Friends of mine have been heading to Maine to fish during the third weekend in May for decades: many since the first trip in 1968. When the topic of fishing came up at a basketball game, I told the guys I was gearing up to start fly fishing, and they invited me to join in this yearly, multigenerational ritual.
The size of the group has grown to more than 30 guys, so in 2012, the destination was a sprawling cabin resort: Bear Spring Camps on Great Pond Lake in Rome, Maine. I hadn't fished on a lake in more than 20 years, but they certainly make it easy for you at the camp. They supply licenses, boat rentals, lakefront cottages and a main dining hall, where three meals a day are included in the price of your stay.
Many of the lakefront cottages have been made over in the last year, with work in progress on the remainder. My party stayed in one of the newly upgraded cabins. All cabins have two or three bedrooms, a living area with couch and chairs, a refrigerator and a wood stove. Each cabin also has its own outdoor fire pit surrounded by plenty of chairs, which made for a perfect nighttime communal place where the day’s fishing stories could be told. There is plenty of seasoned, pre-cut wood provided for both inside and outside.
Bear Spring Camps is open mid-May through October 1. The room and meals are just $75 per person, per day double occupancy in the off season: a remarkable deal. From mid-June through Labor Day, cottages must be reserved by the week at rates beginning at $1,045 for two (or $75 per person, per day) as of 2013.
Meals are served at set times in the main dining hall. Guests are assigned tables and servers for the duration of their stay. The food is good, and there is plenty to eat. Non-alcoholic beverages are provided, or you may bring your own beer, wine or other beverage of choice.
Breakfast is the biggest and best meal of the day. There is always a hot cereal selection on the menu, plus something freshly baked like popovers or muffins. You can also order fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes or French toast, in any or all combinations.
For lunch, there are usually two choices. During my stay, one day it was fried fish or meatloaf with mashed potatoes and salad. Another day, I ordered the Yankee Pot Roast with noodles and broccoli.
Once a week, Bear Spring Camps offers a lobster dinner, but I opted for prime rib. There is also always a homemade dessert choice. Yes, all of this for $75 per day. They also will pack you a bag lunch if you prefer to stay out on the boat all day fishing.
You can get your Maine fishing license right at the camp, and they offer motor boat rentals as well, from $35 to $55 per day depending on the size. Rates are cheaper by the week. Canoes and kayaks can be rented, too. You can also bring your own boat, and they will help you launch it and provide a mooring, and gas is available for purchase on-site. Some of the seasoned fishermen in our group brought their own trolling motors to use on the rental boats.
From the stories I heard on this trip, I thought the fish would be jumping into the boat. I had limited luck. Great Pond Lake's most popular catches are smallmouth and largemouth bass and pike. While we lucked out with unseasonably warm weather for a May weekend in Maine, that unfortunately does not translate into the best fishing weather (that is my excuse, at least!). I did see people catching fish. My friend Tim pulled in the biggest fish--a 4.2-pound pike--and won the fishing pool, and one night, fishermen brought in their catch to be cooked for dinner.
On our last night, we skipped dinner at Bear Spring Camps and headed to the Village Inn in Belgrade Lakes, Maine: They're famous for their duck dinner. We feasted on duck sausages and a half duck, with a selection of their famous sauces: Orange Sherry, Apricot Sweet and Sour, Brandied Black Cherry, Raspberry, Wild Maine Blueberry, Orange, Cranberry, Spiced Apple, Rhubarb Ginger and Thai Lemongrass.
While I caught only one little fish, it was still a memorable adventure, and I enjoyed being outside and on the water. The natural setting is unbelievably scenic. You are serenaded all day by the call of the loons and other wild birds. We saw families of ducks and geese, and the most amazing Bald Eagles, which swooped out of their nests and caught fish right in front of us.
I've already talked another friend into coming along on next May's fishing trip. It didn't take tales of landing the big one. Just the assurance that three days on a Maine lake with a fun group of guys is all it takes to return to the work world with a new, relaxed frame of mind.