I was born a Maine sportsman, raised a Maine sportsman, and will die a Maine sportsman. My heritage is wild and native brook trout and white-tailed deer.
I didn’t need today’s Hooked-on-Fishing-Not-On-Drugs program offered by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I became addicted to our colorful brook trout at an early age.
Hiking deep into the woods up and over the hill behind our Winthrop home, I’d drop a worm on a small hook into the cold free-flowing alder-choked heavily-shaded brook and pull out really nice trout, all of which came home for dinner.
Each summer Mom and Dad would take us way up to Seboomok where my Uncle Johnny and Aunt Flora Mitchell had a camp on the northern end of Moosehead Lake. We’d troll for and catch lunker landlocked salmon, another important Maine native fish.
In the fall, even though I liked school – especially music and sports – I lived to hunt.
I’ve never forgotten my first pheasant, shot in a cornfield at the end of Maranacook Lake. The dog pointed the bird, the bird flew up out of the corn, and I hit it! Dad was right beside me. I see it still. I’m sure he does too.
Then came those cold November mornings when Dad would get me up well-before sunrise to hunt the hills surrounding our town for deer. I rarely saw one and never shot one. But it was the elusiveness, challenge, and camaraderie of deer hunting that made me a life-long deer hunter.
But oh, how things have changed in Maine.
We’ve lost the deer herd in the North Woods and suffered steeply declining numbers in the rest of the state.
There’s a home planted right where I shot my first pheasant, and only a few southern Maine clubs raise and stock pheasants today.
My boyhood wild trout brook is a rock-sided gully flowing through a housing development. There are no trout in it.
Moosehead Lake’s fishery has deteriorated substantially and the lake now harbors illegally introduced species that eat and compete with the trout and salmon.
I seek my brook trout much further north at our camp on Sourdahunk Lake, thankful that civilization has not made it this far to ruin the habitat of Maine’s legacy fish. These days I release almost all of the trout I catch. I really don’t mind that change.
In fact, this may be the most significant change for me: I love the experiences offered by hunting and fishing, without feeling that I have to kill something every time out. Just don’t get the wrong idea: I still enjoy eating trout and venison.
I have also refocused my fishing attention on smallmouth bass, especially on our rivers including the Kennebec and Androscoggin. But I also hike into a remote forest to pull one bass after another from an undeveloped jewel of a pond, the pond and surrounding lands now protected and owned by all of us. The experience is not unlike my boyhood fishing adventures in Winthrop.
I recognize that smallies are not native to Maine, but they are what they are, and I like them.
I’ve also embraced wild turkeys, reintroduced in Maine in 1977 and now prolific. Hunting turkeys is more fun than hunting deer (and I am exceedingly sorry for this blasphemy). The May turkey hunting season is my new spring obsession.
And most crisp November mornings still find me somewhere on my woodlot, hoping to see that big buck. I’ve really embraced December’s special muzzle-loading season, another new opportunity for Maine hunters.
And I’ve come to identify with this quote attributed to John Buchan: “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable – a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” You can add hunting to the quote.
I don’t know if my grandsons will hunt or fish. I’ve bought each of them a lifetime hunting and fishing license to encourage them in that direction and they both enjoy fishing with Grampy. We’ll see about hunting.
I don’t much like change. I do what I can with it. And after 6 1/2 decades of it, I still like my Maine best.
Originally published by Down East magazine, 2011.
Photos by Pam Wells.