Chasing Ghosts

Photos By: Justin Dobson     

It’s a never ending void you have to fill; chasing various species and visiting the places on your fishing bucket list.  This Spring, with the help of my Father, I began planning a trip to the Maine backcountry to target the states iconic brook trout population.  In our search for information we came across Ryan Brod.  Ryan is a registered Maine guide, film maker, and writer who just so happens to conjure up a fine moose stew.  Ryan helped us find the fishing needle in Maine’s haystack of backwoods trout ponds and lakes.  To sweeten the pot, Ryan added that the pond he had in mind also held a good population of landlocked salmon.  This is one fish I just had to cross off my list.

The next several months were filled with preparation and anticipation.  With mere days left before the trip, I began avoiding anyone who as much as sniffled around the office at work in fear I’d catch the flu that would derail this trip.  But after months of combing through gear and flies, buying canoe permits, licenses and avoiding runny nose office dwellers, it was Mother Nature who had the final say on how this trip would play out.

The northeast has had an exceptionally rainy Spring and Summer.  Rivers and lakes are high.  After a long drive on dirt roads and portaging gear and boats to the water’s edge, we set out onto the water and put up camp on a remote pond island.  What Mainers call a “pond” is 1,650 acres and 185 feet at its deepest point.  Rain seemed to drop in anytime we broke camp in pursuit of fish.  Wind seemed to come from every direction making it near impossible to see rising fish let alone get a decent cast.  Brief moments of calm water between clouds, rain and wind became frantic paddling to rising salmon in the hopes you could place a dry fly in their path.  We had only a few brief (maybe 30 minute) windows when fishing conditions were favorable.

Everything about this fishing seemed so foreign from my normal southeast small stream fishing.  Casting giant smelt patterns on fast sink line that felt like coaxial cable, fishing big hex nymphs Ryan referred to as the fleece jacket fly, and chasing these salmon that rose like porpoise to reveal their dorsal fins only under glassy water conditions hoping to get the perfect placement of a big hex dry.

On the last morning of the trip we crawled out of our tents at first light near 5am to the best conditions we had seen.  The previous night’s hatch of giant hex mayfly’s occurred past dark and we expected the sunrise to bring the trout and salmon to the top to feed on the spinners that daylight revealed.  Although this held true, the number of bugs on the water was not enough to bring the fish to the surface in any numbers.  The pond was calm and salmon rose intermittently in all directions, but never in such a way that was consistent enough to track them down and place a cast.  I stood up in the canoe as Ryan zigzagged across the deep water.  Even though I had not caught anything and really had no big ambitions to at this point, I was in awe by the whole situation.  The sun lit the clouds on fire that lingered in the trees in front of me.  Behind me were rainbows just ahead of the next storm front that was pushing in.  It was certainly one of the most remarkable sunrises I’ve seen.  I can’t think of a better way to view it than standing up in the front of a canoe, in the middle of a Maine backcountry pond, without a lakefront home or another angler in sight.

We spent the rest of the day running all over the water chasing fish.  Months of planning and I never put a single fish to hand.  The sight of those big dorsal fins breaking the surface of the still water haunts my dreams.   Seems some folks may be mad, disappointed or frustrated with the outcome to have come so far, invested time, money and effort to come away without a fish.  Not me. They say it’s the journey that defines you, not the destination.  That which keeps you coming back is why we love fishing. The “one that got away”, or in this case it’s the challenge of the “one that never was”.  My mind is already painting the picture of how the return trip will be.

Check out Ryan Brod's film, and you can read his most recent writing in the summer issue of the Drake fly fishing magazine: "Big Fish Beware: Peter Smith and the Rise of the S.S. Flies".