In The Maine Woods

In The Maine Woods

Brook trout fishing at Little Lyford Pond Camps

  • By: Paul Guernsey
The mystique of northern Maine's brook trout ponds has endured for well over 100 years. During the good, old days around the turn of the last century, well-heeled "sports" from Boston and New York would make arduous, multi-day journeys to an archipelago of Maine camps that offered a soul-refreshing combination of solitude, angling and adventure. Northern Maine was about as far from civilization as you could get east of the Mississippi, and for many people, for many generations, north-country angling symbolized the essence of the Eastern wilderness experience.While northern Maine remains beautiful as well as relatively remote, times do change. With the proliferation of airplanes, automobiles and, following World War II, a network of roads that would take people just about anywhere they could imagine going, city folks developed much broader ideas about adventure travel. Meanwhile a different network of roads-the gravel logging roads that snaked all through the north country during the second half of the 20th Century-provided easy access to many once-remote brook trout ponds. Much more recently, plans for runaway real-estate development have cropped up to further threaten the character of the region. Through it all, however, some of the old camps have managed to survive and keep the Maine tradition alive. Last spring I was delighted to hear that one of the more well-known of the fishing camps, Little Lyford Pond Camps, built in 1874 and located in the Moosehead Lake region, had been purchased by America's oldest conservation and recreation organization-the Appalachian Mountain Club. When I contacted the Club's public affairs director, Rob Burbank, he assured me that his organization was dedicated to protecting both the brook trout and the brook trout fishing in the 12 ponds that dot the 37,000-acre wilderness parcel. (In fact, he said that the Lyford purchase had helped launch the AMC's "North Woods Initiative," an ambitious land-conservation plan that integrates habitat protection, recreation, education and sustainable forestry within Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness region.) Rob also invited me to stop by the camps and have a look at the trout ponds the AMC plans to preserve for future generations of anglers. I took Rob up on his offer, making a late-June trip to Little Lyford Pond Camps with my friend, Richard Corbett. Once we arrived, Richard and I wasted no time getting out on the water. The two Little Lyford Ponds sit directly behind the camps; following a 10-minute walk through the woods, you reach a boardwalk that leads you to the boat dock at the first pond. There, you choose either a canoe or a rowboat-we picked a canoe-and you head out to fish and enjoy the scenery. And, if you feel like fishing the second, smaller of the Little Lyfords, you cross the first pond and carry your canoe through the woods until you reach the shore-a five-minute trip at most. These Maine trout ponds get a number of decent mayfly hatches in May and June, including the big Hexagenias that some people confuse with Green Drakes. But Richard and I seemed to have arrived between hatches. Instead of fishing dry flies we threw weighted nymphs on floating fly lines and stripped them slowly through the weeds. Fishing this way, we picked up several pretty, little native brookies before it was time to head back to the main lodge for supper. It was lodge manager Bob LeRoy himself who cooked us dinner, all the while telling us about the history of the rustic but comfortable camps, as well as his plans for preserving the wilderness fishing experience. Along with the pond fishing, the camps offer easy trail access to stream fishing for brookies on a branch of the Pleasant River that flows through camp property. In addition to fishing-and, this is important to anglers prospecting for a dual-purpose fishing-and-family-vacation-spot-spring and summer recreation possibilities include canoeing, hiking to nearby Gulf Hagas, the "Grand Canyon of Maine," and other hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. With advance notice, the camp can also provide angling instruction, a fishing guide and even rental gear. Richard and I are pretty much single-minded when we get to a place like this, and after supper we headed back out to cast nymphs and chase the infrequent rises until darkness settled upon us. After breakfast the next morning, Bob took us on a tour of the many other trout ponds located on the AMC purchase tract. Each of these ponds is just a bit different from the others, and Bob confirmed that the native brook trout in each one sometimes seem different from those in nearby ponds as well. A guest at the camps could choose a different pond every day for a week, and would see few other anglers the entire time. In the afternoon, we went back to camp, made the short hike down to the Pleasant River, and enjoyed wading and catching a bunch of brookies of up to about 10 inches in moving water. That night-our final evening at Little Lyford Pond Camps-found us again floating on the pond right behind the camps. We explored all the coves of the pond, picking up a few more fish and listening to the loons as we did so. We talked, we smoked a cigar or two, and simply enjoyed being in such a quiet, isolated, beautiful place. At one point, we spotted a young cow moose swimming across the pond and, taking care to maintain a safe distance, we paddled after her for as long as we could. For further information on brook trout fishing from Little Lyford Pond Camps, contact the Appalachian Mountain Club at 603-466-2727; www.outdoors.org/lodging.