Evening on Aziscohos

Being on a lake at the brink of night while watching the sun set in the northwest part of Maine is truly marvelous. The further north you go the longer the sunset lasts. Evening twilight hosts golden yellow, creamsicle orange, and salmon pink skies that eventually turn to a reddish-pink and purple and morph into dark purple and eventually fall into an abyss-like black. The colors reflected on a still lake expands the horizon blending sky and water into a pallet of colors that cannot be accurately mimicked. During evenings like these when the air is still and all mostly quiet, occasionally punctuated with loon laughter, life seems nearly perfect. These moments are singular and displace sad times found in all of our past lives. And these are the times that we must lock into our memories to help us through difficulties that may lie ahead.

Aziscohos is a lake found in northwestern Maine about twenty miles west of Rangeley and 20 miles northeast of Umbagog on the Maine/New Hampshire border. The lake is actually an impounded section of the Magalloway River that was created about a hundred years ago as flood control for the lower sections of the river. The name, I assume, is borrowed from the nearby Aziscohos Mountain which means “covered in mud’ in the Abenaki language. This area is relatively remote and is surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of forest. In the immediate vicinity of the lake the soils are glacial outwash sand and gravel. Black spruce, balsam fir, poplar, and white birch, dominate the forest and open areas of understory contain bunchberry, winged sumac, and labrador tea. The area is rich with peat bogs and open water wetlands. It is moose country at its finest.

On this mid-June evening my two best buddies and I were trolling for brook trout and landlocked salmon. The action was slow as compared to the evening before when we had caught a nice two and a half pound brookie and a two pound landlock. We trolled with flashers, copper Mooselook wobblers, and dead smelt on heavy line and downriggers. The fish weren’t that interested because the mayflies were hatching big time and both trout and salmon had been gorging for more than a day. We came with the same spinning and trolling equipment that had been remarkably successful last year but we would have been better off this year with fly fishing rods and reels and a few select wet flies. There was no energy lost on the lack of biting fish. Large mountains loomed over the lake, the sun was going down in a blaze of glory, and we were content to enjoy the ever changing painted canvas as night approached.

The native brook trout that adorn these beautiful lakes in Maine are unique. These “trout” are technically char, along with lake trout, one of the other native “trout” in Maine. They spawn in the autumn by running up rivers, brooks, and streams. They sometimes spawn in the lakes in gravelly beds. Brook trout are very sensitive to their environment. Healthy conditions with ample food and space can produce brook trout up to five pounds by time they are four years old (the world record is a 14.5 pound brookie caught in Canada). Smaller streams and brooks may produce only an eight inch fish that weighs five or six ounces in the same time frame. Brook trout are certainly one of our most beautiful fish. They have a dark green and black worm patterns on their back and the front sides of the fish. The flanks have red dots captured within blue ringlets and the fins are orange with a white stripe at the tip of the fins and often with a triangle of black on the rear of each fin. Occasionally the belly is red during mating season which is simply spectacular to witness in bright sun.

Brook trout like structure so they look for old stumps, logs, rocks, flooded stream channels, and gravel bars along the lake bottom. In the summer you may find them at 85 feet deep and in the early spring right near the surface of the water. They can be voracious eaters when they are hungry but wouldn’t touch the trout version of filet mignon when they are full. These fish are legendary in the north woods and sought after by some of the best anglers that North America has to offer. They are excellent eating, with very few freshwater fish rivaling their pink meat and delicate flavor. There is nothing else quite like them.

The land locks in Aziscohos are fairly small. Technically landlocks are Atlantic Salmon that do not have access to the ocean and stay in the lake year round except for the breeding season when they also run up the brooks. They typically breed in the spring. To make matters more confusing Atlantic Salmon are not technically salmon. They are trout. Go figure! There is the occasional twenty-eight inch salmon in this lake but most are between twelve and twenty inches. Their head to tail silvery body with dark spots is a dead give away as to their identity to all who may be lucky enough to catch these fish. Some anglers prefer landlock Salmon to trout for eating. There is no question that I would rather angle for and eat brook trout.

Jeff was at the helm of our small boat, an old sixteen foot fishing boat aptly named the Fishound. Smitty and I worked the back of the boat as we are both experienced anglers and operate the equipment efficiently. We landed the occasional brook trout and landlock salmon and kept a few of the larger fish. As we moved slowly around the lake keeping one eye on the depth finder and the other on the fish finder we had ample time to talk. Given the three of us have known each other for many, many years there are a lot of memories from our youth that get batted around. This is one of the only times the three of us get to visit together at the same time. It certainly is precious. This is our twelfth fishing trip and it has become an annual tradition. Over the years we have fished over much of Quebec and for the last two years in Maine. This trip was a little different for me. A bad back injury suffered last fall was still inhibiting me from standing in a still position for more than a few minutes and so I did as much as I could from a sitting position. I had considered not going but realized I would be much happier keeping my mind off of the constant pain. I never once regretted this decision.

The weather menu of the week had been cold and cloudy with a large side of black flies. This had been our only sunny day. It was warmer with a good amount of humidity but the wind blowing over the cold water was like being in the midst of a giant air conditioner and the mild heat did not slow us down one bit. And on this evening, with the sun slowly sinking towards the horizon while playing peek-a-boo behind billowing white and gray clouds large thunderheads could be seen far to the north.

We came to a place where we were cruising along part of the old Magalloway River stream channel at the bottom of the lake. The old channel is sinuous and has a lot structure. The fish were starting to hit some of our hardware and the action was picking up. As we focused on the increased activity we failed to notice the dark clouds closing in from the north. Only when Smitty noticed a dull bolt of lightening hidden behind the thick black clouds in the distance did we start paying attention to the impending thunder storm. Being caught in an aluminum boat ten miles from camp in a thunder and lightening storm is not an optimal situation. After the third or fourth roll of thunder we decided to bring in our gear. The storm was now looking like it was very intense and just as we unloaded the last downrigger a bolt of lightening and simultaneous boom of thunder let us know that the storm was almost on top of us.

The Fishound is not equipped with big powerful motors as some boats are. It has a 40 horse power Mercury two stroke for motoring around and a 9.9 two horsepower two stroke motor for trolling. We decided to start them both and run them together to see if we could stay ahead of the storm. We powered up both motors to three quarter throttle and skipped along the top of the choppy water in a southern direction at about twenty four miles an hour. Full speed with both motors on this old boat is about twenty eight miles per hour but given the almost dark conditions and the white capped waters caused by the high winds we felt more comfortable at a slightly slower speed. Typically we move around on the lake at about ten miles per hour but this was cause for more serious headway. As we cruised south lightening struck the mountains on both sides of the lake. The water was getting really rough and the darkest clouds were breathing down our neck. We managed to cover the entire distance back to the main camp in about twenty minutes where we arrived at our slip. The heavy rain caught up to us about two or three minutes from shore but the bimini cover and our rain suits kept us fairly dry. It was a bit of a chore tying up the Fishound to the dock as it bounced up and down in the choppy water. We put out the hull bumpers, gave the dock rope a little slack, wished the Fishound good luck and headed for our camp.

Back at camp we had an adult beverage or two and reminisced about adventures on previous fishing trips. For three guys on the door step of our seventh decade we were still adding a few modest adventures to our list. And to make matters even better I managed to forget about my ailing back for a few hours. Not bad. Mission accomplished.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in June of 2011.

  • Dan Matiaudes

    Nothing better than a fishing trip with friends. Glad you had a great time, Bill.

  • Emma Springfield

    It was a good outing in a serene setting. What more could a person wish for?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Dan.  I’ll be doing some bass fishing on Somerset soon if you want to come along with Brendan!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Not much.  Friends, wildlife, wild land, abundant boreal forest, and lots and lots and lots of black flies (well maybe I could have done without them, but they come with all the north woods)!

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    This sounds positively rejuvenating. Time with good friends is so important. And what fabulous photos!

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    This sounds positively rejuvenating. Time with good friends is so important. And what fabulous photos!

  • http://fourwindshaiga.wordpress.com/ sandy

    You guys always have an adventure of some kind on your trips, don’t you? Glad this one ended well. You managed to get some wonderful shots. Too bad, though, you didn’t get one of the lightning.
    I guess you were busy!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Rejuvenating is a very good description.  I was lucky there were good scenes to take pictures of.  That doesn’t always work out.  Thanks so much!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    More adventures to come in northern Quebec.  For the most part our adventures have been harm-free, other than Jeff breaking his collar bone in the middle of nowhere two years ago.  Nope, no time to try to get a shot of the lightning.  Too dangerous!

  • Dan Matiaudes

    I am looking forward to that! Hopefully we can do that real soon.

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    Any trip with old friends, especially a fishing trip, is a great thing! I love brookies too, but haven’t seen one that large in many years. I have an old friend though who loves the smaller ones and I go out and catch a mess of them several times in a summer for her. They really are one of the prettiest of fish!

  • http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com Crafty Green Poet

    what a beautiful lake to go fishing on!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Last year we caught a 3.5 lb. Brookie on Aziscohos.  One fellow caught a 4 pounder while we were there this  year.  They really take on a different look when they get big, especially in the autumn when the males get the big hooked jaw (although that is their breeding season and so you cannot fish for them in Maine).  Yes, fishing with old friends is wonderful.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, and its pretty wild.  There are a few cottages on the southern part of the lake on the eastern shore, and a few more in the middle part of the lake on the east shore about 8 miles upstream, and nothing until you get to an outfitter on the northern part of the lake about 14 miles from the boat ramp on the southern end.

  • Teresaevangeline

    I have been to the Rangley area in Maine and it is wild and beautiful. There is a place called, I believe, Height o’ Land that looks over a beauty of a lake. Your traditional fishing trip with buddies sounds like a good time. I have been fishing in Canada and storms can arise quickly. Sounds a bit nerve-wracking, but a good story for around a campfire with adult beverages.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes the Rangley area is beautiful.  Some of the outlying lakes like Aziscohos are more primitive and therefore maintain their wild beauty.  Also Rangley proper has attracted quite a bit of money and so has lost some of its “local” flavor, but still seems to hang on to the true Maine character.  A little north to Eustis and Flagstaff Lake and Jackman and Lake Atean, there is little doubt is still completely Maine and holds beautiful wilderness.  Of course all of this is from someone who is not a true Maine native so you have to take my opinion with a grain of sand.

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack Matthews

    Bill, I so much enjoy your rich prose.  You made back to the slip in time!  Funny how events can take your mind off of pain and sadness.  I truly envy you and your buddies going back for so many years that can pack up and head out again.  Your photographs are gorgeous and so tranquil — before the storm hit.  Your knowledge of fish is astounding and I always learn something from your posts.  I had a few buddies years ago and after school was out in May we would head out for the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado.  There were four of us; now there are only two of us left.  We see each other and always go over the events of our camping out, laughing like we did when we returned forty-years ago.  What brought us together was friendship and the out-of-doors.  Sure do like your blog, Bill.  Always have.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Jack.  I know you’ve been as busy as a bee lately from following your blog so I sure do appreciate you stopping by wildramblings. 

    By far most of our trips have been to Canada.  I still go there each year.  Last year with my sons and this year with my brother-in-law and my wife.  Much of Maine is still wild, some of it in the Allagash wilderness (the only wilderness area east of the Mississippi, so it suits the bill. 

    I’ve been an avid fisherman for most of my life, on the ocean as a kid on my dad’s fishing boat in RI, and later in wild inland areas where fish are not stocked.  Along with the animals I harvest hunting it supplies much of the protein I eat (and I release way more fish than I keep). 

    There is nothing like adventures with old friends.  I’m hoping the aches and pains will be reduced when I go next year.

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    That looks like an incredible lake – great shots. I sometimes miss the long evenings from when I lived further north (Holland). But I wouldn’t trade the Colorado weather for those evenings – we’ve had one cloudy day in the last two weeks!

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    I don’t usually comment on your photos because I like your stories so much, but this time I have to say how great these are. I love big scenery like this. I don’t get to see great sunsets very much because there’s always city in the way. There’s only one place I can go for this, and it’s a nature park where they shoo everyone out before sunset.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Ratty.  It is easy to take good photos when you have a wonderful subject.  I find landscape more difficult photography more difficult than a specific subject, but a place like Aziscohos makes it fun and relatively simple.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Al, my photographs are not even in the same league as yours but it was fun capturing some of the evening beauty.  I used to live in Colorado and New Mexico but could not get used to how dry it was.  Given all the rain we’ve had this month a little dry weather would seem very, very nice! 

    I’ve been to Holland and it is unique and exquisite.  What a very interesting place!

  • Barbara

    It’s not only guys that like to fish. Both my grandfathers had a hand in teaching me when I was young (about 4 or 5 I think,) one how to troll for bass in a big lake, the other how to cast a fly rod – but that was on the university campus on Sunday mornings! Fishing can be a solitary occupation, or communal time. Either way, it’s special to be in or on water, just fishing. My youngest son at age 3 was something of a magician with fish and could catch them on a bare hook. I had a Labrador that loved to catch salmon and rainbow trout in a stream we lived by, and another Carp in Lake Ontario…

    But your story – oh Bill, it brings back such wonderful memories for me and I could smell the water, the fish, the woods as you approached and hear the sizzle and boom of the storm… so glad you three were safe and that your back was forgotten in such a terrific evening.

    The photographs are very special as well… A beautiful post my friend. Just beautiful.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    That is wonderful Barbara I really wish there were more women that angled.  I never had any daughters.  If I did I would have gotten them involved in the pass time early.  Maybe I will have a granddaughter some day and will get the chance then! 

    Thank you very much for the compliments.  I’m always looking to improve my presentation so this means a lot to me. 

    Funny, when I published this story I did not think most readers would care for it but I’m beginning to think I was wrong.

  • Barbara

    Hi again Bill – I suspect there are more women than you know that love to fish…(I’m too old to get used to politically correct terms all the time) and I hope you do eventually have a granddaughter – goodness you would teach her so much! and grandsons too of course.

    As for your post – people love to learn about writers they admire – you gave us a glimpse of you not wandering in the woods, but at play with your buddies – very seductive to be allowed that and to hear a good story – so much fun. The images and the way you presented them as well are special…It’s neat to change things up every once in a while… have a super weekend wherever and whatever you’ll be doing.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I really appreciate your feedback, it is very helpful.  I know only a few women who are fervent anglers.  I suspect some of it is cultural, but others may not choose to do so because of the “harvesting” aspect of the pass time.  I do it to put food on the good table and freezer, and must admit that I really enjoy it.

    This weekend I’ll be attending my grad students graduation.  It’ll be sad to see them go.  It was one of the best classes in my 21 years of teaching ecology in graduate school.

  • http://nature-drunk.com Nature-Drunk

    Not a fisherwoman, but love the sunsets! On the lake is where you will find me for a good part of the summer. I love to watch the osprey and golden eagles swoop down and so accurately fetch dinner. The air is sweeter on the lake, don’t you think? 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    The air is clean, the smell is sweet, and my mind is free to wander wherever it likes.  River, lake, or ocean it is very hard to find something as wonderful as where water meets the horizon. 

    Like the ospery and eagles I fish for sustenance, although I have to admit it is very pleasurable too!

  • Patricia Lichen

    Yes, yes, yes. Your opening paragraph says it so beautifully. Those singular moments of sweet satisfaction. We remember the bad times, and know they’ll inevitably come around again, but here & now–this is good. 
    Thanks for another lovely essay.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Patricia. We should hold precious all the wonderful moments, store them in our memory banks, and withdraw them (with interest) when times are no so good.  One of the best things humans have is detailed long term memory.  We should use it as positively as possible.

Nature Blog Network