This year, spring weather has reminded me of April through June of my sophomore year in high school — rain and unseasonable cold punctuated by short, infrequent warm spells. We endured storm after storm, a pattern that continued into July. As of this writing in late May 2013, we have had the same meteorological menu.

When school ended that spring before my junior year, I was a precocious 14-year-old, looking toward summer baseball, fishing and reading and late July and August blueberry raking to save money for school clothes and other needs.

That spring and summer, I was a center fielder in a Babe Ruth league for boys my age and also a first baseman for the Windsor men’s town team. My height at an early age destined me to play first on the men’s team, but I had an outfielder’s arm and preferred center field, particularly shagging long fly balls. A few times with the men, I played center and third base, but in the hot corner, hard grounders from right-handed adults bothered me a little.

I participated in four or five games per week, mostly evening events except for Sunday doubleheaders, but that left plenty of time for fishing — and fish I did — mostly hoofing it to waters in Somerville and Windsor.

Much of my fishing occurred with a neighbor and cousin, David French. We hit the Sheepscot River, mostly the deadwater upstream of downtown Somerville, a four-corner with a small collection of homes. We also fished French’s Mill Pond and Lovejoy Stream that flowed through it. David lived on a high bank above the pond, so that was his home water.

We talked trout but often targeted pickerel, underscoring a June day in my life, fishing for this toothy critter in a pool below falls on the stream:


The sunny morning began unseasonably cold with hard gales. While we rowed up the pond to a faint path along the stream, squalls pushed the boat around. Once off the water, though, the forest partially blocked wind, which made casting into the pool easier.

Back then, the falls looked like a photo on a sports-fishing calendar, and in fact, an historical map of ancient Atlantic-salmon runs on the continent showed that this lordly king once used little Lovejoy Stream for spawning. However, two dams had relegated the water to chain pickerel and lowly yellow perch, and that’s what we caught that day — yellow perch.

…The first part of the underscore?

Pickerel weren’t home in the pool, but yellow perch took lures like brookies and fought like trout, too. We didn’t eat this perch, so that was the first time I had ever caught and released fish, and it felt good.

The experience of fast action in a remote, aesthetic setting made the day a lifetime memory that keeps on giving, but David’s mother, Rosie, offered the second part of the day’s underscore.

Rosie was a sweet soul without a mean bone in her body, and in a good-natured way, she gently scolded us for catching and releasing yellow perch, the kind of reprimand that didn’t make us feel badly about ourselves.


In those days, catch and release was a foreign concept in rural Maine, so if Rosie had said anything other than intimating that we should eat what we caught, then her words would have shocked me. She was an angler herself, and occasionally, my mother, Rosie, David and I trolled for pickerel in the pond, and we relished pickerel fish fries despite the boney meat.

When I started living the catch-and-release life five years later, adults — mostly men — complained bitterly to me about the practice, but I was blessed or damned with a caustic wit that kept criticism at bay.

My C&R ethic began that day on the idyllic perch pool. Now, an ugly power line crosses the falls, and dam removal drained French’s Mill Pond. Salmon never returned up the stream, either. Yes, you can’t go home again.

I read many novels that summer and the year before and had already discovered Ernest Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence. Hemingway’s “In Our Time” enthralled me with stories about youngsters fishing, hunting and reading as I had, and Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” attracted me for sex scenes. That summer before my junior year, I read Lawrence’s “The Rainbow,” which romanticized rural culture and gained me as a lasting fan.

Thanks to my parents being voracious readers of 20th-century literary giants, my early teens with books like that in my home later encouraged me to earn a BA in English. Those summers, I read F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, James T. Farrell (Lonigan trilogy), Henry Roth, Joyce Cary and others, even Zane Grey and Mark Twain, particularly “The Last Trail” and “Life on the Mississippi.”

In those high-school summers, small events occurred that shaped my later life, and I understood their importance at the time. One occurred on an evening after a day of blueberry raking, when after supper, I was heading down the road to the Sheepscot, carrying a fishing rod.


A man, an acquaintance of my father, sat alone beside the road in his pickup, sipping a green, 16-ounce bottle of Ballantine ale. He watched me walking past and gruffly asked, “Is that all ya’ do is go fishin’?”

“No,” I said in a defiant tone that caught him off-guard, “I rake blueberries, play sports — and read.”

The conversation ended quickly enough, and I kept walking to the Sheepscot for a hopeful rendezvous with brown trout. His comment started me thinking that yes, I did fish a lot and was proud of it.

That childhood passion has carried into my adult life, taking me from Costa Rica for giant tarpon to northern Quebec for Atlantic salmon to the West for browns and rainbows to The Keys for tarpon, bonefish and sharks with all the stops between, and I often made money doing it.

Childhood passions set the stages for adulthood, and if we choose the right path, it makes all the difference in creating a higher quality of life.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at [email protected]

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