A First Keeper Salmon

Excerpt from Tagewahnahn, The Landlocked Salmon at Grand Lake Stream

  • By: Fly Rod and Reel

This afternoon at Grand Lake Stream, I would fish from the stonewall. It was mid-June, 1968, and being a little older then I was the previous year when I was mostly relegated to staying with my Grandparents in Calais, I was spending more time at the camps. What a time I was having. Rather then have to tramp around the Moosehorn chasing Brook Trout with my pal Stanley, I was in Grand Lake Stream! Oh, man! So, armed with my “custom” fly rod, a two piece fiberglass model built from a Herter’s blank by a dear, old machinist friend of my Dad’s at Westinghouse, I assumed my perch on the stone wall, watching the riffle. In those days there was partially buried there, a spoked wheel from an early vehicle, perhaps a Model A, with the old rubber tire yet in place. Its still bright chrome center piece was my orientation to a lie that had always looked good to me. In later years, I would never bother to fish the Hatchery Pool much, for with the small trees now grown up along the boulders there, I couldn’t fish from my perch, which took away some of the romance for me. It was not until thirty-six years later when chatting with Bob Upham in his den that I happened to mention to him that the old wheel was gone. With that, Bob stepped to his den shelves that lovingly hold decades of memorabilia - and handed me the still shining chrome hub piece from that same wheel! He’d pulled the old thing out of there, as someone should have, leaving the river bottom in its better, natural state.

But on this day, the old wheel was still there, and as I knotted a brown bivisible to my leader, I noticed the quite visible rise of a salmon in the choppy water. Up to this time, I had not actually landed a legal size Landlocked Salmon, a “keeper” as we called them then, a milestone as I perceived it. The limit was a generous eight fish or “seven and one-half pounds in aggregate” as the IF&G regulation book of the day read.

Never mind a limit, at the age of fifteen, I’d settle for just one! And this one looked like it might be pretty good! So, with only a few casts, my bivisible floated drag-free over this fish, and actually disappeared in its rise. Lifting the rod and expecting yet another in a long line of six-inch “dinks” as my brother and I called the newly released hatchery stockers, I was jolted to attention when my rod bent sharply. The adrenalin rushed through me when I realized this was a FISH!

Oh so carefully I let it take line as I side-stepped down the wall, and holding my rod high to clear the bushes that grew near the outlet of the hatchery raceways, found myself at river level. After several cartwheeling leaps that brought my heart to my throat, I sensed the salmon beginning to tire. Then, as now, the length limit was fourteen inches and I throbbed with excitement as the fish came to net, realizing this one would very possibly make it. But traveling light as I did at the time, I had no way of measuring the salmon to see if it was a keeper. So, gingerly netting the fish, I felt that exhilaration and then sense of dread about its length. In a small panic, I stashed my rod in the bushes, secured the net by its elastic keeper, and took off across the hatchery yard toward the nearest house.

Excitedly I asked the woman who answered the door if she might have a yardstick I could borrow. Kindly enough and with a knowing smile, she handed me a well-used wooden one. Rushing back to stream-side, I breathed a sigh of relief, and still full of excitement managed to get the fish and the yardstick straight enough and close enough to each other to learn the stunning news the salmon was fifteen inches long! I was euphoric. Gathering my tackle, the fish, and dashing up the bank, I peddled madly out of the hatchery complex, tore through town and hurtled toward camp at breakneck speed. Surely it was the shortest and fastest trip back I’d ever managed. Breathlessly barging into the camp, I held up my trophy, feeling that somehow I’d passed a certain threshold.

Sharing that accomplishment with my Dad by phone that evening indelibly created one of the most vivid memories of my life, one I carry to this day. I never knew who that nice lady was who lived in the house first downstream from the old schoolhouse, as I had hastily returned the yardstick and proudly reported my results as my slight courtesy. Looking back, chances were, of course, she’d seen it all before.

Tagewahnahn is the Passamaquoddy Indian name for the landlocked salmon, Maine’s state fish. Dennis Labare is an avid angler, biologist and longtime supporter of Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department. Order Tagewahnah, The Landlocked Salmon at Grand Lake Stream at www.glssalmon.com.