Posted on June 11 2020
My buddy Dennis and I planned on fishing up a two mile stretch of the Orbeton River, and then camp at the river's confluence with Perham Stream. We had fished this stretch many times, but never all at once and never with the camping.
We had stashed my truck at the camp site with all the gear and parked Dennis' truck along the old Phillips-Rangeley railroad bed that runs close and parallel to the river for much of its course. It was to be a casual day of fishing, finishing up with one on Dennis' stews cooked on a Coleman stove on the tail gate of my truck.
I had known Dennis McLaughlin all my life and I began fishing with him when I began fishing. He was a couple of years older and my Mom was of the belief that her Son would be safe with Dennis "cause he was older". We had tested that belief more than once but had both survived to adulthood, so Mom was right I guess.
We started to fish early morning, knowing that the middle of the day would probably be slow because the Brown Trout in the river were moody and stayed in dark places when the sun was shining. Still, back in those days, nearly half of the fish were Brook Trout so we counted on catching fish all day. We were wading wet and I don't remember us having any fishing vests. I had an inexpensive Browning rod and Dennis had his Fenwick. I was probably fishing a grasshopper wet, even though this was not grasshopper terrain. It was easy to fish and I had always done okay with one. I know Dennis was fishing a muddler, size 10 or 12....I'm sure because that's all Dennis fished when on the river. He had discover the muddler in the local hardware store in the early sixties. He was one of a small group of anglers who was walking in to Redington Pond a couple times a week and fishing grasshoppers for those big Browns and Brook Trout that inhabited the pond during those days. He liked the look of the muddler because it looked like it would float.....this was during the time when we were making our own floatant from white gas and out mothers' canning paraffin. It was a messy process and difficult to mix correctly, so if the muddler could float on its' own, Dennis was going to use it.
He liked to skim it down and across the top of the water, never allowing it to sink. Consequently, when we fished upstream as we were during this trip, he would go around the good pools and then approach them from the upstream end.....and he would catch fish. He seemed to have some type of primordial DNA from the days of the hunter gatherers that allowed him to catch fish ....we all said all he needed was a muddler and a mud puddle to put supper on the table.
We both had a good day, each catching a few fish as we made our way up the river, reaching our campsite at six or so. Dennis immediately went to work with his old Coleman and I had things to do too...getting the tent up, (he had to help me with the tent) getting the fire going, made simple because we had brought our own wood, and of course offering up my suggestions on ingredients for his stew. And, there were cocktails to be made. If I remember correctly, Rum was the drink of the evening. We managed to drink a couple during the preparation and ingestion of supper and probably were a little giddy as we made our way down the bank to the pool. We also were a little slow and it was nearly dead dark by the time I tied on the biggest dark bucktail that I owned. We only took one rod and Dennis told me to take the first few casts. On the third or fourth cast, the bucktail drift came to an abrupt halt as a heavy weight interrupted my retrieve. It was now so dark that we couldn't quite see the deepest part of the pool across the river but I had hooked up with a head shaking, broad shouldered Brown...of that there was no doubt. I just couldn't move him far....I'd gain a foot of line or two only to have him bore back into the deepest part of the pool again. Dennis had waded out to his knees with his net but couldn't get close enough for a sweep....we went up and down the shore for what seemed like an hour but was probably only a minute. And then, the line went slack and it was over...just like that. Neither of us said a word. We walked back to to the camp site, made another drink, and sat around the fire. Everyone once in a while one of us would chuckle and say, "Jeeze". We knew we had been hooked on to something special.
The next morning I got up first and walked down to the pool...just to scope it out and relive the night before a little....looking across the pool, I spied a piece of leader and followed its' path....there was my bucktail, firmly hooked into a freshly fallen spruce sapling with some of its' branches half in and half out of the water. My fish!
Dennis laughed the entire day.
Twenty years later or so, Dennis caught a 24 inch, 4 pound Brown out of that pool. To this day it's known as the "four pounder pool". My "Spruce fish" was brought up in our conversations for years.
Decades later we were fishing one of our favorite Western Maine mountain ponds in a leaky row boat that we had stashed next to pond 20 years earlier. Just before dark, Dennis hooked and caught a 14 inch Brook Trout that we later cooked up and ate at his house.
I believe that was the last Trout he ever caught. By the next season, a disease had grabbed him and it never let go.
Dedicated to the memory of Dennis McLaughlin....1945-2015 RIP