The actual number of hiking days was 8, but it takes 3 days to drive there and back, so it was a 2-week journey. Our friend "Mooi" joined us for the grueling road trip, tempered by the fact that we were traveling across some very scenic country. We also added one extra day to our trip in order for me to take a guided fishing trip.
For Em and myself, it was our first time to this part of the country. Our introduction to Maine came with a surprise. At the welcome center, I saw a kiosk honoring famous residents of the state. One of those was a woman Olympic gold medalist. The instant I saw her face I thought to myself, "My god, that's Em!". Yes, she looked just like my wife about 10-15 years ago. Her maiden name is Benoit, my wife's grandmother was a Benoit. We may have to get ancestry.com involved, lol.
There are three aspects of our trip that left a lasting impression - the hiking, the food, and the fishing.
We hiked 27 miles on this trip, but most of that was vertical. Mount Desert Island (pronounced "dessert") ranges from sea level to over 1,500 feet, but there are numerous mountains on the island over 1,000 feet that lie adjacent to coastal waters or near sea-level lakes. The trails range from easy (on the carriage roads) to strenous (hand crawling up or down large boulders). The toughest hikes were the most rewarding. The scenery is incredible and the range and beauty of plants amazing.
Em was our trail leader on nearly all the hikes. She scaled rocks like a mountain goat and was non-stop. We had to call for breaks because she wasn't, lol. Her other fault was getting us back a bit off from where we started. In other words, about a half-mile or mile away from the parking lot. At least for the first couple of hikes. It probably looked a bit strange for folks to see hikers walking along the side of a highway, lol. It earned her the nickname of "Fearless Leader" and the entire group the nickname of "Road Warriors".
Our tough - and sometimes wayward - day hauls were well rewarded in the evening. Dinner time offered some of Maine's finest - fresh boiled lobsters, lobster rolls, clam or seafood chowder, scallops, clams. Most of our meals were enjoyed with locally produced Blueberry or Ginger Ale soda. Dessert was also highly anticipated - the specialty of every restaurant is blueberry pie ala mode or Whoopie Pies. Unless they offer popovers.
Okay, so let's delve more into the lobsters, whoppie pies and popovers. A common sight on Mount Desert are the "lobster pounds". These can be enclosed restaurants or outside food stands, named so because they serve boiled lobsters, where you choose your own and pay by the pound. The crustaceans are boiled with corn, and then served with either salad or cole slaw. Now I'd eaten lobster before, but never this good! Dipping small pieces of the claws and tail into that dipping butter was a treat for the palate. A lobster roll is somewhat like a lobster po-boy. While they also have shrimp and crab, much of the seafood offerings are foreign to Louisianians - e.g., lobster, scallops, clams, haddock. It's all good too, even if it could benefit from some Tony Chacheres seasoning.
Nick Curcione once observed about Louisianians and our food - "Eating here is a contact sport!". In Maine, dessert is a contact sport! In addition to blueberry pie, another favorite is the whoppie pie. Whoppie pies have creamy interiors sandwiched by two cookie dough buns. Listening to folks up there, you'd think it was the greatest thing ever made. But I think it's diversionary... the real greatest treat of all time is popover. A popover is a like a cream puff exterior but minus the creme... it's hollow interior and flaky outside. Served with butter or jam, it's positively addictive! Unfortunately if you go to Mount Desert Island there's only 2 locations that now serve popovers - Jordan Pond House in ANP and the Common Good Kitchen in Southwest Harbor. The latter benefits the homeless and besides making the better popovers, they offer great live music.
We arrived in Bangor a day earlier than the rest of the group so that I could take a guided trip on the Penobscot River with Kevin McKay of Maine Fishing Adventures. This connection goes back 20 years. I was looking to transform my fly fishing "page" to a real website. Kevin had setup a website called "Maine Fly Fishing" with the domain www.maineflyfish.com. I basically got many ideas from his site for mine, thus "Louisiana Fly Fishing" and the domain www.laflyfish.com.
When I spoke to Kevin about this trip he only vaguely remembered me talking to him back then, but that was okay. I was impressed that he had continued to grow and improve his site, and that he had transformed his love of the sport into a part time guiding gig. He offered trips for large brook trout, landlocked salmon, and smallmouth. When I inquired about fishing the lower Penobscot, he responded, "Yes, we catch lots of smallies up to 20 inches or larger, and quite a few large chain pickerel as well.". WOW! Two of my favorite fly rod fish in one river? Sign me up!
The lower Penobscot is a clear, wide but shallow river (10 feet deep or less) with several channels, bars, tributaries, and filled with big boulders and logs. The entire width is ideal habitat for smallmouth, and there's just enough current to require some techical casting (e.g, reach-mend). By the time we started, the rain had ended and we didn't get another drop the rest of the day. But on the downside, a strong north wind shortly came up after launching and by noon, there were swells and whitecaps. Fortunately, by then we'd hit most of the main river spots and were able to shift to the side channels.
I'd brought my Redington Predator 6-weight short stick with a Galvan loaded with 7-weight line. Several of the flies we used were wind-resistant and because of the wind, I was having to work the Predator fairly hard to get a 50-foot cast (although I caught several fish within 20 feet of the boat). Kevin suggested I use his Scott Meridian 7-weight. The Meridian was awarded Best New Fly Rod of Show at ICAST/IFTD last July. I'd cast it at the show and was very impressed. But this was my first time to actually fish it. All I can say is that if I get the $895 to buy one, I certainly will. It was an absolute joy to fish this rod!
As for the flies. Because of conditions - cold, windy - it wasn't conducive to poppers. I really had hoped to get some bronzebacks on top, gives me reason to make a return trip, lol. The two best patterns were a woolybugger and a woolybugger-like fly that Kevin's son tied that had sili-legs for a tail. Both had a chartreuse tail. That's important because many times you don't feel a smallie hit a fly, or by the time you feel it, the fish has done it's taste test and gone bye-bye. So in the clear waters you watch the tail of your fly and if it disappears, you do a strip-strike. Sounds easy, but with a cold blustery wind my poor lizard blood wasn't adapting too well. So it took a few missed smallies to get into my groove.
By the end of the day I'd brought 31 smallmouth into the boat. The largest was 18 1/2, but most were in the 14-15 inch range. I'd also landed about 2 dozen chain pickeral. Kevin said that was the most any client had ever caught, deeming me the "Pickeral King" (It's a title I was more than happy to accept, lol). Truth is, I've had lots of practice since moving to the Alexandria area. Two other species landed were yellow perch and chubs - both the largest I'd ever caught. Things seem to grow bigger in Maine - smallies, perch, chubs, brookies, moose, popovers and those saltwater crawfish they call lobsters!
I also did some fishing on my own on Mount Desert. There are over a dozen lakes and small ponds, mostly stocked with brook and brown trout, landlocked salmon. Other species include chain pickeral, bass, and sunfish. There are several streams with wild brookies. I love how they nail dry flies and small popping bugs with abandon.