By George Smith
Maine has changed a lot in my sixty-two years here, but in many of the ways that count with me, it’s changed very little. My heritage is wild and native brook trout and white-tailed deer.
I didn’t need today’s Hooked-on-Fishing-Not-on-Drugs program offered by Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. I became addicted to our colorful brook trout at an early age.
Hiking deep into the woods up and over the hill behind our Winthrop home, I’d drop a worm on a small hook into the cold, free-flowing, alder-choked, heavily shaded brook and pull out really nice trout, all of which came home for dinner.
Each summer Mom and Dad would take us way up to Seboomook where my Uncle Johnny and Aunt Flora Mitchell had a camp on the northern end of Moosehead Lake. There, we’d troll for and catch lunker landlocked salmon, another important Maine native fish.
In the fall, even though I liked school—especially music and sports—I lived to hunt. How I loved those sunny October Saturday mornings when we’d load our English setter into the car and head for nearby farm fields where Dad’s sportsmen’s club had stocked pheasants.
I’ve never forgotten my first pheasant, shot in a cornfield at the end of Maranacook Lake. The dog pointed the bird, the bird flew up out of the corn, and I hit it! Dad was right beside me. I see it still. I’m sure he does too. Then came those cold November mornings when Dad would get me up well before sunrise to hunt the hills surrounding our town for deer. I rarely saw one and never shot one. And it was the elusiveness, challenge, and camaraderie of deer hunting that made me a lifelong deer hunter.
But oh, how things have changed in Maine. We’ve lost the deer herd in the North Woods and suffered steeply declining numbers in the rest of the state. There’s a home planted right where I shot my first pheasant, and only a couple of southern Maine clubs raise and stock pheasants these days.
Today, my boyhood wild trout brook is a rock-sided gully flowing through a housing development. There are no trout in it. Moosehead Lake’s fishery has deteriorated substantially, and the lake now harbors illegally introduced species that eat and compete with the trout and salmon.
I seek my brook trout much farther north at our camp on Sourdnahunk Lake, thankful that civilization has not made it this far to ruin the habitat of Maine’s legacy fish. These days I release almost all of the trout I catch. I really don’t mind that change.
In fact, this may be the most significant change for me: I love the experiences offered by hunting and fishing, without feeling that I have to kill something every time out. Don’t get the wrong idea, however; I still enjoy eating trout and venison.
I have also refocused my fishing attention on smallmouth bass, especially on our rivers, including the Kennebec and Androscoggin. But I also hike into a remote forest to pull one bass after another from an undeveloped jewel of a pond, the pond and surrounding lands now protected and owned by all of us. The experience is not unlike my boyhood fishing adventures in Winthrop.
I recognize that smallies are not native to Maine, but they are what they are, and I like them.
I’ve also embraced wild turkeys, reintroduced in Maine in 1977 and now prolific. Hunting turkeys is more fun than hunting deer (and I am exceedingly sorry for this blasphemy). The May turkey-hunting season is my new spring obsession.
And most crisp November mornings still find me somewhere on my woodlot, hoping to see that big buck. I’ve really embraced December’s special muzzle-loading season, another new opportunity for Maine hunters.
I’ve also come to identify with this quote attributed to Scot-tish writer, John Buchan: “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable—a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” You can add hunting to the quote.
Best of all, my ever-hopeful, still-young-at-heart dad still does all of this with me. At eighty-eight years of age, this is a very special privilege—and one thing that hasn’t changed.
I don’t know if my grandsons will hunt or fish. I’ve bought each of them a lifetime hunting and fishing license to encourage them in that direction, and they both enjoy fishing with Grampy. We’ll see about hunting.
I don’t much like change; I do what I can with it. And after six decades, I still like my Maine best.
—My Maine column, Down East magazine (July 26, 2011
This essay from the George Smith's A Life Lived Outdoors, was originally published in Down East magazine in 2011.
One of Maine’s favorite outdoor writers, Smith set aside the political columns for those about home and camp, family and friends, life in rural Maine, hunting and fishing, and other outdoor fun. There’s something for everyone in this collection that celebrates approaching life with humility and humor, as well as a passion for adventure.