My folks had never been to Baxter Park until Linda and I purchased a camp near there. Few Mainers have been to Acadia National Park, even though every year millions visit there from all over the world.
Aroostook County is unknown to most Mainers, its rolling hills of farmland and forests unseen. And I have talked with folks from northern Maine who had never been south of Bangor.
My grandmother Edith Searles lived almost all of her long life in Lubec, staring across 10 miles of water to Grand Manan Island. And she never set foot on it.
Canada might as well be the Soviet Union to many Mainers. My first visit to Montreal, only four hours away, didn’t come until age 52. And in 2002, I paid my first visit to Quebec.
I can report that is a good thing to visit these places. Linda and I both loved Montreal and Quebec City.
But what really captivated us was a trip up the north shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway, featuring hundreds of miles of stunning scenery, expansive beaches, mountainous terrain, amazing waterfalls, rivers teeming with fish, and small well-kept villages nestled alongside the river.
To describe it in current lingo, its life the way it should be.
We traveled to Quebec to fish but the trip up to Havre St. Pierre, our jumping off place for the wilderness fishing adventure, added a truly spectacular element to our trip that was unexpected. It’s worth the drive on Route 173.
Seven hundred fifty miles after leaving Quebec Cith, after 13 ½ hours of driving, we entered the small coastal village of Havre St. Pierre, where we would catch a float plane to Lake Watshishou, home base of Lac Holt Outfitters.
We were there to fish, but the wonderful hospitality, gourmet food, very comfortable lodge, and view up the lake – well, it was all very special. Inveterate reader that I am, you will know that this must have been a very special place when I tell you I took six books with me and managed to read only 20 pages the entire week!
Day One found us in Pool 55 at the mouth of the Watshishou River at 6 am, where a 3 ½ pound salmon struck my fly in the first hour of fishing. Few fish battle as strongly as landlocked salmon or jump as high. This fish did not disappoint and it took about 10 minutes to bring it in to hand. After a quick photo I released it unharmed.
Both Linda and Edye Cronk, our traveling companion who was president of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine at that time, also caught several nice fish that morning.
Let me describe my experience this way. I caught 36 landlocked salmon and brook trout. My salmon included fish of 3 ½ pounds, 4 ½ pounds, 5 pounds, and a giant of 27 inches that weighed 6 pounds.
And that was the first day! It is a day I shall never forget.
But it is the last day that stays freshest in my mind. An aggressive salmon in my favorite pool on the river had, on two previous days, tried to steal a smaller salmon off our lines. I was determined to catch this big salmon and tried many flies and approaches, without luck.
Linda and I returned to that pool for our last morning of fishing, and I focused on assisting her as she caught many nice salmon and trout. As the last hour of fishing arrived, I decided to implement my plan for the big salmon. I’d given this a lot of thought.
Using two split shot weights and a large Black Ghost fly, I sneaked up behind the ledge at the bend in the pool, and dropped the line into a deep hole on the other side of the ledge where I thought the huge salmon might be hiding.
As the fly settled to the bottom of the hole, something strong picked it up. I knew immediately that I had hooked the big salmon. Linda says my fist pumped up and down but I have no recollection of that.
The salmon slowly took about a hundred yards of my line out into the river, and when I finally pulled back, he ripped out another hundreds yards upriver, leaping magnificently out of the water. We both gasped.
“I did it. I got the big salmon,” I yelled.
It was a tremendous fight as I chased the fish upriver with many heart-stopping jumps by the salmon, and I was shaking when he finally arrived at my hand where I measured and weighed him – a solid 25 inches and 4 ½ pounds. After photos he was released to fight another day and thrill another angler.
I took apart my rod, finished for the day and for the trip.