Gone fishin'

By Randall Poulton | Apr 02, 2020

I expect readers would appreciate a break from 24/7 coronavirus news, and I am sick of politics. So, in this column, I will reminisce a bit about “fishing.” I put the word fishing in quotes because there is so much more to this endeavor than just catching fish. To quote Henry David Thoreau: “Some people go fishing all their lives and never realize it’s not the fish they are after.” Some of you probably understand Thoreau’s spot-on observation. For those folks who don’t, hang in there, this column is not your typical “fish story.”

The first thing non-anglers need to understand is that there are no fish living near your home. At least none worth catching. Fish are extremely intelligent and they can sense the whereabouts of a master angler. Thus, finding “the fish you are after” involves travel. Lots of travel. My “fishing trips” have taken me to Lake Ontario in upstate New York, Lake Champlain in Vermont, Cape Cod, North Carolina, Florida and well offshore in the Gulf of Maine. Closer to home, we make regular road trips to places like Grand Lake Stream, Masardis, Rangeley, Moosehead and a half-dozen other secret ponds. As they say, getting there is half the fun.

The second thing non-anglers find curious is that women are seldom invited along on these fishing trips. Let me be clear: This is done purely out of sportsmanship and in accordance with the rules of fair chase. You see, fish do not understand women. With all due respect to Fly Rod Crosby and Carrie Stevens, until the last few years, fishing was pretty much an all-male domain. Thus, the human predators that fish have evolved to avoid are fishermen. This means fisherwomen have an unfair advantage in piscatorial pursuits. I know this is true, because, when I do take my wife with me, she always catches more fish and bigger fish. Here is one fish story that proves my point:

Our friend Mary Anne is not an angler. She doesn’t own a dozen tackle boxes and 20 rods. But she is a nice person and she wanted to go fishing with us. So, I decided to humor her. We planned to go trolling for salmon on Branch Lake. Once on the boat, Mary Anne produces her idea of appropriate gear: She has a brook fishing rig, complete with worm and bobber. I explain to her that this kind of terminal tackle is all wrong for what we are doing. Mary Anne is a bit stubborn and says she will be fine. I laugh derisively and begin setting up all my expensive trolling rigs, including down riggers with sewn bait. Suddenly Mary Anne’s rod starts dancing and she pulls in a nice salmon. This is not fair chase. This poor salmon had no idea some woman would break the rules and use a bobber while trolling!

As you can imagine, big fishing trips require extensive planning and expensive buying. Most of the money is spent on beer and food. Beer is a very important part of fishing. You see, sometimes even expert anglers must endure periods of time when the fish are not cooperating. During these lulls, it is almost spiritual to sit back and enjoy the scenery while sipping a cold brew. After a beer or two, nature runs its course and it’s time to pee. Now relieving one’s self in a boat can be fairly simple, but usually it is not. Start with the fact that spring fishing requires about the same amount of clothing as snowmobiling. Add that often the boat is being rocked a wee bit by waves the size of a Volkswagen bug. At these times, answering the call becomes quite invigorating. And, of course, the fish sense the moment the master angler is so compromised and takes this opportunity to give his line a good whack! Exactly what happens next is best left to your imagination.

One of the keys to fishing is having a good boat. Some people think that B.O.A.T. is an acronym for “Break Out Another Thousand.” As in dollars. This is not true. While boats are expensive, costs seldom reach four figures. Except in the rare case when you need a new motor or a new trailer or a new boat or a really nice fish finder. Now, it is true electric downriggers are quite expensive. I know this because I think I need two of these for my boat and have been doing some shopping (online, of course).

When spending money on your boat, the experienced fisherman will do his best to hide the financial transaction from any non-fishermen in the household. This is done strictly to promote domestic tranquility and is therefore perfectly honorable. One more thing about boats: Anyone who tells you canoes are a good fishing platform has never fallen out of one trying to pee over the side!

Here are some of the most memorable fish I have caught by species and circumstance:

Smallmouth bass. Back in the mid-1970s I caught a state record-size bronze back in the Stillwater River on a night crawler. It was mid-May and I was fishing for brook trout off the big ledge below Gilman Falls. I weighed the monster fish at UMO on a certified scale in the basement of Boardman Hall. It was at about that time someone pointed out to me that bass season was closed until June 1. Woops.

Landlocked salmon. Once again Mary Ann plays a role in this fish story. Last summer, we were trolling flat calm Rangeley Lake at midday, not the sort of conditions known for great catching. But it sure was nice out. Suddenly my downrigger popped and a huge salmon began jumping behind the boat. For a change, I did everything right and after a few minutes I had brought this 5-pound-plus silver beauty close to the boat. It was then that the trouble started.

I own a big, soft plastic net, one that should have been perfect for landing a salmon of this size. To her credit, Mary Ann did get the fish on the net and out of the water. At least for a second. Yes, the fish was on the net rather than in the net! The last thing I knew, my giant salmon was flying through the air, on its way back to the cool depths of Rangeley Lake.

King mackerel. These apex predators are not found in the Gulf of Maine. Kings require warm water — at least 72 degrees. They are immensely powerful fish. We have caught several kings on near-shore trips just a few miles off Sarasota, Florida. This year, I landed one over 25 pounds. That fight lasted 20 minutes and left me physically exhausted, but very happy. A great memory to hang onto until I can spend time on the water here in Maine (while practicing social distancing, of course!).

Stay safe and wash those hands.

Randall Poulton is a columnist for The Republican Journal. He lives in Winterport.

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