Visiting the mountain region of western Maine near the Canadian border was a bit like going home. Purple mountains hovering over large lakes that run along a north to south axis seemed very familiar. I’m not sure if the feeling came from my journeys in these areas many years ago, or if it was something more innate. When fishing and exploring the wilderness of northern Quebec I often feel as if I have done this before. Not in the present, but in the past; sort of like a journey on hallowed ground in a previous life. It is difficult to explain, but believe me, it feels very real.
We were cruising down Asizcohos Lake after a long day of fishing in our watercraft aptly named the Fishound. Night was moving in. There was a dark mountain to the southwest ahead. Nearer to the shore there was a high hill and even through the dusk I could see the jagged ledges and sharp drops that gave this mountain its personality. Conifers covered most of the hill accept where it was too steep. In those steep places the landscape was covered with gold, yellow, brown, and silver rock. Dark ledge overhangs could be seen even in dim light. In this setting the scene looked like a painting. And as I studied the landscape I was taken back to a time long before this. I wondered if some of my Abenaki ancestors once witnessed this place and somehow the memory was stored in my own DNA. Given my ancestors were principally from the southern Quebec area north of Lake Champlain the possibility was almost beyond remote. But somehow I still hung on to that thought.
Over the decades of my life I have noticed that experiences like this are not uncommon, at least for me. I often feel as if I have been in a certain place before when I know I have not. I recognize places I have never been. You can imagine how hard this would be to explain to a companion or acquaintance. It is illogical. One moment you say you had never been at this place before, the next moment you say that this place looks familiar. Those that know me well are used to this. I think they might write this behavior of mine off as one of my quirks. After all these years those who know me well would probably think it odd if I did not act strangely from time to time.
As the last bit of light was absorbed into the black night I took one last look around me so that I could put these scenes into my memory. The mountains and hills were now a darker shade of black than the oncoming night. The half moon provided dim light and obliterated the brilliant stars seen on new moon nights. Even over the drone of the outboard I could hear the loons calling. They are the sound most symbolic of these northern waters. They laughed away as the Fishound moved south towards a quiet dock awaiting our return.
As our journey continued toward the southern end of this 15 mile long lake I reflected on our second day on this wonderful Maine lake. My two good friends, Steve and Smitty, were with me. We take an annual week long fishing trip to some remote location every year. This was our first trip in the United States. All of our previous trips have been in northern Quebec. We decided to keep things stateside this year. After talking to friends, researching outfitters on the internet, and checking references we opted for Black Brook Cove Campground on Lake Aziscohos. Not too far from the Rangeley, Maine area this lake is located on the 45th parallel, meaning it is exactly halfway between the North Pole and the equator. The lake is largely unspoiled. There are a few seasonal camps here and there that can be seen along the shore line, but far and away the majority of this lake is surrounded by steep conifer forest. The loons feel very comfortable here so you know it must be quiet for most of the year. The area holds many moose, deer, beaver, snow shoe hare, ravens, and spruce grouse. Although I would not call it wilderness, it is wild enough. The water is very clear and clean. The fish were abundant as indicated by the fish finder on the Fishound, and we three friends were free from worries during our week long stay in this pristine environment. In short, life was good.
One disadvantage in changing our fishing trip destination is that there is always a learning curve involved. Becoming familiar with new waters can cost you a couple of good fishing days unless you are incredibly lucky. Sure we talked to the locals and to those much more familiar with the lake than we were to get an idea of where the fish are and what they are biting on, but still so much of our success depended on our own skills and interpretations of the information we received. We found out the larger land locked salmon and brook trout were on the central and northern end of the lake in mid June. They seemed to be biting on dead smelt and Mooselook Wobblers. The Mooselook Wobbler is a lure named for a nearby lake, Mooselookmeguntic. It is made in many different colors and weights; so many, in fact, that it can make your head spin. It was difficult to choose the right Wobbler from our arsenal given all the choices. We knew that many fisherman used copper colored Mooselook Wobblers on this lake and so we decided to start with this particular one.
Our first morning of fishing was a little slow but still productive. We trolled with downriggers trying various depths with both Wobblers and smelt on a hook. We did manage to catch some small landlock salmon and one small brookie but nothing that was a “keeper”. That afternoon we switched to a quarter ounce orange Mooselook Wobbler and our luck imporved significantly. We landed several “keepers”. One of the larger salmon measured 19 inches and weighted about three and a half pounds. In all it had been a wonderful day.
There is a well known rocky “island” that is covered by water this time of year about two miles from our destination. We navigated the Fishound along the eastern shore to avoid these treacherous rocks that have removed many a propeller and ruined more than one lower end of an outboard motor. Navigating at night by visuals of the shoreline can be tough on the nerves in a lake that is not too familiar. We moved slowly which lessened the dangers and lightened our worries. You can’t be too cautious under these circumstances. Only the foolhardy would test the water Gods at night.
As we approached the end of the lake I looked back to the north. I thought I saw a birch bark canoe with a long haired man crossing the open lake. I rubbed my eyes. When I reopened them the canoe was not visible.
A loon laughed in the distance and I knew that the joke was on me.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in July of 2010.