May 23, 2018
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Smallmouth only a part of a day on the river

Drawing by Tom Hennessey | BDN
Drawing by Tom Hennessey | BDN
By Tom Hennessey

The sky was layered with leaden clouds as Jim Martin and I slid the boat from the bed of his truck. The veteran outdoorsman designed and built the Fiberglas 16-footer whose wide beam and shallow draft made it a versatile river boat. Thus, it can be rowed, paddled, poled or driven by an outboard motor saddled to a narrow stern. In short order, then, we shoved off from the Costigan shore of the Penobscot River and began drifting and fishing, hoping to coax a few bass into committing aggravated assault.

While Jim worked the oars I probed swirling eddies and quiet pools with a fly-rod popper cast from a comfortable bow seat. The first bass that boiled for the lure didn’t get hooked, though, because I was distracted by the profusion of bright-red cardinal flowers amid shoreline ferns and grasses.

Directly, however, another bass struck so hard it hooked itself. After the fish was released, Jim rested the oars and offered the scrappy smallmouths a spider imitation that was accepted immediately. It appeared that we were “right in amongst ’em,”as they say. But it turned out that we fished hard for the 10 or so that were caught and released, plus several that came unstuck.

During a leg-stretching lunch break Jim and I gabbed about hunting, fishing, trapping in general and the Penobscot River in particular. In the interim we watched an eagle swoop to capture a chub that had been caught and released.

Owing to a rising southwest wind, however, casting was a curse when we returned to the river. In other words, we didn’t fish long before heading back to the landing. While Jim teamed the 2-horse outboard, a flock of Canada geese skittered and swam ahead of us. Obviously the birds hadn’t recovered from their flightless molts. Admittedly, I was surprised that we reached the landing without shearing a pin in the rock-cluttered rips. When I mentioned it, Jim shrugged and said, “I’ve probably been through there a hundred times.” Allowing that he began rummaging around the river long before he began shaving, I replied, “Probably more than that.”

By the Penobscot’s standards we didn’t catch a lot of bass, but the fishing couldn’t have been better. The more I thought about it, the more I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s sage observation: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

Tom Hennessey’s columns and artwork may be viewed at Tom’s email address is:

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