ORONO, Maine — Every year at this time, outdoors enthusiasts from around the state come out of hibernation (or take time off from their outdoor pursuits) and head to outdoors expos that are staged in Brewer, Orono, Presque Isle and Augusta.

Last weekend, BDN staffers were at the 78th annual Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show, which is always a great time for us. When we weren’t talking with BDN readers, we made time to stop by the booths of many vendors, checking out their wares and finding out what’s new in the outdoor world.

Though the show changes each year, one thing remains a constant: If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’re bound to learn something you didn’t know before. After 20 hours at the show, here are a few things we learned:

Head east this spring

Smoked alewives and fried smelts are traditional foods in eastern Maine, and this spring, they’ll be available at the annual Smelt Fry and Fisheries Celebration from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, in Columbia Falls, and at the Smolt Bolt 4-mile race and Smoked Alewife Cookout starting at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 21, in East Machias. Both events will include free fisheries tours. The Downeast Salmon Federation is hosting both of these events. To learn more, visit www.mainesalmonrivers.org or call 483-4336.

Early birds get the best spots

At a typical show, exhibitors show up early to freshen up their booths and get ready for the day. Few of them got an earlier start than one woman who stopped by to chat with BDN staffers on Saturday morning.

“When you’re 80, you can’t walk far,” the woman said, explaining that she and her husband had left their home in Brooklin at 5:30 a.m. to avoid a long hike to the show venue.

“We got here at 8 to get a good parking spot,” she said.

They succeeded, and were among the first in the doors when they opened at 9 a.m. That conversation was a highlight of the show: This attendee was eager to talk about all kinds of outdoor issues, and stayed at the booth for about 20 minutes.

But she’s not the only family member with a gift for gab, she told us.

“I don’t know where my husband went,” she said. “He’s probably off talking with someone. He loves to talk.”

A northern hiking gem

Deboullie Public Reserved Land in northern Maine is home to about 30 miles of hiking trails, some traveling along the edges of deep glacial ponds and pristine lakes, others leading up mountains and through beautiful alpine landscapes.

The name Debouille is an Americanization of the French geology term “d’eboulis,” which translates to “of the talus slope.” The rockslides leading down to the edges of Deboullie and Gardner ponds are great examples of this and are likely how Deboullie Township got its name, according to the owners of Red River Camps, a traditional Maine sporting camp in the township that offers hot meals and lodging in beautiful cabins.

Red River Camps set up shop at the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show to talk to people about their services and the opportunities for outdoor adventure up north. The photo album they displayed showed photos from the trails, of sheer cliffs and ice caves, rare alpine plants and stunning mountain views — a hiker’s playground.

Local writers a comic duo

If you wind up at a show that local authors John Ford Sr. and Mark Nickerson are attending, do yourself a favor: Stop by their booth and watch the action.

If you’re interested in buying a book, all the better, but even if you’re not, watching Ford and Nickerson interact with the crowd is worth the price of admission.

Ford is a retired Maine game warden, while Nickerson covered much of the same territory as his pal as a Maine state trooper. They often worked together, and the stories in their books — “Behind the Blue Lights” is Nickerson’s latest, while Ford’s most recent offering is titled “Deer Diaries: Tales of a Maine Game Warden” — range from heart-wrenching to hilarious.

And in person, the pair can put on quite a show.

One woman learned that when she stepped up to ask about the books.

“Just so you know, those are fictional stories by a Maine state trooper, because he never kept a diary,” Ford told the woman as she reached for Nickerson’s book. “Every time he wanted to tell a story, he’d call me up and ask, ‘How’d that go again?’”

The woman chuckled, then Nickerson deflected his friend’s comment with a punchline of his own.

“Just so you know, he lies,” Nickerson said.

Ford and Nickerson keep a busy schedule of public appearances, and after watching them for a few minutes, it’s easy to see why folks want them to provide the entertainment at their church suppers and club meetings.

Word to the wise: If you get a chance to meet either of these writers, do so.

‘Buy it where you burn it’

And one last thing: Be sure to buy local firewood when camping this summer. Transporting firewood from your home to a campground seems harmless, but you could be giving invasive insects a free ride, helping them spread to new areas, according to the Maine Forest Service.

Right now, three invasive insects are a big concern for Maine foresters:

1. The hemlock woolly adelgid — which kills hemlock trees — has already been found infesting trees in southern and coastal Maine.

2. The emerald ash borer — which kills ash trees — hasn’t been found in Maine yet, but it’s been detected in New Hampshire, just 30 miles from the Maine border.

3. The Asian longhorn beetle — which kills a variety of trees including birches, maples, elms and willows — hasn’t reached Maine yet, but has been detected burrowing into trees as close as Boston.

That, of course, is just a sampling of the action during the show’s three-day run. Many other exhibitors had interesting stories to tell, and we’ll be sharing some of those tales in the weeks ahead.

And if you missed this expo, don’t fret: There are more shows on the horizon. The State of Maine Sportsman’s Show is set for April 1-3 in Augusta, and the Presque Isle Fish & Game Club’s show runs April 9-10.

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...