The Landlocked Salmon of Grand Lake Stream
By Shelagh Talbot Photograph of Brian Moore on Grand Lake Stream taken by his father, David.
here is a fabled land, talked about in fly-fishing circles in respectful tones. The landlocked salmon - Salmo salar - caught are legendary and folks have been flocking there since the mid-1800s to experience this extraordinary part of the world in Washington County, Maine. According to the website for Grand Lake Stream, “the hospitality offered by lodges, sporting camps, inns, and guides has been a mainstay since the 1800’s. This area has the largest guide’s association in the state of Maine. Their tradition of using/building Grand Laker Canoes (square stern) and cooking sumptuous meals on the shores of the lakes is incomparable to any outdoor experience. Many celebrities have come to this area and return because of all that is offered here.” In regards to the fish, the website (grandlakestream.org) informs us “the value of the salmon in the area was recognized early on. In 1868, Commissioners of Fisheries in Maine and Massachusetts collected eggs and matured them in a spring in the woods. In 1871, they built a rough log building over the spring. A report from 1877 states: of the 2,159,000 eggs obtained, 470,000 were hatched for Grand Lake. The rest (was) shipped out. This was the beginning of the hatchery.” The area was, and still is, known for its salmon fishing as well as excellent bass fishing, bird hunting and family oriented vacations. Outdoor writer Bud Leavitt was especially fond of the area and he did much to promote it, including inviting his friend, baseball great Ted Williams and Red Sox broadcaster Curt Goudy. One person who has the Grand Lake Stream area etched in his soul is author and biologist Dennis LaBare. Since he was a small boy, he has fished the waters of Grand Lake with his father Leo, sharing the older man’s passion for fly-fishing as well as the wild beauty of the area. He has written a seminal book about the salmon, calling the book Tagewahnahn, which is the Passamaquoddy name
Dennis LaBare’s tan caddis - Hydropshche morosa. Photograph courtesy of Stacy LaBare
The Hatchery at Grand Lake Stream photographed in 1914. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Walter Brown for this magnificent fish (pronounced tag-a-wa-non). The Passamaquoddy of eastern Maine were the first peoples to appreciate this remarkable fish and legends told around ancient campfires
lived on for centuries. To this day petroglyphs are etched on rocks at key locations along the river system that includes Grand Lake Stream. â€ƒ The book traces the fishing history of the area, including ancient Indian routes following the streams and lakes in that part of Washington County. Originally these fish were distributed in
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Celebrities who have loved fishing Grand Lake Stream. From top left and clockwise: Phil Donahue (in the foreground); Buffalo Bob and Ted Williams (courtesy of Kathy Leen); George Carlin (who autographed his picture to his guide Dave Tobey); and Bud Leavitt. Photos of Phil Donahue and George Carlin courtesy of Dave and Debbie Tobey. Photo of Bud Leavitt courtesy of the Bangor Daily News. only four river basins Dennis said. The rivers were the St Croix, including West Grand Lake, the Union River, including Green Lake near Ellsworth in Hancock County, the Penobscot, including Sebec Lake in Piscataquis County, and the Presumpscot, including Sebago Lake in Cumberland County. As time passed, many fish hatcheries were created, one of the best being at Grand Lake Stream. The folks at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife take their fishery management seriously, as does LaBare. He devotes 87 pages of his book to the science of preserving this legendary fish. Grand Lake Stream (or, GLS for those in the know) runs for almost three miles, with various fishing pools along the way, each with its own name and history. “When I was a boy,” Dennis wrote, “there were five basic pools: The Dam, The Hatchery Pool, The Cable Pool, Picnic Grounds. a.k.a. Little Falls and the Elm Stump.
As a kid, when asked by my Uncle Earl where I’d fished on a given day, my reply might be ‘Picnic Grounds and the Elm Stump,’ which were not far away from our place on Big Lake, or far apart; good for a kid who walked or rode a bike wherever he went.” LaBare devotes 25 pages to the hatches of insects occurring during the season at Grand Lake Stream. “The river is a great looking glass into the natural world,” he writes. “Everything in it had a purpose, all creatures have a job … In the twenty-first century the modern fly angler needs little if any introduction to the importance of understanding the relationship between in-stream life and fishing. “Since the fourteenth century, and evolving over hundreds of years, anglers have slowly but surely elucidated the connection between river invertebrates and their offerings to feeding fish – nowadays to a significant level of detail.” It’s the theory of “match the hatch” you will hear fly-tyers and fishermen talk about.
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At left: a female Hendrickson Mayfly (Ephemerella subvaria). The male of this species is often referred to as a Red Quill. The Hendrickson hatch is almost synonymous with fly fishing in America. It has been romanticized by our finest writers and this fame is truely welldeserved. Ephemerella subvaria is a prolific species which drives trout to gorge themselves, much to the delight of hopeful anglers in the spring of the year.
“The beauty of fly-fishing to the hatches of your favorite rivers is that, with slight variation, and barring an environmental catastrophe, year after year the same insects can be found at about the same time,” writes LaBare. “Over the four-plus decades I’ve fished the stream, I’ve come to look for those markers in time – the hatches – enriched by memories of fish, and fishless evenings, that keeps me coming back.” When LaBare retired in 2002, he followed the hatches through the spring and summer months as he systematically observed and recorded insect activity on Grand Lake Stream, collecting and photographing what he found. He even discovered a way of removing stomach matter from fish without harming them. His friend and fishing buddy, Bruce Craddock came up with a
device using a discarded hospital syringe, minus the needle, fitted with a small section of clear plastic tubing. It would extract stomach contents gently and speedily. LaBare enlisted the help of other anglers and then posted his findings on a popular website, FlyfishinginMaine.com. “It makes sense that what the fish actually eat is of interest,” LaBare observed. The last chapter of this beautifully-conceived book deals with the long history of Grand Lake Stream and some of the characters, both famous and infamous, who fished in its waters over the years. “An especially large influence on the fame of Grand Lake Stream would have to be the writings of Bud Leavitt of the Bangor Daily News whose career began in 1937,” writes LaBare. “Every
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May, with the weather improving and many anglers beginning to think of fishing, Leavitt would have a piece about early spring salmon fishing at Grand Lake Stream … For Mainers in particular, Leavitt was a household name, and his writings helped build the reputation of Grand Lake Stream.” As mentioned earlier, Ted Williams, Red Sox baseball legend was a friend of Leavitt’s and a regular visitor along with sportscaster Curt Goudy. Progressive economist John Kenneth Gailbraith was supposedly fond of the place and so were members of the rock band, Three Dog Night. ”I have no evidence, unfortunately, that Galbraith actually made it to GLS,” said Dennis. But other celebrities that came for the legendary fly-fishing included Buffalo Bob Smith from the Howdy Doody Show, talk show host Phil Donahue, Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion in the original Wizard of Oz and the irrepressible comedian, now the late George Carlin. In the prologue to this book, John J. Boland, Director of the Fisheries Division of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in 2006 felt this to be a very special book indeed. “Dennis LaBare has a lifelong familiarity with Grand Lake Stream and its legendary landlocked salmon,” he wrote. “This area is one of Maine’s most storied fishing destinations and for more than a century, anglers from around the world have traveled here for the fabulous fishing opportunities … Brook trout may be the most sought after fish in Maine, but for seasoned anglers, hooking a landlocked salmon on a fly is the ultimate Maine flyfishing experience.” John Randolph, editor and publisher of Fly Fisherman echoes Boland’s enthusiasm for the stream and LaBare’s seminal work. “Why not create archival river corridors where man-made pressures cannot intrude, where wild salmon and steelhead thrive in restored or preserved pristine (pre-industrial-human development) habitats?” he asks. “Such a restored archival river exists. It is called Grand Lake Stream. This important book describes how manrestored quality fisheries of the modern world can be created now and henceforth enjoyed by future generations. Thanks to Dennis LaBare,” he adds, “for telling us how it has already been done.
Salmon hurl themselves up the fishways at the dam at Grand Lake Stream. Photo courtesy of Dennis LaBare. Below: Stacy LaBare’s map of Grand Lake Stream
Below: Eggs being stripped from a female salmon. Photo courtesy of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife
The book, divided into seven parts and an epilogue, is profusely illustrated – with more than 200 photographs, old and new, maps, graphs, and all sorts of memorabilia from the many sporting camps that dotted that landscape. It draws you in and captivates you with not only the content, but also the engaging way it is written. Certainly it has been a labor of love for LaBare, who was first introduced to the area in the 1950s by his father Leo. Labare’s research is meticulous, his writing sensitive and thoughtful. There are only 1,000 copies of this amazing book in print, making it an obvious and highly collectable item. Hopefully the demand will be such that a reprint will be required. Twentyfive percent of the net proceeds from the sale of this book (after taxes) will be divided between the Grand Lake Stream Historical Society and the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited. At this writing, sixty-seven hundred dollars have been donated. LaBare is a life member of Trout Unlimited and has been honored by that noble society in receiving their highest award for a volunteer – The Trout Unlimited Conservation Award, Non-Professional. He is also a Registered Maine Guide. Since his retirement (He has an advanced degree in stream ecology and has taught a graduate course in it at Johns Hopkins as well as running his own environmental consulting firm), he and his wife Stacy divide their time between their beloved summer home on nearby Big Lake and a winter home in the mountains of West Virginia. Stacy was the creator of the map of GLS. She classically trained as a geographic cartographer at Dartmouth College and also holds an M.S. in Forestry from the University of Maine. LaBare is extremely modest about his book. “I’m not a writer. I’m not a historical researcher,” he said. “I’m just a guy who came to be attached to this place, and had an educational background that lent itself to many of the topics, technically,” LaBare continued. “But as much as anything else, I had time.” “For all who love this river, this place,” he writes in his epilogue, “for each of us there is a special something— that scent of pine, loons in the night, wood smoke, the roar of the falls, waves on the shore — that no matter where we are, when we experience them in our mind’s eye, we are transported here, and it’s always about ‘getting back.’” You are invited to contact Dennis about his book. Email him at email@example.com or call him at 207.796.5358, midMay through October. His summer address is 49 Memory Lane, Big Lake Township, ME, 04668. Check out his Website at www.glssalmon.com. This book belongs on the shelf of any serious fly fishermen; not only as an ideal resource regarding the sport but also as a paean to the extraordinary fish LaBare celebrates. And if you are looking for some really special brownie points, netting this beauty of a book for your favorite angler is sure to be a cherished gift for years to come. Special thanks to Dennis and Stacy LaBare for use of photographs appearing in the book - Tagewahnahn, The Landlocked Salmon of Grand Lake Stream.
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