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Down east lakes


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I'm a new subscriber to NSPN, and to get in the spirit of things, I'll post a few recent trips that may be of interest.

Down east lakes in Maine (this one)

Outer Cranberry Isles in Maine

Fly fishing for blues and stripers in Nantucket Sound

Down east lakes -

June 20-24 2004

There are some great trips in the down east region (demarcated by lines from Bangor to Vanceboro, Bangor to Ellsworth and up the coast to Calais) in both flat water and river running. This is one of the least traveled regions in Maine, except for the headwaters of the St. John, and surprisingly accessible.

I took my son's Boyscout troop (Troop 205 in Newton) on a five day trip in this region. We rented canoes from Al LaPlante, who runs Chet's Camps in Grand Lake Stream. I used a simple plastic Wilderness Systems Pamlico kayak for myself (we had an odd number of people, and I figured I should be the lone person).

The route was nominally to start out from Pocumcus Lake, from Elsmore Landing. This is about five miles west of the town of Grand Lake Stream (which has excellent trout fishing and a hatchery). The Ellsmore Landing campsite is owned by a local timber conglomerate, but the people who camp there are pretty kind and were very helpful to allow us to temporarily use spaces from the regulars.

Unfortunately, in the morning when we were scheduled to shove off, there was a 15-20 knot wind out of the northwest, and this was straight down the long axis of the lake, causing large white caps. We went out around a point to see how the lake was, but the boys (and the other scoutmaster) couldn't really handle the wind condition. I stood by to help in a rescue, if needed, and we beat it back to the camp.

We lay around most of the day, waiting for the wind to subside. Finally around 5 PM, the wind dropped. I scouted around the point with my VHF and radioed back that the conditions were definitely canoeable. The boys were ready for some forward motion, so we took off across Pocumcus. We made it to some narrows which separate West Grand Lake and Pocumcus.

NOAA forecast strong wind conditions for the next day, so I set my watch for 4 AM (sunrise was at 4:30), so we could catch the flatwater at dawn. We were up and off by about 5:15, made our way do a short portage from Pocumcus to Sysldopsis Lake. By about 8 AM, already, the wind was picking up and the boys had a bit of difficulty with weather cocking. I showed them how to paddle to combat that, and they did fine.

We made the landing of a portage around 9 AM and had breakfast near a place called "The Pines", and refilled our water jugs (I don't like the drudgery of pumping through a filter, if I can avoid it). We portaged about 1.3 miles to Fourth Machias Lake, mostly over dirt roads. Some Lady Slippers and bolete mushrooms dotted the more shaded portions of the portage.

Fourth Machias is a wonderful lake - reasonably remote - with perhaps three or four cabins on the entire lake, very limited access. We camped on a sandy beach about halfway down the lake. On the beach, I found the hoof prints of a large moose and a small moose, and surmised that it was a mother and calf.

The next day, we explored Fourth Machias and paddled up a stream that drains a large swamp, called "Dead Stream". This is a marvelous trip. On the approch to Dead Stream, we saw the cow and calf feeding in the swamp. They didn't seem terribly alarmed by our approach. Further upstream, we saw a juvenile male bound out of the water and into a copse of trees. There were a large number of pitcher plants in the swamp, and they were just in bloom at this point. The flower resembles a tulip a bit, but has a deep crimson/maroon color. The pitchers were still undeveloped.

On our way back downstream, we startled a large bull moose, with a gigantic rack. It also bolted for cover when it saw us coming.

The next day was a long one. We were up again at 4 AM to beat the wind, and paddled to the outlet to Fourth Machias Stream. There was a short portage around a dam at the head of the Stream. When I was a boy, I went both up and down Fourth Machias Stream to practice poling, but the water level was somewhat higher then, due to dam policies.

The stream was scratchy, but passable. Unfortunately there was a large mosquito hatch, and some of the boys left their bughats buried in their packs. After a few miles, the stream levels out into a swamp, where we saw numerous and very large beaver lodges. The beavers are making a huge rebound in this area, as it turns out.

Fourth Machias stream empties into Third Machias Lake. Third Machias is a long lake, with a rocky bluff on the east side of it. It was quite foggy and this gave a very majestic image to the paddle. We had lunch about two thirds of the way down the lake on a nice sand beach.

Our next "turn" was to go through the Getchel Lakes up to Wabussus Lake. The stream that drains the Getchels into Third Machias Lake is basically unused by canoeists. When we scouted for the outlet of Getchel Stream, which the topo said was at the edge of a swamp, it was nowhere to be seen. The other scoutmaster got nervous and thought we should portage, but my son spotted an odd stick that was plunked upright into the swamp - very unusual, and obviously out of place. I looked closer and saw a tiny trickle. It was no more than 20 inches wide and about three inches deep. I told the boys to wait and I dragged my kayak up about a quarter of a mile and found a huge beaver dam, and a large pond behind it that had recently flooded the woods.

The boys dragged the canoes up the trickle and over the beaver dam. They loved canoeing through the drowned forest, with live trees poking up through the water.

We dragged over a second dam and into the first of the Getchel Lakes. We made an accidental detour into a side stream, but this proved to be providential because we saw a loon's nest with eggs in it, and also more pitcher plants.

The next connector into the second Getchel wasn't as nasty as the first, but we did have to haul over a timber road to make the second Getchel. We finally camped at the outlet of Wabussus Lake, where the Grand Lake Stream Snowmobile Club maintains a campsite. It was a bit trashy, so being good scouts, we picked up the garbage and packed it out.

This, too, proved an interesting site. We saw a large hatch of dragonflies that were roaming around in the lowering sun. There must have been 500+ dragonflies. It reminded me of the scene in Harry Potter where the keys were flying around.

The next day was our take out day - rather uneventful. We paddled across Wabussus Lake in the fog, and Al LaPlante met us there and we toured the fish hatchery in Grand Lake Stream.

I got the bug to kayak the St. Croix river. This is a great river with class II and some III and can be run all summer-long (unlike many Maine rivers - e.g. the Machias and St. John can only be run in the spring). It's a real seldom advertised gem, and I would do this one over the Allagash, hands down (Allagash is way too crowded) I intend to try this, either solo, or if I can find a willing partner. Other rivers on my list are spring runs down the entire Machias and the St. John.

My only regret is that I didn't pack any fishing gear, as we saw a lot of fish rising - lake carp and smallmouth mostly, but there are also an isolated species of land-locked salmon that the Grand Lake Stream hatchery specializes in.

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