GRAND LAKE STREAM, Maine — While Mother Nature pelted southern Maine with an April Fool’s Day snowstorm Saturday, anglers in this tiny wilderness outpost were in a celebratory mood, the opening day of open-water fishing season.
Yes, Portland received a foot of snow.
And yes, not far from this classic Washington County fishing spot, others were still fishing on frozen lakes and ponds after the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife extended ice fishing season through April 16 due to lingering cold weather.
But here — on what may be the state’s most reliable opening day fly fishing spot — dozens of fly fishers took turns in the legendary Dam Pool, a spot that nearly always produces frantic fishing for landlocked salmon on opening day.
No snow fell, and fish were cooperative. Anglers, as you may imagine, were happy.
In the large parking lot overlooking the pool, James Elliott III of Hermon assembled his gear, eager to join about 20 other anglers in the water. Elliott is an avid fly fisherman, and had fished Grand Lake Stream in the past.
This was his first opening day on the stream, however. Making it even more special: His fishing partner for the day was his dad, James Elliott Jr. of Hampden.
For the younger Elliott, just arriving in the village and crossing the bridge over the stream is a special occasion.
“You stop. You look up[stream], you look down. You check the water flow and see how many fishermen are in there, see if they’re catching fish,” he said. “It’s historic, and it’s Maine, really. It’s idyllic Maine … it’s why I live here. It’s why we endure all this [snow] for six months. So we can do this in April and May.”
For generations, fishermen have traveled to Grand Lake Stream to try their luck in the pristine waters that flow out of West Grand Lake. James Elliott Jr. said he first fished the stream about 55 years ago, when he was about 10 years old.
Then, years later, he remembers teaching his son to fly fish so he could join in on the fun.
“I used to duct tape his arm to a piece of wood,” James Elliott Jr. said, describing a method he developed to make sure his son didn’t bend his wrist while casting.
His son chuckled and confirmed that story. He hasn’t been duct-taped for years, but did develop his own individual style in the process of learning. On Saturday, he was happy to share opening day with his dad in a special place. The options, he said, are slim at this time of year.
And atop the list for many: Grand Lake Stream.
“There’s only a certain number of places that have flowing water that you can fish easily [at this time of year],” James Elliott III said. “And the fish are here. That’s why I want to be here … you know there’s going to be salmon here on opening day.”
Anglers are often reluctant to share their favorite spots, and typically spend long hours fishing alone. One day a year, at least, many abandon their solitary pursuit and head to this place, where they know dozens of others will be vying for space.
At midmorning on Saturday, the crowd in Dam Pool grew to more than 20, with a few others standing on shore waiting for an open place to stand, and still others scattered downstream. Several caught fish, but one angler described a feeding frenzy just after sunrise, when those early anglers catching 10, 20 or more fish apiece.
Among those who joined in on the fun were Clifford Perry of Cherryfield and his two grown sons, Dennis Perry of Whitneyville and Daniel Perry of Cherryfield.
Although he grew up in Washington County and loves to fish, Clifford Perry said the trip to Grand Lake Stream was his first.
“First time I’ve ever been down this road,” he said. “[I] work every day. Just work every day.”
Dennis Perry, a Registered Maine Guide, said he’d been looking forward to taking his dad and brother on a free guided trip.
“I’ve been trying to get [my dad] to come here for years,” he said. “[After] getting cooped up in the wintertime, this is a nice chance to get out and do something besides stare at snow. We’ve been looking forward to this day for months.”
Mike Hegarty of Clifton showed up with fishing partner Barb Goos of Camden, and the pair were enjoying the experience.
“It’s the whole mystique of coming up to this beautiful spot,” Hegarty said. “My expectations aren’t too high. Just being here is nice. My expectations? I’ve already met them: I’m here. I’m fishing. I just love it here.”
Goos had never been to Grand Lake Stream, and also said that her goals for the day were modest.
“It was just great to come up and have fun,” she said. “If we catch fish, great. If we don’t, great. We’ll be back.”