There comes a time in every angler’s season that persistent failure to catch fish brings the realization that trout season, at least the first half, is over. The first half begins at ice-out and ends sometime around Bastille Day, when the water is too warm for trout comfort and the hexagenia hatches peter out. The second half begins around Labor Day and ends when you can’t feel your toes and fingers. The interregnum is the time for equipment maintenance, camp chores and tall cold adult beverages enjoyed on a screened porch with convivial company without being nagged by the thought that you should be fishing. It’s the time when I wake up one morning, gaze at my surroundings, and think, “Whoa! This is a pretty nice camp!” The second thought dawns a short while later: “Geez! I really need to clean the place.”
When I purchased the camp fifteen-plus years ago I was a fool, and I knew it, and I didn’t care. I paid the asking price for the camp at Upper Dam for fear it might go to someone else, because camps at Upper Dam go on the market only slightly more often than whales swim up the Androscoggin; our oldest campers have been summering at the dam for nearly 90 years. The pool at Upper Dam is a world famous fishing hole, with trout and landlocked salmon fishing that has drawn generations of anglers since at least the 1870s. It was where Carrie Stevens, on the first of July in 1924, landed a six pound, thirteen ounce brook trout on a streamer fly of her own creation called “Shang’s Go-Get-Um” (not the Gray Ghost, as legend wrongly has it; she did not create the Gray Ghost until a few years later). Given all that, how could I not buy the camp at any price?
My camp is not among the charming row of rustic camps overlooking the dam and the pool. I’m one of the “Backstreet Boys;” mine is the first of four camps on the access road just before you get to the dam: Blacksmith Shop, Hangover, One Horn, and Stagger Inn. I was once told that the structure that is now my camp was in long-ago times the blacksmith shop that serviced the draft horses in the log drive era. Before anyone could contradict that story I had a little sign made and hung it by the door.
Work was needed. I tore down a rotting old shed behind the camp and had the much-missed Bob Allen build a back deck, woodshed and water-heater housing. Bob “Trout Boy” Oakes and I built the only bedroom (guests sleep on a sofa-bed). I finished the bathroom walls and built a pine-sided shower stall. Bob Leary, the former owner of Hangover, helped me expand the propane lighting system. Brother Peter built the front deck.
I added bookshelves and stocked them with fish-lit, which I read and re-read in the evenings. I collected angling stuff — old bamboo rods, old fly collections, little handcarved fish decoys. Angling art, including a print of fishing pal Dave Tibbetts’s watercolor of Upper Dam, hangs on the walls.
There’s no electricity, no wifi, no Internet. Light comes from gas lamps, I cook on a gas stove and keep my food (and beer and wine) in a gas fridge. Water comes from Mooselookmeguntic via a water tower that services most of the camps on the north side of the dam. Drinking water I bring in from King’s Spring. If I need power, I can fire up my generator and annoy the neighbors while I run a circular saw or a shop vac. Otherwise the only electricity in the camp comes from the AA batteries in the portable radio that pulls in the Red Sox games from somewhere. When there’s no game on, the radio sits on the top bookshelf beside a Nepalese Buddha bestowed upon me by a well-traveled friend for the express purpose of bringing peace to my camp.
The other camp owners, many of whom have been rusticating at Upper Dam for decades, are a genial lot, happy to share a porch and a drink as the sun goes down somewhere behind the far shore of Richardson Lake. We are collectively incorporated as a non-profit, the Upper Dam Owners’ Association, whose chief virtue is that we only meet once a year, on Labor Day Weekend.
In other words, it’s just about perfect.