|Trout fishing one way to mark Memorial Day in Maine|
When it comes to the unofficial start of summer, Maine traditions abound on how best to spend it.
Memorial Day is full of good Maine traditions. When I was a kid, Memorial Day was always a day of visits to family grave sites, mostly on my mother's side of the family.
That meant meandering through rural western Maine to Mexico, Norway and West Paris. From my mother and aunt I learned how a family grave should be tended to show proper respect. We didn't miss many Memorial Days on these family outings.
The reward for us kids was a picnic, usually alongside a stream that afforded an opportunity for the men to do a little fishing. They were wonderful days filled with lots of flowers, usually nice weather, and fond family memories.
That was long ago, of course. The Memorial Day graveyard tour never caught on with my immediate family. Most Memorial Days I confess to pangs of guilt that I haven't at least been out to tidy up my parents' graves and add some spring flowers. I usually get there, but often, like this year, it is after the day itself. When I do go, I imagine I am getting gentle chiding from Mom. Fortunately, she was a kind, loving soul, and I feel certain I am forgiven.
Often in recent years Sally and I have taken Memorial Day weekend to open our camp on Long Pond in the Belgrades. This is another Maine ritual with its own rhythms and traditions. Our camp is a pretty simple place to get running – a good sweeping does most of the job. Nonetheless, there are a few challenges usually involving the aging water pump and getting the docks in the water. For this task, in particular, the presence of a son-in-law is most helpful. After all, someone needs to actually go in the water to get the placement right.
This year, as no sons-in-law were available, we decided to try another Maine tradition – a Memorial Day visit to a Maine fishing camp. There are many fine fishing camps available, of course. We picked Grant's Camps on Kennebago Lake because it offers a nice mix of lake and stream fly-fishing.
The Maine fishing camp is part of a tradition going back to the late 19th century. Reports in those days reached metropolitan areas like New York and Boston of enormous trout being caught in the lakes of western and northern Maine. Big-city anglers began flocking to Maine, spurring the building of legendary fishing camps such as Grant's, Cobb's Pierce Pond Camps, Libby Camps on Millinocket Lake and Weatherby's on Grand Lake Stream.
Although the fishing is not quite what it was at the turn of the 20th century, there is still plenty of good trout and salmon fishing in Maine. Many of these fishing camps are still around and more have been added over the years. The Maine Sporting Camps Association has an informative Web site, listing some 80 camps.
Camps like Grant's provide activities "for the whole family" such as canoeing, kayaking and hiking. At Grant's we met a biologist for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife who had brought along his wife and three boys, ranging in age from 6 to 16. They loved the fishing, of course, but also their evening campfire with s'mores – the gooey delight made from toasted (i.e., burned) marshmallows and chocolate, mashed between two graham crackers.
The biologist told us that the state had released 450 mature trout of 20 inches or more into the Kennebago system this spring as part of a program to spur the development of the large trout that have made the Rangeley region famous. At first, we thought he might be pulling our leg. However, he showed us a picture taken a few days earlier of a happy fisherman with one of those trout. It was impressive.
This was the closest we got to the 450 large trout. We did catch lots of fish – although like any good fisherman I cannot divulge the exact number and size.
I can say it was a wonderful weekend with some of the wildest and most beautiful parts of Maine on display. Sunrise over Kennebago Lake with the mist coming off the water framed by the spruce-lined shore and East Kennebago Mountain is as good as it gets.
This Memorial Day weekend again reminded me how fortunate we are to have such traditions as part of our Maine heritage.