On Saturday evening, guide Dan Legere and I began an ominous text-message conversation …. not the ideal situation when you’re just hours away from embarking on a drift boat trip on one of Maine’s top fly-fishing rivers.
The East Outlet of the Kennebec — our destination for Sunday’s annual “Win a Drift Boat Trip” adventure — was blown out. High water would make fishing unproductive, Legere told me. What do we do?
Luckily, Legere, the owner of Greenville’s Maine Guide Fly Shop, had an alternative river in mind. And when you’re able to “settle” for a daylong drift of the West Branch of the Penobscot instead, there’s really not much to complain about.
And that’s what we did: Harvey Siebert of Owls Head, this year’s winner of our contest, joined Legere and I for what we hoped would be a productive day on the water. But first, of course, we had to get there.
The only real sticking point on a West Branch trip with Legere is this: The river is farther from his shop, and requires an hour ride before the fishing even starts.
In this case, that just meant that we had more time to look for wildlife … and the critters cooperated. On the way to and from the river, we spotted a moose, three deer, a couple of snapping turtles, and several snowshoe hare. On the river, a bald eagle soared overhead.
And in the boat, we fished.
“He’s come back five times,” Siebert said, early in our trip, after a fish kept striking short, visiting his fly but avoiding a hookup. “Six times.”
“He’s suicidal,” the longtime guide said. “I like suicidal fish.”
An instant later, the fish returned yet again.
“That makes seven,” Siebert said. “I’m a notoriously poor hook-setter, I guess.”
As it turns out, that wasn’t true at all. Over the course of the day, Siebert lannded more than a dozen fish, including some frisky landlocked salmon and a few brook trout. The big one may have gotten away, but the West Branch fish proved receptive to Legere’s efforts to fool them.
At times, we used dry flies. At other times, swinging a streamer fly enticed strikes. And sub-surface nymphs also paid dividends.
Legere explained why.
“What you’re trying to do [with a nymph] is deliver a Lay’s potato chip to a couch potato,” Legere said. “He’s eaten a million, but he’ll eat one more. He won’t chase it way over there, but if you drop it in his lap, he’ll eat it.”
That’s exactly what Siebert did, and he hooked and landed several fish with various “chips.”
Legere also proved the power of a guide’s suggestion, using the oldest trick in the book to entice a strike.
“OK, one more cast, and we’ll move,” he told Siebert at one point. On that “final” cast, a fish swatted at the fly, and our move was temporarily delayed.
Saying you’re going to move often works, Legere admitted with a laugh. But there’s a secret you’ve got to know.
“You have to mean it,” he said. “You have to have one hand on the anchor rope. [The fish] can tell when you’re not serious.”
Throughout the day, small fish kept visiting our flies, and the only real hookup with a larger fish lasted just a few seconds before it tossed the hook and swam off. After reeling in, I discovered that the fly the fish had struck no longer had a functional fish hook — the fish had bent it nearly straight.
“The little ones are like kids,” Legere said. “They’re in the fridge all the time, nibbling on something. We [adults] like to wait until the banquet is all set up.”
Those bigger, older fish never did visit our banquet, but Legere made sure that didn’t matter.
This year’s shore lunch was a keeper, and the smoked salmon appetizers and chicken caesar salad main course certainly hit the spot. So, too, did the dessert Dan’s wife, Penny, packed for us: Rhubarb crisp in a Mason jar.
After a long day on the water, we packed up for the return trip to Greenville, a little weary, but satisfied with our day.
The fish participated in our adventure. We ate like kings. We got to see several wild critters.
Life was good … let’s do it again next year.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke