In late March, on their sixth opening day of open water fishing season since purchasing the only store in Grand Lake Stream, Brinda Leighton and Les Severance — like proprietors all over the state — were ready for business.
Nobody showed up, though, thanks to the rapidly developing pandemic.
But on Saturday, on a day when bright sunshine dominated and the temperature reached a relatively balmy 60 degrees, anglers finally seemed willing to celebrate the arrival of spring.
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A not-so-well-known secret about Grand Lake Stream: There are actually two popular days of spring fishing each year. One, for the wading fly fishers who have traditionally hit the stream itself on April 1. (This year, the season opened on March 20 to give Mainers a diversion from COVID-19). And another happens later in the spring on the first weekend after West Grand Lake, which feeds the stream, finally sheds its coat of ice.
That’s when the diehard lake anglers show up with their boats, eager to troll for landlocked salmon and togue.
Word apparently got around quickly: The ice went out last Tuesday, according to official state reports. And come Saturday, dozens of anglers showed up, eager to celebrate that second opening day.
By noon, more than 40 trucks with empty boat trailers packed the parking lot and lined the road adjacent to the boat launch.
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J.R. Mabee, a registered Maine guide, was among them, taking his family for a troll on West Grand. He didn’t catch any fish, he said, waiting his turn to haul his Grand Laker canoe out of the water, but said he was glad to be out on the water anyway.
“I saw Paul Laney net a couple, so that was good to see,” Mabee said, referring to another Grand Lake Stream guide.
Back at Pine Tree Store, which sits on a corner just uphill from the famous Dam Pool, Leighton saw a steady stream of anglers stopping by for fishing supplies, snacks or sandwiches. The kitchen was busy, but due to COVID-19 rules, any food had to be taken outside, not eaten at the lunch counter. Visitors did, however, observe social distancing rules, both in the stream and in the store.
“Today is the busiest day so far. When ice is out, people come and put their boats in,” Leighton said. “They come and get their fishing supplies. They’re liable to eat.”
And then, at the end of the day, all of those anglers who didn’t have a camp nearby would leave; no lodging establishments are open due to an executive order issued by Gov. Janet Mills on April 3.
Down on the stream, a few fly fishers tried their luck at familiar spots that have drawn anglers for generations. Hatchery Pool. Dam Pool. Little Falls. A few fish might have even been caught.
That’s what some said, at least.
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You couldn’t have proven it by me. Or by Alex Cole, a new fly fisher who dates a BDN colleague of mine. We took separate vehicles on the road trip, and I was happy to have been able to introduce him to one of the state’s most special outdoor places.
We waded in the pristine water of the stream, water that’s so clear you’d swear it looks like cellophane stretched taut over nothing but air.
We cast a few. Chatted a bit. Headed up the hill for some lunch. Then returned to try it all over again.
Yes, after a long, cold winter, and the arrival of a virus none of us saw coming, Saturday was a day that finally showed small signs of hope.
Or something like that.
“[The pandemic-related lack of business is] really killing us, but we’re hanging in there,” Leighton said.
She has been trying to keep her employees working, even during the dead times. And on her first nearly busy day of the season, she said she simply hoped for business to get back to normal. Or the new normal.
“I’m a very positive person,” she said. “It’s got to get better. It’s got to. What else are you gonna do?”
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.
Watch: Anglers flock to popular fishing spot for opening day