March 01, 2008

A warm shack (on a frozen river): Part I

"So, how does this thing stay on top of the ice?" I asked, several hours into our evening on the Cathance River.
Smelt shanties on the Cathance...

By then we had already baited our hooks with some pretty evil-looking blood worms, dropped our lines into the cold, dark water, eaten our oily Italian subs, finished off a few beers, and settled in for the Big Wait in smelt shanty #31, a 8' x 10' shack that appeared to have been assembled from scrap lumber and discarded siding.


"Good question...haven't really thought about it," replied Paul, our resident Mainer, veteran fisherman, experienced outdoorsman, and renter of shanty #31.


The trip began 24 hours earlier with a less complicated question: should we have a second beer or try to figure out which platform our train would be leaving from? A nasty nor'easter had descended on Boston, threatening to cancel our weekend plans, and my friend Dan and I were hunkered down amidst a mass of irritable commuters at a bar inside North Station waiting for our train, the “Downeaster,” to board. Dan is a trivia jockey, Quaker, Canadian dual-citizen, Giant’s fan, and returned Peace Corp volunteer who has eaten cuy--but he had never sat on a frozen river waiting for the smelt to bite.


After a slight delay at the bar, we boarded the train and found our seats in what was an extremely crowded car (Who are these people? Who goes to Maine in late February?). Eventually, settling into the restaurant car with a pint of bourbon and a packet of beef jerky, we took the Downeaster, North, through the nor'easter to Portland, ME. Conversation drifted between topics: new indie bands, old indie bands, the relative merits of the New Yorker as compared to Harpers and The Atlantic, and other pseudo-hipster-urbanite nonsense deserving of some serious dirty looks at a smelt camp in Maine.

The Downeaster (on a nicer day)

The train slowly chugged through the snow, arrived at the Portland train station a bit later than expected, and spewed us forth with the masses of Mainers. We met Paul at the curb out front and were whisked away into the night in his family's mini-van for a mellow evening of microbrews and billiards in the Old Port, followed by a decent nights sleep in the suburbs of Portland...