It’s late August and it’s been dry and warm for weeks in northern Maine. The brook trout of the blueberry-framed ponds of the North Woods seem all but non-existent—in the daylight. Beautiful Crystal Pond is just that—crystal clear. Shallow around the banks, but dropping off quite sharply several yards out to untold depths, where icy water lures the trout when surface temps soar. Now, there’s not a hint of life subsurface, but for when the loon makes a dive and unseen stabs at lunch.
The loon had made its first melodic howl to the stars when piscine life first made itself apparent. That first searching tremolo signifies impending dusk. It came earlier than usual on this night, but was welcome. The golden hour is a magical time, particularly for fishing during the heat of summer, and an early start would be heeded.
A gentle rise form shattered the spruce-painted glass of the pond with an audible pop! It was obvious what the fish were feeding on. The end of the day brings respite from the wind of the sunlit hours. Winged flight becomes easier, particularly for the small insects that abound. If you’re ever inclined to believe that you’re at the top of the food chain in the Maine woods, the whining of zeroing mosquitos will remind you of your place. When they land on the water, trout make fast meals of them.
I slapped my forearm, smearing another mosquito as a trout slapped the surface of the pond. Ali was finishing washing dishes stained with the carnage of biscuits filled with leftover ham, eggs, and cheese. I smothered the fire and strung up fly rods, complete with long leaders and small Adams dry flies.
The sun was hanging below the outline of spruce and fir when we broke free from the granite beach of camp and pushed into the pond. Rises were becoming more frequent, but sporadic still. Most appeared outside of casting range.
As the sun sank lower, and light disappeared from the scene, more and more fish were rising off a small mid-pond point. We paddled in the general direction, rested the paddles, and waited.
Another rise form appeared. A loud pop! that left a bubble floating in its place. I made a quick false cast and dropped my fly in its center and waited. Nothing. Then another rise. This time quiet and only detectable by sight. I dropped my fly in the center of the expanding rings after a few sharp false casts and waited.
There was little sound, but the swishing of water and the appearance of a rise form where my fly had been. I bent my four-weight with a sharp upward flick of the rod tip, and the game was on. An immediate surface froth turned into a heavy surge for deeper water. The gentle, quiet rises generally betray larger fish, and I guessed this to be one.
The fight was comprised of short, deep runs and surface frothing, all the way to the canoe, and into the net. A respectable native trout of about 13 inches in Maine is a toothy and spirited beast, and it took me some time in the dark to pry the small #16 hook from tooth and skin.
When at last I had, there were fish rising all around the boat. I could hear them. But it was dark. We made way for camp, where the coarse gravel of Katahdin’s ancestors brought the bow to a scraping halt.
The heat and lack of rain had reduced the pool of the pond. Yards of exposed granite gravel extended from the blueberry fringes of the pond. As I stood there, rod in hand, canoe beached, I could still hear rises—close. Just a few yards from shore. Then a loud one, within easy casting range. I unstrung my fly quickly and made a sloppy cast in the direction of the sound.
I couldn’t see it, but I knew the fly had been eaten. A quick hookset brought more surface frothing and failed attempts at deep runs in the shallow bay. Another respectable trout of about 12 inches.
When I had released the fish, I stood, content, by the water’s edge. Fine gravel and a vast aquatic world at my feet, shrouded in darkness it seemed an ocean filled with surface-crashing predators, but for the aroma of spruce and sweet water.
Another audible rise—to my right—snapped me out of my admiration. It was hidden by the dark reflection of trees on the surface until the expanding rings reached reflected moonlight. I dashed down the beach, dragging fly line coiled at my feet, false casting towards the sound and rings. I let the fly drop, and with a loud slurp! the game was on, again.