by Rod Johnson
The fishing day came and the two men busied themselves loading the fish rods, bait pail, their own lunch boxes and so on into one of father Clifford's green Rangley rowboats that he normally rented to others. Lee always had use of them at will, but had asked Dad if we could use the one with the newest 5 horsepower Johnson, as it would idle really well for trolling slowly.
They had told me the day before to "put up a lunch "and more importantly, go fishing in Bill Pulsifer's boat house real early in the morning. They wanted me to bring along at least a half dozen small perch to use as bait after removing the skin and innards. More to come on that.
My secret wish came true when Lee and Elmer piled into the boat, settling in on the middle and bow seats. The operator's rear seat was left empty, and I quickly gathered that they had no interest in driving and both just assumed I was going to. I had been running up and down the stream for a couple of years with those rental boats and they apparently had no qualms about my age or ability.
After opening the gas tank to see that the old men had filled it, I pushed the primer a few times, set the speed lever on the start position and pulled on the starter cord. The well-tuned 5 Johnson fired right up. I spun the motor around and backed away from the old rickety dock. In those days the motors had no reverse gear and many brands would merely swivel around a 360° rotation. We got headed out the stream without incident.
Before long the two men were digging around in their tackle boxes getting out various leaders and hooks. I noticed that Elmer started gutting and skinning the small white perch I had caught earlier in the boathouse. Once we cleared the mouth of the stream into Great Pond, Lee spoke above the motor noise and told me to head north. Fortunately, he pointed as well, as I really was not aware of compass directions at the age of 8. (Who cared!) We slowly plowed up the shore toward Dry Point when Elmer, now puffing on a semi-crushed roll-your-own cigarette, pointed a subtle index finger telling me not to go inside the black and white flag just off Dry Point.
In those days the lake was marked with flags on posts or anchor lines, not buoys. A black and white flag meant don't go between it and shore. Solid red designated a single rock, and all white in a group of two or more meant a shoal inside the flags. The Belgrade Lakes Association hired the local guides to mark the lake and had been doing so since the early part of the century. The State of Maine took over marking the lake some years later and adopted the statewide inland water marking system that we use today.
We skirted the point with ease then the two men nodded to each other and told me to stop. I slid the throttle back to the stop detent and the 5 Johnson ceased running. The quiet actually was welcomed and our focus then seemed to be getting hooks baited and in the water.
This was one of the parts of the day that I knew I was going to be given a big secret. Lee had in his hand a wire leader with two hooks coming out of it about 3" apart. Elmer handed him a neatly skinned white perch, and Lee placed the hooked leader into the length of the little fish and then began to sew the belly closed with a tiny braided copper wire. Once completed he put a small curvature into the bait fish and attached the leader's eyelet to his lead core line. We were going to be fishing just off the bottom of the lake, probably four or five colors down.
Lee plopped the bait and a few feet of line overboard and told me to start the motor and proceed very slowly forward. After doing so, Lee watched the bait as it wobbled nicely a foot or so under water before letting out more line. He seemed pleased with the action of the baitfish and slowly fed the line overboard. Eventually Lee said he thought the bait had hit bottom and reeled in one color. This time of year the salmon tended to hang in the deeper and cooler water.
Elmer was nearly ready to get our second rig overboard and eventually we got three lines out. The deal was, if someone got a fish on, the others would reel in quickly to try and avoid a tangle underwater. After we'd settled in and were proceeding towards "under the mountain", I noticed that Elmer and Lee were passing a bottle of something back and forth a bit. I thought little of it, as I knew about the whiskey back at the shop. As long as I could drive the boat, I didn't care what they did.
It wasn't long before Elmer gave a mighty yank on his rod. He said loudly, "Reel 'em in, I got a good one on." Lee and I reeled in, no small job with four colors of lead core out and a bait fish on it too. Elmer worked his rod slowly keeping tension, but letting the fish run if it overcame to reel's drag setting. Lee picked up the big net and readied himself should Elmer get the fish close to the side of the boat. Before long, a silver flash only a few feet down made our excitement peak and Elmer talked to the fish saying all kinds of good things and a few not so good. The fish had tired itself and it wasn't long before Elmer reeled it in along side. Lee cautiously slipped the net under the fish and slowly lifted the net partially out of the water.
What appeared flopping in the net was definitely the biggest fish I had seen in my few years. Lee announced it was a salmon of around 6 pounds or better, and later the scales showed it to be a "touch" under 7 pounds. The elation ran high but soon it was back to business with fresh bait and hooks in the water. We were nearing the Lambert's boathouse and it was near time to have a sandwich. We did so as we made a big wide U-turn towards Hoyt's Island with lines still in the water then headed back towards the village.
Before we ended the fishing day, we had three nice salmon on board and also released several smallies. I now knew the big secret of how to troll with lead core line and sewed-on bait. After reeling in for the last time, Elmer announced that the sun was over the yardarm. He took a serious haul out the nearly drained whiskey bottle and passed the last of it to Lee.
After draining the Old Mr. Boston, Lee slurred, "Take us home." I followed orders and put the little 5 horsepower on "wide open" and we passed Dry Point for the second time that day. We were nearing the mouth of the stream with a south wind on our nose and the two old men had settled quietly against their chair backs with grins on their faces. I remember most the smell that wafted back to me. I now know it as a mix of cigarette smoke, whiskey, and old men's sweat. I also now know that I took them fishing as much as they took me.
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.