A few years ago I visited the Sheepscot fish hatchery and they were kind enough to give me a fish poster. On the top was written, "Know What You Catch!" and beneath that, "Maine Cold Water Game Fish." There are six fish on that poster, the Landlocked Salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, Blueback or Sunapee trout, and a lake trout (togue).
I suppose they’ve left the Atlantic salmon off because we live in a place where Atlantic salmon are no longer part of the game. In the rule book there are dire warnings for anyone who mistakenly catches one of these now rare beauties. You have to release them so fast that you really shouldn’t even look at one. You’ll turn to stone. If you want to catch an Atlantic salmon you’ll have to keep driving north right over the border into Canada. Take a passport and don’t take a landing net. You’ve got to grab them by the tail to land them. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds hard. But, there’s a more important game fish missing from that poster. The chub.
Sometimes the chub is the only game in town. You’ll find them just about everywhere you go looking for a trout or a salmon. Don’t be disappointed. I’ve caught giants on the Magalloway, on every stretch of the Kennebec, on the West Branch, and even during the sunset eruption of a pond during a hex hatch. In a stream they’ll grab hold of nymph that’s left dangling at the end of a drift and in a hex hatch they’re right there, shoulder to shoulder with the 18-inch brookies. They’ll fight every bit as hard and harder than a lazy old laker.
One day, Ron and I were fishing along the western shore of the Kennebec below the Shawmut dam. Things were kind of slow. That’s okay. It’s part of the deal. We’re both old enough that we need naps more than nonstop action. My son says he’ll take up fishing when he’s too old to skateboard and he thinks that will be when he’s about 90. Anyway, it was slow. Ron noticed some little rises over near the bank and pointed to them.
“Probably just chubs.” I dismissed them and went back to practicing my casting technique.
Ron worked his way over toward the bank and at the end of a drift soon hooked up. I watched from downstream and his rod hardly bent, but I was just ever so slightly jealous because, really, any fish is better than no fish.
And then there was a “holy !!!!” explosion at the end of his line and a wild struggle began. He might have hooked a tarpon on his five-weight trout rod it was bowed so severely. It’s a good thing L.L. Bean replaces broken rods for free because this one was about to go. And then, just as suddenly it was over, the rod straightened, the fish was gone. Ron was grinning in foolish shock and I expected he needed to wring the yellow adrenaline out of his socks at the foot of his waders.
I shouted upstream for details, but he ignored me, tied on a new fly and cast up above the chubs again. Once, twice, and on the third drift was hooked up again. Now I’m not going to say he played that tiny little chub any longer than necessary or that he had wandered over some moral border into bait fishing, but... there was a new explosion.
I could tell that he had learned from the first contest and was gaining ground slowly on the fish. He’d give a little when necessary and then take back what line he could. He was working his way downstream and away from the bank to avoid a submerged log and he was getting close to the fish when he went tumbling. His head was underwater, but his arm was still raised holding that rod and line tight. I collected his hat and his fly boxes as they floated by just as he was getting himself back on his feet. He still had the fish in tow and before long was lifting a lunker small mouth bass for my admiration. His rod was tucked under his arm as he released the fish into river and gradually he realized there was an insistent tugging at the line.
Ron lifted the tip of the rod and still dangling and wiggling, happily after its Jonah adventure, was our hero, the chub.
If you go to the Maine Fisheries and Wildlife website you’ll find beautiful fish illustrations by Joseph Tomalleri. But don’t look for chubs under cold water game fish. They’ve been misfiled as bait fish. In fact there’s more than one chub found in Maine. There’s creek chubs. There’s creek chub suckers. And, there’s the Fall Fish, Semotilus Corporalis, the biggest and scrappiest of the bunch. Generically they’re all chubs. The best description I could find of their edibility was “tolerable” except when you smoke them. So if you haven’t quit smoking yet, smoke chubs. Sometimes it’s the best game in town.