I was recently informed about something that made me laugh snot bubbles. The Readers Digest version of some keyboard warriors problem with my writing is that I talk about the consumption of alcohol while conducting dangerous activities.
Well yes “Saint Perfect,” I have mentioned the subject of drinking wobble pops. If you care to refresh yourself on some of my writings you’ll see that I was telling stories of days of yore, when men were men, and really didn’t give a flying rip what others thought. There are still some of us today.
Nowhere in the story telling did I say I condone the activity, it happened, I wrote about it, MOST people get that it’s story telling and move on. There’s always the option of not reading my work, shutting your mouth, and continuing on with your day, the preferred course of action in most cases.
If you decide that running a chainsaw while stoned, driving a snowmobile while blitzed, hunting while hung down with the brown bottle flu is a good idea, you sir or madam are an idiot, don’t do it. You’re a danger to others. If you decide to complain about me telling stories of my life, that I witnessed/lived, piss off, I don’t have time for you.
After almost a year of mental debate I recently decided to sell my camp in the Maine north woods. When I bought the place I thought I would have it forever. It was all I had dreamed of. My wife and I put a serious dent in our meager savings to buy it, and after my first deer season there, where I tracked and killed a wide nine-point buck, I knew I had found my piece of heaven.
change. I became a guide. The camp is on a lease and the lease holder does not
allow commercial operations on their land. Their land, their rules. I tried to
keep the camp for family, and look for another place to guide from. Unfortunately, money has yet to grow on trees.
I was at a crossroads. I wanted to grow and expand my guide service, but the
times I spend at my camp are the greatest times of my life.
The third week
of November every year is “camp week.” It brings my father, my uncle, my
brothers, and some great friends under one roof. For a week we chase
whitetails, play cards, eat like kings, and even drink a beer, or 200. They’re
all special people to me, people who have stuck with me through thick and thin.
I saw the camp as my gift to them. The all have keys. It was as much theirs as
following Father’s Day is always the weekend we all gather to climb
Katahdin. Eager anticipation on Friday
night turns into a day long climb on Saturday. People struggle, swear they are
going to get in shape before next year, and encourage each other. Saturday
night after the climb if you’re not the first one to sleep the sound of
exhausted, successful mountaineers will keep you awake, the snoring almost
Thanksgiving is for family. We all gather there and play cribbage, rummy, and lately this ridiculous game where you put a dental torture tool in your mouth and try to get your partner to understand the clue you are reading from a card. The laughter and the amount of drool is epic. If you were to stand outside the door and listen you’d think we’d all gone mad.
Summer brings lazy days floating on the river, lounging at the sand bar at the bottom of Abol Rapids, and fires on the deck as the sun sets in the west and the moon illuminates Katahdin. We walk to our favorite fishing spots, catch trout and salmon, and enjoy each other without the distractions of the modern world.
Winter brings the challenge of getting in by snowmobile, warming the place and then mid-night snowmobile rides through a remote forest that few people ever get to see. We may icefish a remote lake, and then go to our camp neighbors place to feed the deer we just chased a few months before from our hands as they try to make it through the harsh winter.
season I was coming back from a day of tracking, it was already dark. I was
thinking about selling the place for a long time. As I walked up the steep
driveway the camp was illuminated beautifully. Inside I could see my wife, my
brother, his wife, my nephews and daughter. It was a perfect picture. It was
then I realized that it’s not the camp it’s the people.
So the camp is under contract. I will buy another place and we will make more memories because a camp is a wooden structure with stuff in it. It’s the people that matter, and I am surrounded by some great ones.
I’ve been known to do some spontaneous things that make people ask if I’m crazy. This is one of them. It was a sunny day in May. I was driving a back country road. I saw a sign that said piglets, $100.00. I happened to have $100.00, I love bacon, I think I’ll buy a pig. After a brief conversation in which I lied about having owned pigs, I had my very own bacon seed. How hard could this be?
We already had goats. They had a big 100 foot by 100 foot pen. I’ll just throw the pig in there. They could “coexist” like on those bumperstickers I see on all the subaru’s. Well come to find out they can’t. The piglet wanted to suckle what she saw hanging from the goats. The goats wanted no part in that, especially the male goat. My much more pragmatic and detail oriented wife did some research. Turns out the pig will eventually kill the goats. Who knew bacon could be so angry?
Off to Tractor Supply I went. Some midnight post hole digging and cow panels and old Mango had a pig jail. Yes we named her, Mango. I know you don’t name them. People were placing bets that we would have a pet pig forever. They had good reason, my wife is a vegetarian. Opposites attracting is real. Mango continued to grow. We fed her all of our table scraps, and things from our garden. We rehomed our goats because we just didn’t have the time to dedicate to them. Mango moved out of jail to the big house in the barnyard. She promptly ate the floor.
I often found myself in her pen scratching her ears, and rubbing her sides. My daughters would play with her, and chase her around. My neighbors would come over and give her their table scraps too. Everybody loved Mango. She was very happy with her situation. She rooted up the ground, wallowed in the mud and had a general grand old time. Then one day I noticed that fall was coming, and Mango was big.
I begrudgingly made an appointment with the butcher I use for my wild game. I made sure that Mango was comfortable and enjoyed her time. I coaxed her into the trailer for the ride through town and out to the butcher. I delivered her to her fate. I didn’t like it, but I knew this truth. The outcome to Mango’s life was predetermined the moment she was born. I take great pride in the fact that her time was pleasant, fun, and caring. She was essentially free to live her life out enjoying her piece of earth, and a good ear scratch.
The following morning after I dropped her off. I got up early like I often do, went to the garage, filled the bucket with pig food, and remembered that there was no pig to feed. A few days later I got the call from the butcher and went and picked up the pork. All through this winter we will enjoy the food that our pig provided us. We will be grateful for her as I’m sure she was grateful for us. Next year I’ll raise a few more pigs. There’s something satisfying in knowing that you know exactly how your food was raised, how it was cared for, and the effort you put into it. I am certainly thankful that sometimes I make spontaneous decisions. Without them I would have never known Mango.
Yup that’s right, if you’re reading this hot off the press December is here. If you haven’t filled your buck tag in Maine yet don’t fret. You still have up to two weeks of black powder. Hopefully the snow gods have shined on you and you can track one down and get that meat for the iceshack.
I said ice shack. For the people from away, one of our great traditions in Maine is venturing out on a frozen pond, drilling some holes with some sort of tool, catching fish, or not catching fish, and most importantly not freezing. Increasingly I see less and less people taking part in the joys of avoiding hypothermia and death. For the life of me I can’t figure out why. What could be more fun than getting up early on a booger freezing morning, driving with your buddy and a trailer full of gear, trying to get some two stroke engine to turn over, and freezing your appendages until purple. Then waiting eight hours for a fish only to learn fish don’t like the cold. Then you repeat that process in reverse to pick up all your gear and drive home.
Sounds like a real blast right? Trust me it is. I’ll tell you how to make it enjoyable for even the most ardent hater of cold.
Don’t go on miserable days. Some people are die hard and go no matter what the weather. Don’t be that guy. If the winds blowing a gale and it’s snowing so hard that you can’t see 10 feet stay home, have a hot toddy and wait for a better day. There’s no need to practice being miserable, when the time comes misery comes naturally.
Plan to go on a good day. “Good day” is a relative term during a Maine winter. Pick a day with no or light snow, light wind, and maybe even a little sunshine. We can get our weather two weeks in advance online. The internet is actually a pretty powerful tool in trip planning… who knew? I thought it was for political rants and looking up your old high school girlfriend.
Make sure the ice is safe. This goes without saying… on second thought no it doesn’t. Every year I see some absolute crazy stuff on the ice. Guys venturing out with their entire family on 3 inches of new ice. Folks drinking Budweiser breakfasts and driving half ton fishing lures disguised as pick-up trucks near inlets and outlets. Don’t be a dub, know the conditions and your capabilities. If you don’t know how to read the conditions, and that’s the only thing holding you back, hire a guide for the day. You’ll learn enough to get out on your own.
Have the right gear. It doesn’t take much, some traps, some bait, an implement to get a hole in the ice, a way to get warm, and some food and entertainment. You can get traps real cheap at yard sales. The local big box stores have some that are pretty inexpensive. For bait, go to your local bait and tackle with a five-gallon bucket. Get a few dozen shiners and you are ready to go. As far as getting a hole in the ice. In the early season a chisel works fine, an axe does the job, and in a pinch I have been known to use a chainsaw to cut me a square hole in the ice. If you really want to you can spend the money to get a power auger that runs on gas, propane, or even electric battery. I don’t recommend that until you’re sure that ice fishing is your thing. Here’s a little tip. When I was younger and didn’t have a lot of money to throw around I would just ask someone out fishing if I could trade them a few beers for them to come over to drill me a few holes. Amazingly people icefishing like beer. Imagine my surprise.
Now the most important part, food warmth, and entertainment. One of my favorite ways to keep warm is to have a fire. I bring a little half barrel and collect up a bunch of dead wood and touch her off. Don’t worry the ice won’t melt that much. I bring some skates for the kids, hockey sticks, and hotdogs to cook on a stick and that’s living. Just make sure you clean up your mess.
You can get elaborate and build yourself an iceshack, or buy a portable one. I’ve moved away from the permanent stick built shacks and have gotten myself a portable. I’m nothing short of comfortable when I take trips. I’ll take the time to breakout exactly how I set up my shack. I’m doing this because I’ve yet to see a better portable set up.
My shack is 8 foot by 8 foot and quilted for good insulation. It all fits in a bag I can carry on my shoulder. I first shovel all the snow out to the bare ice. And then lay a tarp down. If there is too much snow I pack the snow down with either my snow shoes or my snowmobile. Insider tip; when there’s a lot of snow on the ice that’s a lot of weight. When you pop a hole in the ice that down pressure from the weight pushes water up through the ice. If you shovel clear spot for your shack on 18 inches of snow you’ll get about 6 inches of water in that spot when you pop your hole nearby, isn’t science fun? Back on topic. I lay a tarp down and then I piece together my floor. I use snap together foam flooring from Lowes it serves as excellent insulation. I then set my shack on top. I anchor all my corners and my tie outs. The last thing you want is a big blow coming down the lake and your shack is blown away and you’re chasing it down the lake like a dog chasing a car. The ice anchors can be hard. I bring a small cordless drill to start my holes, makes life a lot easier. I can have this thing set up in about 10 minutes. For heat I bring a full 20-gallon propane tank and a propane heater with a low CO2 safety shut off. I make sure that the heater is elevated off the ground that keeps the ice from melting. I also bring a two burner propane stove for cooking. In a Rubbermaid tote I carry a cribbage board, books, and other games, the tote doubles as a table. I use those bag chairs that everyone has laying around. I keep the temperature at about 70 degrees inside. A few times a year when I make long trips I spend the night on a cot in the shack, it can sleep two comfortably and three if needed. It’s an eerie feeling the ice settle around you.
Finally, the food. Deer steak is the choice of food so get out there and fill your tag. In the event that you don’t get your deer there are other options. I make sausage, eggs, and homefries for breakfast. I usually do red hotdogs and chips for lunch, and in the event that I’m staying the night I do some sort of chili, or stew for dinner. They sky is the limit. The key is to prep everything before you leave so all you have to do it mix and cook.
There is really no need to sit inside to be miserable during the winter. Icefishing is an excellent way to experience a Maine winter and all it has to offer. It comes with excitement and anticipation of what is on the other end of the line. Plus, you really get to learn a lot about the people you’re with when you’re trapped on a frozen lake in zero degrees in an 8’x8’ tent. If all that is holding you back is the unknown, hire a guide, they are there to ease your concern, make your trip safe, and make it memorable.
Now go fill that tag, the freezer is getting empty.
Here is a little tip for the wannabe big woods hunters.
When I received my commission in the Marine Corps I went to The Basic School in Quantico, VA. It’s a six-month school that all new Marine Corps officers attend. Regarding the development of my intellect, it was the single greatest experience in my life. That’s a big statement considering that I had just graduated from college a few weeks before attending. Throughout the course there was a phrase, “turn the map around.” What it means is stop looking at a map from your perspective, look at it from the enemy’s, in this case replace the enemy with the deer. First thing is, deer just like humans, will always take the easy route when there is little or no hunting pressure. It’s probably best to take this one step by step.
Dissecting the map north of Fallujah 2005 with some of the best Marines I know. Mike Woods and Tim O’Brien
Step 1. Get a good topographic map of your area. Make sure that it shows elevation changes with contour lines, and water features including intermittent streams. I like to use Delormes Maine Gazetteer. You can also order topo maps of areas from Delormes if you like to spend money.
Step 2. Identify the dominant terrain feature, or features in the area you want to hunt. Make sure that terrain feature is away from human interaction. A rule I like to use is a half mile from the nearest vehicle access. Those features are anything that will alter a deer’s straight line movement. It could be a deep bog, a river, or a pond/lake. My favorite is a high ridge or mountain top. The more you can identify in an area the better because you can still hunt from one to another throughout the day.
Step 3. Identify your ingress and egress points. The ingress is where you’re going to get into the woods. Egress is how you’re going to get out. Rarely should they be the same. Find a spot that gets you as close as you can to your target area without crossing the route you think a deer will travel. Don’t worry about the truck. We always have a plan to start driving the roads where we’re hunting after dark until everyone is picked up.
Step 4. Identify your linear catching features. Anywhere you go in the big woods there are linear features that stop you from wandering off. Identify them so when you get turned around you know that if you follow a certain compass heading you will eventually hit that feature and you can use it as a hand rail to get you home. In the area I’m hunting now I know that if I go north I’ll hit the Golden Road. It might take me 5-6 miles but I know that I’ll find it. If I go east I’ll hit my river. Never go to the woods without a compass and at least two lineal catching features.
Step 5. Walk the ground. Now that you have dominant areas on the map the chances are they’ll be dominant on the ground, go find them. It’s not like you’re looking for a needle in a hay stack, you’re looking for a mountain top or lake. If you can’t find those stick to heater hunting.
Step 6. Identify the micro-terrain. Once you find them find the small terrain changes you can’t see on the map. Look for the game trails. Bucks love to follow streams up mountain sides to small passes that allow them to get from one side to the other. A very successful piece of micro-terrain is what we call a funnel. This is a place that’s steep on both sides but in the middle is passable. This will funnel the traveling deer right in front of you. Once you find these places look for sign. Usually there will be some rubs from years past that you’ll notice.
Eric Chadbourne with a mountain funnel bruiser
There’s one spot I discovered after tagging out that has what looks like a cow path leading through it. You better believe I will be planted there opening day once the camera I have up there confirms mature bucks are in the area. It’s about 2 miles from the nearest vehicle access point at about 2000 feet elevation.
Finding these trails makes me taste deer steak
Step 7. Memorize your map. You have to have the map burned in your mind. The worst thing you can do is keep going in and walking around to, “learn the ground.” Go in maybe once a month to check your camera but don’t disturb the area too much. I like to go right before or even during a rain to wash away any scent I leave. Remember you’re a long way from the nearest human and might be the only human these deer encounter. Try to make that encounter a onetime thing with the deer of your dreams lined up in your sights. Also, taking the map with you is just another distraction between you and that bedded buck leave it at home plus the Delorme won’t fit in your backpack.
There are two measurable things that keep people from seeing big deer. Inability to traverse large areas of land because of a lack of understanding of navigation, and the physical fitness required to do it day after day for a month. There are a bunch of intangibles the main one being a lack of a will to win. If you don’t have the will to go way back you are limiting your chances.
Most of us spend a majority of our time chasing the almighty dollar. I won’t sit here and say I don’t. I work about 50 hours a week in a “normal” job, sometimes more, sometimes less, so my family can enjoy a good comfortable life. I do it so I can put some money away for the inevitable moment that I have a heart attack chasing some gnarly antlered whitetail up some remote ridge. I want to make sure that my wife can enjoy life with her second husband… I bet he won’t hunt.
If it was up to me I would guide full time because that’s when I’m rich with empty pockets. The pleasure of getting up before dawn to load up the square stern six horse Johnson for a run up the lake to tend to bear baits. Creasing the calm water early in the morning, seeing the newly arrived Blue Wing Teal take flight, killing the engine to listen to the geese leave their roosts to head to the cut fields, that’s living.
I feel pretty rich when I put all the work together and a grateful sport comes in and trusts that I’ve put him on the right spot. When I get a text saying “big buck down,” and when I arrive at the site 30 minutes later the sport is still shaking with a smile that is ear to ear. The moment they walk up to the animal that they have taken and can’t thank you enough, well that’s the cat’s ass and like having a bucket full of 100’s.
When I introduce someone to Katahdin, our mountain, well that’s like having a truck full of gold. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve taken up that mountain for the first time. Every time is different. I took my wife up for the first time a few years ago. It rained, the wind was blowing a gale, it was cold, and rocks were falling down from other hikers. The complaints were monumental. The fog was so thick all I keep thinking about was Donn Fendler. If you don’t know who he is, punch yourself, and then google box him.
We were about 500 yards from the summit, my fun meter was pegged. People from my party were having melt downs. I was so disappointed in myself for deciding to climb in that weather. I went full Marine and started swearing and hollering. “Screw it, we’re headed back down,” were my final words. Then without a sound, my wife stood up faced the summit and walked, everyone followed. Well let me tell you what Mistah Man. I doubt I’d ever been richer in my outdoor life. If it’s physically possible to be ashamed and proud at once I was it. We summited, the skies parted, and we had our first family picture on the peak.
I guess if I could sum it up I would say this. When I go to bed after a day of guiding, after listening to my sports recount their tales of adventure as if they had happened long ago even though they just happened. When I lay my head on my pillow with sore muscles, a full belly, and the smell of wood smoke from the fire lingering in my senses. That’s when I am rich beyond belief and I wish to wake up to do it all over again for the rest of my life.
I began the 2015 deer season (gun) with a plan, I wasn’t going sit much. I spent all of bear season and expanded archery sitting 15 feet up in a tree. I needed to feel the ground under my feet. I needed to get on a track, I needed to move slow, pick the terrain apart, guess where the deer would be; I needed to hunt.
When you hunt like that you need a gun that you can mount quick, fire fast, and have a quick follow up. You need a gun you can carry all day on the trail and not fatigue. I had just the gun, my grandfather’s Winchester Model 94, 30-30 carbine, manufactured in 1897.
That’s right, the best research I can find is that the 30-30 that my grandfather gave to me around my 16th birthday came out of the factory in 1897. Make no mistake this is no show piece. It’s banged up, the varnish is worn, the nickel is worn, and it took me several hours of cleaning to get the gunk out of the working parts and the magazine. If it’s one thing, it’s a deer killer. From what I remember Gramps got it at a pawn shop and started killing deer with it. The gun has probably killed more deer than I’ll kill in a lifetime. With Gramps moved onto the happy hunting grounds I can say a majority of those were under the cover of darkness. See Gramps was a poacher, not in the sense that he killed for the kill, he killed for the meat to feed his family and other families that he knew needed the meat, and he could trust them not to tell the law. That’s the way it was. I don’t condone it now but I don’t fault a man for putting food on his table.
When I arrived at camp Thursday night the forecast was calling for potential overnight snow. I went to bed dreaming of waking up to a blanket of snow, cutting a big staggering, toe dragging track, and dogging that buck until he was down. I had two guns with me, my modern Remington Model 700 in 30-06 with a high powered scope. It’s a heavy beast but has put down over 15 deer between Georgia and Maine, and Gramp’s gun. I’ve never hunted with his gun, It was old, unreliable, and had no glass, but for some reason I thought this year I would use it. I had other “bush guns,” or as I call them tracking guns, but it felt right leaving those in the case at home and bringing the 30-30. I had cleaned it the best I could and it held decent groups at 100 yards, it would do.
Friday morning was a let down, 35 degrees and raining. I decided to sit a stand on the edge of the swamp behind camp and wait for dawn. Once I could see if there was snow at the higher elevations then I’d make the plan for the rest of the day, I took my 30-06. About 10 minutes into shooting light a little 4 pointer came wondering by, I gave him a pass. I’m a unabashed antler hunter. I know Maine is a, “we hunt for meat state,” and that’s your choice. I know I can get a lot more meat off a buck that’s pushing 200 lbs than I can from one that’s 100 lbs. Off topic a little, my dad shot that buck later in the week and I was happy for him. If you shoot a buck you’re happy with then you’re alright with me.
About the time I was getting ready to go check out the mountain and see if there was snow, another deer came into view. This was a smaller 6 or 8 pointer that has the potential to be a real masher next year. He was 100 plus yards away and moving, I picked up the 30-06 to get a look at him and nothing, the scope was wet, crap oh well I was going to give him a pass anyway. I was wet and I had seen two deer that I wasn’t looking for. Time to make a change and get out of these wet clothes.
I walked back to camp thinking about my options, I knew I could move quick and quite in the rain and I was nagged by this thought, what if that buck was a shooter? I would have missed the chance. I needed to use the only other option I had, the 30-30. After drying out I headed out again with the 30-30. I moved over to the area I shot last year’s deer and the sign was plentiful. while pussyfooting my way along I caught the flicker of a tail and there they were, two does feeding on mushrooms 30 yards from me. This time of year there’s no better attractant than a doe, never mind two. I thought for sure that I was going to see a mature buck, it never happened. The deer moved away and I silently thanked them for the 30 minutes they let me sit and watch them.
From the spot I was at I was going to make my way around and back to camp. Probably a little less than a mile. It was noon and I planned to take the rest of the day. The snow never came but it sure as hell kept raining. I jumped another deer that saw me before I saw it. When a deer blows when you’re stalking it’s like a punch in the gut. I had just spent the last hour moving 100 yards only to get busted by a deer I never saw or heard, frustrating. You have to shrug it off and vow to do better. At about 3:15 I came to the edge of the swamp directly across from where I started my day. I was admiring the view of the snow on Katahdin, wishing for some snow at my camp when I saw my buck, he was moving around the edge of the swamp 150-200 yards away, a shot I couldn’t take with the ol 30-30.
I knew he was either going to go along the edge of the swamp where I had started my day, or the oak ridge behind my camp. I also knew I was running out of time. I decided to run across the swamp to cut him off. I ran across, plunged into the waist deep water and immediately regretted my decision. I came out the other side wet, frozen, and pissed. I crept up to where I thought I’d see him and nothing. It was getting late and I was miserable. I could take the trail back to camp and be warm, dry, and on my first stiff drink in 10 minutes. For some reason I decided to keep pushing and check the oaks. I slipped up the hill and was picking the oak grove apart piece by piece near to far left to right when out of the corner of my eye he crossed the ridge to my right. In a flash the gun was up, but not quick enough. I could hear him grunting and thrashing around but couldn’t see him. I always carry a grunt tube and a doe bleat can just in case I need to fool a deer into thinking I’m a deer. I turned the can over and he came running. The sound a good buck makes running reminds me of a horse at gallop. He came out on the spine of the ridge I was on and headed right to me. He had his head down and his rack swinging from side to side, he was trying to pick up the scent of the doe he heard. I had a bead on him but did not want to shoot him in the back of the head. At about 15 feet, he picked up his head to see me kneeling in the middle of his path, this is when it ended. The 30-30 barked and he went down. In that moment a lifetime of memories I had of my grandfather sped through my mind like a slideshow on ultra fast forward. It was something I’ll never be able to explain.
There are things that happened during this hunt that I can’t explain and that’s okay. The thrill of hunting is not in the kill it is in the journey, in the hardships, in the perseverance, and in the connection with our hunting ancestors. Gramp’s 30-30 is back in the gun case, I’ve killed a good deer with it on the deer’s terms. I may hunt with it again or I may not. Maybe someday one of my kids or grandkids will lay down a trophy buck with it and they’ll have a slide show of memories that include me, that would be alright.
I have two lovely daughters, Emily who is nearly 21, and Sophie who is 10 but thinks she’s 21. They’re blessed with a loving mother… and me as a dad. I’m a demanding man when it comes to a few things; independence and toughness. A lot of things cost money, but being tough is free. One of the ways one can become tough is being miserable, I know crazy right? From being miserable you become tough, from becoming tough you become independent. And when you become independent you become free. Free to enjoy all that life has to offer without relying on some dude to be your knight in crappy armor, armor is for wimps anyway.
I know when I say, “figure it out!” that they think I hate them, in all honesty that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s because I love them and I don’t want their default setting to be ask a man. I want them to… figure it out. Those that know me know that I enjoy a good back country adventure so I’m going to tell you a few that my daughters have enjoyed with me. By enjoy I mean hated.
Emily and the Canoe Anyone that has spent anytime on moving water knows that the person in the bow of the canoe is the lookout. You’re looking for rocks, logs, and anything in general that could upset you’re glorious day. The key is to give the alarm before the canoe is high centered on the rock. Unless you’re Emily. On a bright July day Emily and I took to the river with fly rods and plans for trout. Within 30 seconds of paddling, a rock slid under the center of the bottom of the canoe Emily said, “rock.” Too late, over we went. We lost the bug spray, my beer, and my mind. I blasted out a blue streak of swears that you can still hear echoing through the river valley. I called Emily, a “liability” as we stood knee deep in the river holding onto what we could grab. Now here is the decision point, pack up and go home, or fish. The easy route pack up and go home. My route, we’re fishing damn it. Although she was upset by my reaction to her canoe capabilities she soldiered on, we had a great day, she learned canoeing and flyfishing. And I was reminded that you can catch fish without beer.
Sophie and the Missing Outhouse Since the two older kids have moved out Sophie has become my only on hand outdoors adventurer, and often misadventure partner. We decided to try a new trail near our camp that would include hiking, fishing, and hiking some more. When I say we, I mean me. I drug an unwilling Sophie along. Off we went early in the morning. Sophie is an accomplished hiker, she has reached the summit of Katahdin twice, and she’s only 10.
But on this day she wasn’t too into it. Perhaps it’s because it was early June and the bugs were bad. Perhaps it was because it was windy and cold, or perhaps it was because the trail was boring. It didn’t matter we would push on. There was yelling, there was begging, there was pleading, but I did not give in. As we reached our first destination, the pond where we planned to fish, Sophie said, “I have to go to the bathroom, the number 2 kind.” Great! But wait up ahead at one of the primitive campsites was a sign. Written in big block letters was the word. “OUTHOUSE!” Praise Jesus! We scurried up the outhouse trail for a long time, nearly a quarter mile. We could see where other weary hikers hit by the effects of their breakfast of greasy bacon had let down their guard and had to do an emergency blow. Was this some sort of sick joke. Then we saw it. In the middle of a mosquito infested forest. A box with a seat on it. There was no house in this outhouse. I won’t give you the details but the visit to the latrine involved me providing the cover of a constant bug spray cloud while my daughter did her business, I used nearly a whole can of Deep Woods Off, oh what fun we were having.
We did manage some good trout, got some great views, and I’m pretty sure she can poop in any public place, a common phobia for most people. Mission accomplished.
My stories often come off as funny, but in reality the stories and memories that I’ve made with my girls are that of pride. Because in every adventure, or misadventure they learn to be independent, to persevere, to figure it out, and in the process they have become and are becoming strong independent women, ready to meet the challenges of life. I couldn’t be more proud.
As a Maine Guide, and a native Mainer, I learned long ago that you don’t just give away good fishing spots. I also know there are about a billion Mud Ponds in the state of Maine. So when someone asks me where the fish are biting I always say they’re biting at “Mud Pond.”
This is a story about a remote hike, paddle, portage, fishing, and bushwhacking trip that was nothing short of miserable, and also glorious.
My son Tyler is the real writer. He has an adventure blog at: www.livindeliberately.com I’m sure he got his writing talent from his mother, it’s a lot better than mine. He’s a grown man with a real job in Vermont. Like me he’d rather wander the ridges and mountain tops than be inside. Also like me he has responsibilities and has made commitments that he must honor.
He came home for the Memorial Day Weekend. I sensed that he was a little worn out from the grind that is life and I knew I was. I hatched the idea that we’d have an epic adventure to a remote trout pond far from the reaches of man. I didn’t account for the blackflies and mosquitos… My bad.
It started off with a two and a half mile hike to the stashed canoe on “Mud Lake.” She was right where we left her this winter. Nobody was going to take her, she was well guarded by at least 10 million black flies. After I inhaled my yearly intake of fly based protein we were in the water paddling like we could hear banjos in an effort to leave the cloud of insects behind us. We succeeded with the help of a strong headwind. Normally when one paddles a headwind is a curse. Not today! It was a blessing, the mosquito Air Force returned to their home base. I think they were able to radio ahead though.
After a mile paddle we hit the pull out point. The portage was about a 1/2 a mile up hill. “Portage” for those that don’t know, is a fancy word for carrying your canoe upside down on your shoulders while you nearly suffocate yourself with your head inside. Suffocation would have been a welcome relief from the massive amounts of blackflies that poured into the upturned canoe. The buzzing inside the canoe was only matched by the loud thuds amplified by the metal canoe when the trail turned to avoid a tree but we kept going straight to impact said tree. Every once in a while we would set the canoe down, drink some water with black flies mixed in, and make inaccurate guesses as to how far away “Mud Pond” was.
We finally made it. Being at a higher elevation we got an intermittent breeze. When it blew we were given a break from the flies. We got geared up to fish, ate our ham sandwiches almost free of flies, and slipped the canoe into the remote “Mud Pond.” I sure hoped it would be filled with native, never been touched by man, brook trout.
It was about noon, and I was tossing a sinking golden stone, my son was throwing a floating Royal Coachman. On his first cast, and on almost every other cast, he caught a fish. I quickly dug out my dry fly box in search of a Royal Coachman, I didn’t have any. I tied on an Adams, it turned out the fish liked those too! If I had to guess we caught over 100 brookies in an hour and a half. If we left a fly dangling in the water at the side of the canoe while we measured a fish, or just took a break, a brookie would come up and take it. It was nothing short of amazing. All the fish were in that frying pan perfect 8-10 inch range. I know there were bigger fish to be had we just couldn’t get to them. I couldn’t tell you if there were any blackflies around. I was too busy to notice.
I made the decision to leave the canoe there and hike back to the truck over the ridge. We stashed the canoe on the eastern shore of “Mud Pond,” headed out with our limit, and our blackfly friends providing us an escort. I had hunted the area before and thought I could hit an old logging road that would make walking easier. I did, but it took me awhile to find it. Fun fact; bugs can’t bite if you are scraping your skin off with brush for a mile. At one point Tyler broke out in hysterical laughter. He said, “this is the most fun I’ve had being miserable in a while.” I had to agree. I finally hit the tote road and we cruised the last mile and a half to the truck. The blackflies came too.
We made it back to camp for Happy Hour. After cleaning the fish we bored his mother with stories of the miserable fun we had. We left the next day. Tyler went back to Vermont, I went back to work. I texted him from my office, I’m sure he was in his. I said, “man I wish I was fishing that pond again.” He said, “that was seriously awesome.” Neither one of us mentioned the blackflies. Trips like that, doing something completely outside of what most will do for a few minutes of living in the moment are worth the effort. The outcome is more than a sack full of clean fish, it’s also a clean soul… and some bug bites.
I just spent two very long fulfilling days teaching a free Registered Maine Guide Course to 26 Maine Veterans in support of House in the Woods with support from the Cole Land Transportation Museum. I spent a lot of time designing a course that could support such a large group, and give them the skills they would need to go down to Augusta and pass the test with the state of Maine. There were a lot of late nights of preparation, and as the first day approached there was a lot of self doubt. Those of you that know me may be raising an eyebrow at that, yes I wasn’t sure I could do it. You can’t fool these guys and gals, you have to be authentic or they’ll see right through you.
The course went fine, learning occurred, and I am 100 percent confident that they all, if they choose to take the exam, will pass. But that’s not really what’s important. At the very beginning we went around the room and everyone introduced themselves to the group. As the introductions went on I could feel a giant release of tension in the room, collectively we all realized we were around our people. We were in a place where it was ok to have a little morbid humor, to poke fun at each other, and to crack a jokes that would make a normal person cringe. Jokes like, “what is a dutch oven?” “hint, it’s not when you fart in bed and pull the covers over your spouses head.”
As we went along I had a conversation with a few guys that were in Fallujah at the same time I was. I haven’t talked about Fallujah in a long time. I’ve haven’t been in Fallujah for 10 years. I’ve thought about it plenty, Fallujah never leaves you. Surprisingly it was nice to talk to someone who got it, who remembered the streets, the smells, and the lack of all things decent except each other.
During the second morning several students individually came up to me and said they were really enjoying the course, it’s something they wanted to do for a long time, and that they appreciated what I was doing for them. That was a great feeling. To have someone truly, and honestly thank you for helping them. I don’t know if they had any idea that what we were collectively doing was helping each other.
I closed the course by challenging the room to pay it forward. They’ve been given an opportunity to use the skills learned to help another veteran, or a veteran organization. They have an obligation to do that, we are our own greatest strength as veterans. I finished by saying, “we are responsible for us.” I truly believe that. I’m very happy with the end result, and it has nothing to do with the curriculum. I hope they all go on to earn the Maine Guide Patch that I proudly wear, and they realize how lucky this country is to have people like them. -Semper Fi