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Where Cool Waters Flow

Four Seasons with a Master Maine Guide

Softcover, Nonfiction, Outdoors, 330 pages

ISBN: 978-1-934031-28-5

Availability:

$15.95

Available as an ebook:
Amazon's Kindle.

About this Book:

Best Book, 2010 New England Outdoor Writers Association

Master Maine Guide Randy Spencer knows the lakes, streams, and woodlands around Grand Lake Stream, Maine like few others. He has learned the ways of the old Maine Guides – from the proper way to prepare shore lunches, to where to find the best salmon and bass, to how to survive in the wilderness – from some of the area's local legends. Now, in his first book, Where Cool Waters Flow, Randy puts you in the casting seat of his Grand Laker, introduces his many "sports" who come from miles away to decompress, brings you out on the trail during fall hunts, and takes you on many other adventures as only an insider can.

Where Cool Waters Flow
Reviews
News

"Spencer's book, quite simply, is the rare local volume that I can honestly recommend with the highest praise a fellow writer can muster: I wish I'd written it. But I couldn't have. Spencer's prose is clean, quick and witty. He successfully transports readers from their living room easy chairs to the wilds of Grand Lake Stream, and does so without bombarding them with strings of adjectives designed to paint the picture he sees in his mind. Instead, like the songwriter he is, he picks his words judiciously, commits to them and makes them do his bidding. And the result is a stunning portrait of a truly special place, illuminated by the people who live for their yearly visits to those remote Maine woods. You may find a better Maine book than Where Cool Waters Flow. You may find a better outdoor book. You may. I haven't." – John Holyoke, Bangor Daily News

To say that Randy Spencer has written a nice book about Maine is not to damn him with faint praise. Nice is not a backhanded term for blandness, but an umbrella that covers such vastly underrated virtues as good manners, good humor, and good company. Spencer provides all three in Where Cool Waters Flow as well as a portrait of one of Maine's most beautiful and beguiling villages: Grand Lake Stream. – Roberta Scruggs, Down East Magazine

Where Cool Waters Flow will take anyone with the love of hunting and the outdoors away from it all for a little while, onto Grand Lake Stream with someone who knows its every ripple and rock – who knows full well what people mean when they want to 'get away from it all.' He knows where and why and when to share, when to spin a yarn or a paddle or a fly ... and when not to. He's been there – he may have done that, but he'll take you along – if not for real, then on the page. – Marilis Hornidge, Lincoln County News (Damariscotta, ME)

The Long Wait

The Long Wait

By Randy Spencer

The Long Wait, an excerpt from Where Cool Waters Flow, appeared in Islandport Magazine, Spring 2019

Surrounded by 17,000 acres of lakes, Grand Lake Stream might be Maine’s most island-like community possible without actually being at sea. Residents are attuned to the water’s moods and to the corresponding changes in themselves. “Ice-out” is not a meaningful term in about two-thirds of the lower forty-eight states. It doesn’t mean spring is about to burst wide open anytime soon. Rather, its significance is symbolic. Ice-out marks the beginning of a long process that eventually leads to spring. Although, hindered by more cold and snow and, finally, mud, spring is indeed on its way, and that means that Grand Lake Stream will soon reconnect with the outside world.

The glacial, stratified lakes of the region go through several preliminary stages before giving up their ice. Some years, ice-out may not happen for two full months after the vernal equinox, March 20. The lakes may be perfectly safe to ice-fish until the season closes March 31, but anglers become more watchful and wary. When the augers begin to drill through too easily, it’s a sure sign that the ice is getting “punky.” The snow on top takes on a granular consistency. Snow fleas show up as tiny, black, moving specks. The days, by now, have been lengthening for three months, and this solar benefit brings up the lake’s temperature, which in turn wears away, or “rots,” ice from the underside. Fishermen turn to wearing two layers of clothing instead of four or five.

One day the snow and ice will appear to become one as the lake’s covering steadily darkens. Fissures open between large floes of ice, and these floes move about, bumping into each other. The ice in the coves hangs on the longest, but even there it pulls away from the shoreline. Fishing shacks not off the lakes by this time are doomed because there will be no safe way to get them. On shore, southerly facing hillsides are bare, and so are the shelves in the Pine Tree Store, at least compared to what they’ll look like shortly—the regular fishing season opens April 1. The snow is dirty, receding from the roads and from around tree trunks. A winter’s worth of sand covers the road, which gives up its dust with each passing vehicle or gust of wind. Woods roads lose their snow and soften. Runoffs flood all the trails. Rocks and roots rear up to bash errant snowmobile skis into scrap metal.

No matter what the weather is doing on April 1, the faithful flock to the stream to join casting rotations on its five classic pools. The spectacle of fly fishermen lashing Grand Lake Stream’s Dam Pool with nymphs and streamers on April 1 can be difficult to conjure. After suiting up in long underwear and pulling on neoprene waders, down vests, and even ski masks, hardened anglers sometimes have to scale high snowbanks pushed up along the edge of the Dam Pool parking lot. Often there are huge snowdrifts right to the water’s edge. The drop-off from the drifts into the stream is steep, but that doesn’t stop these anglers. Any obstacles to the fishing season opener are overcome.

To find open water on the lakes, some years fishermen must wait as long as five or six weeks after the season opens. It’s a tough time for outdoorsmen. Nothing to fish for, nothing to hunt, and too long to wait. Potholes are murder on a pickup’s ball joints, and frost heaves jostle the truck enough to scramble eggs inside the cab. Patience wears thin.

White, green, and blue, the colors of winter that have predominated for at least four months, cede the stage to brown. Much has been written about the therapeutic properties of green and blue, but plugs for brown are scant. The snow’s disappearance amounts to the emotional equivalent of a plastic surgery gone bad. When the gauze is unwrapped, the patient sees the result and is horror-stricken.

No one is in a rush to see what they know lurks beneath the melting snow. All winter long, each storm spiffed and polished everyone’s home and grounds with an all-forgiving luster. Now, the rude guest arrives with a vengeance, splattering advertisements everywhere—it’s Mud Season! When it comes, all sins are uncovered. An embargo on trodding anywhere off the beaten path takes effect. Every garden hose, dog bone, child’s toy—all of fall’s flotsam that was lost to sight and memory is exposed. No one and nothing looks its best. It doesn’t help that the calendar says it’s spring.

The mood of mortals is frayed at the edges. What a time for Mother Nature to demonstrate that she has more foul weather than people have patience. She’s too stingy with her gifts at a time when most would gladly trade another gray, grim, raw day for a good black-fly bite. People start looking for the subtlest signs of spring as if their lives depended on it. It’s not uncommon to receive a phone call from someone who has just seen a robin. If the ice goes out of a five-acre pond, it’s worthy of notice on the Pine Tree Store’s Liar’s Bench. A moth, sweet-loving ants, woodcock sightings—all earn a headline.

Some try to force some forsythia in front of a well-lit window. Some check and recheck the seeds they’ve started under a grow light. A lot of the guides make several trips to the boat launch each day to see how much the waterline has widened. It’s not really winter. It’s not really spring. How long things will remain suspended this way is anyone’s guess. 

Time for Work

After living in Grand Lake Stream for several years, I noticed that canoe makers share one thing in common: They start work in March. This is when Sonny Sprague would steam ribs and saw out the planking for three or four canoes. The same was true for Kenny Wheaton. This is when Val Moore would fit the slats to the frames of his beautiful ash canoe seats. Jack Perkins might repair or restore a canoe relic from a sporting camp, or weld a boat trailer back into serviceable order.

“Why March?” I wondered. I finally realized it wasn’t that there was anything special about the month of March—it just wasn’t good for much else. 

It was also during the spring in days long past that Grand Lake Stream’s housewives worked at the local hatchery clipping salmon fins. Today, volunteers make the annual clipping chore manageable. 

Hatchery staff corral the fish using a screened gate and then net them, perhaps a couple hundred at a time, and drop them into holding buckets. In the buckets a potion of clove oil and ethanol stuns the fish for a few minutes. Workers stand on cinder blocks in the pools so that released salmon, still doped from the sedative, won’t get underfoot. Because of such precautions, mortalities from the operation are quite rare.

Various fin clips in alternating years help fisheries managers age fish later in their life cycle, and also gauge weight, length, and general health indexes when some of these same fish show up in future fall samplings. A four-year clipping cycle eliminates confusion and keeps each age class separate. No pectoral fins are ever clipped from landlocked salmon. These are the “feathering” fins that keep the fish stable in their “lies.”

Of the 40,000 landlocked salmon clipped in recent springs, a little over 10,000 were destined for West Grand Lake. About 20 percent were “air-stocked” with a floatplane. The balance of the stocking occurred south of Farm Cove on the west shore, and south of Kitchen Cove on the east shore of West Grand Lake.

At a spring clipping a few years back, one young salmon did not look as healthy as the rest. He had a large chunk taken out of his back near his dorsal fin. A fisheries staffer said that the injury came compliments of a mink. In January of that year, the fur-bearer with the expensive coat found its way under the eaves of one of the hatchery buildings. Once in, he thought he’d died and gone to Haynesville. His euphoria was brief, however, for he soon found himself in a live trap being transported to Grand Falls Flowage.

Evidently, however, his replacements were notified. Within a couple of weeks, another mink scaled the fence and feasted on fat yearlings until he too met his Waterloo. Off to the Flowage he went to join his partner in crime.

The punishments were apparently not effective deterrents. You guessed it—the third-string mink was off the bench and on the job in a jiffy. He also got his free ticket to the Flowage.

Trapping Bait

Spring is a great time to trap bait. P. T. Barnum may have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but did he ever try to trap one in a wire basket? It’s not all that easy unless you’ve been exposed to tricks of this trade. Suckers are one of the preferred live baits for experienced togue fishermen, summer or winter. There must be something about a bottom feeder that attracts a bottom feeder, but even while a nice shiner (minnow) can certainly catch a fine togue, the catch rate, some say, seems to increase when you switch to suckers. As a fringe benefit, they have firmer flesh and sew onto hooks more easily, therefore remaining intact longer than some shiners. They also last longer in the bait bucket.

During the spring and summer, a large shiner or sucker is typically “sewn” onto a leadered hook in such a way that while trolling, it will track in a spiraling, erratic pattern. The trolling depth will increase as the heat of the season proceeds and gamefish are driven downward.

It’s always fun to find an out-of-the-way brook or deadwater to try your luck at bait trapping with a little dry dog food or bread inside a two-piece wire trap attached to a line. Traps are made with plastic, too, nowadays, but give me wire for sink-ability and a more bountiful catch. This method is for the amateur bait trapper who only wants to stay ahead of himself with bait for the season, or maybe even stock up for winter. Although, for that, he’ll eventually need some kind of tub and pump. For the more serious, licensed trapper, these small wire baskets won’t catch the numbers or the size needed to sustain a bait business.

Professional trappers often design and build their own baskets that dwarf store-bought varieties. The holes at the ends are much larger and sometimes there is just one. The mesh may be quarter-inch, and the business end of the trap is always a wire cone turned inward. Bread may be used only as an attractant, for it is known from observation that suckers will earn their name by remaining outside the trap, actually sucking the bread through the wire mesh. The professionals use a more durable bait inside the trap and out of reach of that downturned suction cup of a mouth. They sometimes run a wire through the center with a hot dog, piece of salt pork, or other meat skewered on it like a shish kebab. Eventually, that sucker’s coming in after that meat picnic!

Those of us who only need to keep a modest supply of bait on hand will be checking one or two small traps every couple of days. Those traps bear the name and address of the trapper; even the holding boxes must have a name and address on them. To do this kind of “amateur” trapping, all you need is a valid fishing license.

“Fly bait” is the most common bait used as spring fishing gets under way. This may be a smelt or a small shiner, which is attached to the hook of a streamer fly and trolled near the surface. Tandem-hooked streamers are also used, and in this case, the fly bait is attached to the aft hook. Both salmon and togue cruise the cold surface waters at this time of year.

Much of this bait will have been trapped previously, possibly even during winter by licensed trappers. Smelts are trapped or jigged through the ice from shacks set out just like ice-fishing shacks. 

The heyday of the bait dealers is now past. Bill White was the best-known bait name in Grand Lake Stream up to the early 1970s. Eddie Brown kept worms in his basement, and before selling to a customer, he’d spread them out on a newspaper on his kitchen table. He would not sell a dead worm. Baitmen of that day worked hard nearly year-round to keep their customers supplied. These days, most convenience stores sell some kind of bait, some of it imported from places like Arkansas, some of it grown commercially in Maine. Bait fishing is not as popular as it was in former times, but, after June 21 when live bait is allowed for catching bass, many anglers fish for their bait first, then they go fishing.

Randy Spencer

About this Author

Randy Spencer is a Master Maine Guide, which means he is qualified and certified by the State of Maine to guide clients on fishing, hunting, or recreational adventures, although Randy's specialty is fishing. Randy's g

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