Leighton Wass grew up in Southwest Harbor and graduated from Norwich University with a BS in Science Education. He taught high school biology in Vermont for 33 years and is also a freelance writer. At 79, he continues to use the outdoors as his playground. Wass lives in Adamant, Vermont, with his wife Jane and two Labradors. He has a book coming out this spring, “Fly Fishing The Hex Hatch”, published by North Country Press.
I’m going never forget my first view of moosehead lake when i was young at the top of the hill on route 15 in greenville. It was love at first sight, the same feeling I had last May when Sean Fowler and I saw Moosehead from that same hill. We were heading to Maynard’s on the Moose River for a cozy cabin, great meals and lots of fishing.
We had hoped to fish both the river and the wide lake, but a recent string of days in the 80’s had put a stop to river fishing.
Light winds created perfect conditions for our first full day of boating the beautiful lake shoreline for our target species, wild (square) brook trout. Our plan was to pound the rocks and reefs in 10-20 foot deep water while trailing streamers, using fly rods and sinking fly lines.
It didn’t take long weaving and zigzagging around the rock strewn shore to pick up our first brookie, a tiny 10 1/2 inch, and lose another on the boat about 15 inches. With little wind, we could easily spot the brook trout hangouts.
“Holy shit! I just saw a huge squaretail near the bottom,” said Sean, who was standing, passing over one of those spots.
Despite repeated passages on the reef, we only produced block connections.
Later in the day we fished for salmon near this gigantic rock in the lake called Kineo. Sean hooked a good salmon on a Gray Ghost streamer, and at a sturdy 19er, the salmon was a fitting end to our first day.
The next day emerged once again with perfect weather to fish Moosehead, but the elder (me) decided to sleep. Sean, a game warden lieutenant from Vermont, headed out to the lake at 4:45 a.m.
Right away he had a fish killer but he lost it halfway through the boat. We both believe that this bull-dogging fish was definitely one of Moosehead’s giants. Slim.
Later Sean picked me up and we decided to fish on a new shore. The sleepy guy nailed a 13-inch brookie with a smelt-shaped streamer on the stern, but his fishing partner then put on a fish-catching demonstration. Sean hung two small salmon and two decent togues on the back of Kineo, all on streamers.
Moosehead was not kind to us on day three. It was cold and very windy from the northwest. We weathered the waves in my 15ft Crestliner, but it was a wasted day in terms of fishing and fishing fun.
Day four was our last chance to prove we knew something about fishing and ultimately was our most memorable. Shortly after we put our lines in the water, a male hummingbird said hello to us inches from both of our faces (not always fishing).
After an unlucky morning, we found a beach on Farm Island that was sunny but sheltered from the wind and provided the perfect spot for lunch. After this respite, we decided to troll this lee side of the island, zigzagging from deep to shallow water.
It was the day Elder Wass showed off his stuff by catching two salmon and the fish of the trip, a magnificent male squaretail. But first, go back to the previous evening in our cabin, where the manager Sean and I had a rather contentious discussion.
What if one of us caught a brook trout that needed to be released? Can we take a picture of it? The Moosehead Lake Law Book states that “trout 18 to 22 inches in length must be released alive and immediately.”
Lt. Fowler interpreted it literally, meaning that no time should be used to weigh or photograph trout. I took the lower route and thought a quick pic would be OK. We retired that evening in disagreement.
Wouldn’t you know that the day after this discussion, the opportunity to “test” the law arose?
Just 20 minutes after losing a nice salmon on our last day, on an unnamed streamer I had tied up and never used, I hooked the trout – on the same fly. The fish pulled out most of my fly line and struggled a bit on the surface, but didn’t jump out like a salmon.
We suspected brook trout or maybe togue until we saw the white-tipped fins when he approached the boat. Square tail! Sean caught the fish for me, but even though the trout was of legal length, I had no intention of keeping it – just had to measure it briefly.
The Vermont keeper now had steam coming out of his ears, and as he put down the net and retreated to his seat, he said, unequivocally, “YOU ARE ALONE!”
I lifted the beautiful trout with both hands, a “picture” I will carry with me for the rest of my life, then out of respect for my friend, I chose not to take a picture and slipped the brookie overboard. The trout was 18 1/2 inches and looked as wide as a piece of firewood. We estimated its weight at just over three pounds.
In retrospect, as I had no intention of keeping trout, I did not need to measure it, and the keeper could took a picture when the fish was released.
Oh yes. This fly that I tied now has a name. We call it the “clean streamer”.