April 22, 2018
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Annual drift boat trip offers chance to ‘think like a fish’

John Holyoke | BDN
John Holyoke | BDN
Dan Legere of Maine Guide Fly Shop (left) holds the net and a landlocked salmon that Don Factor of Bangor (right) caught Sunday on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Factor was this year's winner of the BDN's annual "Win a Drift Boat Trip" contest.
By John Holyoke, BDN Staff

Over the course of the spring, summer and fall, Dan Legere likely spends more time in the middle seat of his Hyde drift boat than he spends in bed. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

And on Sunday — just another day in paradise, to hear him talk — Legere was again in his “office,” alternately rowing, teaching, advising and encouraging two anglers on a leisurely trip down the West Branch of the Penobscot River.

Don Factor of Bangor, the winner of the ninth annual BDN “Win a Drift Boat Trip” contest, spent the day on the front casting platform. I served as ballast in the back of the boat. And after launching just below Ambejackmockamus Falls — or, more simply, “Big A” —- Legere got right to work sharing his knowledge of fly fishing — and fish.

“From the top, these [flies] may all look alike,” Legere said, telling Factor the difference between caddis flies, mayflies and stone flies. “But you’ve got to think like a fish. Fish know. And the dreaded word [to fishermen] is ‘refusal.’”

There were plenty of refusals on Sunday, to be sure. But thanks to the help of Legere, a registered Maine Guide and proprietor of the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, Factor and I also brought plenty of fish to net.

Not that our day started out all that auspiciously. First, we didn’t fish our intended water, the East Outlet of the Kennebec River, because too much water was being released out of Moosehead Lake. Not that we were complaining, mind you. The West Branch is a destination fishery in its own right.

When you get down to it, griping about fishing the West Branch instead of the East Outlet is roughly akin to complaining about catching a brook trout when you’d have rather caught a landlocked salmon. Or vice versa.

No, the real reason for our less-than-textbook morning had little to do with the river we would fish, and a lot to do with the fact that the road to that river had been graded recently.

Grading, we learned, tosses all kinds of rock shards around. Sharp rock shards. Tire-puncturing rock shards. And over the past week or so, Legere has been going through tires like crazy.

In what I decided to view as us merely receiving the full West Branch experience, we blew another tire on our trip there. Fortunately, Legere was prepared, and had us back on the road in about 15 minutes. And after a lengthy drive through the Maine woods, we were on the water, looking for fish.

“We’re prospecting,” Legere said, explaining that since fish weren’t visibly feeding on the surface, we had to make educated guesses as to where those salmon and trout would be.

And when it comes to making educated guesses about fish, I’d just as soon have Legere doing the guessing as anybody.

“I assume there’s a fish behind every rock out there,” said the optimistic Legere. “But you don’t know which one [fish are really behind]. There’s more rocks than fish.”

It didn’t take us long to find one of the right rocks, as Factor caught his first landlocked salmon about 20 minutes into our drift.

“OK,” Legere said, nodding his head. “Catch me another one.”

Factor grinned. “I’ll do that,” he said.

And he did — more than a dozen more, in fact.

At times, the fishing was remarkably good, and it didn’t seem to matter what we did.

“Just drop your fly overboard,” Legere advised at one point, directing Factor to avoid casting and to simply drift his fly over a feeding fish just in front of the boat. The fish struck eagerly. Factor was thrilled. Legere laughed.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” Legere said.

An hour or so later, after a session of unsuccessful prospecting at a likely looking spot, Legere decided he’d had enough.

“Go ahead and reel up,” he said, preparing to let the boat drift a little farther downriver, where he had set his anchor again.

He never got the chance: A fish struck Factor’s fly as he reeled in the line.

That, too, was apparently part of Legere’s master plan. Or so he’d tell you.

“The best science I know when it comes to fishing is to threaten to leave,” Legere said with a laugh.

Over the course of the day, Legere’s other lessons paid dividends as well. We caught plenty of trout and salmon. We ate like kings, feasting on a shore lunch of steak, potatoes and onions (after an appetizer of smoked salmon and dip on crackers). Dessert was Penny Legere’s wonderful cheesecake-in-a-jar.

And after catching more fish (and a bigger fish) than I did, Factor earned bragging rights for the trip.

“That makes you top rod,” Legere said.

Factor smiled, and allowed that even without that honor, he was perfectly satisfied with how the day had turned out. It wasn’t all about the fishing, you see.

“I saw two ducks. And two eagles. That makes it a good day,” he said.

Add in the five moose (and forgetting about the flat tire), and I’d wholeheartedly agree.



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