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Claybrook Mountain Lodge
January, 2018

Here it is, January 2018, and I havenít written a Newsletter since June of 2017. I have been late before but not as late as this. The new sawmill is partly to blame. I practiced with it some and had the basics down when I received an order for some hemlock planks. I bought a dump trailer and sawed the planks into it, then delivered them to a friend in Kingfield. A few days later I began to get orders and just recently I got caught up. It took every moment of spare time and projects that I intended to complete did not get done. So, what is new about that. I am going to cover the summer and fall with this one letter.

On the last day of June, Pat, Kate, Aaron Saunders (niece Heatherís friend) and I took a boat ride that we will never forget. Pat and I were speaking with Ron Joseph and he mentioned that Sturgeon were very active in the Kennebec and were being seen jumping all the way up stream to Waterville. We immediately decided to float from Waterville to Augusta as soon as possible.

Aaron was staying at my sister Eileenís cottage in Wyman and had helped me on a few chores here, and we also worked at Eileenís place cutting down a large dead White Pine that was a threat to her house. Kate was able to go, since school was out and the four of us loaded up the Spencer boat the night before. It was a beautiful day on the river and we chatted with some folks at the Waterville boat launch. A fisherman there said that a couple of big stripers had been caught nearby and stripers were just beginning to run inland. As we began the float Kate trolled and cast a streamer fly. She caught a nice Smallmouth Bass almost immediately and then another. She then decided not to fish since it would slow our progress and distract from the Sturgeon watch.

I grew up on the Kennebec and spent a lot of time on its banks, in spite of strict orders not to go near it. It truly was a giant open sewer contaminated with raw sewage, industrial chemicals and anything else people wanted to get rid of.

Today, thanks to Edmund Musky and the Clean Water Act, the river is nearly clean again, and the abundance of life we observed there is almost beyond belief. From the moment we left the dock we were surrounded by Bald Eagles and Ospreys. Waterfowl, Herons and Kingfishers were always in sight and lots of fish rising from minnow size to fish in the 30 pound plus category.

I could not watch all the rises without fishing, so I cast as we went.

The Spencer boat is an old aluminum Lone Star that Ron gave us after the lease at Joe Marshallís camp on Spencer Lake got cancelled. It is an ugly, 16-foot beast but I now count it as one of our more valued assets. With all four of us and our gear, it was perfectly stable, and the draft was slight enough to float all but the most shallow of riffles. It brought back memories, and I was excited to see all the places I haunted growing up.

At first there were no Sturgeon except occasionally we saw big splashes in the distance. That all changed near the Sidney boat landing. I caught a small Striped Bass and while playing it a very large fish chased some schools of smaller fish just under the surface. I cast to no avail hoping for a trophy size striper. A few moments later a huge fish erupted down stream of us. Judging by the size (four feet long or better) we assumed it was a Sturgeon. From there to Augusta the splashes occurred more and more often and closer. Before we went under the bridge in Augusta we must have seen 25 or more Sturgeon, and some jumped within a few feet of the boat!

There was no mistaking the closer ones for anything but Sturgeon, though Pat saw one big fish jump clear of the water that she thought was a striper. I cannot imagine what the fabled Kennebec River must have been like before dams and industry nearly destroyed every living thing in it. Neither can I imagine how horrified Native Americans must have been to watch us destroy a resource that provided more than enough to sustain them. There is more wildlife activity in the lower Kennebec right now than in any place I have been in my life time. I am especially impressed that the Sturgeon withstood all the toxins we could throw at them and not only survived, but are thriving again. I hope to make that float every summer until I am physically unable.

One of our favorite long-time guests, Norma Friedman made her annual summer trip in July with three friends. They almost always have the lodge to themselves, and they enjoy a hike or a paddle around Flagstaff as well as hanging out on the porch or the front yard. It is nice to be able to spend time and catch up with old friends in such a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.

July is family vacation time and we all made it to Pemaquid again. The weather was great, and we ate, drank and laughed too much. Our favorite activity is to take the boys to catch crabs from a dock in the Pemaquid River. They were wildly successful and attracted some other children who joined in. The crabs get all the hotdogs they can eat and are returned to the water when we are finished. Usually we go down the shore to release them but this time they got dumped out on the dock. There was a lot of dancing and jumping around as dozens of crabs scrambled across the dock in all directions.

Pat, Kate, Peter and I went early and stayed a couple of nights in a cottage at the Gosnald Arms Inn. I highly recommend it. It is an old place in New Harbor with plain little cottages, a larger Inn with rooms, a family size house to rent and a common dock where we had coffee with the sunrise each morning. At the rental houses, we are walking distance from a beautiful little beach. People renting a house across the street had a Golden Retriever loose in the yard. On one of our walks back from the beach the dog charged into our group barking and growling. It ran directly at grandson Flynn and scared the daylights out of him. Dad Matt scooped Flynn up and held him away from the dog who walked slowly through our group all bristled and growling. With all my recent experience I was sure I would be bitten again. Kate went right to the owners and told them to get their dog under control but they didnít seem concerned at all. I spoke to them also and they looked at me as if they were the ones being threatened. The next day it happened to me again while I was walking alone. I called to a person in the yard and told them that if it wasnít under control I would call law enforcement to report and if I were to be bitten I would take more serious action. Again, the person I spoke with seemed offended that I would worry about the dog biting anyone but said they would be leaving the next day with the dog. We werenít sorry to see them go.

August is also a very quiet time at Claybrook Lodge. Early in August, Pat came to the realization that she was ready for another dog, and we now have a new member of the family. Lilly is a black Great Dane with many of the character traits of others we have had, but definitely, different in her own way also. For those of you who love dogs Lilly will be here to greet you all. We didnít have many guests in August, but Tom Rouillard stayed with us for a few days, and we again got the chance to catch up with a long-time friend. Tom usually spends his days fishing at Pierce Pond, but this year he spent all his time at the lodge.

While Tom was here, we had a famous Maine writer visit. Paul Doiron, the author of a series of novels based on the life of a fictitious Maine game warden, came with his wife Kristen and her parents. Kristen is a poet with quite a following herself. I met Paul years ago when he came to a fly-casting weekend at Claybrook Lodge. He now is an avid fly fisherman, and we have had some pleasant moments catching Brook Trout and salmon with Ron Joseph. Paul and Kristen are old friends of Ron, and Ron introduced them to Claybrook Lodge. Paulís first novel, The Poacherís Son came out in 2010, and he has written seven more since then. I have all of them and canít wait for the next. Kristenís parents were hoping to see a moose, so we fired up the old van and took a drive up Long Falls Dam Road starting at dusk. August isnít the best moose viewing month, but we were lucky enough to spot three that night. I wish we were always that fortunate.

In September we enjoyed our annual Hike and Bike weekend. Our numbers are down but enthusiasm is still strong. Pat and I have a high school friend we havenít seen in years. Ray Ayotte and his wife Janet stayed a night with us during the Hike and Bike. We got to catch up on events in my old home town of Sidney, and they met some of our favorite long-time guests.

On a sad note, we lost one of those guests in September with the passing of Midge Parker. Her husband Don was one of the first guests at Claybrook, and he and Midge also were regulars at Cobbís Camp at Pierce Pond. Don was an outstanding caregiver through Midgeís long illness, and I often admired his strength through it all. There is a hole in our hearts that canít be filled.

Pam Twaddell led another group from Distant Journeys at the end of September. Pamís groups are a joy to have as guests, and I love the trip to Grand Falls and back. One of my favorite places is the Dead River between Grand Falls and the Grand Falls Hut. If it wasnít for Pam and her groups I would rarely get there if at all. I like to store canoes at the landing above the falls the day before, then head down river the next morning just before sunrise. Walking alone down the river brings back memories of my first trips there as a teenager and an old friend long ago passed. Donald Pinkham introduced me to the place, and we had several adventures there together. He was a great outdoors man who succumbed to cancer at 36 years, leaving a wife and two young daughters. Donald was one of the few locals around Highland and Lexington who welcomed me, in spite of me being ďfrom awayĒ, and we became friends immediately. I will always miss him.

Daughter Kate, her husband Peter and I took a couple of days in September to tour around the woods in the Rangeley area. We fished the Megalloway River and boated on Aziscohos Lake then drove to Bosebuck Camps on the North end of the lake. Bosebuck is a fabulous old Sporting Camp with a lot of history, open year-round. I definitely would like to stay there some time. From there we completed a loop that took us out to the Kennebago River and back to Oquossoc. I am hoping to spend a lot more time exploring that territory and fishing more of those waters.

Moose calling came next, followed by a hunt, and we didnít do so well this year. During my preparations for Pamís group I took every opportunity to call moose along the way. I had such good success, I was sure it would be a great weekend. At Pond Stream on Long Falls Dam Road I called a beautiful bull all the way to the road even though Poland Spring water trucks going by at regular intervals. I called another from a hilltop in Lexington and one near a bog in Highland. Each of them answered my call almost immediately. A week later it was as if they had all left the territory. We didnít get a single moose to come within sight the whole weekend. Monday morning the hunt began, and my hunters could only stay for a couple of days. During that time, we called a young bull, a calf and an enormous cow but nothing that was a legal-size bull. We had some excitement, but didnít get a moose. Late in October I went to a retirement party for my old friend and fellow Sugarloaf Resq veteran, Pete Boucher. I worked with and for Pete when he bought the service more than 20 years ago. Pete and I also hunted and fished together. We shared some great adventures and some not so great, but it would be difficult to find a more skilled woodsman and Paramedic. Hopefully I will have a few more fun adventures with Pete.

For the first time in several years we had a busy November deer hunting season. We had our few regulars, the return of some veterans we had not seen for a while and some new guests joining us. Fran Bastien came for the second time with his father-in-law Paul Lepore. Paul has hunted with his two sons, Mike and Peter, for 60 years around Pierce Pond Camps. The Cobbís stopped taking hunters a few years back, and the Leporeís began staying with us. Fran is new to hunting and fired his first shot at a deer this year. The result was a 224 lb. 8 pointer. This was a very exciting event, but all our hunters had encounters with deer this fall, and that is the real excitement.

The deer population here is finally getting back to a good density. Even this old guide got a respectable 8 pointer himself. All our family was here for Thanksgiving and I was up early to help Kate and Peter get the turkey in the oven before the chaos of five grandsons began. When the chores were done and it was full daylight, I announced that I was going down to Margieís Farm and would be back shortly with a fat buck. An hour later I did just that and we had liver and heart for breakfast the next morning.

I was concerned about ďBig George,Ē the buck, since we saw no sign of him the entire fall. Our regulars came to the apple trees, but for the first time since he was a fawn George left not a track or a rub that I could find. I was sure that he must have been killed in some way but heard no rumors of bucks matching him being shot. When the season was over, the does and fawns came to the grain I put out, but still no George. One night in early December I could see the outline of a much larger deer under the apple tree. With binoculars I was able to make out a very large set of antlers. When daylight came he was standing there waiting for his grain as if he had never left. We were relieved. He has gained more weight (I would guess he is in the 250 or 260 range now) and his antlers are slightly larger also. As an added bonus he dropped that big 10-point set of antlers as he ran across the front yard. Our friends Nancy and Fred were visiting, and I hoped that Fred, a very skilled buck hunter, would get to see George while he still had his antlers. He didnít come in when I called, but as they were about to leave he showed up. He spooked when we went outside, and as he ran across the field, we all saw the antlers fall off. Now we have two matched pairs.

In early December Claybrook Lodge reached a milestone. We put a gas heater in the lodge to supplement the old woodstove. We added heaters to the house also. We are no longer tied to the place to keep the fires going, and what a change that is. I added another layer of insulation to both buildings and we have been enjoying sleeping all night instead of making the midnight stove run. Our installation was tested immediately with a prolonged subzero cold snap. Maybe I can do some other projects in summer instead of wood detail into July. We had a prolonged family gathering for Christmas with all the grandsons and their families. With the bitter cold we all appreciated the gas heat.

We started the New Year with a lodge full of guests. We usually reserve Christmas and New Years for family and friends, but our friends bought a condo in Bridgeton, so they spend New Years there. Pam Twaddell called to reserve New Yearís Eve and brought a delightful group of her friends to celebrate. They had a boisterous good time, and at one point checked to make sure they werenít being too loud. I told them to make all the noise they wanted because in Highland Plantation there were no neighbors close enough to wake up.

Now we are nearing the end of January and I had to get this written. Our busiest season is underway and in a couple of days it will be nonstop. We canít wait to see you all. My trails are snow covered and tracked but not groomed yet, so there wonít be much spare time for the next month. Happy 2018!

                                        ďGang WarilyĒ,
                                             Greg and Pat

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