Monday, July 23, 2012

Fishing With Dad

Dedicated to my father on this Father's Day..

"Fishing With Dad"

Sketch by Judi Moody

"ALTHOUGH I can see him still. 
The freckled man who goes 
To a grey place on a hill 
In grey Connemara clothes 
At dawn to cast his flies, 
It's long since I began 
To call up to the eyes 
This wise and simple man." 
from The Fisherman by William Butler Yeats

"Fly fishing is not an escape from life, but often a deeper immersion into it." Harry Middleton

     We strode thru the lush green ferns on the way to our stream. Their fronds covered in dew droplets that showered us as we brushed them aside. The whole approach seemed dark and forboding to me but soon an opening up ahead.

      The stream was at the same time a calm, placid entity , yet capable of sending me and my ol' man tumbling down into the cold water , in a split second, depending of course of dad's footing. I was riding piggy back style on Dad's back. There was me, a wicker fishing creel, his trusty fly rod and his fully engaged pipe, recently packed, with Prince Albert. The water was now nearly over the top of his hip boots. He had chest waders of course but was not using them here. They were only used when he would go to the Narraquagus or the Penobscot, or one of his mysterious trips to the Miramachi River in New Brunswick. Mysterious in that it was off limits to me or my older brother,reserved only to Dad and his long cultivated fly fishing buddies. He would come home smelling of wood smoke and with a week old white tinged beard that dug into my face when he hugged me. But always with , what looked to me, massive Atlantic salmon..and lots of them.

      The rocks in the stream were slippery, just waiting for one mis-step. But "we" had done this before and I felt safe and secure with my arms wrapped around dad's strong neck and shoulders. Riding on his back, I was enveloped in a cloud of sweet and pungent smoke mixed with the smell of liberally applied fly dope, on me only. Dad wouldn't use it on himself when he was  fishing. He said the pipe smoke was good enough to keep the black flies away from his face.  I was way too small to try to get across the stream on my own but dad knew just the spot to get us there and I was absolutely and completely sure that we would do just that. Never once did he dump me and in my child's mind, Washington crossing the Delaware could not have done any better than my father.

      We had come to this, his favorite, childhood fishing spot of his in Monroe to catch, and definitely not release, his legal share of brook trout. He grew up on a 600 acre farm not very far from this stream and had fished it many times when he was a kid and later in adulthood. The old farm house that once stood here was long gone. Burned down years ago. But interestingly the barn was still standing and used for hay storage by a local farmer. However, even then I could see that it wouldn't be too many more hay seasons before it too would be just a memory. It was mid spring and the woods had the sweet smell of decomposition and a fresh, clean smell of renewal.   The water was clean and cold.

      I of course had my trusty spinning rod with one of Dad's old Prince Albert cans full of worms that I had dug from my mothers beloved rose garden the evening  before.  Her climbing rose bushes were cared for with the same kindness and tenderness that she gave her children And never once did she complain or scold me about me digging in it to find my "special" wriggly bait.

      Dad's ritual had started, observing the conditions around him, unzipping the worn, brown leather fly case that held a good supply of dry and wet flies that he had tied over the previous winter. His strong, steady and nimble fingers tying the minute fly to the leader, making sure all was in order for the presentation.  It was a wonder to behold and there was no doubt, in my mind, that one of those tiny creations of his would be just the ticket to convince a skeptical brook trout to leave its cover and attack.

      Whenever I watched him fly fish I had a sense, a vague awareness, that I was observing some  long running, secret relationship between him and the trout.  Like a person who has been rebuked by a lover, time and time again, my father had learned from his past mistakes and now was better prepared to participate in this usually one sided affair.

      I was mesmerized and in total awe of him.  His knowlege of where to present his fly. Above the pools, between the boulders,  in the riffles, under the overhanging banks, parallel to the half submerged trees, he knew them all.  Familiar with them all as if they were his long ago boyhood friends, which I guess they were.

      The branches over hanging the stream seemed to be everywhere, clutching, grabbing, ready to envelope the fly, like a spider in it's web. No matter, no mind, into the stream Dad crept,  a couple of roll casts and his fly was heading down stream to be strategically placed under the delapidated, ramshackle farm bridge that still spanned the stream. The old bridge was used by generations of cows to get to the now completely reforested pastures which lay on the other side of our stream. The only testimony that these pastures ever existed were the tumbled down, lichen and moss encrusted rocks of the remains of a stone wall that ran through the woods. The old and abandoned cow paths were overgrown and barely visible but still showed the results of those generations of animals plodding along , one behind the other.  The bridge was built of 3 railroad tracks laid parallel to one another with either end resting on a foundation of laid up stones painstakingly embedded in the banks of the stream by some long forgotten farmer. Perhaps the stonewall maker himself. On top of these iron rails were planks laid crosswise and on top of those, longer planks running lengthwise. Moss and small brush clumps grew out of the bridge, slowly devouring the rotting wood and subsequently there were many, many holes. On previous trips we had used the bridge to cross the stream,  sticking very close to the tightrope like lines of the iron rails so as not to break through the rotting wood , giving me the opportunity to peer down into the deep , shadowy pool underneath my  precarious perch.

      It was here, at this very spot, that my father told me of one of his very early fishing experiences. He was a young boy and had walked down to the bridge after his morning chores, on my grandfather's farm, were done. He had just a simple rod with line and hook. As was his custom, he would forage around the stream side for any type of bait and he soon found a small grasshopper, perfect for such a use. After baiting his hook he dropped it over the edge of our bridge to watch it float and twitch on the current. The story ends with him catching a large brookie, but it begins with the seeds planted for the future fly fisherman. And appropriately, the same seeds were implanted in me that day as I watched him work that dark, deep, shadowy pool for perhaps, a descendant of that long ago trout.

      As I look back on that particular day and those that were yet to come, I've come to appreciate how they were truly a treasure that I didn't recognize until they  were gone. Gone because my father is gone. However, they are not forgotten as my renewed interest in fly fishing has been a vehicle for me to re-explore long lost paths that I started down those many years ago with my dad, but never finished. Thanks to fly fishing I've once more started down those paths. Like long abandoned woods roads, they are overgrown and obscure, but they are still there.  And each time I am walking through the  springtime growth and smell that exotic mixture, the pungent odor of decay and the sweet air of rebirth, I remember the the joy that I had fishing with my Dad.

(Original posting July 2012)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

More Warfare....Lobster Boat Variety

I headed over to Searsport this morning to checkout the sights and sounds of the lobster boat races. First time for me...

One of the boats the Foolish Pleasure out of Beals Island (I think) has a turbo-charged engine.

Man does that thing blat! (I think that's a Maine term..)..roughly 10 Harley's put together..

Anyways they had a bit of a mechanical problem with it and had to bring her back in for some troubleshooting. You know, I'm a little hard of hard of hearing and even I had to move from my spot when they throttled up...

I had to leave early so I don't know how it all turned out but I hear (well sort of) they are in Stonington tomorrow.. I'm pretty sure that I will be able to hear them from here..

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Schooner Warfare On The Almost High Seas

Yesterday morning found me lamenting that I had missed the Great Windjammer Race in Rockland on Friday the 6th:

And while most of the State of Maine was suffering under heat and high humidity, we decided to take a cruise on Penobscot Bay to catch some cool ocean breezes.  

After stopping off on one of our favorite islands, letting the three dogs aboard take a refreshing dip, we spotted a pair of these wonderful sailing vessels off in the not too distant distance.

It was soon apparent that the challenge was on for what could be a grudge re- match? Perhaps a perceived wrong or a restoration of damaged pride leftover from the big  race on the 6th?

Anyways, the pair of two masters started to close on one another.

With mainsails, foresails and jibs overflowing with wind, the schooners were heeled over and straining at the bit, like a sleek racehorse.

A beautiful sight to see..wind filled sails, old glory atop the masts and two marvelous ships from the past abreast one another..

Soon they were neck to neck, perhaps crossing some imaginary finish line in a dead heat. I hope so..

For there could be no loser in this competition.  But for sure there was a winner and that would It will probably be the highlight of my 2012 bay cruising summer. I can not imagine how it could get any better than this..


My most heartfelt thanks to their crew and passengers...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Near Perfect Day..On The Bay

My nephew Kevin got in touch with me this past week, wondering if it would be possible to take him out on the bay in the Rebel Sport for some photo ops. Never being one to need much of an excuse to go boating, we got near perfect conditions for such a cruise yesterday. 

We, Pat and I and our two pups Big Ray & Zed, got to the boat ramp about 7 and soon thereafter Kev met us.

Flat water, blue skies and warm air..wicked good..

We had just barely trimmed down the motor when the first picture op presented itself on the top of the tallest mast in the picture above..

This was going to set the theme of our cruise..

Being an experienced deckhand, Big Ray settled in until the time he would be needed to bark at seals or shags...

Heading toward Castine, in what is called The Middle Grounds, lobstermen were doing their thing. Why? I don't know. With the boat price of lobsters at just over $2.00 a pound, that equates to a lot of lobsters just to pay for diesel and bait.

Soon we rounded Turtle Head on Islesboro...
 the rock formations reminding me of the bow of a ship at the ready to slice through any weather thrown at her.

One of the great pleasures to me boating on the saltwater are the mysteries that can  materialize slowly from the mists. (How's that for alliteration?) 
We spotted this rather large piece of driftwood from some distance away. And from afar the root and the hump sticking up out of the water looked much like a sea serpent . Of course we had to investigate...

Having satisfied our curiosity we plotted a course for our next destination, Castine.

The lighthouse on Dice Head at the entrance to Castine makes a wonderful bearing point..

And soon we were moving into the harbor. As with most coastal Maine towns there is a lot of interesting architecture to enjoy. But one of the unique aspects of Castine is that the townfolk took great care in defending their elm trees against the Dutch Elm disease that has decimated the wonderful elm population throughout New England. It is really nice to see healthy old elms still standing..

The inner harbor of Castine is well protected and the home of  Maine Maritime  Academy and its training vessel , The State of Maine, which was out on a training cruise. And one of the alluring aspect of the waterfront is Eaton's Boat Yard, an old time, long time Castine business. 
A wood shake covered building with a hand painted sign, gotta' love it. 

Our tour of Castine finished we found our way back to the Eastern Gut of Penobscot Bay and headed up river to Bucksport. 

At the mouth of the Penobscot River there is Fort Point lighthouse, established in 1836 with an 1857 Frenel lens that remains in use to this day.

Going up river and passing the old railroad wharf remains at Sandy Point we spotted what at first looked like a nesting bald eagle but on further review of the photos we are not so sure..

But we are sure of these nah-sty smelling birds with their nests atop every possible space left on the deteriorating pilings...

About this time Ray and Zed were seemed to be needing a pee break 
 so we soon found a spot to beach out so they could do their thing.

Our journey continuing , we get a good view of the new and the old bridges at Penobscot Narrows.

 The old bridge, soon to be demolished, is a perfect platform for yet another nesting bird. 
 I think this osprey is quite used to boat traffic going back and forth under her nest as she didn't seem very concerned at all.

With the tide dropping and Kevin needing to get back to meet up with his sister, in order to make the first pitch at the Portland Sea Dogs game we started back to our home port, Belfast.

With flat water and a smooth running motor, Belfast harbor soon came into view..

And as we were just about to make our turn into the boat landing we had one last shot to wrap up our trip..

My many thanks to my wife Pat who provided all the photos of our perfect day on the bay.