Fish River Lodge Journal

Journal entries from Fish River Lodge, Eagle Lake, Maine. Adventures in hunting, fishing, trapping and running a sporting camp in northern Maine.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Spring Cleansing

Moving back to a 1900s log lodge after a long winter in a tiny cabin comes only after lots of cleaning, weeding out, dusting, and scrubbing of the remnants of a season which has passed.  After enjoying the cozy warmth of cabin life in winter I longed for the airy spaciousness of the historic lodge.  The ritual of spring cleaning and moving always signifies new beginnings – a new season on the calendar; a new season of anglers, hunters, and vacationers; the anniversary of another year as a sporting camp operator and guide; and this year learning how to go it alone.

Ice going out on Eagle Lake.
May is the most hectic month at northern sporting camps and tackling spring opening alone had it's challenges. All the tasks required to open must be squeezed through a very small window framed by snow melting, mud drying up, ice going out, and fishermen arriving.  In addition to moving back to the lodge and all that goes with reopening it, there are also cabins to clean, bedding to wash, beds to make, windows to shine, leaves to rake, docks and boats to put in the water, repairs and maintenance to complete, and nothing gets finished until the water is turned on. Come hell or high water, it all must be completed before the first guests arrive at Fish River Lodge and that is always soon after ice-out.  This year ice-out was May 10th.

Life “got real” on May 7th, when my dad called to tell me my mom had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and had two weeks to two months to live.  That she would be released from the hospital the next day – Mother’s Day and that a hospital bed would be set up at their home for her and that he and a nurse would be caring for her. That she would be on morphine to ease her physical pain and mental anguish and that my sister was flying in from Colorado to help. Being so far from “home” and family when I needed them most during my busiest time of the year was one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced. The news was sudden and shocking.  I wanted to run to the coast but the responsibility of the business rested heavily on my shoulders with no one to carry the burden for me. Getting the work load prioritized and accomplished kept my mind too busy to worry while I worked my way through the long list of chores and the fear of losing my mom. I set a course that would allow me to leave and see her the following week.

Dock is in, water is on,
open for the season.
They say "time and tide wait for no one"; up here it is "time and ice-out" and I didn’t make it home in time.  Mom left us the morning of May 14th, the same day the water was turned on and the dock put out. The following day I went south as planned.  I like to think mom was watching over me while I worked and traveled. She always felt I worked too hard.

One of my favorite quotes is by Robert Frost, “The only way out is through.” It has gotten me through many difficult situations because it reminds me of the importance of facing challenges with chin up and shoulders squared, by persevering, by grinding it out, by enduring mental and physical pain. The only way I was going to get “out” of spring opening, my grief, and fear of running Fish River Lodge alone was to go through it.  This year May became a month of introspection, of wiping away the dust where seeds of my past were planted and fear and self-doubt grew, of learning how to “alone”, and grieving. I miss my mom and embrace all the emotions that go with losing her.

I found solace in the woods, in the tradition of being a guide and sporting camp operator, and in a tight network of kinship here in the north-country.  Time ticked on…

Suhn & Mike Lewis with
a landlocked salmon from
Eagle Lake.
Mike Lewis and his wife Suhn were my first guests of the season, arriving on May 17th.  Mike landed the first fish of the season, a beautiful landlocked salmon. Others who made spring fishing season especially special this year were the return of Robert Giroux and his family for their annual fishing trip, my high school friend Gary Baribeau and his nephews' first visit, and my dear friend and fellow guide Mike Duni.  Ed Swift and Joe Dumont, and Joe Decker and Mike Phillips are loyal members of the Fish River Lodge family; their presence this spring was comforting.

Dr. Andre - Freancois Bourbeau
and James Deraps.
Operating a sporting camp is all about the people we meet, stories we share, and memories made. On the 19th I had the pleasure of meeting two fascinating adventurers: Dr. Andre - Francois Bourbeau and James Deraps. They were sailing and paddling the Fish River in their tiny homemade sail boats. They started on Portage Lake in the morning and arrived at Fish River Lodge late in the afternoon, walked to town for pizza, and arrived back at t he lodge for a visit and showers before departing to make camp at nightfall. They completed an Everglades trip earlier this spring - 15 days IN their boats - there's no dry place to set up camp in the Everglades! Andre has completed a 40-day reconstruction of a trip along the fur trade route used by traders in the late 1830s. All the materials used were authentic reproductions of the period's gear, including real birch bark canoes and even hand-sewn underwear! Andre holds a Guinness Book of World Records longest voluntary wilderness survival trip of of 31 days. James holds the world record for sailing in a small boat: 32 days without stepping foot on land. We could have talked all night but they had places to go so I bid them farewell with the hope our paths cross again!

Moose Watching.
Memorial weekend was wet but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the Olah family. No rain shower was going to keep Emma, Hannah, and Patrick Olah in camp. They fished and hung around the camp fire all weekend despite the weather.  Bill is a guide in Hungary – red deer, boar, rabbits, and pheasants.  So when life hands a guide lemons - like when the steering cable broke on my boat - guides make lemonade!  Bill rigged a PVC pipe for manual steering to get through the weekend. The last night of their stay we went on a moose safari and saw several moose and two bears!

Spring fishing was excellent this year.  With very liberal salmon bag limits on Eagle Lake fishermen were able to freeze their catch here at camp for transport home to share with friends and family.  Ed Swift wrote, "Bringing home the catch from Fish River Lodge. Always the best spring Salmon fishing in New England. Best from ice out to early June. Never disappointed."

My mom, Rachel Skolfield.
The weekend of June 4th I headed south to attend my grand daughter Nellie’s ballet performance and my mom’s memorial service. I am blessed the clients I had in camp know the drill - they've been coming for years and could fend for themselves until I returned. There was a common theme running through Mom's memorial service ...that she was always humble and kind. Although the grief shared among family and friends as we remembered her was profound, I left the church feeling so incredibly blessed and proud. I was proud to be Rachel Skolfield's daughter and to see her through the eyes of others. It was a beautiful gathering of souls united by my mother. In honor of her, always strive to be humble and kind.

Maine’s annual moose lottery was held on June 11th and resulted in a flurry of calls that evening. In the days following I labeled and stamped my moose brochures that got mailed to each permit winner in WMDs 2 and 3. Jared Ashley will be guiding at Fish River Lodge this fall and helped me complete that tedious task! I appreciate Larry White and Jean Wilson booking with Fish River Lodge for another moose hunt after both enjoyed success with us in the past.  They will be hunting bulls in September. Oh, and congrats to me!  I drew an October cow tag!

Sunset from "page 63" of the Maine Atlas & Gazeteer.
June’s unsettled weather made for some amazing sunsets as I ventured in to the woods in the evening for a little “dirt road therapy” and to "inventory" moose.  Dad shared some of these adventures with me when he came for a visit on June 16th. We took to the woods one day to check a trail camera for moose photos in WMD3 then went in to WMD2 to look around. We saw two bulls, three cows, two deer, a woodcock, and about a hundred rabbits!  Another day we went all the way up to the top of Maine - we started the day with a hearty breakfast at Two Rivers Lunch in Allagash and a visit with Papa Tylor Kelly followed by quick visit to the Kelly's beautiful family camp - built by Tylor from logs he cut off the property.  We enjoyed a visit with Darlene Kelly Dumond at the Little Black gate to the North Maine Woods and drove on to Estcourt Station.  We took a break stream-side for lunch.  When we returned to Eagle Lake dad and I went horseback riding. That night for dinner we had moose steaks, parsley boiled potatoes, and sauteed zucchini. What a perfect Father’s Day weekend with my dad!

Trout and eggs for dinner.

"Cow Pony", my project horse.
June 20th was one of those rare 90 degree days in northern Maine. When temperatures cooled that evening I took the little "cow pony" I've been training out for a trail ride.  After, I beat the heat with a sunset cruise on Eagle Lake before a relaxing dinner of native brook trout and eggs. I rubbed Wildcheff's Ginger Citrus seasoning in the trout and pan-fried them. The subtle flavors paired perfectly with the trout.

When an unexpected guest checks in for the night and tells you he is from Utah, now living in Boston, and has never seen a moose...well, you invite him on one of your nightly backwoods adventures. We saw seven moose, an amazing sunset, and a sunset lit rainbow. Thank you Matt for riding shotgun and keeping me company. Another epic night at the top of Maine!

Bonnie Holding and King Montgomery photographing a young
bull moose during a fishing trip on a remote trout pond.
June 26th Maine Guide Bonnie Holding and outdoors and travel writer King Montgomery ( arrived for a few days of brook trout and salmon fishing. After dinner we hit Eagle Lake for a couple hours of trolling - lots of fish were marked when finally Bonnie landed a pretty little landlocked from a depth of 14 feet on leadcore line trolling a DB Smelt. King was looking forward to salmon and eggs for breakfast! The next day we fished a remote pond for brook trout from a canoe in the morning and photographed a young moose, went sight seeing then river fishing with a fly rod in the afternoon, followed by a moose safari in the back country until dark. We spent the next morning fishing a remote pond and on the way in saw a pretty doe and on the way out a bear foraging and a young bull trotting up the road and in to the woods. Lots of wildflowers were in bloom too. Summer is such a wonderful time to enjoy northern Maine!

Lily helping dust logs in the lodge.
On the 29th, my young friend Lily, daughter of Ben and Danielle Valcourt, dusted logs and washed chairs in the lodge for me so she could earn money to help pay for her trip to North Woods Law Camp at Bryant Pond in July. Thank you for the help Lily! I can't wait to hear stories of your adventures at camp!

So it ends as it and cleansing became a metaphor for my spring season - whether it was cleaning logs in the lodge, being washed by the cleansing rains of June, or the healing that comes from cleansing one's soul for new beginnings.  Spring cleaning is behind me at Fish River Lodge as I look forward to all the opportunity and treasures to be discovered in a northern Maine summer!


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fifty Shades of April Gray

I welcomed April by listening to the first geese of the season winging and honking northward through the fog. They must have spent the night on the Fish River for the rivers are the only open water in these parts at this time of year.  It was also the day I began migrating south through Presque Isle, then Unity to pick up my friend Mike Duni, then on to Enfield, Connecticut for the night before reaching our final destination at Tailwater Lodge in Altmar, New York.

Fifty shades of April gray at Fish River Lodge.
I left behind fifty shades of gray - naked trees, melting snow, and crusty lake ice for the sudden contrasting vivid hues of blue sky, green grass, and yellow daffodils to the south. The wintry north I left in Maine caught up with me and welcomed me to New York like an old friend. From the start, my steel head fishing trip went from a much anticipated adventure to an "extreme" fishing expedition.  We endured unseasonable sub freezing temperatures for the entire five days. Some days the sun shined, most other days the wind blew and it snowed. If I had a dollar for every guide I cleared ice from on my rod I could have paid for the trip but that was the worst of it. Although a sudden drop in water temperature all but shut down the fishery on the Salmon River the trip will always be remembered as an "Epic Extreme Steelhead Adventure".
Steelhead fishing on the Salmon River, Altmar, NY.
At Tailwater Lodge the guides (Michael Derosa and Rocky Rockwell of Zero Limit Adventures) are first-class, the staff friendly and responsive, rooms wonderfully appointed, the restaurant and food delightful, and the good times with friends old and new created a memorable experience that can not be replicated. The Woodbine Group's vision for creating a first-class lodge from an abandoned school is a remarkable reality that must be experienced - there are no words that adequately convey the attention to detail incorporated in to the building and experiences provided there. Those who hunt and fish as many years as I have understand that the measure of a trip isn't in filled tags or creels but in the quality of the experience.  This was one of my most memorable and rewarding fishing experiences having shared it with friends, learned new skills, endured challenging conditions, and discovered real gems at Tailwater Lodge and Zero Limit Adventures. I have already planned a return trip next year so I can share the adventure with others.

Tinker meets Quill Pi
While I was away Tinkerbelle had her own adventures when she met and taste tested a "quill pig" for the first time. In the capable care of Jared and Sarah Ashley, Tinker did what Tinker does best.  She investigated...sights, smells, and sounds. On the morning I left New York, Jared and Tinker left for a visit with the veterinarians of North Country Animal Hospital in Caribou so they could remove a face full of quills from a porcupine!

Our annual Maine Professional Guides Association banquet was held in Brewer on April 9th.  Ken Winters and his grand son Buddy, Wilson Hess, Mike Duni, Kelly Cotiaux, Jared Ashley, and Elliot Mitchell shared the Fish River Lodge table with me for an evening of friendship and fellowship among guides and others who support the guiding industry. Senator Susan Collins and Ken Elowe of US Fish & Wildlife were keynote speakers at the event.

Moose tracks.
April is a month that really tests the grit of northern Mainers.  While our friends and family to the south are raking lawns and watching robins pluck a meal from the earth we are still enduring the wrath of winter under a blanket of snow with temperatures in the teens and twenties most days.  March winds from the south finally arrived up here in April and began loosening winter's grip.  Our April showers won't arrive until May and in the mean time the days tested my patience for simply waiting for bare ground when there is so much work to be completed before welcoming my first guests next month. There is nothing to be gained from anticipating or complaining so I looked for the smallest of blessings and embraced the last days I spent with Old Man Winter. I began taking walks without snowshoes, shed a layer by going outdoors without bundling up in a heavy winter coat or wearing mittens, watched the rivers start yawning open, and listened to the geese as they flew by.  I enjoyed reading stories left by the tracks of the animals nearby - moose, deer, fox, grouse, rabbit, fisher.  They'll continue leaving their stories behind when the snow is gone but they're much harder to read.

Sue and Darlene on the bank of the Allagash.
On the 16th word was spreading fast through "The Valley" that the St. John and Allagash rivers might move.  The Allagash had been jammed for over a week but unseasonably warm temperatures predicted for that day had everyone anticipating a rapid melting of the snow pack which would run in to brooks and streams which would run in to the rivers which would cause water levels to rise and eventually break jams and loosen ice from shorelines so the rivers could finally shed their cloaks of ice.

I met my friends Darlene Kelly Dumond and Sue Underhill Kelly at Two Rivers Restaurant.  They would be my "river guides" for the day. After breakfast and coffee we headed out to inspect the Allagash.  We found streams running fast as the morning progressed and conditions changed rapidly. The three of us basked in the sun on the river bank until lengthening shadows whispered of the passage of time.  We'd reminisced, shared tales of our winter adventures, discussed new romances, and solved some of the world's problems.  Suddenly it was 4 p.m. and the St. John began to run! I'd never experienced the river opening and starting to run.  It was so exciting to see the power and speed of ice moving, grinding and churning its way toward the St. Lawrence.  We ran down to the Narrow Gauge in my pick up to watch ice cakes pass by, then down river to the Albert's in St, Francis to watch again until the river ran free.  All along the way were folks waiting and watching.  This is a much anticipated event, a social gathering, an annual rite of passage to those who live near these northern Rivers.

"Papa" Tyler Kelly watching the Allagash run again.
To have shared the experience with Darlene and Sue was simply epic! After watching the St. John run and then settling on the bank of the Allagash in front of Two Rivers Restaurant to enjoy our take-out dinner of beans and hot dogs, I couldn't help but reflect on the many eyes and souls who too had anticipated and experienced this annual passage of winter to spring.  What I had no way of knowing at that moment was the Allagash was about ready to run too!  No one could remember both the St. John and Allagash running on the same day.  This truly was epic!

Allagash River moments before it begins to run.
We could see the Allagash's water level rising but the ice was not.  Eventually the river and pressure beneath would dislodge ice chunks jammed up stream so they could nudge and break apart the sheet ice stretched from one bank to the other. Like the rumble of a distant train and as slowly as the tide rises, the ice began to shift. We could see a wall of jumble ice up river piling up against the sheet ice.  Then the sheet ice began to move, twist, crumble, grind, rumble, and flow.  There are no words to describe the beauty and power of ice moving for the first time since it had frozen tight in winter's grip.  It is of contrasts: exciting, yet peaceful, powerful in it's strength but graceful in it's movement, quiet and serene until one listens for the silence but hears the rumbling and grinding and hissing of ice and water running by.  Being present to watch the river run was something I had chased nearly every spring I'd lived up here but I had always missed it by days and last year by as little as a few hours.  This year I was blessed to witness one of the north country's most epic battles between winter and spring, solid and liquid, endings and beginnings.

Eagle Lake from the top of Dube Hill.
Any excuse to get outdoors this time of year and I'll make it!  I enjoyed raking, cleaning the grounds, hiking, brushing winter coats from the horses, and going for horseback rides.  Moe and I enjoyed many adventures checking the trails for snow melt, and climbing hills to overlook Eagle Lake to check on ice melt.  Riding gave me a great excuse to get out under a bright spring sky!  This spring I was able to get some good rides in before my days became filled with spring opening chores and the stress of trying to do everything at once. The window between the snow and ice going and and my first guests coming is very small.  It always seems like there is too much to do in too little time but I always manage to be ready to greet them with clean cabins, running water, docks at the shore, tidy grounds, and renewed enthusiasm to begin another season!

Yearling moose with fur on neck and shoulders
rubbed off due to tick infestation
There is nothing that will relieve stress or rejuvenate my soul like a ride on a dirt road in my pick up with the music up loud!  It's even more enjoyable when shared with a friend. Woods roads were snowed in well in to April but as the month drew to a close we were able to get further and further in on them to look for moose, bear, and grouse. We're seeing lots of winter tick-infested moose but it appeared many will survive. Bear will soon come to roadsides to feed on spring grasses but grouse were already plentiful. We've all remarked that we are seeing more grouse this spring than any one can remember.  If we can enjoy a relatively dry and mild nesting season it will be a banner year for grouse hunting in northern Maine this fall!

"King's Pine" at the Ashland Lumberman's Museaum.
April marched on, snow banks retreated, and I began to rake bare spots where I could find them... behind cabin 5 and then cabins 2 and 3, the flower bed, at the "Welcome" sign, eventually in front of the lodge and waterfront.  Afternoon sunsets came later and although temperatures were cool, there was much warmth in the late April sun. If April arrived like a lamb on a mild foggy day, she also left like a lamb.  We woke on April 30th to 26 degrees but the day soon warmed under bright sun.  That day my friend Elliot Mitchell, who is a logger, cut down the rotting yellow birch that had forlornly greeted guests to Fish River Lodge.  Some of the old birch is laid to rest down over the hill; the salvaged trunk and branches were cut in to logs for fuel for our camp fires this summer. The removal of that tree was a big improvement to the entrance of Fish River Lodge!  After a week of working long hours and then cleaning up our mess we packed a picnic and headed in to the North Maine Woods to rejuvenate our spirits.  We stopped to see the "King's Pine" at the Ashland Lumberman's Museum. These special trees were declared to be the property of the King of England because by the 17th century Great Britain had depleted its forests.  They looked to the tall, straight white pines of Maine for the masts for British ship builders for the Royal Navy. These pines were identified by the "arrow" cut in to them.

Umsaskis Lake, North Maine Woods.
We drove all the way out across the Allagash at Umsaskis Lake toward Ross Lake Camps but couldn't get in the camp road.  It was still snow-covered!  We did stop and fish a couple streams, because we could, but the water was flowing very high and fast. Game warden Dave Milligan stopped for a good chat while we were fishing. We'd started our day in Wildlife Management District 3 and by day's end we'd driven through the North Maine Woods across Wildlife Management District 5 and in to 4. We had seen two bear (one was collard), lots of deer, a couple moose, and dozens of grouse.
Deer in North Maine Woods.
There is concern for our moose herd due to winter tick infestation.  Maine's biologists have collared moose up here in Wildlife Management District 2 and are studying winter mortality.  They have learned infested calves loose as much as 25% of their body weight and nearly half of all calves in a given year can succumb to tick infestation.  So, while mild winters have been good for our deer herd, our moose will suffer the consequences.

The last day of April was delightful; I was blessed to share it with my dear friend in the woods of northern Maine. Now I'm turning my attention to opening Fish River Lodge for the 2016 season, welcoming new guests to the Fish River Lodge family and greeting those who return. Boats will be launched, big fish and little fish will soon be caught, new memories made, and adventures shared. We welcome spring to northern Maine as we begin another chapter!


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Winter Winds of Change

Imagining spring.
Your calendar may say "spring" but here at Fish River Lodge I just cleaned up after another snow storm that dumped 8" of heavy, wet snow on top of the 2 1/2 feet of "winter snow" that's been piling up since last November.  I know better than to allow spring fever to creep in to my mind until at least mid April.  Gazing at the wind-whipped lake through the icy window of "Guide Camp" I imagined putting out docks and  launching the boat in about six weeks. By then we might have enough open water on Eagle Lake to get to the thoroughfare to fish.  
If you're wondering what 2016 has been like at Fish River Lodge, well, winds of change blew through here in January when Wayne chose to pursue new adventures and moved to Ashland. He still works as a cook at Northern Maine General in Eagle Lake, and for those who would like to keep in touch, he can be reached by email at Our divorce will be final April 22. 
To quote Brad Paisley, "Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one." So, on New Years Day I welcomed 2016 and all the promise of it becoming an epic year! Other than heavy lifting, grounds maintenance, and some plumbing, the business has been mine to manage, operate, and guide from since the beginning in 2005.  Spring reopening shall begin with "business as usual" here at Fish River Lodge. 
The unusual tranquility of reflected snow.

The lake was still open on the first day of winter and from this photo taken December 23rd, you can see we still had open water in front of the lodge and the lake didn't fully button up until December 29th.  There was an unusual stillness and tranquility in the reflection of snow-covered trees on the lake.  By January 2nd, there was just 4" of ice in front of the lodge which made opening day of ice fishing a challenge and few dared venture out on to the ice for another week.  On the days that followed smelt shacks began their slow march on to the ice for the winter.
Plan your 2016 "Two Nation Vacation"!
In early January I took an excursion across the border to explore some of New Brunswick and Quebec.  Have you considered the idea of a "Two Nation Vacation"? Fish River Lodge is located just 17 miles from the Fort Kent, Maine/Claire, New Brunswick International Bridge border crossing and only 40 minutes from the crossing at Madawaska/Edmondston.  If you haven't already made your summer vacation plans, I invite you to consider a stay at Fish River Lodge with day trips to Canada.  You'll experience first-hand our rich Acadia culture and cuisine, and capitalize on the strong U.S. dollar when dining and shopping in Canada.
Acadia and "You Are My Sunshine".

I took my first real vacation in 12 years in mid January when my grand daughter Acadia and I drove to Georgia for 10 days.  Our first stop was an overnight with bear hunter Bob O'Connor following Virginia's record snow storm.  When we arrived three days later the interstate was still partially shut down, side roads were just being opened, and driveways plowed.  After plowing for neary three days straight, Bob welcomed us in to his home and treated us to dinner at a wonderful Brazilian steak house.  The following morning we struck off for NCM Show Horses in Dacula, Georgia, where Acadia's horse "Mazie" was being trained.  It is also where Fort Kent native, Martin Doustou is employed as a horse trainer.  We got to visit with Martin, meet the Mayabb family, tour the Atlanta area, and surprise of surprises...bought a 2 year old filly and AQHA futurity prospect.  Her name is "You Are My Sunshine" from Waymond and Suzie Robert's successful breeding program.  She remains in Georgia, with the Mayabbs, for training.  She will begin her show career in July and August.  "Mazie" is also still in Georgia and will make another aspiring young rider a suitable show horse.  It was a magical trip but so far removed from the northern Maine I love.  I actually looked forward to getting home to "winter" so I could enjoy the beauty of our longest season.  On our way back north we visited Chincoteague and Assateague Islands off the Virginia shore in search of the wild ponies that live there.  We found them on the salt marsh!
Wild ponies of Chincoteague on a salt marsh.

Lynx tracking.
February was mild and a welcome relief from last year's brutal cold.  I enjoyed getting out snowshoeing, snowmobiling, taking long walks on the lake, and enjoying the birds at my feeder.  There are juncos, red polls, pine siskins, chackadees, nuthatches, house finches, gold finches, pine grossbeaks and beautiful evening grossbeaks.  Oh, and squirrels.  Lots of red squirrels. One of our most elusive northern furbearers is the Canadian lynx.  Many live among us but they are seldom seen.  Since I spend so much time outdoors and in the back country I typically encounter lynx several times a year.  My most memorable encounter occurred last November while deer hunting.  I heard a lynx yowling in the distance as it made it's way to a nearby gut pile.  The encounter lasted nearly 20 minutes as I played with the lynx by making buck grunts while it picked at the gut pile.  It was curious to locate the source of the calls and crept around me, eventually returning to the gut pile and ignoring me.  Once we have snow on the ground it makes tracking lynx easy!  I enjoy searching the shoreline of Eagle Lake for lynx tracks and over the winter have pinpointed several areas they frequent.
Lynx tracks.

Where shoreline greets ice.
By the end of February the sun's path creeps skyward enough that long shadows are cast across the lake.  In summer we enjoy the sun directly over our heads while relaxing on the pebbly beach but in winter it barely peeks over the hill behind the lodge.  Those long shadows are a reminder long days of summer breezes and sunshine are coming.  The thoroughfares are opening, cold days have a warmth about them when the sun shines, and sunsets come now in early evening and not late afternoon.  Easter weekend was especially magical as I enjoyed two blissful days of mild temps and sunshine.  I greeted Easter Sunday at sunrise with a prayer of thanks and gratitude for the beauty and happiness that surrounds me everyday and the blessing of God's greatest sacrifice. My friend and fellow Maine guide, Elliot Mitchell, joined me on the lake for a day of snowmobiling, more lynx tracking, basking in glorious sunshine, and enjoying all the sights, smells, and sounds of renewal that come with spring - like the sparkle of open water as the edges of the lake, the smell of fir trees and melting snow, and the sweet chatter of songbirds from treetops.
And so it ends as it began, with peeks of open water where shoreline greets ice; where winter and spring now dance together for a brief time.  Spring will come to the north country; she always does even if she is always late to the dance. 


Friday, October 9, 2015

Updates coming soon! In the mean time, follow us on facebook...

If you're looking for content, I apologize! In this fast-paced world of digital media, I have come to rely on Facebook as a means of quickly and easily sharing news from Fish River Lodge. You can find us on facebook at: I see my last post was the end of 2013! A lot of fun and memories have been made since then and over the winter of 2016 I will bring us up to date. PROMISE!

This past spring brought some of the best fishing in years with many landlocked salmon weighing 2 1/2 pounds and more landed along with some beautiful native brook trout.

ATV riders enjoyed our well-marked and extensive trail system, family vacationers enjoyed warm summer nights around the camp fire, paddling the Fish River to watch moose and bald eagles, and riding the "lumberjack roads" of our north woods. It is exciting looking for moose, deer, bear, lynx, and foxes in their natural habitat and even more wonderful to capture their images with a camera. We enjoyed a successful bear season despite the challenges of unusually high temps and lots of natural feed to compete with. We are getting ready for another moose hunt after great success in September with all three guided hunters filling their coveted moose tags.
This is 14 y.o. Caleb Savage, with his 884 lb. bull moose called in by guide Tenley Bennett, on opening day of the September hunt.

Grouse season is in full swing, along with ducks and geese. We'll welcome back deer hunters in November then hunt ourselves late in the month. By the first of December we'll move back to "Guide Camp" and button up the lodge for the winter. Then I will hunker down and get this journal caught up with all kinds of tales from the past few years! So, check back later with a cup of coffee and time to read of our adventures!


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's Hunting Season!

Before we turn our "calendar" to Hunting Season, we want to honor our eldest guest at Fish River Lodge...Herve Pelletier. He was born in Eagle Lake and now resides in Topsham, Maine. He and his son have stayed with us several times - most recently at the end of August. Herve is 94.

Hunting season is brief, but PREPARING for hunting season can last all year - especially when it comes to bear hunting! We ordered our bear bait last winter and it was delivered as soon as the mud dried up enough so we could get the bait truck near our shed. We obtained our landowner permissions and paid our bait fees over the summer. Wayne and I were out in July brushing out bait sites, changing set-ups, hanging trail cameras, and installing new stands. We started placing bait a full month ahead of the actual opening of the hunting season. New sites can take weeks, or even a full season, to become active. Older, established sites will attract bears more easily but there are no guarantees a wild Maine black bear will regularly visit a bait site, especially during legal hunting hours! Maine's annual bear hunt is vital to the state's bear management program. A harvest objective of 4,000 bears will keep the population in check but with fewer hunters, we've been unable to meet that objective for about 10 years. Thus, the state's bear population is growing - but because bears are shy and wary the increased population doesn't necessarily translate to higher success rates. 2013 was one of the most difficult seasons we've had in years. An abundance of natural feeds (wild cherries, choke cherries, blueberries, raspberries, hazelnuts, and beech nuts for example) put bait hunters at a severe disadvantage. Bears prefer natural feeds and when there are lots of choices, bait is the LAST thing they will feed on.

The last week of August our first group of hunters arrived. They were a special group - most were couples and families that hadn't hunted bear before. Jean and Brent Wilson hunted moose with us in 2012 and Jen and Mike Wentzheimer had visited Fish River Lodge last October. Scott Vetare and his buddy Darrell had hunted bear with Mike Michaud and use Fish River Lodge as their base-of-operations for the week.

We like to include the whole family in the hunt, even our non-hunting guests. Jen, Seth and Maddy Wenzheimer accompanied me on a bait run one day and helped lug buckets and spray cover scent. They also enjoyed hiking, canoeing, and exploring the many sights and sounds of northern Maine.

Each week we treat everyone to a lobster dinner on Sunday night. But the second week my Uncle David treats US with lobsters he caught off the coast of Maine! He hunts with us every fall, along with my dad, and Duane Webber. The special ladies in ther, Aunt Teri, Mim Webber, Deanna Purington, and Becky Johnson also joined in! Rusty "Wild" Rice, Bob O'Connor, Dave Mrocek, Bob Watkins and Mike Farrell rounded out our 2013 bear hunters. I wish we had lots of photos to share of our successful hunters and their bears but as I mentioned, this turned out to be a challenging season. Bears cruised bait sites if they came at all during legal hunting hours but mostly they came at night.

When it was all over many of our hunters saw bear and some passed on small bears; some shots were taken and some bears were missed. Some just enjoyed watching the wildlife and antics of sows with cubs that appeared at their stands. Our friend, Bert Simard, started a new bait site this year and sat on it after work for 17 nights before he got a chance on this beautiful boar. Needless to say, all that hard work didn't produce for us this year. That's why they call it hunting; there are no guarantees you'll fill your tag but one thing for sure, our bear hunters left with a wealth of knowledge and experience to apply to their next bear hunt.

After a challenging bear season we were excited to switch gears to moose! You can imagine my surprise when Billy Doughty, a dear friend from "The Islands", called in early September to book a guided moose hunt in September. He wanted a guide who could call a bull. "10-4 Billy; I won't let you down!" You see, I guided Billy's grandson Jake to a cow back in 2010 and there was no way I would disapppoint him, even at this late date. It took some doing, but a friend of a friend referred me to Francis Dambois - he's been calling moose for years, recently became a guide but has a "real job" so hadn't booked any clients. He agreed to take Billy. BINGO!

We spent a week putting away our "bear gear" and scouting for the September moose hunt. With five guided hunts going out, we wanted to be certain we could provide opportunities on the largest moose we could produce. Opening day was miserable with wind and driving rain. Most everyone saw moose but not everyone wanted to or was able to capitalize on their opportunities. Wayne's client, Frank Evangelista, found opening day success with this 51" bull. Frank and his sub ran home to get their wives on Tueday and returned for the rest of the week to enjoy the vast network of ATV trails in the St. John Valley.

My clients, Joe and Joey Hunt connected on Wednesday. Joe and his wife Georgette hunted with me last year on her tag and Joe shot a nice bull. Joe was drawn this year and his son Joey was his sub. We hunted hard in the rain Monday and Tuesday. Again on Wednesday it rained but our persistence paid off when we found bull tracks in the mud...we tracked Joe's bull for nearly a mile in the rain before we caught up to him on top of a rise. Both Joe and Joey were able to make great shots and practically dropped this one in its tracks!

The most anticipated moose of the season was the one taken by Denny Corriveau (The Wild Cheff) of Amesbury, MA. When Denny booked his hunt he express that this being a "hunt of a lifetime", he wanted a trophy moose and would settle for nothing less. Although Denny is famous for wild game cooking, he did not want a "freezer bull." We paired Denny with guide Mike "The Legend" Michaud and plenty of assurance that Mike had earned his "legendary" reputation. Three days in to the hunt Denny was growing anxious - he'd seen lots of moose but not the moose of his dreams. At dinner that night we reminded Danny he was only halfway through his 6-day hunt and had plenty of time to fill his tag. Finally, from deep within WMD2, Mike guided Denny on to the moose of his dreams! The rest of the week was filled with celebration and reflection on what it means to wait so long for a tag and then, in an instant have a dream fulfilled.

With 3 of 5 guided hunt tags filled, it was up to John Pelletier to put the Lucentes in front a moose they could pull the trigger on and Francis to produce one for Billy and Jake. They had tried calling all week and had bulls answer but just couldn't "seal the deal." However, there was nothing that would stand in the way of another 100% successful hunt week at Fish River Lodge. Father/son team Gary and Scott Lucente, lead by guide John Pelletier, finally connected with this guy and Billy and Jake got their bull on Saturday! "Cool Hand" Luke Chiarelli and Scott Jones also filled their bull tags while staying at Fish River Lodge - we all had reason to celebrate the memories, friendships, and moose who made dreams come true!

We had a brief reprieve from moose and welcomed grouse hunters David Tilden and Gerold Moville; JoAnn Moody and Krystal; Dakota Downes and Nicole Davis; the Lon Ruddock party; Tom Ryan party, and Dave Lovelace party. The start of our upland bird season was much like bear - discouraging at best. We KNEW there were lots of birds "somewhere", but where? Hunters and dogs had a hard time locating good numbers of grouse. We theorized many had been driven way back in to the woods by all the vehicle traffic from the September moose hunt and they were probably feeding on the abundant vegetation and berries back in the woods and didn't need to be any where near a roadside for gravel.

It is always a pleasure to visit with noted upland bird guide and springer spaniel breeder JoAnn Moody. We cover lots of ground during our visits - horses, and hunting, and all things bird dogs! Here's JoAnn with her young, adoring prospect "Annie".

October brought another very successful moose hunt week to Fish River Lodge. We had four guided hunts going out. October proved difficult for hunters in WMD2; it had been hunted hard in September and lots of moose were taken. By October, moose were wary and cows skittish. It took some hard hunting to put our hunters in front of moose but two of three bull tags and my clients' - Norman Blanchard and Steve Kelly - cow tag got filled. The Don Cannan party was expertly guided by Jimmy Dumond. They saw lots of moose, passed on several bulls, and had some excellent adventures including a day of hunting on the river but by week's end they just couldn't find the trophy they wanted. Wayne got some great video of his client Newell Graf's moose hunt and Bruce Yannelli connected with this bull while guided by Mike Michaud. The Josh St. Pierre and Brown parties also hunted moose out of Fish River Lodge. It was a pleasure meeting the St. Pierre family and seeing the Browns again. Of course grouse were plentiful by the end of October and early November. One afternoon I flushed 23 birds!

We were joined by five November moose hunt parties and all held cow tags. Mine was the lone WMD3 tag. Mark Kerrigan's party tagged out early with Wayne then hunted deer and helped track a wounded moose and other adventures during their stay. We want to recongize the Ray Stevens, Randy Mason, and Steve French moose hunting parties who all chose Fish River Lodge for their moose hunt "head quarters". Hunting cows, in my opinion, is much more difficult than hunting bulls. They will not respond to calling, their maternal instict kicks in when they feel threatened and will run if pressured. Hunters are restricted to a road-hunt or walking winter roads and obscure clear cuts. Some clients choose not to take a cow with a calf and pass on calves and yearlings so that eliminates many opportunities. Knowing that moose enjoy stripping bark off sugar maples once we've had a good hard frost can be used in a hunter's favor. If that occurs prior to the November hunt, concentrating efforts on Maple stands will increase your odds greatly.

I was blessed with a referral from fellow guide, Mike Langley. Mike's Libby Camps deer hunter, Dieter Tairks, drew a WMD3 cow tag and since that would require a long commute to an unfamiliar management area, Mike asked if I would guide the 81 year old seasoned deer hunter. I was honored to be given the opportunity and it was a match made in heaven - Dieter reminded me of my grand father in so many ways. We enjoyed a full week of hunting, had several opportunities to take a cow, saw much wild game and beautiful scenery, enjoyed a reunion dinner with Mike Langley, then finally connected on this calf on the last day of Dieter's hunt. It had snowed that morning and moose were on the move. We saw several bulls and cows. A cow and calf were spotted in a stand of sugar maples - the eighth and ninth moose we'd seen that day. The calf presented the best opportunity and Dieter made a perfect shot. This moose will provide plenty of winter sustenance to my grateful client.

Long-time St. John Valley deer hunters - John, Sal, Vinny, and Matt Bombara from Connecticut and New Jersey - joined us the second week of November. They saw a few deer and enjoyed some tracking snow during the week but the elusive "big woods" white tail bucks they sought were just that...elusive.

John and MaryLu Medina have become Fish River Lodge's most recent saviours. Under their ownership, they have continued providing the "tender loving care" this old sporting camp deserves. The tradition continues as Fish River Lodge provides cabins and a gathering place for all who love the outdoors and northern Maine. John has embarked on another cabin remodel, or, rather a rebuild. His work on cabin 5 was remarkable and guests now staying in "Guide Camp" find the lodging very accomodating and luxurious compared to what the little cabin had been. Cabin 1 was torn down in November and then a slab poured for a new cabin to be built in spring 2014. Mary Lou Medina tells me John's obession with building camps goes back to his childhood. She provided us with this photo of his "inspriation."

We spent a few days before Thanksgiving hunting in Waldo County with our gracious friend, host, and fellow guide Mike Duni at his "Whitetails Unlimited" property. It was my daughter Miranda's first experience hunting white tail deer. Armed with a doe tag, there would be very good odds on her killing her first white tail. The weather was miserable - temps were in the single digits and gale-force wind pinned down the deer. Then a wild shift in temperatures resulted in tropical torrential rain on Wednesday. Miranda's dedication to hunting was tested and she persisted. She hunted three days, jumped one deer out of its bed, but that was it. We had a great visit with Mike, enjoyed delicious food, laughs, and made more memories. And the best part - Miranda has been bitten by the deer hunting bug!

"Elusive" seemed to be the theme of this year's hunting season. Some clients enjoyed the thrill and gratitude of filling tags and making dreams come true while others came oh so close. Success can be elusive on any given hunt day and all experienced hunters know there are never guarantees when trying to fill a tag. It takes patience, persistence, skill, and determination. The only guarantees in hunting are the memories, experiences, and friendships that become the most treasured "trophies" of any hunt.

As the sun sets on another hunting season we change the Fish River Lodge "calendar" to Winter. The lake has frozen and we've had our largest snowfall of the season. We're shoveled out and settled in to the comfortable and newly remodeled "Guide Camp". We're preparing for an old fashioned Christmas and counting our many blessings... We wish you and yours a joyous holiday season and a New Year filled with health and happiness! Follow us for regular posts about Fish River Lodge on our facebook page...


Monday, August 5, 2013

A New Year - a different kind of calendar

We tend not to follow a traditional calendar here – months are meaningless in this business. There’s either snow on the ground and ice in the lake or not; fishing and hunting seasons are either open or closed; we’re waiting out a long, monochromatic cold spell or celebrating a brief spell of warm colorful days created by the sun. Our calendar is fluid as the weather and sets our pace more than a cycle of 30 or 31 days.

Our New Year begins during “ice out” – that period of time when we await the melting of ice and the official start of a new season at Fish River Lodge. Lake ice left on May 4th in an unusual way this year. It actually melted away. Typically, as it melts it blows up and down the lake and piles up in frozen sheets and chunks at one end of the lake or another until it melts away. This year was calm and the white surface turned gray, then slate blue and simply slowly disappeared. With the ice gone, the dark surface of Eagle Lake started warming for open water fishing. We move back to the lodge and began cleaning away the dust and cob webs left after the last fire burned down to cold coals in the woodstove last year. We celebrated the start of a new year with the first campfire of the season on April 19th.

Spring fishing was next to arrive on our calendar. Fishermen “migrated” back for their annual fishing trips and were as anxious for ice-out as the salmon were for mayflies! Mike Duni, Larry Converse, the Knowles brothers, Greg Gordon, Joe Decker and his buddy Mike Phillips, Joe Dumont, and Ed Swift are some of the fishermen who enjoyed “ice out” fishing this spring.

We bid farewell to a dear Fish River Lodge client and even dearer family friend: Ron Webber. Ron will be remembered for so many things and among them our families fished, hunted, and skied together; he gave me my first job at R. A. Webber Construction in Cundy’s Harbor; he was a wonderful wing-shooter and fly fisherman; had a tremendous sense of humor; and was admired by many. He was more like a member of our family than friend and he spent time at Fish River Lodge in all seasons, most recently on a moose hunt. This is Ron with his son Duane in 2010.

Mark Babine and his family returned for another long Memorial Day weekend. We’re watching his daughter Eve grow in to a beautiful little girl! Another milestone…Dakota Downes proposed to his girlfriend Nicole Davis. Dakota said Nicole is “a keeper” and right after she landed a salmon he presented her with a beautiful diamond engagement ring!

It was “June” on your calendar, here it was the rainy season, nearly every day. When making a living in the outdoors we can’t let the weather affect our plans. When it rains, we keep right on doing whatever it is on our daily agenda. For Joe and Mike, it was fishing. But one day of fishing turned in to an adventure in surviving wicked weather when they were stranded on Eagle Lake during a violent storm, taking refuge at the Dumond's “Tree House” camp. Poplar trees were up-rooted and snapped off around them, swamping their boat! It took Joe and Mike all afternoon to free their boat from one tree’s grip, then they “limped" their leaking boat home just as Wayne and I were about to set off to find them! Their story made the local newspaper “Fiddlehead Focus”. The storm cleared a swath of trees about ½ mile along the north shore of Eagle Lake.

A couple weeks later it was the annual Fish River Canoe Race that went off without a hitch, on a very rainy Saturday. If you like to paddle, mark your calendar for next year and plan on participating in this exciting event! There are classes for all types of paddlers with only one short portage around Fish River Falls. There are lots of viewing areas along the course for spectators.

Larry Converse returned for an Allagash River dream trip with his daughter Kim, grand daughter Kasey, and friend Ray Hardy. We hired guide John Pelletier who outfitted our group and led us on a magical journey on the Allagash! Of all the pictures I took, this one sums it up best...three generations at "the falls" - Allagash Falls.

Through the rain we fished and hiked, canoed and kayaked, and camped until the sun shined…and that would be around the 4th of July…which just proves there are basically two seasons in northern Maine: Winter and the 4th of July! Of course John Chasse, Master Trash Can Turkey Chef, roasted a bird on the beach.

The annual pot-luck has become a favorite of guests staying at Fish River Lodge. The David and Eldon Devoe families, Chasses, Bruces, Medinas, and other invited guests all celebrated Independence Day and fireworks with us. The days that followed were glorious with sun, warmth (too much warmth at times!), and brilliant colors in the many greens of our landscape and wildflower-studded hillsides. The lake at this time of year is a brilliant blue and sunrises and sunsets bright pink and orange. Colors were muted on this particular evening as smoke from Canadian forest fires drifted across our landscape.

John Medina finished “Guide Camp”. The addition includes a spacious livingroom, full kitchen and bathroom, bedroom, and sleeping loft. Wayne and I took a trip to Preseque Isle one afternoon and splurged a little on furnishing it. We didn’t want to scrimp on anything for the “reveal”.

Mim Webber and her lady friends Deanna Purington, Becky Johnson, and Cathy Alexander were the first to enjoy all the comforts of our plushest cabin. They loved it, and the balcony overlooking Eagle Lake where they enjoyed sipping coffee in the morning and a glass of wine in the afternoon. They took a pontoon boat ride, kayaked, fished, explored northern Maine, relaxed on the beach, read, and simply enjoyed the slower pace of life found “off the beaten path”. Pat and Phil Lebrecque joined us and enjoyed visiting family in the St. John Valley during their stay. David and Melissa Smey and their dog Sophie returned for their annual vacation and were joined the second week by Randy and Debbie Murasso. We missed the Murassos the past couple of years as family commitments kept them from visiting Fish River Lodge. Alice Gove and her family are perennial visitors too and summer wouldn’t be complete without them! We welcomed the Albert family from Presque Isle– Dennis, Cindy, Hillary, and Austin – for their first visit. They too enjoyed a relaxing get-away here at the lake.

Throughout the summer I enjoyed contributing to the Eagle Lake Recreation Department’s summer programs by offering three courses: Introduction to Horses, Time with Horses, and Introduction to Canoeing. I love watching as youth gain new skills and confidence as they experience new challenges! Throughout the summer I have continued training my young appaloosa horse, Magnum. He is becoming a willing trail and general purpose horse that I enjoy sharing with others.

Alvey & his father Herve Pelletier will arrive tomorrow – Herve is 94 and wants to make the trip “home” one more time. He was born in Eagle Lake and settled in southern Maine to raise his family. I love their visits when they play guitar and harmonica, and let their little jointed “Jean Pierre” doll dance on a wooden paddle! My daughter Miranda Brannigan and friends, Diane Stroud and family, Mim Webber and more friends, and my step-daughter Kaitlyn and boyfriend John will join us as summer vacation season winds to a close. We started baiting bears last week, which can mean only one thing…hunting season will be soon upon us and next on our calendar!