Looking Back

December 12, 2022 By: Bob Romano

The long-handled net leans in the corner of the porch. Our fly rods lie snug in their tubes, the reels in their cases. The old Grumman is chained to the spruce tree. The outboard winterized. The generator has been stored for winter, water drained from the cabin’s pipes. Sheets hang from the windows.

Back home, snow spits down from a leaden sky. Trish suggests a mug of hot cocoa as I peck away at the laptop.

It’s been said that we forget the days when black flies and mosquitoes suck our blood and no-see-ums drive us to distraction. Soon to fade from memory are the hours tramping over deadfalls and through bogs, the wind howling over slumped shoulders, sweat dripping down the small of our backs. Seated here by the woodstove, it’s not those damp hours when my back ached or the arthritic cramp in my fingers when the temperature fell below fifty degrees that I remember. Like the warm glow from a campfire, what comes to mind is the memory of those few fish caught and the big one that always seems to get away.

It’s been a good season. After a year of drought, spring rains brought the big fish back to the river. One morning in early June, I knotted a soft-hackled streamer to my 3x tippet. The pattern was one of the late Jack Gartside’s innovations. Comprised of a few strands of pearl Flashabou, a single marabou feather, and a mallard flank feather, it’s an easy pattern to tie.

You’ll find instructions on Jack’s website that remains available on the Internet. As he wrote on his site, “Much has been written about [the streamer] in various magazines and books. All too frequently, however, writers have given the wrong tying instructions and made difficult what is really a very simple fly to tie.”

To be honest, over the years I’d heard a lot about the pattern, but never paid much attention, until recently. My bad! The streamer is fairly light and so easy to cast. Stripping it across a well-known run on the Magalloway River seemed to wake up the pool that until then, had appeared asleep. Every hook-jawed desperado wanted a piece of it. Fish flashed each time the streamer made the perilous journey across the pool, and after a number of short strikes, I managed three brook trout—the largest seventeen inches.

Late afternoons in July were spent exploring the many brooks and streamlets that comprise the headwaters of the Rangeley Region’s more famous rivers. It’s here that I played tag with palm-sized brook trout willing to strike most any generic pattern if cast with a bit of stealth. Unlike the early season, with its crowds of anglers and carnival-like atmosphere, fishing these little rills is a solitary activity, and although the fish may be small, they are truly some of the most stunningly beautiful, and often times, hard-fighting fish you’ll have the pleasure to encounter in surroundings as pristine as when a young Johnny Danforth and Fred Barker first explored the forest surrounding Parmachenee Lake.

As summer progressed, the fishing waned, but during the third week of August, a passing storm concentrated its rainfall over our cabin. While the conifers still dripped with moisture, I made my way to a favorite pool where the stream was running as high as I’d ever seen it. Over the course of two hours, I took sixteen native char, more than a couple measuring sixteen inches, and one, a true seventeen inches measured against the net, all part of a pod stacked up while greedily taking whatever food the engorged current provided.

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I was experiencing similar results the next morning when three fellow brothers of the angle broke through the alders. They watched as I took three fish on successive casts, but I figured it was best to quit while ahead, the spell having been broken. After reeling in, I wished them good luck, suggesting they try a #20 wet fly. One of them commented, “We expected you to growl or at least give us a dirty look when we appeared.”

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, Sometimes, you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. To be honest, in my case the bear nearly always tramps away with a full stomach. But on that day, I wasn’t about to let on that my success was the exception to this rule. Instead I replied, “Must be going soft in my old age.”

Clouds held the sun prisoner during the last week of September. Periodic squalls swept down the Boundary Mountains spitting rain while a bitter wind sneered at those anglers fool enough to challenge its dominion. The occasional sound of a shotgun echoed through the hills as I huddled under layers of fleece and the hood of a Gore-Tex rain jacket.

On the day before the day before the last day of the season, I’d released few small fish when the biggest brute of the year rose through a rapid. I saw the marabou feather dangling from the brook trout’s jaw, felt its power as the massive fish muscled forward, and wanted to cry when my rod sprang back, the line swaying lifeless in the current.

Later that afternoon, the wind died and the rain stopped. The dismal shroud of clouds finally parted, the sun set free. Moisture glistened like diamonds sprinkled across the branches of the spruce and balsam growing tightly alongside the river while waves of brilliant gold, lemon, burnt orange, and scarlet appeared to sweep across the mist-covered hills. Like a pretty girl’s smile or an old man’s hearty laugh, the sight brightened my spirit.

Trish and I left our cabin early the next morning. The temperature had fallen to thirty-two degrees. The fog was as thick as a bowl of Nova Scotia clam chowder. A covey of grouse broke from the surrounding spruce trees as we turned up the two-track. On the logging road, the ferns were coated with frost. Another fishing season had passed.