Spend a bit of time sharing a boat with a registered Maine guide, and you’re apt to learn all kinds of things about life, nature and other assorted topics. And the more familiar you become with that guide — after a few years of visiting the same lodge, for instance — the more likely it is that conversations will roam to subjects you never expected.
With lodge life as the backdrop and his Grand Laker canoe taking center stage, guide Dale Wheaton’s latest book, “Behind the Cast,” illuminates a life spent hauling “sports” around the Down East lakes Wheaton calls home.
Some of the tales are hilarious, some are touching, and and anglers will likely glean enough pro tips between the vignettes to help them become better anglers.
That’s not really the point, though. “Behind the Cast” isn’t a how-to or where-to book. Instead, it’s a collection of short essays that Wheaton has accumulated over a long career as a Maine guide.
Wheaton is the son of legendary Maine guide Woodie Wheaton. He and his wife, Jana, owned Wheaton’s Lodge in Forest City for 34 years, and he still guides today. But he’s not a one-trick pony: He was educated at the University of Maine and the University of Nottingham in England, and taught economics at UMaine for 27 years.
Many of the stories included were originally published in the Wheaton’s Lodge annual newsletter, “The Backlash.” Wheaton published another book of guide tales — “Observations from the Stern” — in 1995.
Wheaton also knows his way around the keyboard, and his writing chops are solid. One advantage he takes full advantage of: By spending thousands of days in a canoe with all kinds of folks, he’s got a wealth of interesting tales to share.
And share he does.
From laments about the world’s dumbest bird dog (which, you might learn, wasn’t so dumb after all), to self-deprecating tales about mistakes he wishes he hadn’t made, Wheaton takes the reader into his canoe, settles ’em in, and heads out on a series of adventures that aren’t easily forgotten.
His down-home Maine approach to the stories is comfortable, and informative. For instance, in an essay titled “To Patch a Hole,” he offers a funny and succinct explanation of the various levels of dumbness that exist. Many of us will read that explanation and nod, knowingly. That’s me!
“There are many kinds of dumb,” Wheaton writes. “They range from let’s eat those pretty mushrooms dumb to poke the skunk dumb to whoops — where is the boat plug dumb.”
At its best, “Behind the Cast” is hilarious and enlightening. Wheaton dwells on the toilet habits of sports a bit too often for comfort, but consider: It’s not a simple thing to take care of nature’s calling when you’re in a small boat in the middle of a big lake. And most often, the peeing-into-the-bailing-bucket episodes aren’t gratuitous … they’re an integral part of the tale he’s sharing.
And at unexpected times, the essays he shares are poignant, as they’re written about longtime clients who are no longer with us. One particularly touching piece, “Rings,” features a client who is still grieving his wife when he arrives at Wheaton’s, and promptly loses his wife’s ring, which he always keeps near. That story, as a guide might say, is a “keeper.”
“Behind the Cast” is available at The Briar Patch, Gerald Winters and Son, and Eddie’s Flies and Tackle in Bangor, and at Annika Rod & Fly in Brewer.
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