This remote Township [Grand Lake Stream, Me.] may seem to the casual visitor like one of the spare ends of our country...." A historian named Minnie Atkinson used this candid description in the foreword to her book Hinckley Township or Grand Lake Stream Plantation, published 47 years ago. But if you were to put Minnie's words to a native of this tiny village in Maine's Down-Easternmost Washington County today, you might get the following description:
"Spare? Depends. Might call the village itself spare. Kinda shy on people all right—native population's 'bout 250—and on business establishments. Let's see, there's Harold Adams' store, and there's Paul Hoar's store, and then there's the salmon hatchery. Used to have the biggest tannery in the world, but it closed back in '98. Not much else around the village. Ain't even got our own historical society for the summer people. But if you want big woods or clean air or fishin' water or loons, why we got more 'n enough of them to spare."
Fishing water is what brings most visitors to this far corner of Maine, and the village of Grand Lake Stream is nearly awash in it. From ice-out in early spring until the end of the delightful fall, anglers from all over the country come to try for landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, lake trout (the natives call them "togue") and brook trout.
Although the best month is June, when the salmon are on top and the bass can be taken on the spawning beds (with single-hook lures only), the fishing continues to be good throughout the season. Registered Maine guides in this area get $20 a day (the price includes canoe, motor and gas) and are famous for their cookout lunches of T-bone steak, boiled potatoes, homemade bread, fresh berry pie and strong black tea cooked over "dri-ki" (driftwood) fires. You can also have your morning's catch filleted, rolled in cornmeal and fried in spitting-hot oil. The firm, white meat of the small but game white perch is particularly delicious done this way.
The fact that Grand Lake Stream (and all of Washington County) is so well known for its outstanding fishing and hunting should not rule it out as an ideal family-vacation spot. A number of lodges (not to be confused with rough sporting camps) in the area cater to vacationing anglers and their families. One such is Leen's Lodge on West Grand Lake. Owned by Stan Leen, a Bangor industrialist, and his wife, Barb, the lodge offers fishing as well as sailing, water-skiing, swimming, canoeing and hiking on quiet woods roads and trails. Leen's comfortable cabins all have lake views, and the rates are reasonable—American plan, with three hearty meals, is $18 a day for adults, $10 for children under 10. The atmosphere is casual, and organized activities are kept to a minimum. There are steak cookouts on Saturdays at a wooded cove up the lake, and even the most serious fishermen come off the lake to join in, possibly because Stan Leen serves an excellent rum punch called the "Grand Lake Special."
Perhaps the best way to get to know this still unspoiled country is to take a leisurely day's canoe trip down one of the many streams around Grand Lake Stream. Paddling quietly down the Little River, for example, through beaver flowages and "pugs" (dead-water stretches), you may surprise a beaver working on its dam or a muskrat having lunch on its feeding bed. Hen sheldrakes and their fledglings snorkel for minnows in the shallows, and bald eagles soar high above the tall pines and spruce. In the evening loons cry hauntingly back and forth, and the lucky canoeist may be able to photograph a moose wallowing chest-deep in the river.
For a change of pace from the quiet woods, you can always drive to the rocky Maine coast in an hour or so. Beachcombing is popular all along Washington County's 700 miles of rugged coastline, and charter boats at Jonesport, Cutler and Eastport will take you fishing for mackerel and pollock. There are several good golf courses, including the scenic Algonquin at St. Andrews just over the New Brunswick border.
But the family escaping from automobiles and trains, telephones, city smog, taxis, groups and business luncheons may find that once it discovers Grand Lake Stream, it will not want to leave until the last minute of the last day. Thomas J. Hall, a retired Air Force colonel who has spent seven summers with his wife in a cottage on Greenlawn Chopping Island in Big Lake, puts it this way: "We've toured and fished in 49 states, but this is the place we come back to. The people here have a lot to do with it. They just don't come more down-to-earth."
He meant people like Leslie Williams, a young (23) guide who gets as big a thrill out of seeing a five-pound salmon caught or surprising an otter sliding down a muddy riverbank as his clients do. People like Harold Adams, whose store in Grand Lake Stream stocks many effective fly patterns for landlocked salmon. The fishing season was almost over when one customer stopped in. All Mr. Adams had left were three patterns—all of them brown. Looking over the skimpy selection, the visitor asked which fly was the best for salmon.
"Any one," Mr. Adams replied with a straight face, "as long as there's some brown in it."
The visitor knew better, but he bought three brown flies anyway. Only a heartless, humorless soul could turn down a Down East sales pitch like that.