A good friend of mine – and an incredible fly angler – once told me a story he called the evolution of the fly fisherman:
When someone first learns to fish using a fly rod (and the same probably holds true of a spinning rod as well) they’re hell bent on catching a fish, no matter what kind. Then they’re similarly focused on catching as many fish as humanly possible and before too long the largest fish, who’s size they, of course, will embellish over time. As the angler acquires skill, he or she then looks to catch the smartest fish, or, without judging the intellect of fishes, at least the more difficult fish to catch. But after these stages, the angler looks to catch the eternal fish, by which I mean that the act of fishing has become more important than the result and, more importantly, that the angler has become focused on the conservation of fish and the ability of future generations to engage with fishing.
I love that story. Especially because, when he tells it, I’m transported immediately to the scene of Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) instructs Danny (Ralph Macchio) on the proper techniques of waxing cars … “wax on, wax off.”
Well your grasshopper here isn’t sure where he sits in this particular evolutionary chain of being – likely somewhere between the big fish and the smart one, although I remain skeptical that there are such defined stages along the road toward Zen master angler.
Because I am a resident of the hamlet of Bar Harbor here on Mt. Desert Island, with a job that limits the amount of recreational time at my disposal, and because that time constraint limits me to fishing in the waters of Acadia National Park (poor, poor baby), the big fish just isn’t much of a possibility at all.
Sure, our lakes and ponds have some big, beautiful land-locked salmon and brook trout, but I’m of the persuasion or the perversion that streams are where my boots should be. I don’t much care for fishing on ponds unless they are frozen and there is beer and fire.
But my real passion is fishing in creeks with tiny, dry flies and stalking if not always catching native brook trout. These are what might you call smart fish, although I may have taken an errant turn on the evolutionary tree branch toward just very small fish.
Though I’m hesitant to tell you about them all for fear you might spoil my tranquility, you should know that Acadia is crisscrossed with many such creeks that hold brook trout. There are about 46 watersheds on Mount Desert Island that feed these small streams as they make their way to Frenchman Bay in the east or Blue Bill Bay toward the West or the major ponds and lakes at the island’s center where most of you should focus your fishing.
But to those who are ready to brave the bugs and are comfortable with spending some time untangling line from the surrounding wilds that will without a doubt toy with your patience, consider these small streams. Consider Hunters Brook near Seal Harbor where the fish are especially plentiful in a last, large pool before the ocean. This is perhaps the one spot on the island where you can pretend to play Paul Maclean of River Runs Through It, with your epic false casts and all. Or consider Duck Brook right in Bar Harbor where there is one pool that I know holds a 10-inch trout. Be kind if you catch him – be sure you’re using a small hook (size 20 or smaller) where you’ve pinched the barb flat and, remember, this is a grandfather, monster fish where MDI inland fishing is concerned, don’t handle him with dry hands or keep him out of the water while you fumble with your iPhone to grab a picture. No one will be impressed, I promise.
Eventually, you will tire of these spots. I have. But I’ve developed a new approach to my fishing that will keep me interested for the foreseeable future. I’ve taken up the personal challenge of hunting these brook trout with the goal of catching said fish at the highest altitude, shooting for the pools furthest from where the stream hits the ocean, nearest the creek headwaters. Just yesterday I caught a fish about 20 yards downstream from the carriage road bridge on Jordan Stream – a new record for that stream. It was a mighty, three-inch brook trout who went after my caddis fly with the gusto of something very vicious or very hungry.
Here’s the thing: this kind of fishing isn’t for everyone. For the true beginner, I’d suggest searching for more open spots where you can find rhythm and shape in your cast and have better chances at finding that first fish. I’ve you’re driven toward the large or the many, you will be frustrated on these streams. But if you like getting to places in Acadia where not too many people have been, if you’re intrigued by the idea of understanding fish behavior and like cataloguing that behavior, if you can appreciate beautiful colors and attributes in the small as well as the large, I’d highly suggest bringing your rod and taking a detour upstream. Hope to see you there or, better yet, know you are enjoying a similar kind of experience elsewhere on MDI.
Darron Collins is a 1992 graduate of College of the Atlantic (COA) and, in July 2011, became the seventh president of COA and the first alumnus to hold that position. Prior to coming back to COA, Collins had been managing international and domestic projects at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for a decade. After four years of work in the Amazon Basin, he was asked to lead the organization’s strategic planning process. Then, during the later half of his career at WWF, Darron served as managing director for the Amur-Heilong Ecoregion—an area the size of Alaska, encompassing parts of Russia, Mongolia, and China—and as senior advisor to the organization’s CEO.
A native of Morris Plains, New Jersey, Collins is an avid fly-fisherman, cyclist, hiker, and trail runner. In the summer of 2015 Collins climbed 40 named peaks on Mount Desert Island in one single 27-hour expedition and continues to design and execute endurance adventures annually. He lives in Bar Harbor, Maine with his wife, Karen, their two daughters Maggie and Molly, and their black Lab named Lucy.