Tuesday, August 2, 2016


I make a habit of ending an adventure with a capper that’s worth the distinction.
Bow pointed towards Mt. Katahdin, headed for camp on Crystal Pond. Photo by Matt Reilly.
Whether it’s truly a conscious effort, or simply a last ditch attempt to milk the most opportunity from every day, I can’t say. Regardless, as the Independence Day weekend threatened to dewild the gravel roads of central Maine’s Baxter State Park with flatlanders and other vacationers, I had one such capper on my mind.

    From my point of view, the crown jewels of Maine’s interior are the countless remote brook trout ponds that play host to some of the last strong populations of native brook trout in the country. The 200,000-acre Baxter State Park serves only as a sample platter of these fisheries; thousands more exist throughout the region.

    One such pond had captured my imagination from the moment I got my hands on a map. For confidentiality’s sake, I’ll call it Crystal.

    A hike of about two and a half miles separates Crystal Pond from the nearest road, thinning the crowd of those not willing to work for their fun. Primitive camping is not permitted on the road-side of the pond. However, a few maintained primitive sites dot the shoreline opposite the trail’s terminus. 
A boat is required to reach them, thus thinning the crowds further. Luckily, in a phone call two days before, a friend revealed to me the combination to the canoe he, like many Mainers make a habit of doing on their favorite ponds, keeps on the banks of Crystal.

    According to pond survey maps, Crystal is quite large--as backcountry brook trout ponds go in the state of Maine—with one very prominent piece of shoreline structure. Halfway up the east bank is a long, skinny point, the tip of which, shot directly up the same bank to a similar point, marks a drop-off from four feet to almost 40 feet in depth.

    Stillwater brook trout are very structure-oriented creatures, and so having structural features like this drop-off present and easy to locate is a huge advantage to the angler.

    The weather had been unseasonably warm, bringing little rain. The famed Hexagenia mayfly hatch, which brings brook trout in numbers to the surface to feed on the giant, emerging insect, was proving to be a non-starter. So, depth chart in hand, canoe combination memorized, the romantic vision of my great New England capper drew me to the trailhead.

    For the majority of my New England expedition, I carried with me a Water Master Grizzly one-man pack raft (Read the review HERE), which comes in a dry bag built as a backpack for mobility. Not needing the boat, I emptied the backpack and refilled it with overnight, boating, and fishing gear, and hit the trail.

Canoe forest. Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Approximately an hour of navigating craggy ridges and buggy bogs placed me sweaty and fly-bitten on the banks of Crystal Pond, amid a glimmering canoe forest. Crafts of varying makes, colors and conditions lay strewn about the pine-needled forest floor. Some were chained to trees. Others were left unfastened by anything but a cultural expectation of respect. Mainers are serious about their canoes--Old Town canoes originating in Old Town, Maine--and the sight that greets hikers to Crystal Pond is hardly a novel one.

    I quickly found, among the dozens, the canoe whose use had been granted to me. Chained to two logs, each lashed perpendicularly as a makeshift rack to two pine trees, sat cradled a red canoe, faded to the point of being described as pink, and with so many patches along its hull as to make the original material the minority.

    Sliding the craft down off its rack, I loaded it with my gear and dragged it a short distance to a gravel bank along the pond’s shoreline. Mount Katahdin and Baxter Peak illustrated the skyline and threw its impression upon the glassy surface of the pond, moreover populated with the mini-peaks of partially submerged boulders.

    Twenty minutes of paddling landed the canoe’s stern squarely on my campsite. I made camp, ate a quick dinner, and repacked my gear for an evening’s fishing.

    The sun was falling behind Katahdin’s domineering figure by the time I reached with paddle the prominent point mid-pond. A few casts killed time before the pond’s surface was broken by the rising form of a brook trout to my right. A reflexive cast and a short strip of a muddler minnow through the ripple produced a quick strike, and strong 14-inch northern brookie was soon to hand.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Emerging rise-forms grew more numerous as light faded, and the song of the willowing loon bounced off the walls of a shrinking world. Soon the light of an early moon was all there was, save for me, the loons, and the brook trout, and the memory of my last day of summer in Maine.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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