It has been a challenging and emotionally draining last several weeks.
We’ve been encouraged to stay at home to keep each other safe and many of us have been relegated to that same (in my case tiny) space for work. Day after day.
It got old. Quickly. I had no idea how much it had dampened my outlook on things — until I went fishing.
I chose my “home” water, Sebago Lake, in Cumberland County. It is Maine’s second largest lake, behind Moosehead. The only problem is, it’s more than a two-hour drive from Bangor.
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Yet even the trip down Interstate 95 was a welcome respite from the recent routine. I saw a few groups of turkeys milling around the side of the road, a reminder that the spring hunting season is only a few weeks away.
I’m not sure there’s an adequate way to describe the feeling of getting out of the car at camp and taking those first few breaths. The familiar smells ease your mind, soothe your soul and remind you of happier days.
My fishing plan was hastily hatched. I had to drag the battered 1964 Mirrocraft aluminum boat a few feet to the water and mount the weather-worn Evinrude 6 hp outboard to the stern.
Oars and oar locks, life jacket, seat cushion, downrigger, spinning rod, trolling rod, tackle box, net, sandwiches and water. Check.
It was a day fit for a postcard: bright sun, blue skies and no wind, the latter of which was key given my aged ride. Better yet, there was no competition.
The motor started with five or six pulls, a minor miracle in itself, and Sebago was mine. Pretty much all mine.
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Sebago Lake is best known for two species of fish. It is called “the home of the landlocked salmon,” hence the fish’s scientific name, Salmo salar sebago.
My first offering, trolling a streamer fly on a spinning rod. It’s a method that’s tried and true at Sebago, where for years fishing guides have cruised around the shoreline early in the morning and before dusk, skimming the surface for salmon.
I’ve probably only ever caught or hooked a half-dozen salmon in that fashion, but it seemed the perfect tactic given the conditions and the minimal effort needed to get fishing.
I then rigged up a trolling rod with a medium-sized set of two-tone Dave Davis spinners and a long leader. I chose a pink U20 Flatfish lure that measures 4-5 inches and produces a wiggling action known to entice lake trout, aka togue.
I gave the streamer periodic quick tugs in the hope of generating some attention, all the while wrangling with the “togue rod” and downrigger, which quickly gets your lure to the desired depth. It took me a while.
Finally, I got the togue setup squared away and began scouring the depths in search of a lunker. At this point, I reached a quandry. Streamers should be trolled fast and togue prefer plodding lure action.
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I split the difference, keeping the motor at togue speed and increasing the frequency of the streamer tugs.
A little later, the tranquility was broken as another solo fisherman emerged from the west side of Raymond Cape and made his way past me. We exchanged the obligatory wave from a good 30 yards away.
I moved into an area known as the “gut,” a narrow stretch of the lake between Frye Island and the southern end of the cape. It’s a path I have fished hundreds of times.
It takes you past “Hawthorne’s Cave,” a small opening in the rocky shoreline where novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne is said to have done some writing. It’s right next to “Frye’s Leap,” a huge rock outcropping that is a summer favorite of yahoo interlopers with a death wish.
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You could build a small raft from the “No Trespassing” signs posted by the property owner, Camp Wawenock, to help keep people from danger. Yet hundreds of drunks and fools feel compelled to climb up and jump off, into the lake. Some people have been injured and at least a few have died trying.
Snapping out of my mental rant, I realize the downrigger ball was bouncing on the bottom. I got too close to the shore and was forced to speed up and head into deeper water.
Sebago statistics from 2013 compiled by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife show that it takes a fisherman an average of five hours to catch any salmon and closer to 10 hours to land a legal salmon. The lake similarly yields about one lake trout every five hours. There is no longer any minimum length requirement for them.
You just can’t expect many flurries. If your patience runs thin, you can change lures or tactics. This time, I remained steadfast in my approach.
As I headed toward the distant western shore, snow-capped mountains lingering in the distance, a breeze began to stir the 40-degree water and elicited chills. Within 30 minutes, the whitecaps were bouncing the boat and the fun was about over.
Having veered back in the direction of camp, I was unable to stay on my intended course. This time, when the downrigger ball started bouncing again, the line got hung up on the rocky bottom.
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I struggle to crank the ball retriever, alternating with some turns on the trolling reel after throwing the outboard into reverse. With 10 seconds, I felt the line snap.
I got the ball back to the surface and wound in the slackened finishing line, defeated. The wind refused to subside and forced me to beach the boat.
I’ll have to be better prepared next time, to include an earlier arrival, a more concerted effort trying to catch a single species, and more consistently favorable conditions.
In the end, the hastily planned and poorly executed fishing trip was just what I needed. There were no fish to show for it, but it enabled me to forget about the pandemic for a couple of hours and spend some desperately needed quality time at my favorite place in the world.
BDN Digital Sports Editor Pete Warner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.