By Randy Spencer
A great many roads surrounding Grand Lake Stream are best negotiated in first gear. Here, devoid of urban distractions like malls or Main Streets, “riding the roads” is a legitimate pastime. Most of these rural routes were made to access timber. Contractors may only work an area for a few months, and, once finished, their roads are not maintained, the exceptions being principal woods arteries. New roads are made when needed to accommodate new timbering operations. The Stud Mill Road, a shortcut to Bangor when passable, is one example.
One never sees the same scenery twice on these deep woods excursions, especially with the change of seasons. At summer’s end, there can be severe fissures caused by erosive runoffs. When hurricanes peter out in Maine, as they frequently do, their final act is to fill the streams to overflowing. Too much water is trouble for the woods roads. It is not uncommon to journey eighteen miles out only to be forced to turn around because of a washout.
If you roam well off the trails and roads in September, and the wind is right, you may pick up the scent of the bear bait sites. Guides set out these barrels and buckets of reeking treats to attract black bears at the beginning of August, and they replenish them continually until the season opens about August 30. Horse grain soaked in Fryolater grease and vats of syrup or jellies and other sugary concoctions baked in the September sun can ferment some far-traveling, potent odors.
Along the road edges, fall die-back may already have begun, most visible in the tall grasses. The areas closest to the road are usually grown up with “whistle woods,” bands of small-diameter trees running parallel to the road and choking each other for daylight and growing room. Whistle woods make excellent cover and habitat for rabbits, ruffed grouse, and woodcock, among other wildlife.
Many trees in the whistle woods are birch, and now their leaves are taking on brown spots and curling up. The same will happen to the foliage of the alders and the maples, and later, the beech. Beech trees begin to drop nuts that are a favorite and significant part of the black bear’s diet. Guides often estimate the success and even the average weights of the bear harvest from this important crop. The maples that grow from the heaths, bogs, and swamps are already a brilliant red, and by month’s end may be bare.
Ferns, though, are the deadest giveaway of summer’s dying torch. These tall, lush bouquets come to the summer party late and leave early. Their fronds first show their inevitable demise by rusting from the tips inward. This continues toward the stem at the center until the whole plant looks toasted. When you see a large patch of these all rusted and brittle, a distinct fall feeling- settles in.
Lots of the woods roads eventually steer close to West Grand Lake, and at this time of year it can be a shock to see how low the water is. The lake’s September shoreline is reliable evidence of a receding season. Domtar Industries, controller of the dam, may not be the only cause. Some summers are droughty, dehydrating the lakes through evaporation, and this, combined with Domtar drawdowns, can unveil the lake’s “old shoreline.”
The old shoreline’s distance from the modern shore varies around the lake from thirty feet to thirty yards. In some places, stumps of the trees that once stood on the old shore are still visible. West Grand’s water is so clear; one can view this shelf or ridge easily and imagine what the lake looked like before any dams were built, driving its waters upland into the woods. The days of those post-dam trees were numbered, and some of the resulting driftwood (dri-ki) can still be found washed into piles in coves and crannies around the lake.
White men in quest of industry built dams. Seeing clearly where the water stood before they were built is to see the land and lakes the native people inhabited and fished. In a place so essentially connected to the past, the imprint of earlier times has the welcome effect of widening the view. In low water, the old Indian encampment areas can easily be picked out, as well as the narrowed waterways that must have afforded good salmon spearing. The Passamaquoddy may have built partial obstructions—mini-dams—to slow the flow and thus enhance spearing. I once saw an anthropological study in which babies were placed next to moving water. They all built dams! Today, the children’s museum in Bangor features running water troughs where kids can, with blocks, make mock dams. There must be a primal urge in humans to stop water.
Thanks to fall’s low water level, lakeside camp owners get a chance to improve a beach, rework a deck or dock, or maybe move a pesky boulder or two. Widening shorelines also make a favorite local pastime—arrow- heading—much easier. Local collections of aboriginal artifacts would wow any archaqeologist. Collectors spend long hours at oxbows, on alluvial bars, and on cobbled beaches this time of year. It takes a skilled, or lucky, eye to see these gems dating from five hundred to five thousand years ago.
The early signs of fall are all here now, but fishing will not cease for another six weeks at least. In mid-October, the drawdowns will stop by law. Togue spawn in shallows that could expose them to danger if the lake is too low. Good, fishable stream levels will bring some of the best fishing of the year and some of the heaviest salmon, fat from a full growing season. Catching them on flies packs enough thrill to attract anglers from across the continent.
After October 1, the early archery season for deer has already begun, and the focus for many shifts to hunting. The game seasons are many and varied: upland and migratory birds, ducks, bear, moose, the regular firearms and muzzleloader seasons for deer, and finally, bobcat. While guiding for these sports is not what it once was, bear, moose, and upland bird guiding has begun to rebound.
In this excerpt from his first book, Where Cool Waters Flow, Master Maine Guide Randy Spencer 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.