Land of Fishing Legends
It was the mid-eighties. I was dating this blue-eyed beauty who accompanied me on a nine-hour drive from our suburban homes in New Jersey to the western edge of Maine’s North Woods. Turning off the macadam and onto dirt and gravel, we caught glimpses of a lake, mist swirling over its surface. I navigated around exposed rock, over rusted culverts, and through potholes deep enough to hold a school of largemouth bass while bumping and grinding up thirteen miles of logging road that led to Bosebuck Mountain Camps.
On that first visit to western Maine, we hiked into bogs and around deadfalls, canoed across tannin-stained ponds, and swung streamers through rapids that broke over boulders as large as a moose’s shoulder. I’d been looking for some good fishing, but found a whole lot more. So much so that we returned the following year. By then, I’d married the woman who to this day would rather wear blue jeans than dresses and prefers hiking boots to heels. We were hooked as good and true as her first landlocked salmon, a fish that leaped across the pool below Keenan Dam not once but four times.
Some might think it was the brook trout that captured our imagination, those big-kyped phantoms willing to teach you the value of checking your tippet before casting into a dark pool, or perhaps one of those little six-inch bully boys that streak across the surface of a forest stream like a star fallen from the sky. Others would say it was the terrain as wild as the fish swimming in its rivers and the moose lumbering through the shadowy coves of its lakes and ponds.
Like so many others before us, all of that is true. But there is something more about this land back of beyond.
I could tell you about Metallak, a member of the Abenaki tribe reputed to have lived for 120 years and who came to be known by the settlers he’d helped as the Lone Indian of the Magalloway. Then there’s the story of how Johnny Danforth and Fred Barker, two young men, spent the winter of 1882/83 hunting and trapping the region above Parmachenee Lake. You might wish to learn about Ed “Ned” Grant. Known as the Sage of Beaver Pond Camps, he once told a sport, “See that mountain over there? Well, it was jest a hill when I began guidin’.”
Then again, you might ask about those three Belles of the North Woods—Cornelia Crosby, Carrie Stevens, and Louise Dickinson Rich. And what about the accomplishments of fly-fishing’s Renaissance man, Herbert Welch? And those of Carrie’s husband, Wallace, and Colonel Joseph Bates, or perhaps any one of the many other Upper-Dam notables. Maybe you’d rather hear about the Barrett brothers and Herbert Ellis, and how they built their Rangeley boats. You’d certainly get a chuckle at Shang Wheeler’s tale about White Nose Pete or the brook trout known as Salmo Polaris lined with fur rather than scales. You might also be interested in the men who guided those “from away” during the “golden years” such as Walter “Skeet” Davenport, Harland Kidder, and Kenneth Crocker.
But although the Rangeley Lakes Region of western Maine deserves to be called The Land of Fishing Legends, it’s the folks my wife and I met along the way—the guides, wardens, lodge owners, store keepers, and sports—all those men and women living today that make this part of Northern New England The Land of Living Legends.
I can assure you that Tom Rideout, the owner and operator of Bosebuck Mountain Camps when we first visited, knew the Parmachenee Lake Region as well as Johnny Danforth, as does Mike Yates, the lodge’s present owner. I mustn’t forget outfitter and Registered Maine Guide, Bob Duport, whose wanderlust matches that of Fred Barker. And you just know that Maine’s first registered guide, Cornelia “FlyRod” Crosby, would be proud of Bonnie Holden, the first woman to win Maine’s Legendary Guide Award.
Former executive director of Rangeley’s Outdoor Heritage Museum Bill Pierce and retired warden Charlie Atkins can tell tales as tall as any spun by Shang Wheeler or Ned Grant. And although Carrie Stevens is gone, Selene Dumaine carries on her tradition of tying exquisite streamers. Herb Ellis may no longer build Rangeley Boats, but you can talk to John Blunt about the fleet of Rangeleys he maintains at Grant’s Camps, the sporting lodge located on Kennebago Lake he and his wife, Carolyn, have owned and operated for more than forty years.
I imagine Walter “Skeet” Davenport might be smiling down from the Great Beyond upon his friend’s grandson, Steve Kidder, who as a young guide is carrying on his grandfather’s tradition.
George Fletcher’s Sport Shop is in Brett and Susan Damm’s capable hands. And although the music hall at Upper Dam is long gone, Moose Alley continues to rock and roll along Route 16. Sadly, Herbert Welch’s shop, once located at Haines Landing, has been closed for many years. But Gerry and Sally White continue to outfit sports from River’s Edge, their store just up the road, and I can assure you, Fern Bosse’s Sneeka is a streamer pattern every bit as effective as Herb’s Black Ghost.
Yes, there’s much to be said about the Rangeley Lakes Region. But as this new year unwinds, I’d like to simply thank all those folks Trish and I have had the pleasure to meet on our backwoods adventures.
To learn more about the sporting traditions of the Rangely Lakes Region visit the Outdoor Heritage Museum in Oquossoc, Maine.