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.

Cape Porpoise

August 2021

Saturday early morning the sun rises over the harbor at Cape Porpoise. A spit of land jutting out from Maine’s northern coast; a small lighthouse breaks the long ocean horizon line. The tide is out, and sea gulls drop down for the exposed crabs. Lobster boats in the harbor are keeled over in the ankle- deep water. The sun quickly burns off the morning mist. I watch as a bent old warrior of the lobster fishing army slowly exits his truck. He straightens his back and looks out over the harbor. Is he revisiting the days past when he too would be readying his lobster traps? Unsteady on his feet, he grips the handrail as he climbs the steps up the dock, careful not to trip on the unevenly worn boards that have weathered years of heavy footfall from fishermen past. He waves to a fellow Mainer carrying a thick round of rope over his shoulder who nods back wordlessly. Like a tip of the hat, it suffices. Another young man readies his small craft for striper fishing. His rods sit gathered in a bundle on the wharf as he organizes trolling apparatus in anticipation of the coming tide. The water is still not high enough for his outboard motor to rest securely.

Out of the morning mist comes a woman in a long raincoat, her face framed by a green silk scarf that covers her hair, obscuring her identity. Missing are Jackie-like sunglasses. She carefully navigates the steep rock outcropping, the lighthouse in the distance, making her way to the highest point. She gazes out toward the ocean waters as if waiting for a boat to appear in the calm sea. But the boat doesn’t show and with a downcast chin she descends from the rocks. She steps briskly over a fallen wooden post and then hunches down to avoid the wide branches of a massive pine. She is gone in minutes. When I leave, I pass the broken fence and the wide pine and see a graceful wood-shingled house in the distance with a Maine flag flapping from the front porch. Maybe hers? Cape Porpoise has its mysteries.

Hurricane Henri

August 2021

We returned to New York late Saturday night under threat of a hurricane calculated to hit landfall mid Sunday. The trip was one of the longest I have had from the Hamptons to New York City. Five inches of rain fell in the four hours it took for a ride that normally takes two and a half. The next morning the weather had calmed so I ventured out to find a New York Times for the latest news of the disastrous fall of Afghanistan and the plight of those still trapped in the country – Americans as well as the Afghanis who were relying on the United States to provide a safe passage out. The morning streets were wet and absent of pedestrians except for a few dog walkers who never shy from bad weather.

This New York morning looked very much like a year ago when the streets were devoid of people due to the Covid quarantine. The storefronts that had been boarded up during the protests over the killing of George Floyd were now open, but this was a different kind of calm, like the first snowfall on an early December morning. Apartment dwellers were holding in place until all the hurricane warnings passed. After picking up my paper at the corner bodega I impulsively bought a dozen yellow roses from the flower display at checkout for Patti to brighten the dismal day. I continued over to Lexington Avenue where at 69th street the road was closed off with police barricades. The Russian consulate is on that block. Perhaps there were some dignitaries in town in need of extra security. I made my way past the barrier and saw I wasn’t too far off in my guess. A movie was being filmed and the Russian consulate was part of the set, with one of the actors being filmed exiting the building. I walked past the firehouse on 69th and a fireman was standing at the open doors with his arms crossed viewing the Hollywood scene unfolding across the street. “Nice flowers,” he said. “Thanks,” I responded, and continued walking west to my favorite bookstore on Lexington, Shakespeare & Co. I like to stop there for a peek at the latest titles on display and it’s where I can cheat a coffee and danish. “Closed due to weather” read the sign in the window. I continued to my barber shop at 70th street. A haircut would be a pick me up I thought. Not to be. Closed as well. I walked a few more blocks north to see if the nail salon was open. After fishing all week in Maine a manicure would be in order. Not to be. All closed due to the weather. Bodegas were the only game in town. I was left to reading yesterday’s news and listening to WQXR while the hurricane was downgraded to a Nor’easter/tropical storm. My friend Ted in Montauk called in to say the winds out on the eastern tip of Long Island were 30 mph and the waves were pouring over the docks at his marina slip. I know the Hamptons will recover by dinner time. The roads will be open and free of the steady strain of traffic now that half the crowds left last night to beat the storm.

The solemn and quiet atmosphere in the city feels appropriate to me. Tomorrow I say a final goodbye to one of my oldest friends, Stef Poss, who died suddenly this past week. I have been fielding calls from mutual friends, reminiscing and reliving moments from our college years in the 1950s. Stef was married to one of my best friends. Lives, like hurricanes, pass, leaving survivors in their wake to carry on. But we never forget their impact.