SAPLING TOWNSHIP, Maine — When John Craig headed out onto the East Outlet of the Kennebec River on June 21, he admitted that his expectations were low.
Years of disappointment and trips gone bad had jaded him. Things had gotten so bad, in fact, that Craig’s fishing hat was emblazoned with the label he thought best applied to him.
“Unguideable,” it read.
That was before. Before the East Outlet. Before meeting guide Dan Legere. Before catching a fish after just minutes on the river … and before catching more than a dozen fish before lunch.
“My expectations are low whenever I go trout fishing,” said the Bucksport man, who was this year’s guest in the BDN’s “Win a Drift Boat Trip” contest. “But fishing with Dan has just been awesome because he’s put us right on the fish. I think we were 30 seconds into the river before we had our fish on.”
Legere, the proprietor of the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, didn’t waste any time in showing Craig what the day held in store.
After anchoring his Hyde drift boat in a generally fishy run, Legere gave a few tips, tied on a red gray ghost streamer fly, and told Craig where to cast.
A few casts later, Craig was wrestling with a 19-inch landlocked salmon.
“What are we?” Craig asked. “Three minutes in?”
Legere nodded his agreement, then began plotting Craig’s next attack.
“Now we’re on to the ‘Where there’s one, there’s more’ theory,” Legere said with a chuckle.
And there were more. Many, many more.
During one especially hectic hour just before lunch, Craig and his fishing companion caught an even dozen fish, including landlocked salmon, brook trout and a couple of river chubs.
And like most guides who spend a lot of time on a particular water, Legere’s knowledge paid dividends, time after time.
“There’s a fish under that log that wants to get caught,” he told Craig at one point. “I’ve been watching it since we were way up there. He’s been feeding steady.”
And as Legere had already pointed out, a fish that rises to eat a fly once might be tough to catch. One that continually surfaces to feed is a sitting duck, and a good fisherman should be able to figure out what to drift in front of it.
Craig did, and the 12-inch brookie eagerly took his offering.
Some of Legere’s other tricks — even the offbeat and superstitious ones — also worked.
Later in the morning, Legere told Craig to cast once more to a likely lie.
“After that, we’ll reel in and move somewhere else,” Legere said.
A fish eagerly devoured the drifting fly, eliciting laughs from guide and sport alike.
“The best way I know to get a fish to bite is to threaten to leave,” Legere said.
Later in the day, after Legere had again told Craig to make one more cast before they moved on, the fisherman had become confident enough to expect a fish to visit.
“Is this the ‘one more’ good luck [cast]?” he asked.
After enjoying a shore lunch of steak and pesto pasta salad, Craig said he was happy to have finally shed his “unguideable” label.
“I’m pretty impressed,” he said. “The day could end right now and I’d be tickled to death. I’ve been unsuccessful on more big-name rivers — especially in Colorado [and on] Grand Lake Stream — I’ve been skunked on all of ’em. So I bought this hat for a friend of mine and I’m going to retire it today, after being with Dan.”
Legere said the day was one that fishing dreams are made of.
“A guy couldn’t ask for a better day,” the guide said. “We’re on a two-fly day, really. The fish are taking just about anything we throw overboard. We didn’t have to search very long to figure out what they wanted.”
One reason for that: A live caddis fly landed in the boat just after launch, and studying that fly let Legere know everything he needed to know when tying imitations on Craig’s line.
“It’s a dream day, really,” Legere said. “You stop, there’s fish feeding, you drift over them, they’re willing to eat. It couldn’t be any better.”