Dog Days — Sirius Rises, Fishing Falls

When Orion’s dog, Sirius, rises at dawn, we all begin panting. Homer — not Simpson but the ancient Greek poet — beautifully described the phenomenon in the Iliad:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
(Stanley Lombardo translation)

Forty days and forty nights of oppressive heat, three-shirt three-shower days, sweat-soaked pillows, and wilted conversation, when “Hot enough for ya?” is about all we can muster by way of humor. Fish lie gasping in the spring holes, anglers lie panting in the hammock, both waiting for the crisp cool days of autumn when the trout will again stir themselves and begin to think about sex. The heat does give us a good excuse for tall gin-and-tonics, and it does ripen the local corn and the wild Maine blueberries, so we give thanks for those blessings even as we droop and drip.

The ponds and streams are low and slow. At Upper Dam, my home water, I got skunked the last time out. (Inevitably, I will hear that the following day fish were leaping all over the pool.) And at Upper Dam it’s not just the water levels that affect the fishing, but the reconfiguration of the pool’s currents. Since the demolition of the old dam, all the water from Mooselookmeguntic has been flowing through the new dam’s auxiliary gate, which is located at the far end of the dam. When the water begins flowing through he new dam’s main gates, when put into service later this summer, the historic currents will be pretty much restored, we are told.

The new Upper Dam



Upper Dam, still under construction. (Nick Mills Photo)

But while the Upper Dam pool is low and slow, I see on the very useful Waterline website  that the East Outlet dam at Moosehead is running a respectable 1800 CFS, providing a good water level for wading, so I’ll head up there and I’ll wade, and cast a fly, and possibly catch a trout or a salmon.

The unusually hot, dry weather (we may be on track to break 2015’s record for the planet’s hottest year on record) might be playing a role in the diminished numbers of large Atlantic salmon returning to Maine rivers this summer. According to the Atlantic Salmon Federation‘s “River Notes,” this year’s run of large salmon to date on the Penobscot is fewer than half of last year’s run, with 287 of the big fish reported as of July 25, compared to a count of 645 by July 29 of last year. The good news is that so far, this year’s run of grilse is three times that of last year’s, 215 to 70. A grilse is a young salmon, making its first return from the sea to its natal river. The greater numbers coming into the Penobscot this summer may bode well for future runs of mature salmon. Why are the junior fish called “grilse”? I have been told that it’s because they are just the right size for grilling. That may or may not be true, but if you happen to catch one, please do not grill it! Set it free or you may be facing a stiff fine.

Meanwhile, Sirius reigns, so fire up the backyard grill, cook a slab of farm-raised salmon, serve with local corn and wild blueberries and rest your fly rod for a while.

Nick Mills

About Nick Mills

Full disclosure: I was not born in Maine, alas! I was born in Massachusetts, but the family moved to Maine when I was eleven, and I grew up in Thomaston. My dad was skipper of one of the draggers that sailed out of Rockland, in the days when it was a rough-tough working fishing port. When he came in from the sea his favorite activity was freshwater fishing with me and my brother, Peter. We learned together to flyfish for trout in the Alder Stream in Eustis. Once hooked on the sport, pun intended, I fished at every opportunity in every place I could -- in the rivers, streams and ponds of Maine; in the mountain ponds of Utah, where I was stationed for a year in the Army; in high Andean lakes in Colombia, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer; even in a lagoon that surrounded one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad. I tried once to go trout fishing in northern Afghanistan, when the U.S.S.R. occupied that country; a landslide blocked my path, but that led to a more interesting adventure, which I will tell you about in a future post.