A soft breeze blew upstream on the Kenduskeag Stream on Wednesday evening — not enough to scatter the swarms of non-biting blackflies and mosquitoes, but just enough to carry the sweet scent of cigar smoke along the stream bed.
As fishing scents go, cigar smoke is among the classics, of course; generations of Mainers wouldn’t think of heading into the woods in search of trout without a few stogies on hand, just to drive those pesky flies away.
But on this day, we weren’t in the woods at all. In fact, we were in about as urban a setting as you’ll find for a brook trout outing: A half mile or so from the bustle of downtown Bangor, in a setting Stephen King fans would likely recognize as the real life “Barrens.”
The stream burbled along nicely, finally at a suitable fishing level, after several weeks at the the more ferocious level preferred by whitewater paddlers and other thrill seekers.
Scattered along the banks up and downstream from the Valley Avenue bridge, members of the Penobscot Fly Fishers found suitable spots to cast from shore, or to wade into the flow in search of some of the trout that club members had helped stock just a week earlier.
The Wednesday outings have become a club tradition, President Mike Hegarty explained, and offer social and fishing opportunities for the members.
“We have a pretty aggressive set of events,” Hegarty said. “Every Sunday we have a big event — we just did Green Lake, trolling, and we did Toddy Pond the week before — and this is our first midweek one. On Wednesdays we’ll find a local place to fish.”
Fish, or something like that.
Not everybody showed up to wet a line and tempt a trout, you see.
Hegarty, for one, wasn’t planning to fish. He prefers wilder environs, but did want to get a look at the Kenduskeag from a different vantage point than he’s become accustomed: He admitted that the famed Shopping Cart rapid on the stream has caused him plenty of trouble in two recent trips during the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
And other club members had other reasons for staying on dry land on Wednesday.
Rob Dunnett of Brewer, for example, is on the mend after having hip replacement surgery. Fellow club members didn’t expect to see him on the Kenduskeag on Wednesday, and they were surprised when he arrived and worked his way gingerly down the slope toward the water. A couple of his longtime friends shared the opinion that they didn’t think he ought to be testing his new hip quite so soon.
Not that they said that to him, of course.
Instead, they did what fishing buddies always do: They joked, and changed the subject.
“Where’s your shillelagh, there, bub?” Donald “Cubby” McCubbin asked in way of greeting. “You venturing out without it?”
Dunnett smiled and turned to another longtime club member, Ernie MacDonald to enquire about the evening bite.
“I’ve caught a trout, a bass and a chub,” MacDonald said with a chuckle.
“That’s the Kenduskeag trifecta right there,” Dunnett ribbed.
Hegarty said club membership is up to 120, and is steadily growing.
“I’m getting new members every week. We’re getting people from out of state now — I’m sure they must have a place here or something,” Hegarty said. “We just got members from Arizona.”
The club spends offers plenty of programs during the colder months, including fly tying classes, an introduction to fly fishing, and an outdoor show — the Cabin Fever Reliever.
But it’s on days like this that the members get the chance to know each other a bit better, and to put past lessons to the test.
“We want to make sure if someone joins the club, after a year or so they say, ‘I’ve kind of grown in my fly fishing life because of this,” Hegarty said.
And for many newer members who are just taking up the sport, outings like this one can provide opportunities they’ve never had the chance to enjoy.
“It’s a nice place for a lot of our new members to fish for the first time, with the flies that they tied during our January class,” Hegarty said. “That’s the most rewarding thing, to see that. People are really excited.”
Of course, a fishing outing doesn’t have to be entirely about the fish.
As Dunnett led the way back to the parking lot, he slowed and pointed in the air … not that any of us could miss the scene unfolding.
A bald eagle flew lazily downstream, just 20 feet off the ground, checking out scene below.
“That’s pretty cool,” Dunnett said.
None of us disagreed.
John Holyoke can be reached at 990-8214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke
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