The Memorial Day holiday weekend is often thought of as a long weekend tailor-made for sportsmen and women to head afield for fishing and camping.
Of course, Memorial Day itself is meant to be a day dedicated to honoring those who lost their lives while serving our country in the U.S. armed forces.
Nonetheless, this spring tradition of outdoor outings in the Maine woods is a strong one.
The famed 3.5 million-acre North Maine Woods has more than 300 campsites, many of which are full of campers for the long weekend. Additionally, many camp leases in the NMW system are occupied as well.
I enjoyed patrolling and looking for fishing activity at this time of year.
The Fish River was one of my favorites. It flows out of Fish River Lake to Portage Lake and continues north to St. Froid and Eagle lakes before entering the St. John River in Fort Kent. I liked to patrol the upper river by motorboat, motorized canoe and on foot.
One Memorial Day weekend, I left the dock at the end of my right of way on Portage Lake in my issued 20-foot Old Town XL Tripper canoe with 6 horsepower Yamaha outboard. My plan was to motor up to Fish River Falls, go ashore and continue patrolling on foot all the way to Fish River Lake.
I knew I was likely to encounter fishermen, canoeists and maybe some boaters on the lower river. There were brook trout, landlocked salmon and late-season fiddleheads that people would be interested in.
It was a great run, passing by places like the Hay Shed, Big Pine Bend, Hewes Brook, Ferguson Brook, High Landing Camps, Skew Falls and the McCluskey Hole. I stopped below the falls across from the Gallagher Camp. After that, I went on foot.
I worked my way along the falls and came to the campsites, stopping to see Wayne and Mary Flint. They were Portage Lake residents who “relocated” to the falls in their camper every spring. I always enjoyed visiting them, whether it was at their campsite, their home or along the dirt roads while they were tending marten traps in the fall.
I continued on, skirting Round Pond and checking the Plum Hole just above it. I finally arrived at Fish River Lake. Across the river from me was the Beck Camp.
Fred Beck was married to Sandra, the daughter of retired Game Warden Wilfred “Sleepy” Atkins. The camp used to belong to Sleepy. He retired long before I came to work, but I met him once at a Warden Appreciation supper at the Presque Isle Fish and Game Club on the banks of the Aroostook River.
I was also part of a small honor guard that attended his funeral. Ironically, Sandra had boarded with my parents in the mid-to-late 1960s when she moved to Bangor.
I worked my way downriver to my canoe and headed for Portage. It was a long day, but a good one. I had a handful of routine contacts and compliance checks along the way. I estimate it was more than 30 miles, round trip.
Although no violations were detected, it was still a success. Deterring violations through patrol and presence is still effective law enforcement.
The solitary nature of that day gave me ample time to ponder various things. I was later inspired to hang a memorial plaque on the wall of the Portage Lake town office honoring my uncle, Lt. Gerard Goulette of Dexter, who was killed in France in 1944 at the age of 23 while serving in the U.S. Army.
Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Don’t forget to honor the sacrifices that have been made that allow us the freedom to live in this country and enjoy the Maine woods.