With another long winter officially behind us — ignore for a moment those grimy leftover snow banks — it’s finally time to start embracing the (eventual) arrival of warm weather.
And on Wednesday, there’s no better place to do just that than in the tiny village of Grand Lake Stream.
The Washington County town is named for the pristine water that runs through it, tracing a brief but impressive track from West Grand Lake to Big Lake.
During some months, the village sleeps. During others, it stirs.
But on the opening day of open-water fishing season, April 1, it nearly bustles.
“It’s a complete changing of the guards,” said Kurt Cressey, who, along with his wife, Kathy, own and operate the Pine Tree Store. “Out with the old winter blues and in with the spring hopefulness. Summer is coming.”
While many Maine lakes will remain ice-covered for a few more weeks, and while a few rivers are open to fishing year-round, April 1 marks the traditional beginning of open-water season.
Across the state, anglers will flock to predictable haunts, looking for some fishable water and the chance to hook a fish.
Grand Lake Stream holds a special allure to some of those anglers, who make a yearly pilgrimage to Washington County to meet up with old friends and make new ones in a place that holds a special cachet in fly fishing circles.
Grand Lake Stream was once a favorite fishing spot for the nation’s fly fishing elite, including baseball star Ted Williams and sportscaster and outdoorsman Curt Gowdy.
Today, it remains one of the state’s top destinations for those seeking landlocked salmon in the spring and smallmouth bass in the summer.
There are plenty of towns in Maine that can claim to be attractive to anglers. There are few where traveling fishermen play a more important role than they do here.
Mention Grand Lake Stream in any outdoors store in Maine, and a few veteran anglers will nod their heads.
Can’t wait to go back.
And at the mercantile center of this one-store town, Kurt Cressey is ready to greet visitors on his 15th opening day as owner of Pine Tree Store.
“It’s a good chance to see the old friends who come here every year,” Cressey said.
Cressey serves food to the hungry, beverages to the thirsty and always serves free coffee on opening day.
He’ll also dispense some specialized local information for those who ask … like the most productive fly for the early-season conditions.
Most years, Cressey’s fly-selling spiel has begun like this: “You can use any fly you want, as long as it’s a Barnes special,” he has been known to tell visiting anglers.
This year, that sales pitch will change.
Not that a Barnes special won’t produce, mind you … as long as you bring the fly yourself.
“I’m all out of Barnes specials,” Cressey said with a laugh. “I’ve got 40 dozen coming in the first of May, so I’ll have to come up with another winner. I’m predicting the Colonel Bates will do it.”
Cressey said anglers who travel to Grand Lake Stream for opening day this year can expect prime conditions.
“[The dam keepers at West Grand Lake] did a good job drawing the lake down and for the most part have closed down the gates on West Grand so they can draw down East Grand,” Cressey said. “That should give us a great opportunity in terms of fishability.”
“It looks like the water flow is going to be great,” Cressey said. “It’s just under 300 [cubic feet per second]. I would say anywhere from 300 to 600 is optimum flow.”
And Cressey has another piece of advice for rookie anglers looking to catch a few salmon at GLS on opening day.
Forget the floating line. Forget the sink-tip lines. Go deep.
“The key to this time of year is full-sink line,” Cressey said, recounting an outing he took with a friend who was equipped appropriately. On that day, Cressey was armed with only sink-tip line.
“I would say, every cast, if he didn’t hook up, he got a hit. I’d use lead-core line, if you could throw it,” he joked.
Coming up …
I’ll join the fly-fishing masses on Wednesday and make my nearly annual trip to Grand Lake Stream for opening day. Accompanying me on the trip will be Dave Simpson of ABC-7, who produces the weekly “Going Outdoors” segment that airs on his station and FOX-22.
On Monday you’ll meet a few GLS anglers and see what we learned on opening day. You might hear from Kurt Cressey. And if you’ve never visited Cressey’s adopted hometown, you’ll likely start planning a trip.
And later this week I’ll tell you all about the trip in these pages.