Striking It Rich

We returned to Maine on Sunday night, and the next day, after the rain cleared and the sun shone, I decided to go hiking.  Ten days before, I had gone walking in the woods in Evans Notch, on an easy, underused 5-mile-long trail that meanders along the Cold River.  It was my “farewell hike,” as we would be traveling the next day to our hometown for the holiday of Shavuot, along with the yahrzeit of my mother-in-law.  We would be in our hometown for only a week, but it was wonderful to see our kids and grandchildren again and reconnect with friends.

The water was flowing nicely, when I reached an area of quiet, deep water.  The water was crystal clear, and lo and behold, I saw two groups of thirty brown trout, all 18″ – 21″ long!  Sadly, I didn’t have a fishing pole with me, but I promised myself to return.

Brook trout in Cold River

Brook trout in Cold River

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(too bad this was taken with my cell phone, instead of my camera and polarizing lens . . . )

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I walked back to my car and drove a couple of miles further to The Basin, where I parked my car and ate a picnic lunch.  There I met a retired gentleman who was fishing at Basin Pond.  He and his wife were staying at the campground there.  Within 15 minutes he had caught his limit of 5 brook trout.  When I told him about the brown trout I had seen in Cold River, his eyes lit up.  He told me that New Hampshire Fish & Game sometimes stocks their “old” breeders there, which makes sense, since several nearby lakes have been stocked recently (Kewaydin Lake, near me, was stocked a week ago by Fish & Game with 400 trout).

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

This guy caught 5 trout in 15 minutes

One of the brook trout he caught

One of the brook trout he caught

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

The Basin in Evans Notch, site of my picnic lunch

Another view of The Basin

Another view of The Basin

Now back in Maine, I was eager to revisit this “secret” fishing hole and I encouraged my husband to come along after work, so at 5:15 p.m. we drove to Evans Notch, parked, and walked the 20 minutes to the site I remembered.  Alas, even though we spotted the fish, they were not biting.  Disappointed, we made our way back to the car and began the 6-mile drive home.  We turned down the dirt road at Deer Hill and halfway to our house at the 3-mile mark, my husband spotted a cow moose (female) at Deer Hill bog, grazing in the water.  Our first actual moose sighting of the season!

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

Cow Moose at Deer Hill Bog

The itch to fish was not over, however.  It was now 7:30 p.m.  and there wouldn’t be much daylight left, but I dropped my husband off at home and set out alone for Kewaydin Lake.  Within a mile of our house, along the road, I saw a cow moose walking along the road.   I couldn’t believe my luck – – two moose sightings in one day!

The sunset on Kewaydin Lake was beautiful, and best of all, the fish were definitely biting!  I caught a smallmouth bass almost immediately and called it a day. . . or so I thought.  As I neared my house in the near-darkness, I suddenly sensed a shadow – and as I slowed my car I saw a bull moose, his antlers in velvet, running alongside my car.   I stopped and watched it run off into the woods, and then continued home.  About 100′ feet before reaching my driveway, I saw a moose calf walking along the road.  That’s four moose in one day spotted in my neck of the woods . . . a new personal record.  I only felt bad my husband had missed the excitement.

Two years ago, my husband and I made a deal.  I had bought him a fishing license, but he was just too grossed out impaling a worm on a hook to continue fishing!  Since non-resident fishing licenses are not cheap ($64 a year), I told him that unless he could get over his phobia, I would be putting the fishing license in my name the following year.  And so, I have been the family fisherman ever since.  He told me if I would catch the fish, he would clean it.  I guess he thought that he wouldn’t have to make good on this promise, since I am a newbie and don’t really know what I’m doing.  And I was beginning to wonder if the only fish we’d ever eat would come out of a can:  I caught plenty of fish, but they were either not good eating fish (yellow perch) or too small to meet Fish & Game regulation size.  I always had to throw them back.

Well, now it was payback time.  The fish was still alive and swimming in a water-filled ice chest, surviving the bumpy ride home.  I left my husband the gruesome task of killing and cleaning the fish.  It seemed cruel to let it die by slowly suffocating out of water.  In a fit of manliness my husband got the idea to behead it quickly with an axe and proceeded to clean it at the kitchen sink.  Now, why killing and gutting a flopping fish is less gross than threading a worm on a hook I don’t understand, but I’m not complaining.

I dipped the fish in a beaten egg white, dusted it with flour seasoned with pepper and parsley, sprayed some oil on an iron skillet, and moments later the fish was sizzling in the pan on the fire.  I was careful not to over cook.  It was truly the sweetest, most tender and delicious fish I have ever eaten – and certainly the freshest!  (Not to mention expensive – I called it “my $64 fish” – since this was the only fish caught so far on the new fishing license.)

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For me it was a kind of test.  I wanted to know if I was capable of “hunting” and eating my “prey,”  albeit in a kosher manner.  Or would I be too sentimental?

I guess I’m too cold-hearted (or perhaps I was too hungry!) but I confess I was not particularly emotional about the entire experience.  Yes, I felt bad about the poor fish to some extent, but it also gave me an appreciation for the workings of nature in HaShem’s world, and the idea that He has created things for our sustenance – –  that is a chesed (kindness).  The fact that we have to work so hard for our food makes it impossible to take life and death casually or for granted.  I’m not saying I don’t appreciate the convenience of going to the supermarket for my food!  But by shopping for our food we have lost that hunter-gatherer connection, and the many important life lessons that go along with that.  Fishing does serve to reconnect us to those primal and spiritual roots.

What a great Maine day!

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