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!

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.

 

 

Girl Time!

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Erin fishing on the stream. (c) S. Warren

The Bear Referendum brought me new friends. One friend is Erin; she is also a hunter and fellow Woman of the Maine outdoors. I’ve never had a lot of time fishing or hunting with anyone other than John or the kids, so when I got the chance to go fishing with a new friend and hopefully show her how to fly fish in my favorite place to fish, I jumped on it.

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No fishing on the Dead River today. (c) S. Warren

I couldn’t wait to go fishing. We planned it all out a couple weeks in advance. The river is usually down during the week so I was pretty excited that we’d be able to fish and not be competing with so many other fisherman that are there on the weekends. The Dead River is a rafting river so on weekends when they raft, the river rises and stays high until about one o’clock. Then it drops, we fish, and Sunday it repeats itself. The rest of the time, the river levels are determined by Brookfield, the owner of the dam, so fisherman are at their mercy. Three days out from our big day, we got rain, and a lot of it, but the river levels remained steady. The river was still running low the morning we headed out.

 

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Fishing the Carrabassett by the Wire Bridge. (c) Erin M.

The trip takes an hour and half from my house, and once we leave Anson, cell phone coverage is spotty at best. This meant I couldn’t receive any more river level notifications and we’d have to hope it was still low. We weren’t so lucky. According to another fisherman, about a half hour before we arrived, the river was released and was raging way above any fishable level. I was pretty disappointed since John and I had just come off a stellar weekend of fishing and I didn’t want to let my friend down. In an attempt to salvage the day, we headed to the Carrabassett River. John and I had fished the river and caught some nice brook trout below the wire bridge the week before, and I knew it was accessible and safe to navigate. The scenery was awesome and the river was also high, but still fishable.

We didn’t catch anything, but had a great time checking out all the wildlife and sharing tips on fishing. The one thing we did before the day ended, was to plan another day…after all, we couldn’t possibly strike out twice on getting to fish the Dead.

I watched the river levels every day. I also noticed a systematic behavior of the dam operators. Thursday mornings before the weekend with a rafting release scheduled, they cut the water back to 375-385cf/s…perfect for fishing. What I didn’t realize was that for two straight weeks there would be no rafting release…and you guessed it..the water rose, and it stayed there. I was Dead wrong…the water levels at 1120 cf/second were so high that once again we couldn’t fish it.

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Fishing the Kennebec by the dam. (c) Erin M.

This time, I had a plan B in place. I had done my research and decided we’d take on the Kennebec River which also meant facing my long held fears. We parked and hiked down in by the eddy. The water was moving fast but it didn’t look unconquerable. I can say I was nervous because I wasn’t familiar with the river, the drop offs and all the childhood baggage of fearing the Kennebec. I managed to get myself out on this rock that was almost impossible to stand on. I don’t know if it was actually my fear, or my feet screaming to stay on the rock, but I didn’t’ stay long before I gave up and joined my friend on the shore. With no hits we decided to try the other end closer to the dam.

It was a hot muggy day, but the sunshine was still welcome. Dressed in waders and boots, we hiked down to the dam and made our way down to the water. First cast out with my big drake fly, I get a hit when I least expect it…yes, I was talking….and I lose the fish! I get so excited I’m screaming, “Oh my gosh, that was a big fish!” not realizing that if you’ve never caught a fish on a fly rod, you don’t know that feeling of what it’s like to get a big one on the hook. My excitement was contagious to my friend Erin, and it warded off the thirst that was slowing draining my energy for a while. Getting no more hits and roasting in our gear, we decided to head back to the car and get something to drink and eat. By the time we make it back to the car, we are both drenched in sweat…but we didn’t care! Hats on and sweaty pits, we laughed it off as being Women of the Maine Outdoors. We headed back to a store, bought our sandwiches, crawlers to fish with, and drinks, many of them, and we headed out to a different spot much different from what we had been trying to fish. After all, I wanted my friend to catch a fish!

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Owls keeping watch as we fish. (c) Erin M.

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Nice native brook trout! Tasted yummy too! (c) Erin M.

I was pretty proud of myself for finding the spot since I hadn’t been there for a few years, although we did go the wrong way at first. Once we found it, I informed Erin of the poison ivy that grows there…lots of it. So much so, we decided to wear the fishing gear to keep the poison ivy and bugs off us. It wasn’t nearly as hot since we were in the shade. As we made our way in, we came across two piles of bear poop, lots of turkey tracks and even saw two fledgling owls. Fishing was slow at first. As with any small area to fish, the hardest part is getting the darned worm cast out far enough from shore to actually lure in a fish. We had some good laughs and I climbed out on a tree to rescue a worm caught up in some branches. Fish taunted us as they jumped for flies and bugs while we kept patient and fished with worms. After¬† Erin tried a few attempts to catch one of the fish, I gave it a try. I got lucky and it finally took the bait. I caught a nice 10 inch native brook trout. So this time we didn’t go home empty handed, but there’s already a third trip in the works…and next time Erin will catch a fish! Hopefully the Dead River cooperates and lets us finally have a chance to fish. I know those fish will be ready for some of my tasty looking flies on top of the water!

 

A big thank you goes out to my friend Erin for a day of fishing and friendship with talk that didn’t encompass my nails, shopping, working out guilt, dieting or any self-deprecating conversations.

And that’s just another reason more women should get in the outdoors.