Three anglers stood waist-deep in the clear waters of the fabled Dam Pool on a recent morning, as Jeff McEvoy strolled up Middle Walk, the path that sits between Grand Lake Stream and an adjacent canal.
All three gates at the dam that holds back West Grand Lake were partially open, providing a favorable flow for the landlocked salmon that move into the river come spawning season.
The fish are big and burly at this time of year, and that’s certainly attractive to the anglers who find their way to this special place nestled deep in the woods.
Also attractive: The mingling of red, yellow and orange leaves on trees that line the banks of the 3-mile-long stream that’s one of the state’s most well known fishing destinations.
McEvoy owns Weatherby’s, a hunting and fishing lodge that sits just up the hill, a few long casts away from the stream. Most years, he spends a lot of time in October chasing his bird dogs — English cocker spaniels — as they sniff out ruffed grouse and woodcock.
This year, he’s still sidelined after sustaining severe injuries when he fell 20 feet from a ladder back in July so he had time for a leisurely walk along the famous stream.
Two of his dogs, Gus and Curly Fry, had acted as the welcoming committee on this day, as they hopped to and fro, eventually agreeing to pose for photos when McEvoy grabbed a few treats he’d use to bribe them with.
(Curly Fry, for the record, is my dog Teddy’s sister, and she shares his sweet disposition. It was nice to catch up with her, and to see how similar the two pooches still are).
One angler hooked and landed a salmon at Dam Pool before McEvoy led the way downstream to Hatchery Pool, where guide Deryn LaComb stood between a pair of clients from Wyoming who’d traveled across the country to visit the stream they’d heard so much about.
The salmon are king here in the stream, which is open to fishing until Oct. 20, and traveling anglers often visit during the heat of the summer to chase smallmouth bass in the nearby lakes, but McEvoy said you never really know what you’re going to catch.
“Last summer we had a client who was fishing right here and she hooked a salmon,” McEvoy said. “Then a huge lake trout came up and grabbed the salmon. Snapped the line.”
The woman was none too pleased, McEvoy said, and unleashed a stream of invective that prevented him from sharing video of the encounter.
Later that week, McEvoy found himself staring down at the monster lake trout, which he said was about 4 feet long.
Fresh off a southern saltwater trip, where he was often fishing near sharks, McEvoy said he began backing away from the togue as it got closer and closer to him.
“Finally, I had to stop and realize, there are no sharks in Grand Lake Stream,” McEvoy said with a laugh.
Nearby, Derik Lee — a self-described “professional fish wrangler” at the Grand Lake Stream State Fish Hatchery — did just that, carrying buckets of brook trout from the hatchery to a waiting truck. From there, the trout were headed to three different Down East waters, where they’d provide some fishing opportunities for anglers next spring.
An occasional trout flopped out of the bucket onto the hatchery floor, but those escapees were quickly scooped up and tossed into the tank with its hatchery mates.
After watching the action there for a half hour, McEvoy returned to Weatherby’s, and photographer Linda Coan O’Kresik and I promised to send him some shots of the photogenic cockers that she’d taken when we arrived.
Then we headed farther downstream, to a spot where I hoped I’d find some uncrowded water.
At Little Falls, we found just that. One other truck was in the parking lot, but the angler was nowhere to be found. I quickly strung up my fly rod, attached a red and white streamer fly, and hopped onto a streamside rock to improve my casting angle.
We had another story to report on, and another hour of driving before we got there. There was no time to put on waders and fully gear up.
There was, however, enough time to make a few mostly ceremonial casts into the stream below the falls.
Not to catch a fish (although that would have been wonderful, too).
But just to say I had. After a hectic summer and an equally busy beginning of autumn, it had been quite a while since I’d had a chance to fish.
So fish, I did, as the clear, cool water of Grand Lake Stream tumbled over the boulders and rushed past.
Then, much too soon, it was time to pack up and hit the road again, with another adventure awaiting.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.