You don’t leave fish to find fish.
That’s what Maine guide Dan Legere says, and he means it. Yes, there was a pristine three-mile ribbon of water in front of us on Sunday morning. And yes, that stretch of the East Outlet of the Kennebec River was likely full of hard-fighting landlocked salmon and brook trout.
But you don’t leave fish to find fish. And we were on top of dozens of fish, all of which took turns rising to caddisflies, the imitations that we cast to them, and who-knows-what else. Legere, proprietor of the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, was serving as host of the annual drift boat trip the BDN and he give away to a lucky angler.
This year, that angler was Byron Hale of Bangor, a fisherman who set a new standard for piscatorial attire with a stunningly gaudy baseballl cap that he used to wear when he picked up his young daughter at school dances. “She’d never get in the car with me. She’d find another ride home,” Hale said, clearly proud of the cap with a fish tail protruding from the rear, a fin on the top, and the fish’s head leaping out of the brim.
Hale wasted no time in hooking up, landing his first fish just 20 minutes into the daylong drift. Five minutes later, he’d landed another. Twenty minutes after that, another. And that’s the way it went for much of the day.
Don’t leave fish to find fish? We didn’t.
“When you see a fish feed, nine times out of 10, it’s in the foam,” Legere said, passing along the first of many tips that make the annual trip so interesting. “This is what I do for a living: I watch fish feed,” he said. “And foam means food.”
Of course, Legere does more than watch fish feed. While he’s on the water six or seven days per week during the peak season, he often finds that the anglers he’s mentoring need a little help getting out of fishing’s unavoidable tangles.
“I’m a professional knot-untier,” he said at one juncture, after either Hale or I (probably the latter) had made a mess of his leader. “I’m ready for the knot-untying Olympics. You can put me on the clock against anybody.”
Before he finished his proclamation, Legere had finished untying the knot and was tossing the line back into the river, ready to fish. Hale proved to be a skilled caster and experienced fisherman, and he quickly performed all the tasks Legere asked of him. One was particularly impressive, as Legere presented him with a graduate-level cast to a productive lie.
Cast too far, and the fly ended up in slack water. Cast too short, and the fish wouldn’t budge. Cast into a six-inch window and quickly mend the line upstream, and you had the chance to land a fish that we’d watched feed steadily for nearly an hour while we fished farther upstream.
That’s exactly what Hale did, feathering a side-arm cast under overhanging branches into the feeding zone, waiting a beat, then setting the hook on a slurping fish.
Lunch, served on a small island, was perfect, dessert — Penny Legere’s blueberry cobbler served in a small Mason jar — was divine, and the weather was sunny and nearly breezeless.
Over the course of the day, Hale hooked and landed every kind of fish the river had to offer. Me? I sat in the back, cast until my arm hurt, and managed to hook a few
And at the end of the day, Hale said the same words I’ve heard from many of our contest winners over the years.
“I may have to come back up here and do this again,” he said.