Charles W. (Charles Woodbury) Stevens.

Fly-fishing in Maine lakes; or, Camp-life in the wilderness online

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ing passage in which our boat lies concealed. At
first a hush, a solemn stillness, then a burst of sur-
prise from each as we glide forth upon the bosom
of the lake. A gentle breeze, and a fair one.
Hoisting our sail we move gracefully onward.
And now our faith is lost in sight, as the wide ex-
panse of water, fringed on all sides with the un-
broken green of undisturbed forests, meets our

" Oh ! how beautiful, how beautiful ! " bursts
from the lips of the gentler one as she throws up
her veil (no fear of flies here) . " How could Mr.
Murray write as he did about the scenery of

" Probably because he never had seen it."

" Fortunately for us he hadn't, or we might be
sailing up the lake to-day with a small fleet, instead
of being solitary voyagers as we appear to be.
But what are those tall peaks over there in the dis-

" Those are the White Mountains ; those small
buildings you see in the line of the hills down by
the shore are Middle Dam Camp. There's the
source of the Androscoggin : good fishing there,
but not near as pleasant as our destination." All
this from the intelligent guides Charles Cutting
and Frank Merrill.


The breeze, which had been quite fresh at start-
ing, now died away to almost a calm, so that in
spite of the helmsman's skill the sail flapped idly
against the mast, and scarce a ripple stirred the
waters beneath our stern.

" I thought so," said Cutting as he choked off a
prolonged whistle with which he had been en-
deavoring to "raise the wind." "It's got to' be a
white-ash breeze, Frank, and that means you and
me. It never blows in the narrows, and when it
does it's sure to be the wrong way. Put out your
trolling-line, Mr. Stevens, and you may get a trout
or two for supper."

That was a pleasant suggestion, and, as I after-
wards learned, an uncommon one for a guide to
offer, for it adds somewhat to the weight of an
oar when a hundred feet of line attached to a troll-
ing-spoon is being dragged behind ; but we had an
unusual passenger (for at that time few ladies had
visited our camping-ground) and our boys were
polite accordingly. I put out my line, and the
silver spoon glistens brightly in the sun as it floats
away upon the water. I was just shaking off the
last few yards of line from the reel which was turn-
ing summersaults between my feet in the bottom of
the boat, when a quick, sharp jerk almost pulled it
from our hands, and in less time than I can describe


it instantly, almost Charlie B.'s white hat was
jammed down over his eyes, and faint mutterings of
"Oh, oh, don't! I didn't mean to; I won't!"
were heard beneath it. I had been too quick for the
boy, and caught him even with his fingers on the
line. Taken in the act, his punishment was sharp,
quick, and decisive ; and not until the youth had
promised to cut me six pipes of tobacco did I
withdraw the " felt."

On we pulled, leisurely but steadily, with just
speed enough to keep the line on the surface, for
it does not do to hurry in this country. And now
no fingers give that jerk, but the mouth of some
member of the finny tribe has closed over the
spoon. The boys back water, and hand over hand
we pull, " Gently, not too fast, sir : that's better ; "
and in a few moments our first trout lies before us.
" Beautiful ! " well you may say so, for what is more
beautiful than a well-developed pound trout ? and
he weighed just a pound ; one scale more would
have turned the scale.

Six longing, loving eyes gazed tenderly upon him,
a bright flush lit up their anxious faces, and (alas !
frail human nature) three hungry mortals wondered
whether there was enough of him to go round.
Over goes the line again, and the boys, made happy
by our success, hurry up a bit, and pull ten strokes
more to the hour.


Before we were through the narrows, two more,
just about the ; size of the first, left their watery
abodes for that bourn from which no trout returns.
And now, our supper secured, we reel up, and feast
our eyes on the first trophies of our anticipated
sport ; not taken, however, as the educated sports-
man is wont to entice this brightest jewel in Un-
dine's crown. No, the true sport is to come, when,
as sunset glories tinge the waters with a golden
hue, our dancing flies skip to the gentle music of a
southern breeze, over the rippled surface of that
nameless cove, tempting with their varied colors
this queen of the lake and mountain streams. But
we grow poetical : " Charlie, pass the tar."

One who sits beside me as I write these lines
suggests that I reserve a few adjectives with which
to describe the beauty of the scene that greeted us
as we passed out from the narrows into the upper
lake. But it's of no use : I never could do it full
justice. We that have been there know, yes, can
see it all now as it burst upon bur astonished vision
that June afternoon, again as it appeared in the soft
moonlight when one evening we viewed it from
our boat, lazily drifting with the current, ay, and
many times since.

Where are those mountains, shorn of their trees
from base to summit, of which the " pastor " tells


us? Surely yonder sentinel towering up at the
head of the lake is not one of them, for that the
foot of man has never trod, nor yet those twin sis-
ters on our left. Where is the " debris" the slabs
and sawdust that denote the lumberman's camp?
Surely not in the clear sparkling streams that pour
their waters into this grand reservoir of nature.
Fie, Mr. Murray ! you didn't know what you were
writing about ; and, faith, I hope you never will.

We must leave preachers and preaching, for
here we are at the landing. That building at the
foot of the lake, which has such a civilized look
about it, is Joe Whitney's camp ; and a fine one it
is too, and beautifully situated, as you can see. Call
there some time in passing : if Joseph is at home,
you will find the latch-string on the outside, and a
sportsman's welcome ; if not at home, brother Cole
will do the honors, and accept from you any news-
papers that you have brought along.

But come, pick up some light baggage, and let
us find our camp ; for it is getting late, and Joe may
be cross when he sees a woman coming. Joe is
our cook, .A French Canadian, of seventy summers
and nearly as many winters, and who has been
here for about twenty-five years : we will tell you
some of his eccentricities in our next chapter.
But no, Joe is not cross, for there is not a fisher-
man in camp, and he is getting lonesome.


" Joe, this is Mr. B and my wife."

" How do you do, well? " '

"Plenty fish, Joe?"

" Plenty feesh and plenty fly, my God. You
troll, get feesh for supper? "

" Yes, Frank will bring them up in a minute."

"Fry him?"

" Yes."

"You bring butter, eggs, yes? "

" All the good things, Joe."

"You got camp all to yourselfs, lucky, yes."

"Well, Joe, I reckon we will get into it, and stow
away our traps," which we did ; and after a glori-
ous trout supper, a social pipe and chat, retired at
an early hour to dream of the morrow's sport.



T was four o'clock by my watch when
I awoke in the morning. Thanks to
Joe's comfortable bed and our mos-
quito-canopy, we were undisturbed by
the festive mosquito, and our sleep
was quiet and restful. The madam
said she had "slept like a top." I complimented
her on her fresh appearance, congratulated her that
she had rested so well, and then provoked her by
asking if she could tell me how a top slept. I
could never exactly see why this comparison, and
I am sorry to say I got no information this time. I
suggested that probably a top slept to hum, and we
didn't, but that did not improve matters.

It was four o'clock by my watch, I said, when
we awoke : there was a little dispute about that
also ; the party of the other part said it was three



minutes past, a small portion of time to vex one's
self about so early in the morning, you would say.
If you had seen that room after we had discussed
the matter in a calm and reasonable manner for
about five minutes, you might think differently. I
finally gave up, as usual, set my watch three minutes
ahead, and commenced to repair damages. This
little episode served to give us a good appetite for
breakfast, to which we did full justice.

If my readers who have journeyed with us thus
far are disposed to tarry with us yet a little longer,
it is very proper that they should be given some
brief description of our abode. Upper Dam Camp
is situated at the head of a small and rapid stream,
called Rapid River, which separates the two lakes,
Mooselucmaguntic and Mollychunkemunk. I like
to write those two names, there is such a sense of
relief when I get through. If I were a schoolboy
I would write a composition often about the Maine
lakes, their names would fill up so well.

The camp, comprising two buildings, one for
cooking and eating, the other for drinking and
sleeping, is within a stone's-throw of the dam itself,
a splendid structure and well calculated to improve
one in gymnastic exercises. From the piers of
this dam we cast our flies, and entice the wary
trout; and for such sport, if you will forgive the
seeming paradox, it has no peer.



Half a mile from the camp, near the outlet of
Mooselucmaguntic, is Trout Cove, beautifully situ-
ated, commanding a fine view of the lake and dis-
tant hills ; the joy of the angler's heart, for beneath
the surface of its clear, cold waters, sport, in all
the vigor of a healthful growth, the finest speci-
mens of the salmo fontinalis to be found in any
section of our country. In the spring they var>
in size from a quarter of a pound to four pounds
in weight, the average being about a pound, quite
a number weighing from two to three, while one of
four is of course rarely taken. In the fall they run
as high as eight pounds, while they have been taken
weighing twelve.

Our fishing is done from flat-bottomed boats, usu-
ally one fisherman and guide in each, and the trout
preserved alive in cars moored to the shore of the
cove. Our average catch, thirty per day, morning
and evening fishing, taken altogether with the fly.
To those accustomed to taking brook-trout, this
may seem a small number; but the ease, excite-
ment, and size of the game, more than out-balance
the greater number of small fry which may be
caught in any quantity in the streams which abound
in this locality. The cove, the dam, and the outlet
of the stream, comprise our fishing-grounds, all
within easy distance of the camp and within hear-


ing of Joe's horn which he blows to call us to our
meals ; and, as promptness at the table so far as
guests are concerned is one of Joe's particular
hobbies, this is worthy of note. Speaking of Joe
reminds me that I promised in my last chapter to
introduce him more particularly to your notice.
Joseph is in all respects the major-domo of the
camp : he cooks, washes, irons, makes the beds,
builds the fire, makes the smudge, milks the cow,
feeds the hens, in fact, does every thing but " clean
feesh," make out your bill, and take your money.
In regard to the latter, I have found that a green-
back between your palm and his when shaking
hands with him upon arrival does not lessen the
cordiality with which you are received.

Joe has some peculiarities : who of us have
not? One of his greatest is doing what you tell
him to do (an A T quality) . If he has a dish in
his hand, and you should say "Joe, drop that," he
would do it, on the table or floor, just where he
happened to be. 1 never have tried it, nor do I
propose to, for it's a waste of property, and there is
a sequel to it ; but I have seen those who have.
Joe has a way of saying " My God," which seems a
cross between an oath and a supplication, which
would be equally acceptable to a Bowery boy or a
circuit-preacher. I never could believe that he


meant it wicked, and it conveys a great deal. But
above all, and over all, more than compensating for
his minor failings, Joe is strictly honest : he will
take all you give him, but nothing that you do not :
not even a State constable's bete noir, though he
loves it, and never refuses when asked. I would
not give so much space to Joe, were it not that he
is part and parcel of the lakes themselves : all the
fishermen look upon him as their godfather ; and I
verily believe the trout are so fond 'of him, that
they cook themselves to a lovelier brown as they
look up from the pan into his anxious furrowed
face. I can see him now as he appeared at the
door of the camp some two hours after our amiable
discussion in regard to tempus fugit, and recall his
first salutation, thoughtful and kind as a mother's
care: "Miss Stevens sleep good, no?" "Yes,
Joe, first-rate, splendidly." "No fly, merskeeter,
no? " " Not a sign of 'em. See here, Joe," and
we take him into our room, and show him the can-
opy suspended over the bed. He takes a survey
of it, and a look of wonder gathers over his face :
the expression we have quoted above wells up to
his lips, but he restrains it. " Well, Joe, what do
you think of that? " " It is nice." " Yes, so it
is, my dear fellow, a camp-luxury. But how about
breakfast ? " " You have feesh, Mr. Stevens ? "


"Yes." "You have him fry?" "Yes." "Egg
fry, yes?" "Certainly, Joseph, all the fixings."
-"Coffee, tea, no?" "Yes, both, and hurry it
up, for we are getting hungry."

While Joe is getting breakfast, we get out our
fishing-tackle, select our flies, joint our rods, and
make the necessary preparations for the day's sport.
I would not be positive in regard to the cast I used
that day, though, as my journal says the day was
cloudy, I should judge I started out with a " fiery
brown " and " scarlet ibis : " the former is a fly tied
for these waters by John McBride, of Mumford,
Munroe County, N.Y. ; and I wish to put on perpet-
ual record, or as near to it as type, ink, and paper
will do it, that he ties the best flies, both for beauty
and strength, of any one in the country perhaps
Mr. Whitney, the famous guide of Upton, excepted.
If I had had his flies and casting-line when I struck
that six-pounder Well, never mind, I am going
to tell you all about that anon.

Our breakfast was a hurried one. Joe had done
himself full justice : he most always does ; but we
were anxious for our first rise, and were soon clam-
bering down over the piers, seeking the favorite
spots, Mrs. S. seating herself above us to share our
sport. The day and the stage of water were both
in our favor, and our expectations were ranged ac-


The first cast I made, I struck the top log of a
pier with my tail-fly, and, while I was gazing at
a broken tip, had the supreme satisfaction of seeing
Charlie net a two-pound trout a short distance
from me ; but, as the said Charlie had always in-
sisted that I would break my neck, I viewed this
slight disaster with complacency. Adjusting a new
tip, and taking a better survey of my background,
my next cast was more successful, and before my
flies had hardly touched the water, a trout rose to
each ; I struck and hooked them both : so sudden
and unexpected was this response to my invitation,
that nothing but the sharp click of the reel brought
me to my senses. Round the pool in a circle they
dashed like a pair of circus-horses ; once, twice,
three times, did they follow each other, swift as the
wind, in the same pathway ; then for a moment, as
if pausing to consider the situation, they halted,
sank to the bottom, and sulked. " Are they gone ? "
echoed a voice from above. " Not much," was the
reply, as I wiped a little tar and perspiration from
my brow ; " merely giving us both a breathing-
spell." Before the words were fairly uttered, they
were up and at it again. For full fifteen minutes I
played those two trout : they were beauties, mettle-
some and gamey as one could wish ; but the little
seven-ounce rod was too much for them, and they


at last " threw up the sponge. " My Skilful guide
succeeded in netting them both : they weighed
very nearly a pound and a half each, and were
splendid fish.

As I read this to one who, "as a looker-on in
Venice," had shared the sport: "True, to the
life," said she. "And to the death?" I ques-
tioned. " And to the death. I remember that pair
distinctly, and lively ones they were." Three times
that morning did I repeat that catch, and the six
trout did not differ in weight more than a quarter
of a pound. Charlie was equally successful in
, point of numbers, but did not have quite so good
luck on his "pairs." We cast about the dam until
nearly eleven, when, as is the usual custom, we
repaired to the camp to enjoy our lunch. This
usually consists of crackers and cheese, an olive or
two, moistened with a little dram of " suthin' " nice,
all of which comprise a part of the stores which the
fisherman should bring with him.

" Well, old Stevens," said Charlie, " this is pretty
good sport. Smashed your tip, didn't you ? '*

" Should say so."


"Not very."

"Show me the pieces." I brought them in ; and
Charlie got out his tool-chest, and went to work


repairing it. Not being a very bad break, and the
young man a good workman, it was soon put in
working order again. I used to think, considering
my size, that I was pretty careful of myself, as well
as my rigging ; but Charlie has patched up rods so
many times, from butt to tip, and picked me up
from among stones and brush-wood when I had
lain down for a rest, that I haven't quite that con-
fidence in myself that I was wont to have. There
isn't the slightest doubt but what, if that individual
could be prevailed upon to free his mind on the
subject, he would tell you he expected, the next
time we whip the water together, he will have the
grim satisfaction of getting that new split bamboo
into his clutches for repairs. But I have some
slight revenge on the youth for his hilarious scoffing
at what he calls my " clumsiness : " he doesn't eat
olives, turns up his fastidious nose at devilled ham,
can't do much in the way of " schnapps ; " says
it affects him as contradiction did Mrs. Sternhold,
it "flies to the head." So I eat and drink his
share of these accompaniments, and he pays for
half; but let him alone on the solids : for a little
fellow, he does dispose of Never mind, that's
Joe's lookout, and, if he can keep him " cooked
up," I don't care.

"What do you think of Murray ?" said Charlie,


as he put the finishing touch to the restored tip,
and I lay on the leather lounge, smoking my pipe,
and watching his operations.

" In regard to his being a fisherman, a true
sportsman, you mean, I suppose? "

" Exactly."

" I think he's a humbug : he professes to know
too much in regard to too many things, to excel in
any one. I don't believe he could have mended
that tip as you have ; and yet, if he had described
the ' how to do it ' with his pen, which admitted he
handles with vigor, you would have thought him
a perfect adept in the art of rod- making. When a
professed fisherman tells us to go to Read's for the
best rods, and recommends a rod with the reel eight
inches from, instead of at, the butt ; tells you that
he who ' directs a ball, or hooks a fish, out of mere
sport, is deserving of fine and imprisonment/ and
then shoots deer out of season, fires thirty or forty
shots at a poor loon for the mere * sport ' of the thing,
and leaves dozens of trout on a bank to rot, I
don't propose to take much stock in him. For-
tunately, however, he doesn't care for my opinion,
and, I reckon, precious little for any one's else.
What's your sentiments?" "Ditto." "Ditto,"
from the other one, who looks up from her book,
evidently quite surprised at the forcible and decided


expression of opinion, but re-echoing the sentiment
expressed. And if we judge him from his book,
by which I suppose he is willing to be judged (waiv-
ing some of his yarns which he does not expect us
to believe), ours is a righteous judgment.

Having disposed of this subject to our satisfac-
tion, we spend the time between lunch and dinner
in a lounging, lazy sort of manner, discussing the
merits of different rod-makers, variety of flies, and
such like fisherman's talk, occasionally practising al
a mark with our pistols and rifles ; after dinner, a
smoke and a snooze.

At about four o'clock we take a trip to the cove
for our afternoon sport, which, if exciting, we con-
tinue until sunset. My experience has been, that
more trout are taken between nine and eleven
o'clock in the forenoon, and four and six in the
afternoon, than at any other time, though they
often rise quite lively for half an hour before sun-
set. Early-morning fishing, with me, has not been
a success. I have tried it more times than I pro-
pose to again. Charlie was always opposed to it
on principle. " Let 'em rise," he would say : " I
won't ; " and he don't, till breakfast is ready.

If the sport at the cove is tame, we return at
the call of Joe's horn, and take a six-o'clock sup-
per, and cast awhile at the dam till darkness begins


to fall ; then we gather about the smudge at the
door of our camp, and watch the blue cloud of
smoke as it floats gracefully upwards. Now is the
time for reflection ; and as we think of ourselves
some twenty miles or more away from any human
habitation, excepting a few like our own, in the
depths of a vast wilderness with the never-ceasing
sound of rushing water falling upon our ears, we
can hardly realize the bustle and commotion, with
all its attendant incidents of joy and sorrow, that is
hourly transpiring in that busy centre which we
have left. Aside from the excitement of our fish-
ing we have little to, disturb that perfectly contented
frame of mind and body which we enjoy. A new
arrival or a stray guide with a bundle of correspond-
ence from Andover makes a slight ripple upon the
tranquillity of our daily life. We spend no anxious
thought in regard to change of apparel, no precious
moments are wasted in unnecessary ablutions : we
have no time to devote to scandal with our nearest
neighbors, no bickering with servants.

We are all kings and queens together. The
guides eat at the same table, drink from the same
goblet or tin cup, as circumstances demand ; and, if
on a tramp, the same blanket at night covers their
weary limbs and ours.

I have met fishermen here from my own city,


and in a week's stay felt as if they had been
acquaintances of a lifetime, parted from them to
meet only again, perhaps one or maybe two years
afterwards, in the far-off wilderness. Yes, we re-
turn again to active life, we mingle with the crowd,
are jostled from the sidewalk, or from the world
for that matter, and the gap is filled : it's only
" somebody's darling that's dead and gone."
There's this difference between the city and the
country : the latter remembers you longer. It may
be for good, and it may be for ill.

But we are getting sentimental. " Frank, smudge
out the camp."



,UT still a happy one, as they all
were, and as such days ever will be
to those who enjoy the sportsman's
life : would there were more that do !
And there will be ; for I believe, as
a people we are growing more and
more to appreciate this recreation, its benefit to the
health, its widening of our sphere of vision. Grad-
ually will our business-men be attracted more to
the haunts of nature, and away from the dissipations
of the conventional watering-places. Also the field
of the angler and the hunter will be enlarged, the
protection and propagation of fish and game in
streams and forests will do much to encourage
these manly sports, fishing will be found nearer
home, and, the taste once cultivated, more distant
waters and less frequented localities will be sought
4 6


after. Fish not before known in the sportsman's
vocabulary as game-fish are being brought into
notice. The shad which throng our northern
rivers, it has been found, will take the fly. A speci-
men of the English' grayling, one of the gamiest of
the finny tribe, has been Recently discovered in the
Michigan waters, and will form a great acquisition
to the angler's store ; and thus the supply will con-

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Woodbury) StevensFly-fishing in Maine lakes; or, Camp-life in the wilderness → online text (page 2 of 11)