Things haven’t been normal for a long time now. It’s been more than a year since we’ve been able to do many of the things we always took for granted. Among those: Greet a pal with a hearty handshake. Walk through a supermarket without a mask. Hop into a buddy’s truck to spend a day driving gravel woods roads in search of a likely fishing spot.
On Thursday, during a normal year, many of us would have been choosing that third option in observation of the traditional opening day of open-water fishing season here in Maine.
For me, that fishing spot became Grand Lake Stream, for a number of reasons.
If you’ve ever been to that fabled little town with the stream that runs through it, you’ll understand. The air is fresh there, and the water runs clear as it pours over the dam that holds the water of West Grand Lake at bay.
There’s not a whole lot there, really.
A road on either side of the stream. One store. A historical society. Several sporting camps.
And (in a good year) lots of landlocked salmon that are willing to chase a few special streamer flies, if they’re presented in the proper fashion.
On opening day, that’s just about all you can hope for, I figure.
The weather can be finicky on opening day. Some years, it’s been bright and sunny on April 1. More regularly, the conditions have hovered somewhere between “uncomfortable” and “miserable.” It may snow. This year, the forecast calls for rain. The wind may blow, hard enough to stop your most powerful casts and toss your line into a pile at your feet.
Still, those who visit that magic place on opening day will have smiles on their faces.
And there will be plenty of people visiting. Trust me on that.
Some years, I’ve seen more than 20 anglers lined up, nearly shoulder-to-shoulder, in the famous Dam Pool. That’s where the fish are, you see. And while some might try their favorite downstream spots, most of the action will take place at Dam Pool, just down the embankment from a large parking lot.
In that parking lot, many visitors will gather to warm up after time wading the stream, sharing snacks or cooking lunch with a camp stove on their tailgates. Or, just a couple hundred yards away, another crowd will gather at the Pine Tree Store, looking for nourishment and conversation.
There, the coffee will be hot. The sandwiches will be tasty. The other anglers will be friendly. And the village, just beginning to wake up after a long, cold winter, will feel like home.
Some years, the trip from the parking lot to the water has been an adventure in itself. One year, I slid on my backside through a deep snowdrift, dropping into the stream below as if I were plunging off a slide. Another year, I had to wade through waist-deep snow in order to get back up the embankment, and nearly got myself stuck.
Luckily, if I had become mired in the snow, I wouldn’t have remained there for long. There are always plenty of anglers on hand on opening day. Too many, to be honest, if this was May 1, or any random day in June, when having a fishing spot of your own turns into more of a priority.
On April 1, after a long, cold winter, everything is more low-key. Everyone seems more willing to do a bit of close-quarters fishing, chatting with strangers and sharing the stream. The unwritten mood of opening day at Grand Lake Stream, I figure, has always been this: We’re all in this together. Let’s enjoy this pastime that we all enjoy so much.
This year, after all we’ve been through, that sentiment seems to matter even more.
Have fun on opening day, everyone. Be safe. Enjoy the day. Catch one for me.