March 26, 2011

The Myth of the Wee River Beasties

Twilight on the frozen river

Our pursuit of the elusive rainbow smelt has become somewhat of a winter tradition--a futile one, but a tradition nonetheless. We've changed locations, camps, and rivers; battled snow storms, extreme cold, and unseasonable thaws; and we've gone from cheap cans of beer and failed experiments with Chelada, to a sampling of various New England craft brews. We still haven't enjoyed much success, though it is fishing, after all. Success is relative.

This year, we rented a larger (5-man) smelt shack at a new site: Webb's Store in Randoph, Maine, which was basically a small gas station that sells beer, various kinds of jerky, beer [sic], and those God-awful bloodworms. I think they sell gas, too. It also rents smelt shanties, which are located on the frozen river directly behind the store. According to Paul, we would be fishing "on the Mainstem of the Mighty Kennebec! We will be near the head of tide, or rather just down stream of it, across from Gardiner and the esteemed Cobbosseecontee Stream." I had no idea what this meant, but the Internet told me that Randolph is the smallest town in Maine, geographically speaking (about 2 square miles). Fishing for small fish in the smallest town seemed to make sense.

The intense glare of the smelthunter

We arrived at our hotel in downtown Portland, ME on Friday afternoon, after a quick pitstop at the Portsmouth Brewery, halfway between Boston and Portland, and discovered the 2 “queen-sized” beds were made for hobbit queens, and no one seemed to be able to locate the hotel's roll-away bed(s). There would be 3 of us staying there and our cozy room was not for the mansqueamish.

Sisyphus of fishermen

The next evening, in our smelt shanty on the frozen river behind Webb's Store, we cut up our terrible little blood worms into tiny pieces, baited our tiny hooks, drank beer, listened to Muddy Waters, cooked kielbasa and onions in a cast iron skillet on a kerosene heater, ran out of beer (but made "last call" at the store to replenish our supply), and felt slightly uneasy by the occasional loud cracking sounds that the ice made outside. Alas, we did not catch smelt. Four hours on the ice, the tide came and went, and not one of our 15 lines moved even slightly. Their inexplicable elusiveness over the past few years has made the little buggers almost mythical. We did not catch any centaurs either, by the way.
Bloodworm carnage (and Hugh)

Worn out and slightly drunk from 4 hours on the ice drinking fancy, high alcohol beers, we headed back toward Portland. We lost one member of the group to drunkeness (we're far too old for this kind of reckless behavior) and another to an illness that hit him earlier in the day, however, two of us caught a second wind. We went to have "one more" beer, at Novare Res only to find out that their "3rd Annual BONJOUR--We're really not f@#king around (but we love you and want you to be happy)--FEST" meant that everything on tap was 9% alcohol or higher. This was not the ideal way to end the night.
Hugh poses with his streptococcus

Sunday was a bit hazy. We woke late, and went to breakfast at the usual joint, deciding on the way that we would not be tempted to order their delicious homemade donuts in addition to our breakfast, then ordered them anyway. Who can resist the "Elvis" with peanut butter and banana filling?  We returned home, days passed, and the memory faded, until one day, LSB informed me that there was a surprise for me in the fridge.  Turns out that smelt are not mythical.  They do exist.  They're available at Whole Foods.