Volunteer, Veteran, and trip-leader Dean Williams recounts a special trip to Grand Lake Stream/Weatherby’s Lodge in ‘down east’ Maine.  The trip provided a memorable experience in the beautiful waters and woods of Maine for veteran participants attending from across our New England Region.  Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the group was outfitted with Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) to ensure safety protocols were met and that a good, safe time was had by all while wading the fast moving, cold waters of northern New England.   We’re honored to have Dean share his experience as trip leader below:

We were fishing at a PHWFF event provided by the New England Region of PHWFF. The participants came from VT, NH, MA, and ME. I was the designated trip leader, and volunteers came from Northwoods fly fishing, Bangor, Maine PHWFF, of which I am also a co-lead. The event took place at Grand Lake Stream, down east Maine, a terrific land lock salmon, and brook trout fishery. They are mostly wild native fish. Some stocked fish from the lake make it to the stream, but the lake is only stocked every 3-4 years. It took place 15-18 May, 2017 and it was my first trip there, however PHWFF has been invited for several years. We were guests of Weatherby’s Camps/Lodge. Weatherby’ has been around since the early 19th Century. There are an Orvis preferred Lodge.

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I have been a participant/volunteer with PHWFF for nearly 6 years, starting in the Anchorage AK group with Jan Schnorr, and Damond Blankenship. I led many trips there, and a few here in Maine. This was as nice as it gets. Weatherby’s were great hosts, and gave our Vets A1 treatment.

We split our vets up in two shifts to wade, and to fish from boats on the Lake. The food at the camp was top notch, the cabins exceeded expectations. The highlight of the trip, of which there were many, could be when two participants caught fish on flies for the first time. I am sure it was the most memorable for them.  For nearly all they caught their first land lock salmon. .I had everyone gather in the main lodge the first evening and we tied flies. Volunteer Peter Brooks from Bangor, ME and I taught the “Golden Retriever” , a local salmon fly that is golden/ginger in color with a red floss body overplayed with ginger/gold estasz – a kind of a wooly bugger.  Everyone caught a fish on their flies, and this was particularly rewarding to Peter and myself.

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The water was very high, and difficult to wade throughout the trip.  As requested by Regional Coordinator George Draper, I wanted to provide some feedback on our use of PFDs during the event — YES: THEY SAVE LIVES. They come in many styles and adjust to comfort, nearly weightless, and they will SAVE your life.  When I lead a fishing trip with PHWFF,  they are mandatory. The rule pertains to boats, canoes, float tubes and above all wading.  This trip provides two stories of successful waders and PFDs:
1.  Peter is a volunteer with PHWFF. He is an awesome fly tyer who proudly supports the values of PHWFF. While at Grand Lake Stream, a place he is very familiar with, from wading the shores and banks for many years. He was escorting a participant into a favorite pool. The Vet had some fishing experience, he eagerly complied with all requests to exercise safety.  The streaming was much higher than normal for this late in May, due to late ice-out, and abnormal amounts of spring rains. Peter was changing positions while in fish search mode. He rolled a large rock and started a tight rope balancing act, keeping contact with rod, gear, etc.  he went face down,and under water. The PFD inflated instantly bringing his head up, and he clamored onto the rocks, and shore. “Man those things really work.”  “I cannot swim, and I was under water”.  Though only less than 3′ deep it seemed like 6′ to Peter.   Peter always wears a PFD, and always encourages those around him to wear them also. “I always wondered if they would work when needed, I now have no doubts.”

2.  A lady participating in the trip, fishing with Peter the very next day, had cause to become a believer. We (4 of us) had taken a circuitous route into the stream out to a sand bar. There was little current where we were standing, but a couple of steps in front the current was strong and quite deep. After awhile she said she was cold and was going to shore to warm her legs. Water temp was about 40degrees. She turned quickly, and took 2 steps in a different route, poof the PFD inflated she had stepped into water up to neck. We grabbed the pfd and got her standing.  She had followed protocol, her PFD was in place and adjusted properly, she had her chest waders belted tightly, and took in only a little water…I took her to shore, and up to my truck for a quick trip to our cabins, . Dry clothes, dry waders, warm up, lunch,  back to the stream, same location, and proceeded to catch a nice 20″ landlocked salmon.

In both cases would either have drown without their PFDs and they enabled a safe, and uninterrupted joyful experience wading the high, cold water while catching beautiful native fish.

The event was a great success and I’d like to thank Peter Brooks a volunteer and retired Marine, who is beyond terrific. He has many talents,fly tying, rod building, guiding. He was very familiar with the stream, and proudly led the waders each day.  Also special thanks to Jeff McEvoy, guide, fish-a-holic, and owner of Weatherby’s. He insured that guides were available, ready to coach and get participants onto fish.

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