If nothing else, Catch50 has taught me that the people this sport introduces you to are its greatest treasure. That is probably evident if you have ever spoken with me about my experiences or read any other stories from my journey. It is a theme for most of my hobbies. I have fished with folks of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life, bonded together by a common passion for fish, conservation, and all of creation. However, few stand out like “Grandma June.”
June Aprille is a 74-year-old, maybe 5 foot tall, brilliant and determined fisherwoman—a force to be reckoned with. As a Biologist, she has been published in some of the top academic journals, including Science and Nature, as well as served as a professor and provost at three of America’s strongest institutions, namely Tufts, the University of Richmond, and Washington and Lee University, where my mom attended college. Having met my mom through W&L, June and I got connected to discuss fishing. I learned about her deep love for the sport, especially as she shared with me that she uses all of her vacation time to either fish or go hunting with her dogs, and we decided to meet in Northwest Maine to fish one of her favorite areas targeting Native Brook Trout. I was all in!
I took on Maine with my mom, and we travelled up to meet June in late May. We ventured from Rhode Island through the beautiful forests of New England into the “backwoods” of the state. We even travelled on a road called “Back Road” for a while, which I got a kick out of, and passed a young bull moose and a family of grouse along the way. We got together with June at a rustic, country restaurant. She seemed as enthusiastic about the next few days as I was—I knew right off the bat that this was going to be a big time and that we were going to really hit it off. She was so cool!
We ventured up to a series of lakes June had access to with a cabin nearby and got right to the water. Though it was a grey day and rain was coming down, June was not going to miss a second of fishing. We hopped into Rangeley boats, invented in Maine for its many lakes, and June rowed us out to a spot she called “trout alley.” I sure liked the sound of that, and I am happy to share that it was fitting. After taking a number of casts with a dry fly, we made the switch to a traditional “Mickey Finn” pattern, a bright streamer with yellow and red bucktail and silver tinsel wrapped around the hook shank. It is designed to not really look like any natural baitfish, but it gets the trout’s attention. I quickly hooked up, though I lost my first fish. However, a second was soon to follow. In the brisk breeze with chilly hands, I laid my line out, made a few strips and WAM! I saw a quick flash and a brookie smoked the fly just below the surface. I was able to land it, my first Maine fish on the fly! A beautifully spotted 9-inch fish with a dark back and silver underbelly. After getting the monkey off my back, they seemed much more willing to eat and I was able to catch a few more. Luckily, just before dinner, the rain stopped, and the wind died down. I spotted two fish rise near the shoreline. We paddled over and suddenly, we seemed to be in the middle of a feeding frenzy. A hatch got rolling, and the fish were quite keen on looking up. I switched back to my stimulator and was able to cast to specific rising fish and caught a few. The hatch only lasted twenty minutes or so, and June decided it was time for us to go in and eat dinner. She had been a great guide and had a great sense of humor about rowing in the wind. After a quick meal, June again didn’t hesitate to get us back in the boat and put us on fish. We had a truly magnificent evening, with the sun setting, casting golden then orange and pink hues on the water, and fish rising through this vibrant reflection to sip flies. One fish really sticks out in my mind. We watched it rise consistently about 50 yards away, so we paddled out in its direction. It rose once more and I laid a cast right on top of its last ring. The fly sat in anticipation. I twitched it and the fish could not resist the animated bug. Got ‘em! After a few more fun fish, we decided to push back in before it got to dark. It had gotten super cold by my standards, and the wind picked up. Naturally, we had to row directly into it to return to the dock. Given the conditions, I offered to assist June with the trip home, but she stubbornly refused, pushing the boat inch by inch, only to be blown back between oar strokes. Her feet couldn’t quite reach the bar on the bottom of the boat to get traction for each stroke. But she was an amazing sport about it and determined to guide us back in. We laughed all the way back to the dock and eventually arrived just after sundown. I was grateful for how determined she was to show us a big time on the water.
The next morning, I threw on my Bean Boots and flannel, which I though fitting for our Maine adventure. We were hopeful for some good hatches with better weather conditions and met up with June’s two guide friends, Tom and Jake, who were taking us out that day. Tom reminded me exactly of my dad—a very enthusiastic, cheery man who seemed ready to totally seize the day—which was fun for me since he had not been able to make the trip. However, our second guide, Jake, was nowhere to be found. Not willing to waste a minute, June decided we would head back across the main lake to try some outer ponds and hope he would show up later. In the meantime, June was to be my guide. We got to the dock and got ready to get into our boat when hold-up number two occurred: we forgot to get the combo to the boat lock. Nevertheless, we figured it out and were off to the races. Following the chain of events, the morning fishing proved tricky, and I couldn’t manage to connect with the fish that swiped at my Mickey Finn. However, I quickly forgot about the morning’s challenges when we broke out our shore lunch, heating up a cast iron skillet and throwing two pounds of bacon into it. Once cooked, it was placed on top of pine bows, making “bacon on the bows.” Add some granny smith apples and sliced sharp cheddar and you’ve got yourself a 5-star meal. I think I ate a pound of bacon…
After lunch, I had the chance to go out with Tom. He was a great teacher; very personable, experienced, and knowledgeable. He taught me about being patient while letting a dry sit on the water, twitching it every now and again, and managing my line. He explained that lake fishing is very different from river fishing in many ways, especially in terms of fly presentation and selection, which was super helpful for me given that this was my first real experience trout fishing on a lake. It took the fish a while to get heated up, but then they started pushing dace, a type of small baitfish, into a corner of the lake. We changed flies to imitate the prey and casted to individual trout attacking the schools. It felt strangely like targeting fish in the salt water, my favorite way to fish. You would see a fish rise, cast a bit beyond it, and often get a strike when the fly came back through the leftover surface ring. We caught some really nice fish, and shared many laughs as we almost fell in, missed fish, or tangled our lines. Per usual, things got chaotic when the fishing got exciting. Mom and I were able to catch about 15 or so fish! Plus, they were all really nice fish by brookie standards. We caught one that was 15 inches, a few 14’s, and a bunch of 13’s and 12’s. What really made the evening was the breathtaking light from the setting sun surrounding us in brilliant colors as we watching fish rising all around. Maine is certainly a special part of our country, and a fishery I know I will have to see again.
At some point on the last day, we bumped into another gentleman fishing on one of the lakes, and I struck up a conversation with him. He peeked over my shoulder and noticed June standing on the dock behind me, so he asked if she was my grandmother. I sure got a kick out of that and definitely will never miss an opportunity to remind her of it—now she’s “Grandma June!”