Flyfishing In A Bathtub: An August Day On The East Outlet

I did not realize how warm the water was until I fell in. I was working my way slowly downstream in knee-deep water, picking a path through the boulders below the Beach Pool on the East Outlet of the Kennebec with the aid of my stout wading staff. The rocks underfoot were slick with whatever that stuff is that coats underwater rocks in high summer. When I started to go down my first thought was for safety — that is, the safety and well-being of my flyrod. I held it on the horizontal, high enough so that it was about the only thing except my hat that did not get wet; it was not my first pratfall in a trout stream and I had my priorities straight. As water began to trickle past the belt of my waders and down into my boots, I had the sensation of sinking into a bathtub, or a swimming pool for wimps. Well. What did I expect, in the August of a hot, dry summer?

On shore I took off the boots, waders, socks, vest, bug-repellent shirt, soaking wet undershorts, and laid everything out on the picnic table at the campsite overlooking the pool. Fortunately I had extra clothes, though the day was so warm all I put on were cargo shorts, commando style, and a pair of Teva® sandals. Semi-naked, I resumed fishing.

Or, I should say, I resumed casting. It was already clear that there would be no fish involved in the day’s activities. But it was fine weather for casting. The only bugs I saw, and there were very few of them, were caddis, so I tied on one of the new ones I had bought at Dan Legere’s shop in Greenville and watched it float downstream high, dry and unmolested. I switched to a sink-tip line and drifted, swung, and hung a caddis nymph through the currents.

Before settling on the Beach Pool I had scouted the river above the Route 6 bridge. I watched a guy casting into the riffles where the waters in the deep pool below the dam shoal out and begin their three-and-a-half-mile tumble from Moosehead Lake to Indian Pond. Casting he was, catching he was not. A bit further down, two sports were casting from a drift boat, their guide at the long oars maneuvering them within easy casting range of familiar salmon lies. Neither rod bent. I hope the guide had warned them that the fishing would be slow before accepting their dough.

The Beach Pool is beautiful, a calendar-perfect image, a place where you just know you’ll hook a trophy fish on every third cast. Not today. But from far upriver I heard sounds of merriment, and looked up to see a colorful flotilla bouncing over the whitewater. From that distance it looked as though someone had dumped a truckload of beach balls into the river — red ones, blue ones, yellow ones. They were kayakers, a couple of platoons of them, gliding and digging their way through the swift water in what, on closer inspection, turned out to be soft boats: inflatables, buoyant and resilient, impervious to the inevitable encounters with boulders. They bobbed towards me, nimble bulbous waterbugs piloted by helmeted paddlers reveling in the run of whitewater above the Beach Pool, some of them coming down backwards, intentionally — masters of the river! One by one they pulled into the quiet water at the near side of the pool and idled there until the commander of the fleet had counted helmets, then the flotilla pushed off and bobbed downriver and out of sight. The scene made me happy. At least someone was having a great time on the East Outlet today, catching waves instead of fish.

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.