Seriously, Leave No Trace

I truly love going into the wilderness. There are few, if any, places left in Maine where someone can say that no one has been, so it’s nice to feel that when you do get a chance to go somewhere new, and wild to you, that it feels as wild and untouched to you, as it did to the person who got to experience it beforehand.

That’s why I get kind of sad, and then really mad, when I see things that shouldn’t be there, like the 40 year old beer cans in our pristine pond where native brook trout reside and that we fish for. Even after all that time, those aluminum beer cans still stand out from the bottom of the pond as a glaring inconsideration for the water, fish, environment, and all the fisherman who’ve had to see it. Back in those days, fisherman would drink their beer, and throw their cans in the water as casual behavior. In this day in age, when adults, for certain know better, I continue to see popular shiny-blue beer cans on the roadside…undoubtably those riding the roads trying to rid the evidence of drinking and driving. Yeah, we’ve seen a few drunk drivers in our time, but up in the wild, law enforcement are seen few and far between. So goes the saying to do as you would as if someone is watching you.

When we first started making the wilderness a regular destination, we hardly ever met a vehicle on our trips, but over the past twenty years, as more urbanites flock to the woods in escape of Covid and the stresses of the world, they also are bringing along some bad behavior.

Now on top of the Appalachian Trail hikers, we have the entire Bigelow Range being hiked and then Maine Huts and Trails also began courting tourists with concierege service while hiking, biking and eating gourmet meals and wine. With this onslaught of urbanites, our “untouched” wilderness is beginning to feel just a bit crowded, which is okay as long as they behave.

We see a lot of hikers because our beloved pond is also part of the Appalachian Trail. One of the biggest messaging campaigns I’ve ever seen regarding protecting our special wild places is “Leave No Trace.”

The Appalachian Trail has posted signs designating approved campsites and asking people to leave the site as if no one has ever been there.

How hard can that be?! After all, it’s basically pack out what you pack in, bury your waste and toilet paper, but most important, leave things undisturbed.

People seem to forget this last one. I am forever seeing stacked rocks in the oddest places. I understand that stacking rocks was originally used as directional guides to mark a trail for hikers, but most of the time, it’s simply someone thinking it’s something cool to leave behind. Some critics have even called this grafitti…and I think they are right.

Stacking rocks, called cairns, is a no-no in my book. And it’s a no-no in a lot of places, and it’s actually illegal in all national parks such as Acadia and Zion National Park.

When we made our first trip out onto the pond this spring, I was more than annoyed when I saw a teepee structure made from driftwood right on the Appalachian Trail, and not far from the actual lean-to that is the designated camping spot. It wasn’t like the person building it needed a place to sleep. And one of the the leave not trace rules are to not expand the campsite.

Even nature knows how to leave no trace.

Last year, we came upon a flock of turkey vultures feasting on a carcass. The carcass turned out to be a young bull moose that had been hit by a car. It had a broken leg and its foot had become tangled in a tree root. The thought of what this moose had to endure in its last minutes of life was sad, and all because someone couldn’t slow down. We had seen the collision signs on the road and the moose hadn’t traveled far before succumbing to its injuries.

The first week we watched as the birds ate the eyes, nose and gut of the moose.

The second week, coyotes and who knows what other predators had a feast leaving just the skull, rib cage, shoulder blades and leg bones with flesh still intact. The stink was incredible and any thoughts of retrieving a scapula for future moose hunts quickly vanished with retching and watery eyes.

The third week there only remained a stain and discoloration on the ground where the moose had been. There were a few scattered bones with no flesh left, and for the most part, the moose and the stink were gone.

A year later and the moose is a mere memory and a couple photos. We were only able to find the few remnants of some vertebrae on the edge of the woods.

If you love the wilderness as much as we love it, I hope you’ll take the time to leave no trace…or at least please don’t litter, stack rocks, or make shelters out of driftwood unless you absolutely need to in order to survive.

I’d like to say, treat it as your own, but let’s face it. It’s not yours, so don’t ruin it for everyone else. Get outdoors and enjoy it, and remember what you love about it, and leave it that way for the next person. With so little wilderness left, let’s all make an effort to keep it at least feeling like wilderness even if there are way more people around than you like.

Happy Summer!

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. ❤