What a great time of year. Spring skiing in the mountains, biking the back roads on a mild day and getting the canoe in the water for the first time.

An April paddling outing is like a high school reunion – a great chance to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. In April that means being on the lookout for the daily arrival of birds.

The staging of immature loons in Maquoit Bay this past week tells us that inland waterways may still be iced in so we’ll stick close to the coast for our first outing. Pleasant Cove on Route 1 in Woolwich, just past the Taste of Maine Restaurant, is a superb spot to spy your first osprey, kingfisher or cormorant of the season. We were there a week ago and saw no osprey during our first hour of exploring, and then as we headed back to the launch site from the Arrowsic Bridge we saw four. Hearing their shrill calls in the air again is as much a sign of spring in Maine as the first evening of peeper songs.

Getting the tide right is critical. As a tidal estuary of the Sasanoa River, Pleasant Cove drains far from shore at low water. If you paddle within the time frame of two hours before high tide and two hours after high tide you’ll be fine. The small launch site is adjacent to a large sign for the Robert E. DeWick Recreation Area. Park along the gravel lane parallel to Route 1.

Open pastures above Pleasant Cove provide a reminder of how scenic our state can be during the spring season.

We started out along the eastern shoreline, rounded a point, and headed north a mile up a narrowing channel to the Nequasset Dam and Fish Ladder. The two historic red shanties at the dam are used by alewife fishermen in the spring. The smaller shanty had the distinctive aroma of smoked fish. The shanties, perfectly mirrored in the calm water of the channel, reminded us of the setting of the iconic Rockport, Massachusetts, red shanty with the unusual name of “Motif Number 1.” That small building attracts artists and photographers from around the world to capture its simple splendor. This scene was equally mesmerizing.

The Nequasset alewife run is one of the five most prolific in Maine. Adult alewives are used as bait for the spring lobster fishery. The alewives were important enough as far back as 1788 that the town passed laws to insure that the fish be allowed to pass over Nequasset Dam from May into September.


As we headed back out to the cove we spied a couple of bufflehead ducks swimming away from us. The large white patch on the head of the male is a telltale identifier. Canada geese flew overhead while a pair of geese honked away on a waterside ledge. Suddenly an immature eagle swooped down out of a pine and started circling low over the water 100 yards ahead.

We paddled across the cove toward the channel leading out into the Kennebec River and emerged onto the Kennebec with the full panorama of Bath Iron Works dominating the western shoreline. The gray hulk of the Zumwalt-class destroyer being built at BIW dominated the horizon.

Later in the spring, if you see a large fish rising or leaping in Pleasant Cove, it might be a shortnose sturgeon. At 3 feet long they are smaller than the impressive Atlantic sturgeon. These fish predate the age of the dinosaur.

If you want to extend your outing, paddle down the Sasanoa River toward Hell Gate. The river is narrow here and the impingement creates a strong and unpredictable current. Use caution. You don’t want to get flushed down the narrows and be unable to paddle back against the outgoing tide.

There are so many sights on a spring canoe outing, including the sight of geese frolicking next to a large rock that, in its own way, has the appearance of an egg.

All was right with the world again. Our summer friends were returning. The temperature actually rose above 50 degrees. And most importantly, we were back in our canoe exploring the seasonal wonders of Maine.

The stop at the Woolwich Dairy Queen is a must-do on the return home. In business since 1972, it has watched millions of cars snake downeast and back on Route 1 over the summers. Even singer James Taylor and actress Kirstie Alley have been lured in during moments of blissful weakness.

Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map #6) for help in getting to the boat launch area at the intersection of the George Wright Road and Route 1.

Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses, and schools.

Contact: [email protected]

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