Before Sunday, Tiffany Shepard had never been in a drift boat, which is a wide, flat-bottom boat with flared sides. She’d never seen the East Outlet of the Kennebec River. And she’d never fished with a fly rod.
On Sunday, all of that changed, thanks to a bit of good luck — Deer Isle’s Shepard won her drift boat fishing trip in a BDN contest that is run in conjunction with the Eastern Maine Sportsman’s Show — and the patience and wisdom of guide Dan Legere.
Shepard joined past contest winners Mike Horvers (2003), Jason McCubbin (2004), Doug Saunders (2005), Tom Nichols (2006), James Rolph (2007) and Dick Fortier (2008) as recipients of our grand prize.
The 2009 trip went unclaimed due to scheduling conflicts.
Up front, let’s get one thing clear. Legere is not just a guide. He’s also the proprietor of the Maine Guide Fly Shop, and a master fly tier. He’s an expert oarsman. And at various points in a trip down his home river, he may be a storyteller, a historian or a standup comic.
And on this day, Legere again showed that he’s also among the best teachers a new fly fisher could ever find.
“Fish need a house,” he said, beginning the day’s lesson on reading the river we’d be drifting for the rest of the day.
Yes, fish need houses. And on this river, Legere knows where just about every house (or holding lie) is. He would put Shepard within casting distance of those houses. And he’d celebrate with her when she knocked on the door and got a favorable response.
Before that could happen, however, Legere and Shepard had to start speaking the same language.
“When you see that fish take that fly, you set it,” Legere said, illustrating the lesson with a quick jerk of an imaginary fly rod.
“You’ve got to yard it?” Shepard asked.
“You’ve got to yard it,” Legere conceded with a laugh. “And now we’ve got to see how hard you can yard it.”
As it turns out, Shepard yards plenty hard.
And after an hour or so of missed opportunities, Shepard began to get serious about her yard work.
“You got him! You got him!” Legere yelled, as Shepard hooked her first fish on a small dry fly.
There was, however, a little problem: The lesson plan hadn’t yet progressed beyond the casting and yarding portion, and Shepard was in uncharted territory.
“What do I do now?” an excited Shepard asked, just before the fish threw the hook and swam away.
It was time for another lesson.
To her credit, Shepard was a quick study, and a curious student. The fact that Legere often spends his days with people who have traveled hundreds of miles for the experience was not lost on her.
And she was determined to learn as much about fly fishing as she could in eight hours.
It didn’t take long for her efforts to pay off.
First, a brook trout, on a Shufelt Special streamer fly. Then another, on a dry fly. Then a small landlocked salmon.
On each cast, Legere stood behind Shepard, coaching her through the fly-casting (and fish-yarding) process.
“Cast, mend, follow, feed,” he instructed, time after time.
And over time, the foreign concepts began to make sense to Shepard. She cast on her own … mended line the way she’d been taught … followed her fly with the tip of her fly rod … and fed more line through the guides to extend the fly’s drift.
And when fish number four, a frisky 10-inch brookie, came to hand, Legere played no role, having done nothing but stand nearby and nod.
“Yay! Unassisted!” Shepard cheered. “I’m hired.”
Over the course of the morning, Shepard continued to put her lessons to use, and caught and released eight fish before Legere rowed his boat ashore with some welcome words.
“I declare it barbecue season,” Legere said.
That it was: Smoked salmon and cream cheese on crackers for an appetizer, grilled chicken ceasar salad for lunch, and Penny Legere’s scrumptious bread pudding for dessert.
After lunch, the fishing slowed down a bit, but Shepard still had a good enough afternoon to leave the water with a well-deserved double-digit day on her first fly fishing adventure.
Shepard said that winning the trip gave her the chance to try a sport she likely would never have taken up.
She’s a coastal woman, after all, and said that most of her fishing involved casting for mackerel off a dock.
But after a day in fly fishing class with Legere, she says she’s looking forward to her next fly fishing excursion.
“I think we’ve started a trend,” she said. “I would do it again any time.”
She did, say, however, that having the services of a guide like Legere likely spoiled her a bit.
“I think it would be different if you weren’t catching fish,” she said with a chuckle.