June 26 – July 2, 2015Vol. 17, No. 4

When Fishes Were Wishes . . .

by Esther J. Perne

In the beginning, it was the fish that put Maine lakes on the map. A few hardy souls, men known as "sports," escaped from urban areas and took the transportation and wilderness challenge to get away from it all and fish. They stayed with families near the lakes, usually on farms, ate well and fished successfully.

The men of the host families, recognizing a rare opportunity for income honed their skills as guides for their city guests, and the sports, recognizing a rare opportunity in hospitality and angling, added to their groups of fellow adventurers with each return trip.

What the fishermen caught in size and kept in volume sounded too good to be true to the men back in the cities, especially those who wrote columns for newspapers. Gradually the reporters and journalists traveled to Maine to fish for themselves. Quickly the word got out. Enter the fishing camp era.

In the beginning, it was the fishing that inspired the accommodations and lodges that were built for the growing lake economy. Close to the water, conducive to a good night's sleep and capable of providing good food around a fishing schedule were the basic offerings of the original sports camps, where a variety of services such as ice and firewood delivery, boat boys, fishing guides and the inevitable pre-dawn wake-up bell enabled anglers to focus on fishing with few other demands or distractions. It was too good to be true and that must be what their families figured out. Enter the grand hotel.

How to go fishing with a family may have defined the era of the grand hotel. With more than enough recreation and entertainment, distractions and demands for everyone else in the family, an angler could easily and securely focus on fishing all day. Fishing guides were not only plentiful and skillful at their trade, they cooked a mean chowder come lunch time on some quiet shore far from the busy resort. It was almost too good to be true.

Hmm, some quiet shore far from the busy resort. Of course, fishing inspired the epoch of the private camps that slowly and inevitably were constructed around the lakes. A man and his guide could go fishing all day and the family could thrive on lakeside recreation or go visit the busy resort community. It was almost too good to be true except that some family members had found out about the chowder. They also suspected fishing provided an escape from the world's (even the simple world of the times) demands and distractions.

In the beginning, it was the fish that created the concept of the family visit to a Maine lake. They still do.