Fish Tales from the Dead

The Fish That Almost Wasn’t

It’s been an better-than-average spring thus far for fishing the Dead River. We’ve fished it enough to learn what to use when, and have worked our way up from not catching anything to catching pretty often. Unlike last year, this year, it’s been a bonanza as we’ve been very successful in the spring catch of landlocked salmon and native brook trout. Knowing what to use is the key to catching fish.

Fishing the Dead River can be frustrating. If it’s down at night, it could be high in the morning because often times the river levels are determined by the white water rafting schedules. I keep the release dates bookmarked on my phone so I can check to see if the river will rise. If it does, it doesn’t drop until 1 p.m. “They say” the best fishing is right after the drop. Honestly, the best fishing is first thing in the morning before they open the dam, and at night when the mayflies hatch or when the fish are feeding just before sunset. This coincides when fish usually feed.

One Sunday, as soon as the river dropped, the trucks poured in. Men in their waders grabbed spots quicker than I could get my waders on despite the fact the water wasn’t even fish-able yet. My mistake. So as I got ready to fish, there was ONE spot open on the island…one spot that was also one of my favorites. As I got ready to cross onto the island, a guy fishing to the left looked over his shoulder and quickly scooted into the spot I had eyed for myself. I was annoyed, but there was still one spot left on the far right near the rapids, IF I could get there first. I quickly changed direction and tried to get over there as quick as I could.

DEAD RIVER AREAAs I made my way across the pools and around to the end, I notice a hatch taking place. I felt like I as being invaded by tiny blue-green bugs and they floated and flew all around me. Some type of mayfly, but to me it didn’t matter. I had my sinking line on my rod that I use with nymphs. There was no chance I was going back to change my lines since this was my ace in the hole, and the only spot open.

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My fly boxes sorted by fly type

I pulled out my dry fly box and retrieved a Blue Wing Olive and tied it onto my tippet (the end of my line). I made my way to my spot. The guy fishing where I originally wanted to fish was throwing his line about half way down to me on my left. Perfect. I’d fish more to the left and have access to the deeper water and where the fish were jumping on my right. Meanwhile another fisherman came up and started fishing behind me in the large pool. I kept thinking, “Please don’t hook me”.

I took a couple casts to get the hang of the sinking line with the lure. The lure would float at first, then quickly sink from the weight of the line and the fast current. I took a third cast and landed a small 10 inch salmon. I let it go. The fish were jumping, so I concentrated on placing my fly above the jumps and drifting the fly toward the fish. My confidence was building…I cast again. On the fifth cast, just as my fly started to sink, I got a hit!

The hit was so hard and strong that fish began to run and fight, and the line was stripping out of my hand that was holding the line. As I began reeling in my excess line,  the entire reel fell off my rod!!!! Luckily I was still holding onto it! I tried for a brief moment to put it back on, but a one-handed attempt was asking to lose the fish I had fighting at the end of my line. I quickly stuffed the reel into my waders so I was once again using two hands to fight this fish.

I finally got the line stripped back in so that I could net my beast. He was huge! It’s the biggest salmon I’ve ever caught. The net barely held it. Its tail hung out and in one giant flop, he was out of the net again. After netting the fish a second time: this time holding onto the tail through the net, and schlepping all my gear and line out of the deep water, I blurted out to the guy fishing behind me that I had caught my biggest fish ever. He seemed undaunted. The girl on shore with the cell phone trying to get reception (LMAO- as if) looked at me like I was a crazed woman. The guy off to my left was now changing out his fly/lure…lol.

IMG_20170529_145015211I was elated, and at that point, I decided I wasn’t stopping until I got my fish on the tailgate of the truck so I gave up my spot and headed up. I killed my fish, (which is really humane) and set him on the tailgate. I tried to take a selfie but my arm wasn’t long enough and the fish was too big!

To my surprise, NO ONE had taken my spot in the ten minutes I took to deliver my fish to the truck. I headed back down and reclaimed my spot. Three casts later I was hauling in my second largest fish I’ve ever caught. I was so excited. The kid fishing behind me now had questions and was offering up his help to keep this fish in my net. What are you using? What are you catching? Where should I cast? The guy to my left was still changing out his flies. Me, I was on Cloud 9! Worst part was that hubby had made his way up the upper pool and had no idea I was slamming the fish.

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Hubby finally showed up to get a photo of my fish…me out of my waders.

I gave up my spot. I had my two limit salmon and the kid behind me was dying to try my spot. I gave him a few pointers before I left. The guy who had been fishing on my left…left.

I took my fish up the truck and laid it next to the first one. Fish number one measured 21.5 inches, and fish number two measured 19.5 inches. A number of people who showed up to fish just as I was trying to take pictures of my fish had lots of questions. It felt great to share my experience…and to see the little glean of envy from the men. It’s not often I get to catch a big one, let alone two, so it felt wonderful.

So all those guys thought they had the best spot, but I was the one who had the best catch. Lesson learned. There’s fish everywhere…you just have to know how to catch em…

Happy Fishing and always remember to share your knowledge, and to be a courteous fisherman.

 

 

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A Girls Day Out

I’m taking a break this week. I’m still tired from all the hunting I’ve been doing and still doing. Instead, I’m sharing this week. One of the great things about being an outdoors woman is finding friends who are also outdoors women.

My friend Erin and I have been fishing a few times. Earlier in the summer, we went out on Serpentine Stream where I fished as a kid. Read Erin’s story about our day of fishing in her blog, and a strong cup of coffee .

I’ll have more stories to come from our adventures of the past and future. I can’t wait for opening day 2017 on Grand Lake Stream with my friends, Robin(who also has a blog), Taylor and Erin!

Enjoy! I’ll be back next week.

 

I’m in the Dog (uh Bear) House

Baiting for bear requires a lot of steps: filling the bait barrel, putting out caramel, re-dipping the anise oil wick, filling the grease and nougat buckets, scenting up the area with grease…and lastly, setting the camera.

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My bait site with my new popcorn barrel…holes stuffed with marshmallows

I always start with the camera first to remove the SD card and put a new one in; however I never start the camera until we are done all of our work.

 

At my site, the bait was all gone. It was filled the most bait we’ve ever put in a barrel. I also had a popcorn wheel that was added bonus, and that too was emptied. I changed out the batteries in my game camera as they only showed 13% life, and I want them to make it through the week. The bear were busy this past week, and I couldn’t wait to see my videos

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First Bear in since adding popcorn barrel-perfect shooting time

Off to John’s site. As we approached the site, we scanned for bear and saw the barrel was down. That means we had bear. The videos will tell us how many, how big and most importantly what time  the bear were there. As we go to get the SD card, we found the camera was open. At first, I was hoping the bear had been there, but the SD card was never pushed in, and the camera was never activated. With bear season beginning Monday, August 29th, this week was the most important in collecting information for the hunt.

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To put it mildly, John was…well you know…PO’d. To make an argument short, he’s now in charge of his own camera.

We didn’t speak to each other until we got back to the truck. We loaded our gear and headed out to find mushrooms. We found an off-road and stopped in the shade to view the one card with videos.

As we moved through the videos, I had at least three different bear on my site. One video showed a shootable bear being chased off the bait by another bear. (See Facebook to see it.)  I think I actually heard the bear in the background on the previous video, but he didn’t actually show until dark.

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That was only until Tuesday. My camera batteries gave out on Tuesday and there were no more videos to watch. No videos of my popcorn wheel being emptied, no videos of whoever else came in and most importantly when. I do have a bear coming in right at dusk so my hopes are someone will be back on Monday. The sow and cubs hadn’t returned, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t come in later. Guess Monday will be a surprise for all of us. Stay tuned.

We ended our day with some fly fishing therapy on the Dead River. John broke the no-fish-caught streak all the campers were having when he hauled in a nice 15 inch landlocked salmon. What a beauty…Tomorrow nights supper.

PS…My blind is still up and no bear tried to eat a camera this week.

 

 

In Pursuit of Striper

101_7563Fishing on the Maine coast for striped bass, which most fisherman call Striper, is one of my favorite types of fishing. We have tried fishing for striped bass with eels, worms, poppers, mackerel and crabs. Nothing has worked as well as quahog clams. The bigger the clam the better. The weight of the clam eliminates the need for a sinker.

HPIM0634aQuahog clams are big clams that we pick from the sand at low tide. This is perfect since we fish right when the tide turns and comes in. Well, we don’t actually pick them unless we buy them at the grocery store, but we prefer to get our own. quahogWe go out waist deep into the cold ocean water. We use our feet to feel the sandy bottom underwater while trying to stand in one place with the waves coming in. Standing with both feet together, John does the jig…a twisting motion to work his feet into the sand and feel a clam under his feet. I can’t use both feet together because the movement hurts my knees, so I use only one foot and move it back and forth moving the sand and digging a hole with my foot until I feel a clam. We  then use our toes to get underneath the clam and free it from the sand. Then comes the torture of getting the upper body wet. I do the big dip underwater to retrieve my clam. Into the suit it goes, and then I move onto another spot. We stock up on clams to use for future fishing as well as for the moment.

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Tyler with his ocean pole at sunset.

Once we have enough clams, we grab our ocean rods. These rods are heavy duty with open faced reels. On the end of the heavy line is a big swivel and very large circle hook size 00.

Using a clam knife, we open the live clam and free it from its shell. If you freeze the clams for later use, they open just like they do when cooked. You can literally pull the clam apart without a knife. I like to make sure I cut the clam so that I get all of the big muscles that close the shell for added stability on the hook. Carefully, we weave the clam onto the hook so that the foot of the clam is threaded last. The idea is to get the clam onto the hook so that it won’t be cast off when you make the cast. There’s nothing worse than watching a big old clam fly through the air and not attached to your line!

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Out on the rocks at low tide. (c)SWarren

Fishing at low tide allows us to get out far on the rocks so that we’re not getting tangled in the weeds. However, you have to keep an eye on the tide. On several occasions we’ve had to practically swim back to the main land because of the tide coming in. I prefer to fish on the rock ledge on a peninsula over surf fishing. I want to have the rod in my hand when the fish bites.

 

Casting out into the water, the clam is allowed to sink slowly and then a slow reel in. Sometimes there’s a bite before the swallow, and other times, it’s simply one big swallow and a striper is on the line. If you’ve ever caught a large-mouth bass, then you’d love striper fishing. Striper fishing is one of the most exciting fishing I’ve ever done.With minimum lengths of 28 inches, fish get big quick.

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Nothing better than the walk of success.

Occasionally we fish for striper and catch something else. On our first outing this year, I had bites and nibbles tugging away at my bait. Every time I tried to set the hook, I got nothing. Finally, after losing my clam and putting another one on, I had another bite. With my polarized glasses on, I was able to see a school of fish grabbing at my big clam. These were not striper. With a quick switch to a mackerel jig with a tad of clam, we were catching pollack!

 

Not nearly as exciting as striper, but lots of fun to see the youngest excited to catch something.

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Pollack for supper!

We’re hoping to get back out on the rocks for another chance to get a big one. If you fish for striper, give quahogs a try. And remember to bring along some smaller hooks for those fish that show up when you least expect it. Someday I’ll learn how to fly fish for them stripers…always a new adventure waiting to happen.

 

PS: Remember to wear a life jacket if you go out in a canoe or kayak, especially on the ocean..

 

Sharing Fishing Secrets

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Salmon caught on a Grey Ghost

As a sportsman, one of the most important things you can do is share your knowledge. We constantly are told to share our knowledge. Take a kid fishing. Keep the traditions and heritage of hunting and fishing alive by getting people involved. Yet there is a paradox to that when it comes to fishing. Fisherman clam up when you ask them for advice. They pride themselves on their secret lures, techniques, lines, and spots. It’s almost a given not to ask a fisherman what he’s using for a fly because he probably won’t tell you. It’s always been my beef, so every chance I get, if someone asks, “what are you using?” I tell them with a smile and honesty.

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My fly boxes. (c) S. Warren

Sometimes fisherman lie to other fisherman. This happened to us in New Hampshire when we fished Echo Lake a couple years ago. We ran into two old Maine fishermen and we had seen them catch fish after fish. So as they left, we asked them what they were using. They seemed nice enough, but after spending an hour or so using the fly they recommended, we decided we had been had because those fish wouldn’t hit it even once. After we changed to another fly, we had luck.

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Up river at my favorite fishing spot. (c) S. Warren

Same thing at our favorite fishing spot. A fisherman came in and nudged me out of my spot. At the time, I hadn’t learned to stand my ground, but in a matter of a minute from taking over my spot, I watched this guy haul in the THE biggest salmon I’ve ever seen. And you guessed it. I didn’t dare ask what he had used. The cardinal rule prevented me from asking. So I didn’t learn anything except that I couldn’t catch what he did.

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Grizzly King by Big Y Fly

So when we run into fisherman that not only want to talk about fishing, but also want to share their “secrets”, it’s refreshing. We had the pleasure of going to a local discount store because they had just gotten in a huge fishing assortment. As we grazed the isles an old man dressed in a red flannel shirt, jeans, and wearing a bear claw necklace approached us. His head held a very old wide-brimmed, woven hat, and he walked with a walking stick as tall as him. His face was covered in a full white beard and his voice soft. As we walked by, the old man started sharing his stories. He was an old Maine guide who used to trap the Allagash in his younger days. He’s 87 now and can’t do much, but he can fish. He asked if we had ever been to Seboomook Campground by Pittston Farms. We had indeed been there. He proceeded to tell us what we need to use in order to catch the BIG salmon. The funny part was that as he got to the part of the story telling us what streamer to use, he stopped. His voice got low, and he said, “I’m waiting for that young man to leave” nodding to the man a few feet down the isle who had apparently been listening intently. After the man left, he looked into my eyes and said, “Grizzly King”.

 

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Then he told us about Little Pond and how to catch big trout there.  Turns out Little Pond is well known and our two sons went there last year. When the oldest heard about our conversation with the old Maine Guide, we decided we had to get to Little Pond to try fishing.

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Our two sons in the canoe.

It was cold and windy, but the sun shining on us was nice since it had been about a week since we had seen Old Sol. Little Pond doesn’t allow motorized anything so we hauled our two canoes down the nice trail to the launch area. There we met a fisherman who was also fishing, rowing a boat around the lake with his fancy made fly rods. He even called us over to see his rods. But he wasn’t interested in sharing how he fishes. He was interested in getting compliments for everything he said about himself. We didn’t learn anything from him except that the rod he makes is probably way out of our price range.

We didn’t have any luck catching fish using the old Maine Guide’s technique, but we did get cold. As we were paddling back to the launch area, we met a local man and his Corgi dog. He was just FULL of information and amazingly, he couldn’t wait to share it with us.

After telling us we needed lead core line, big minnows and a lot of patience we found that a lot of what the old Maine Guide told us was similar to what this man shared except the old Maine Guide used a streamer and the local man used an artificial lure.

We’ve learned a lot about fishing in the last two weeks from people who were willing to share their secrets. I hope that if you are a fisherman, you’ll take a moment and share your secret instead of keeping it to yourself. You’ll find it’s much more gratifying .

 

 

 

 

 

TBT: Brook Fishing to Fly Fishing 101

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Fishing for brook trout before access was an issue. (c) S. Warren

Before we got married, my husband John and I would fish for brook trout in Mount Vernon, Maine. It was one of the few places where a brook trout were more than six inches long and not many people fished the brook. At first I wasn’t a fan of brook fishing because my lines seemed to always get tangled in a bush. I spent as much time untangling my line from tree limbs as I did actually fishing. I ended buying short kiddie poles and they worked great for brook fishing. This is probably when I really learned how to fish and learned how to tell when a fish bites, and only then did I really started to enjoy fishing.

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Showing off their catch to the kiddos. circa 1990

Eventually I graduated up to being able to fish at East Carry with my husband’s family. Fishing East Carry was special because it was the only place we could catch big brookies…or so we thought. Back then fishermen were allowed to keep 5 fish over 8 inches and could catch them using the “plug” fishing method, which is simply big night crawlers on a #4 hook, no bobber, and slow reeling in the line to attract the fish. And these fish ranged in size of 12-16 inches most of the time. We had so much fun and we usually caught our limit–obviously too much fun because now fishing on East Carry is restricted to artificial lures only, and only two fish can be kept. We’ve learned to limit ourselves as well. We release way more than we keep.

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Our take home for everyone but not the entire amount caught. circa 1982 (c) S. Warren

Spring brook fishing in Mount Vernon became an annual outing with our kids until someone started blocking access. After a brief confrontation with a person who wasn’t the landowner but only someone who wanted the fishing and the access all for himself, my husband defied the man’s yelling and continued on his way. He was taking our youngest, who loved to fish and he wasn’t about to let this guy ruin it; however, it did ruin the fun and the son didn’t want to go there anymore.And that was the end of brook fishing there.

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Otter Pond at sunset. (c) S. Warren

That’s when we decided to take him to Otter Pond. Other than fishing East Carry, we never really fished for trout. Otter Pond is a tributary pond to East Carry Pond; it’s a small road accessible pond that has brook trout and it allows for worms. Perfect!

We had artificial lures too, and the boy was awesome using them, but I never caught anything except bottom or a tree limb with a treble hook lure, so I wasn’t all that excited to spend a whole weekend trying to catch fish with them. Then came the brilliant idea. We decided to teach ourselves how to fly fish so that we could once again fish East Carry Pond. Fly fishing was a new adventure for all of us. We would always see fish surfacing on the far side of Otter Pond, but never where we could get to without a canoe.So we loaded up the camper and the canoe, and set out to take the boy fishing for the weekend. We tried brook fishing along the way. We didn’t have a lot of luck but fishing made the boy happy and that’s all we hoped for.

All three of us in the canoe: John paddled from the back, I was in the front and Tyler was in the middle. We spent the weekend taking turns casting, perfecting the casting technique, tying on different flies, and learning the art of setting the hook. We caught fish after fish and release most of them. We saved enough to have one meal which we cooked over the campfire that night.

Yes, there were squabbles followed by awkward moments of silence.  “Mom went out of turn”, “the fish jumped by me…not you”, our lines became tangled, Dad didn’t say “casting” before he started casting, and the boy almost jumped out of the canoe when he saw a spider in the tackle bag…but all in all, it helped us learn how to work together, to communicate,  and to enjoy each others’ company, and for that, I’ll always cherish these memories.

Now we pretty much only fly fish unless we’re fishing for perch in Great Pond or striped bass on the coast. Fly fishing keeps the mind busy and there’s seldom boredom with fly fishing…and catching a fish on a fly is so exciting. When it’s too windy to fish the pond, we head to the river. It makes wading the river currents and casting and interpreting the waters all the more satisfying.

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On the far side of East Carry by the Appalachian hut.

For almost six years, the three of us have fly fished out of the canoe and explored the pond. The youngest now 18 years old, isn’t as excited to go because we marathon fish, but we’re hoping we can coax him to join us a few times before he starts his summer job. As much as we’d like him to join us, we’ve learned to go without him, and enjoy sunsets and fish rises on East Carry. We don’t do much brook fishing anymore…but if you get the chance, it’s another great way to get yourself or a kid outdoors.

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Sunset on East Carry and fly fishing the hatch. ❤

 

TBT: Fishing the Serpentine

If you read my stories, you’d think I was born and raised with a fly rod in my hand. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t…

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Serpentine Stream 2013. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans, Central Maine Newspapers

If you read my stories, you’d think I was born and raised with a fly rod in my hand. The truth of the matter is that I wasn’t, and I wasn’t even a very good fisherman for a long time. I don’t think I caught my first fish until I was at least 13 years old, and when I finally caught a fish it was a yellow perch using a worm and red-n-white bobber.

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An old Polaroid Instant photo of Zack, Mom and Becky posing under the big pine tree with a nice bass that Zack caught at the camp lot . circa 1991. (c) S. Warren

My parents had a camp lot (no camp) on Serpentine Stream in Smithfield, Maine. Each summer we’d camp, fish and cook by the campfire. Back then (and probably still now) we didn’t swim in the stream because the bottom was too slimy, and there were sticks and clams to contend with, so fishing was pretty much the only thing to do to keep a kid busy. The stream was pretty full of algae and the catch consisted of bass, pickerel, sunfish, and yellow and white perch. Occasionally we’d see a water snake or a turtle, both which waned any urge to try to to swim in the stream no matter how hot it seemed. The stream now also has crappy thanks to the illegal dumping of the non-native fish, which at one point almost wiped out the white perch.

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My daughter fishing at the camp lot..concentrating on the reeling. circa 1989 (c) S. Warren

I never seemed to be able to catch anything except the tall pine’s bough that hung out over the water and still grows where I stood to cast. All of my siblings fished and caught fish pretty darned near every time they threw in the line. I would spend hours watching my bobber dance on the water, but never could set the hook to pull in a fish. Good thing I wasn’t a reader or I probably never would have picked up a fishing pole again, but since I enjoy doing things over sitting still, I continued to try.

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Author and oldest son Zack fishing with her silver Shakespeare that she still owns and fishes with on Serpentine Stream, Smithfield, ME. Circa 1989. (c) S. Warren

Once  John and I had kids of our own, we took the kids to the camp lot on Serpentine Stream to fish for the first of many times. My parents spent weekends at the camp lot so it became a Sunday tradition to pack up the kids, meet my parents at camp, and have Sunday breakfast over the campfire. It is here that I taught my kids how to fish.

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Youngest son with Dad catching his first small mouth bass on Serpentine Stream. (c) S. Warren

The camp lot and stream has been the place where most of the kids in our families learned to fish. Throughout the years, we’d bring the kids to fish after work. It’s still a great place for a kid to catch a fish, especially in the spring when the white perch are running and for bass fishing in the summer. My brother built a camp further down on Serpentine and his two boys are avid fisherman. In one afternoon, they caught “between 12 – 15 fish that were over 3 lbs”! Fishing runs deep in the family. My other nephew, Chris, even ice fished on the Serpentine this winter!

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Nephew Brady caught this 5 lb. 5 oz.  largemouth bass on Serpentine Stream in 2015. photo credit: Brady’s Dad (c) B. Shields

 

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My nephew Chris with a black crappy from the Serpentine. “He caught pickerel, crappy, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch! Lots of fish! Mom navigated, but says she needs to get in on the action next time!” photo credit: W. Shields

A lot has changed over the years. Serpentine Stream is now called Serpentine waterway (not by me); East Pond is sometimes referred to as East Lake (not by me) by those trying to market it to campers from away, and there’s now an Ice Cream Place in the town village that draws customers in boats down the stream from East Pond.

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photo credit: Ice Cream Place Smithfield ME

According to an article in the local newspaper, “speeding boats have wiped out the algae”and “speeding boaters and jet skiers along the Serpentine waterway also were unwittingly threatening a comeback of the Sandhill crane, a species that recently returned to Maine after being pushed to the brink of extinction. A speed buoy was installed at both ends of the Serpentine waterway to help control boat traffic.” I wouldn’t want to endanger the Sandhill crane, but I didn’t think killing some algae was necessarily a bad thing since the last time we tried to use the boat launch at the camp lot to take our boat out, the entire trailer was blanketed in algae plants, and it us forever to get all of it off. In the age of Eurasian Watermilfoil threats and not knowing if we had it on our boat, we haven’t used the launch since, but instead use the public launch on the other end of East Pond.

bobberSo April 1st kicks off the official open water season. If you don’t have a little slice of heaven on the Serpentine, try to find one, or plan a canoe trip down the Serpentine. Then buy a license and don’t forget to take a kid fishing! Maine will also offer a free weekend of fishing for adults on June 4-5, 2016 and if you still don’t have a place to take a kid fishing, the State of Maine offers many spots around Maine that with exclusive kid friendly – kid only fishing. No matter what you do be sure to get out there!

I’m thankful for the camp lot to still be in our family, and I can’t wait to take my grand kids there when they learn to fish. In the meantime, after seeing  my nephew Brady’s large mouth bass, I’m planning on making a trip down the Serpentine to see if I can catch what he’s been catching!