Patti. I was intent on proving to her that the long trip from Florida to Maine was worth it. Mark was now whispering in my ear. “This fish is huge. Give him line. Don’t pull back. Don’t lose him!” He was as desperate as I was to hang on to it. At any moment I expected him to dive into the water to catch it with his bare hands. “The rocks!” he yelled. The salmon was pulling me toward some huge boulders upstream. Mark saw the jeopardy before I did. “It will break off once it gets behind that boulder!” All this was playing out in seconds. I was not comfortably situated in the stern seat of the Pilar leisurely bringing in a marlin. “C’mon,” I muttered to the fish. “Enough already. Let’s finish this. I’ll take your picture and release you back to the wild to rejoin all your friends.” It was not to be. Maybe he heard me though because he gave me one terrific jump out of the water. He wanted me to see his size and color. My god, he was a beauty—too beautiful to be caught. For a split second the sun bounced off his silvery spots. He must have been a foot and a half long – maybe three or four pounds in weight. For a moment I relaxed my grip on the fly rod to take in this stunning example of creation. It was all he needed to break off the line with the fly still in his mouth. I was fine. I was fortunate to see him out of the water. I did not need a photo–the image would stay with me. I had Mark and Ted as witnesses to verify that I had that amazing specimen on my line. The exhilarating feeling of catching a landlocked salmon was fulfilled. I was content. Mark was not. He wanted to bring a trophy salmon to the net. Not today. As we made our way out of the water, we heard clapping from up above on the bridge. The Homeland Security officer had emerged from the guard station and watched the whole episode from her overhead position. “That was an American salmon!” she said cheerily from her perch.