Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.
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Author:  Jeff Reardon [ June 11th, 2018, 5:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

I returned last night from 8 days in Baxter State Park, 6 days of fishing. I've been making a late May/early June trip in Baxter for more than 20 years, and reporting on it here most years for some time. This report is mostly similar to what you've read in previous years, so just skip this if you hated the old ones.

Read on if you want to hear about how the wise old angler dumped his canoe and was rescued by the ranger.

The week before the trip was crazy with work, and the weather switched from a coldish spring to mid-summer here in Central Maine with a couple of sweltering nights. We were way behind on packing, shopping, and getting the garden ready for us to be gone for a week, so our normal early Saturday am start slipped to almost noon by the time we finished work tasks, bought groceries, and hauled water to the garden. Several critical details may have been overlooked in this busy-ness. One of them may have been routine canoe maintenance.

We were in the park by late afternoon, just in time to move into our cabin, on Kidney Pond this year rather than the usual cabin on Daicey. We had a quick dinner and made a sunset cruise in the canoe during which I caught a handful of smallish trout from Kidney, which is mostly what I have found there over the years.

The charm of the southwest corner of the park is that there are a dozen ponds with canoes that are located anywhere from a 10-yard to a 4-mile hike from trailheads scattered around Kidney and Daicey Ponds. Sunday can be kind of busy on the "close" ponds, so we headed for two of the more remote ponds. We paddled across one pond, hiked a mile, and fished a second pond. I have never done much in this pond, and I neither saw a rise nor felt a bump in the 45 minutes or so I fished it this year. (Later in the week a friend did really well there on a rainy day. I've been hearing that it fishes well on rainy days for 10 years or more now, but never gotten the timing right.) At the other side of the pond, we stashed our canoe and hiked another mile to a third pond, where the fishing was a little slower than I would have liked, but still very nice.

It was a good transition day. Baxter State Park is one of the very few places left that I know where I can tell family and friends and work that I will be away for a week, there is no cell or email service, and I'll talk to them in 10 days. We put work behind us, broke ourselves in to sitting in canoes and walking 4 or 5 miles a day in the course of fishing, and reset our body clocks to get up when the sun rose around 5 am and be asleep by the time it was full dark at 9 or 9:30.

That night we could see serious weather coming in, and we woke to an odd combination: a howling south wind, steady rain, and serious cold. Like low 40's cold. We spent the day in the cabin with the wood stove cranked up. I finished a book and half of another.

The third day was almost the same as the first, except the paddle across the first pond was shorter; we walked around the second pond--it's stocked, and I don't fish stocked ponds on this trip; and the fishing at the third pond was a lot better, both in numbers and in size. There were no really big fish, but the average fish was a solid 12" and I took several pushing 14". There was a fish that broke off on the strike, though I suspect a bad knot or a worn leader as much as a bruiser of a trout, if only because I caught all the trout up to then--probably more than a dozen--on the same fly and never checked my knot and tippet for damage.

The fourth day was a shorter hike, but actually harder, because the trail to the pond we fished was so cluttered with roots and boulders that the combination of my Sasquatch feet and various middle-aged injuries made for slow going. Try sticking a size 16 foot into a size 12 hole between a root and a rock. Do that about 400 times, with a fused ankle that won't bend on half of those steps. For the day, I only fished one pond, and although plenty of fish were caught, it was tough. The attractor dry/wet/streamer on a floating line that I usually use on ponds in the spring worked for a bit and then quit. After that I switched to a sinking line and weighted buggers, finally turning some fish on one in orange and gray after olive, black, and brown all failed. When that quit, I eked out a few more fish, including one good one of around 15", on traditional bucktails. A Light Edson Tiger in size 12 was the ticket to three quick trout until I broke it off on a sunken log. A size 10 Mickey Finn was the closest I had after I lost my only Edson Tiger, and that worked, but not as well. We quit early, had an early supper, and I planned to fish the evening on Kidney.

I didn't get out until just before 8 pm, but (for a while) I had what may have been my best ever night on Kidney Pond. Not many fish were rising, but those that were were feeding on a size 14 mayfly, and if I covered a rise with a size 14 parachute Purple Haze, I had a fish on. I had three fish to the net, two of them in the 13-14" range, when things slowed down and disaster struck. I was sitting in my canoe, looking for a rise, when I hear heard a fish rise behind me and to the left. I pivoted in my seat, spotted the rings, and cast--all in one motion. And that motion continued when the canoe seat underneath me let go on the back left corner, spilling me backwards and to the left. I went over like I'd been shot and turned the canoe turtle on top of me.

Later examination showed that the wood of the canoe seat had gotten soft, probably as a result of storing the canoe under a shed roof in my barn that lets in some snow and rain. A slightly loosened seat bolt allowed a little play, and friction of the bolt threads against the soft wood chewed the seat post through to the end. I was about 100 yards from shore and surely would have survived, but would have lost a good bit of gear except for the aid of another angler who was nearby and the park ranger. As it turned out, I lost a pocket knife and a cheap plastic canoe paddle, but salvaged everything else, including the bamboo rod, the really nice sassafrass paddle I got as my 51st birthday gift the day before, and 4 loose fly boxes. It's amazing how much fly line you can tangle around your foot in a few minutes of treading water if you had the line coiled at your feet ready for a long cast and trying to hold a fly rod in one hand and tow your canoe to shore with the other while kicking with your legs. It can take a while to pull it off your foot when help arrives, and a good 15 minutes to untangle back ashore after you dry out.

Let me put in a plug here for the professionalism of the Baxter Park staff, who not only salvaged all my gear, T-rescued my canoe, and had me and my gear to shore in 5 minutes, but also salved my pride with "It can happen to anyone. Same thing happened to me a few weeks ago." I doubt that was true, but I appreciate the effort.

If you own a canoe with wooden seats, go out and check that the wood is sound and the bolts are tight right now. And check them every time you launch the canoe. This event was merely an embarrassment and a dunk in the water. Had it happened in early May, on a saltwater November duck hunt or when I had someone in the canoe who was not comfortable in the water, it could have been a disaster.

The rest of the week returned to normal. I hit my favorite two ponds with a man I've gotten to know the last few years. He and his wife are on the same Baxter schedule as me and mine, and we've been crossing paths for years. It turns out he had never fished two ponds I fish every year and wanted to get in there, so I gave him the semi-guided tour. On the first pond we were fishing the same fly, and I couldn't miss while he just could not connect. Again, the fishing was not terribly fast numbers wise, but fish size seemed up compared to what I am used to. The loon-who-has discovered-catch-and-release only got one of my released trout, and then gave up and swam away. (Last year a pair of them got the first five.) We then portaged over to the second pond, where I couldn't manage to land a trout, and my new friend schooled me. It was a classic pond-fishing situation. Fish would hit anything for a while, and we both caught trout, and then a decent but not spectacular hatch started and the attractors we were casting might as well have been poison. After we switched to mayfly patterns, fish would hit his size 14 Adams but not my size 12 pheasant tail parachute. By the time I caught on and was changing flies, he'd landed 5 trout in about 10 minutes, three of them in that same 12-14 inch size class that for me means, "a good trout". And then the flurry of rising trout was over and it was time for the long paddle-portage-paddle-hike back out.

One day was devoted to a combination of stream and pond fishing, with a paddle across a pond, a hike, a paddle/fish across another pond, a half of mile of fishing along the stream, and another hike to a third pond. Many trout, all small, as expected. This year I did not catch the anticipated one or two 12-15 inch salmon that are typically in one pool below a waterfall on the stream. As is normal, the 35 foot anchor line would not find bottom at a spot I wanted to fish on one of the ponds just 2 canoe lengths from shore. Rumor has it that this 10 acre pond is 90 feet deep, which may be true. It still only holds small trout in my 10+ years of experience, but maybe someday I'll bring a longer rope, anchor in "the spot where a big one ought to be" and prove that theory wrong.

My final fishing day was notably slow. A cold front had come through, stirring up a northwest wind that in my experience is never good for fishing. Even if fish had been feeding, it was blowing hard enough to make controlling the canoe hard even on a small sheltered pond with two anchors. I got a single rise on an attractor dry fly but missed the strike, and dredged up a handful of smallish trout on streamers and a fast sinking line, at least half of them casting from a rocky point on shore.

The next morning, we were wearing long pants and fleece jackets against morning temps in the high 30's when we loaded the truck and headed home. It was still cold and blowing when I stopped at the West Branch to see if anything was rising. No bugs and no rises, and I wasn't desperate enough for a salmon that I wanted to resort to nymphs. Just the idea of waders made me feel colder. We took the long way home through Greenville and Monson to stop for a barbecue lunch at Spring Creek, and were home by mid afternoon. The thermometer in my garden read 82 degrees by then, and it felt warmer as I hauled buckets of water. We appear to be locked into a near drought in Central Maine.

Trip stats:
--Days 8 (Think this is my longest Baxter trip ever)
--Days fished 6
--Ponds fished 10
--Ponds with brook trout caught 9
--Ponds with good fishing (numbers or size quality) 6
--Streams fished 1
--Miles hiked for fishing 23.4 (tracked it on cell phone GPS app)
--Largest trout caught (15")
--Released trout lost to loons 1
--Swims taken on purpose 2
--Swims taken by accident 1
--Rescued by park staff from accidental swim 1
--Moose seen 0
--Deer seen 0
--Bears seen 0
--Insect repellent applied 0 (But treated all the pants and shirts and hat with permethrin. The stuff plain works!)

Author:  Hutch [ June 12th, 2018, 6:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

Great report Jeff- Local knowledge is earned- and you seem to have it there. As for the unexpected swim----falling out of a canoe is not a lot different than my weekly falls in rivers...at least in effect. Good luck for the coming salt.


Author:  igloo lake [ June 12th, 2018, 6:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

Great report Jeff, glad your here to tell it.

Author:  Hunter [ June 12th, 2018, 8:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

Baxter is awesome. Back in the years before dogs entered my life, I rented a cabin and stayed at Kidney and hiked into many of the fishing holes I imagine you visited. The fishing can be awesome, or not so much- depending on the weather- which changes rapidly due to proximity to the hills around the area. If hiking is on the list- Doubletop is a nice mountain to climb- though the last 500 feet or so of the trail in from Kidney Pond are more or less vertical.

Some day, I'll be back to Baxter. But due to Baxter's policy on dogs, and with four dogs between the fiance and I, it won't be anytime soon. And with camps of our own, with local knowledge of fishing holes and bird covers, it's hard to pull away from our familiar places to visit places such as Baxter. With that said- I've stayed at a few sporting camps over the last decade and they have a place.

Good trip report. I hope your gear dries out before molding.

Author:  kmudgn [ June 12th, 2018, 2:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

Just a small suggestion on getting your waders back in good shape. If the dump involved mucky water I would suggest machine washing with a product such as Tech Wash which is made for water proof material. I have successfully used it on waders and tents with good results. Even though my LL Bean wader label says don't machine wash, I use the "hand wash" cycle and have not had a problem.

Author:  Jeff Reardon [ June 12th, 2018, 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

kmudgn wrote:
Just a small suggestion on getting your waders back in good shape. If the dump involved mucky water I would suggest machine washing with a product such as Tech Wash which is made for water proof material. I have successfully used it on waders and tents with good results. Even though my LL Bean wader label says don't machine wash, I use the "hand wash" cycle and have not had a problem.

Waders? This was a pond fishing trip. :wink: In any case, by this time of the year with water temps into the mid 60's, I'm mostly wet wading unless the water level will be at my "nether regions" or higher most of the day.

But this is a good reminder that my mud-spattered waders are due for a wash, and I have some Tech Wash left over from treating the rain gear before the trip.

Author:  kennebecster [ June 13th, 2018, 9:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

love the TR. have not been to that region in 7 years, and man do I miss it( especially the west branch). Little kids and coaching have made that trek tough for the past few years.

Author:  K. I. Joe [ June 13th, 2018, 6:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

Great report jeff, I love Baxter, what a magical place

Author:  pushaw [ June 14th, 2018, 12:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Annual Baxter Pond Report--Long and repetitive.

That sounds like some really good brook trout fishing. I'm much more of a stream guy, but this sounds like a good time. I'll be in Maine in less than a month and it has been at least 5 years since I've been to Baxter -- I'm not sure I've ever taken our kids. They get plenty of mountains out west, but Baxter is still special and different.

I'm not on the swim team yet this year, but I am in the giraffe on rollerskates face planting into shallow muddy water team.

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