Looks back to see where we’ve been can be every bit as fascinating as looks forward to where we’re headed. Maybe that’s why I enjoy books about history. Dale Potter-Clark and Charles L Day, Jr. have given us a fascinating a look, in their book Summer Resorts and Kids’ Camps, back to the “good old very busy summer time” days when the Winthrop-Readfield-Fayette-Mount Vernon area – known as the Winthrop Lakes Region – was filled with summer resorts and kids’ camps.
But it’s the stories about fisheries and fishing that most interested me. As an avid angler who grew up in this area, I was fascinated by the accounts of fishing here, including “the unfortunate introduction of pickerel into the Winthrop and Belgrade Lakes.” That led Fisheries Commissioner Henry Stanley to report that the native fisheries in those lakes were doomed unless local residents reduced their amount of ice fishing. And I was amazed to learn that bass were stocked in those lakes to drive out the “voracious pickerel.”
Commissioner Stanley noted that, at one time, those waters were “fully equal to the Rangeley Lakes.” Sadly, that is not the case today. I do remember catching a lot of bass – as well as pickerel – when I was a kid in Maranacook and other local lakes.
Let me take you on a journey through the book into our fishing past.
From Forest and Stream, October 1889: “Maranacook Lake is at the head of a line of lakes, all now well filled with black bass, pickerel and the favorite white perch.”
As kids, Dad would take us up to the inlet to Maranacook, when the perch were spawning, and with our small rods, bobbers, and worms on our hooks, we would fill buckets with white perch. Those that we didn’t eat went into the garden.
I learned that the first president of the Oquossoc Anglers Association in the Rangeley region was George Shepard Page, a Readfield native. He and a group of friends also built Camp Kennebago. I’ve seen the fish mounts in the Oquossoc clubhouse of those huge 12 plus pound brook trout that were once caught in that region.
Ironically, George Page introduced black bass into Maine in 1869 when he brought 31 of them from New York and released them into Lake Maranacook – in an unsuccessful attempt to counteract pickerel that had been stocked illegally. Unfortunately, the bass devastated the trout fishery.
The fishing photos in the book are amazing, including those long stringers of fish. I also enjoyed the stories about local guides. Local hotels offered guided fishing every day. The guides tied their row boats or canoes to a steamboat, which transported them and their clients to good fishing spots on the lake, where the steamboat would anchor, and the anglers would jump into the row boats and canoes and fish the area, catching their dinner.
A story in the Boston Herald in 1894 told of guest John McNally’s experience fly fishing in Maranacook Lake, where, in five hours, he and his friends caught thirty two 2 to 3 pound bass. “Hundreds of bass rods are being used this season on the Maine lakes and ponds,” reported the Herald, “and a really good deal of sport is obtained from black bass fishing.” This was 25 years after George Page introduced bass to the lake, which to this day, offers great bass fishing.
I also learned in the book that the Readfield end of the lake was a favorite camping and fishing spot for the Cushnoc Indians long ago, when the fish were much more plentiful.
Guests at one camp were told not to touch their kid’s fishing poles, “unless you have a Maine fishing license because if you get caught you’ll be fined.” I am pleased to say, when I was at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, we successfully proposed legislation that changed that, so today you can assist a kid who is learning to fish even if you don’t have a fishing license.
The book even includes stories about fishing in more distant waters. Some local guides would fly their customers to “remote lakes miles away. Back in 1940, most lakes had no roads to them nor anyone living around them.” No wonder they offered great fishing!
This book includes some interesting hunting stories. Here’s one: “I remember as a kid, going hunting every winter with a .22 through a rough woods road looking for any game I could shoot. Then I would dress what I killed and take it home for Mother to cook. I also remember going across the main road, down what we called the Indian Trail to Torsey Lake and I would shoot a dozen or more grey squirrels and Mother always made great meals of the squirrels…”
I must thanks Dale Potter-Clark and Charles L Day, Jr. for all the work they did to write and publish this wonderful look back.