Allow me to set the scene…
It’s late in the evening following a day of fishing and fine eating. A group of eight men, aged twenty-five to sixty-six, are enjoying time together in a semi-rustic Maine fishing cabin. Four of them are playing cribbage while the others check fishing tackle and debate who should be on the Mount Rushmore of Boston Sports. The peaceful moment is interrupted when a mouse peeps out from under a couch and scurries across the room, disappearing through an unseen crack in the fireplace bricks. A few moments later he dashes back to the couch, seemingly oblivious to the humans gathered in his home. This back and forth continues over a twenty-minute period and with each pass there’s an unsuccessful effort to force the animal outside. Finally, one of the men, the oldest in the group, has had enough. He stands, grabs a small shovel from the fireplace utensils, and pursues the mouse, disappearing around a corner. The other men hear grunting and metal hitting the floor. The sounds are eerily similar to a well-made horror movie where the gruesome acts occur offscreen and the viewer’s reaction is created by his/her imagination. The noises stop and there’s absolute silence. A moment later, the poor rodent’s carcass flies across the room, traveling twenty feet in the air and landing with an unceremonious plop in the center of the cribbage game, sending the four players scattering in momentary panic and surprise. The whole group has a good laugh.
I imagine there’s a wide range of reactions to the above story. I’m sure some readers will find it disgusting, revolting, and, perhaps, inhumane. Other readers, though, may view what happened the way I do. You see, I was one of the four cribbage players. As an eyewitness, I can say the “The Night of the Mouse Grenade” was one of the great experiences of my life. It is a memory I’ll cherish forever.
Beginning in the late 1980’s, every June my brothers and I have carved a few days out of our calendars to fish in Maine. Other attendees have varied, but the three of us rarely miss. For example, our favorite uncle went on one of the trips and our dad came with us a few times. One of my friends from college came for a several years, too. He was (and is) a heck of a fisherman.
Most importantly, upon reaching the age of eighteen, our sons began participating. This age was chosen because, while my brothers and I are good citizens and strong family men, the content of our conversations on the trip sometimes gets a little “salty.” We thought waiting until our sons were more seasoned was appropriate. We did make an exception when the last nephew began attending at the age of sixteen. We didn’t want him being the only one excluded. If you’re dating or living with one of our daughters you are not invited. This is true regardless of the length of the relationship. However, as soon as you commit and “cough up a ring,” you’re in.
There are a million things I could write about these trips and there’s no way I can truly capture how they feel. However, I thought I’d provide some detail on a few major categories.
Binge Fishing – We fish all day, regardless of conditions, and sometimes after dinner too. When it rains, we’ll put on rain suits and bail the water out of the boat. If it’s windy, we’ll find a cove. When we’re cold, we bundle up. We’re sometimes out so long, we’ve had people on shore worried that we got lost or had problems on the water. The only thing that gets us off the water is lightning. The binge fishing concept is not for everyone. In the words of one of my nieces: “I like fishing but not that much.”
Tackle – Anyone who knows a golfer is aware that he or she is always one club away from fixing their game. The same is true for fishermen. On our trip, every year there seems to be a new magic bait. Sometimes this works. For example, after receiving a recommendation to fish with a plastic worm called the Wave Worm, we’re all very loyal to the brand. These worms are permeated with a proprietary scent called Molopo and can only be purchased online (wavefishing.com.) I have the GNP of a small country tied up in Wave Worms of various colors and styles. On the flip side, there are those baits that never catch a single fish. The best example is the Footer. The Footer is a fishing fly we were assured was deadly for stalking brook trout. My brothers and I each dutifully bought a dozen or so before one of our trips. We became suspicious after stopping at a tackle shop in Maine and asking the owner about the man who tied the Footer. His response was a succinct, “well, he’s a good taxidermist.” I’ve never caught anything using one.
Food – on the trip we eat like kings. Whether the lodge feeds us or we cook our own dinners, we feast on steaks, lobsters, homemade meatballs, and breakfast meat. We usually take enough snacks, in the form of cookies, candy, or Chex Mix, to feed an army brigade. Also, there’re always red Twizzlers, something I wouldn’t eat at any other time of the year. I’m not sure what Twizzlers are made of but I guarantee they’re not natural. For some reason, though, we consume them at an alarming rate once we cross the Maine border. Also, my oldest brother always insists on fruit. I’m not sure I’ve ever consumed a piece while on the trip. The best part of the food, however, are the years we stop for a shore lunch. This involves finding an island, making a fire, and cooking some sort of game meat. Also, while we are almost exclusively “catch and release” fishermen, we usually cook up a bass or two.
Cigars – For 362 days each year, I don’t smoke. While fishing, I consume five to six cigars a day. Everyone on the trip does. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it’s, well, manly. The second is that in Maine during June the bugs can be fierce. Cigar smoke can help keep them at bay. Almost everyone on the trip smokes a high-quality cigar. I, however, have to smoke the cheap cigars you buy at your average convenience store. This is because with a good cigar the nicotine levels make me sick. I learned this during one of our trips when, after smoking something called a Macanudo, I had to lie on the bottom of the canoe until the nausea subsided. Nowadays, while my boat mate is cutting off the end of his cigar and doing that thing where you light the tip evenly before the cigar even gets to your mouth, I’m unwrapping something made of, I’m guessing, a low-quality tobacco leaf wrapped with newspaper.
Debates – Each trip is filled with verbal wrestling matches. The most common one is whether Tom Brady or Bill Belichick is more responsible for the New England Patriots’ twenty-year run of success (for the record, I’m in the Brady camp.) Another is whether or not baseball is a dying sport. One year, a few of us spent dinner discussing a California town’s ordinance requiring owners to call their dogs and cats companions as opposed to pets. It’s safe to say none of these issues has ever been resolved.
Nature – The places we visit are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. We spent many years fishing on Pierce Pond, a location as unspoiled and wild as you can find and still sleep in a bed at night. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to see a wide range of wildlife, including moose, deer, beaver, coyotes, loons, and bald eagles. Even when the fishing’s slow, we can explore and enjoy some amazing forest and untouched islands.
Of course, the real benefit of taking the trip are the memories. There’s too many to list and some of them aren’t suitable for a family column. However, I’ll list a few to give you an idea.
One year the owner of the lodge was having trouble with raccoons. We volunteered to try and resolve the issue by hanging a bag of lobster shells from the window of our cabin. After it got dark, we took turns sitting by the window holding a 22-caliber rifle, ready to eliminate the pests. The experiment was a dismal failure, especially when we heard the raccoons going through the trash at the main lodge and the owner didn’t have his rifle with him.
Another time, I watched an Appalachian Trail hiker eat a twelve-pancake breakfast. He had come off the trail for a meal and, after polishing off the pile, was still hungry. He was also the thinnest human being I’ve ever seen.
Of course, there’s the fishing memories. There was one trip when the fish were on a fierce feeding frenzy. I actually caught a bass my brother had lost a few moments before—his plastic crayfish was still embedded in the fish’s lip. On another day, my middle brother and I reeled in so many fish we got tired by 3:00 and wanted to get off the water early. My favorite though was on my son’s first trip. Shortly after a rainstorm, the sun came out and the fish started biting. He and I found a small cove full of chain pickerel and had a great time catching them while our clothes dried off.
There are so many things I could tell you about—bathing in a mountain stream, listening to my oldest brother get sick (trust me on this one), fish hooks in fingers/ears, me yelling that the trip was getting too civilized because we were watching SportsCenter, casting the movie The Godfather using family members (I was Michael Corleone), the fun we’ve had on the ride up, realizing we forgot to put the CO2 cartridges in our life preservers as we were packing to return home, seeing a ghost in the cabin, my I-want-to-go-into-the-woods-and-forget-the-world nephew being upset after discovering he could find our camp on the GPS, and my oldest brother’s fascination with a guy named Koutrakis, a 400-pound convenience store manager who owned a half-wolf dog and, apparently, played cribbage better than anyone in history.
Every year, I look forward to our three days in the Maine woods. Although I know someday it will end, the Fishing Trip is a thirty-plus year tradition I wish could continue forever. While I can, however, I’m going to savor each moment and enjoy my time in the woods and on the water.
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