Fishing in Public

by "Tackle Box" Billy Kelley

Discovering the Presumpscot

Now it just goes to show you can’t believe everything you read (and I write). Last month I sorta left folks thinking that other than the Fore River there’s no place for fishing in Portland. Not quite true. There’s another river that, while not specifically in Portland, you can get to on the Portland bus service: the Presumpscot River.

The Presumpscot is so interwoven in the history and heritage of Portland that I could fill a book writing about it. From when settlers got here and started floating logs downstream for His Majesty’s Navy to the modern mill days, it’s always been worth discussion. For a while you could even jump on a ferry and end up in Harrison! I wish you still could. Must have been a really nice ride before they had to install all those ugly-as-sin concrete dams. Oh well, I guess they wanted electricity more than scenery.

Anyway, my buddy and I headed out to scout out the territory, so to speak. My pal, who used to fish the river most every evening in season, always gave it mixed reviews. That’s because the Presumpscot is another one of those damn estuaries, which my Merriam-Webster describes as “a passage of water where the tide meets the river current.” (That’s another good reason not to require saltwater fishing licenses, since where does the saltwater start and freshwater end? Figure that out, you sons of bitchin’ lawmakers!)

My buddy would report that he’d be catching pogies one night and trout the next. See what I mean? Mixed up aplenty. I suspect water depth has something to do with it. And some fish — not very many — can actually go from fresh water to saline. The bull shark comes to mind, which back in the early 1900s attacked and chomped and killed some young recreational swimmers in upstate New Jersey. They’ve even been spotted some 1,500 miles up the Mississippi River. They got some method of extracting saltwater. But trout don’t, and nor do pogies (a.k.a. alewives).

Sometimes my buddy’d get a striper. Like I say, it’s a matter of depth, and the tide. And, of course, your bait. I’m thinking of just tossing on a worm and see what I get and the hell with it. But this poses another dilemma: do I use a saltwater clam worm or a nice fat nightcrawler? Maybe I’ll try both — use saltwater bait on top (’cause saltwater floats) and deeper down use freshwater bait. Boy, us fishermen have to ponder some real serious stuff sometimes. Folks just don’t get what we go through some days. Come to think of it, it’d be kind of humorous to bring up a trout and a stripe on the same line.

So I’m on my excursion on the bus, heading for Oklahoma — whoops, I mean the Presumpscot (sorry, those Injun names fuck me up). The bus driver’s a nice guy, giving me perfect directions to the water. I think I can see Mount Washington. Or maybe Katahdin. Christ, I should have brought an overnight bag. It is definitely the longest bus ride in town. The driver also tells me he’s not seen one fisherman this year. I know some folks come out here, though — I can see their cars.


So I’ve been at the river a while and I’ve yet to even see a fish. I surely wish I could catch enough to keep me interested, at least, ’cause this is one excellent place to be. I guess you’d say it’s serene. Kind of weird, too — I can see the current going in two different directions at the same time.

We must remember, folks, that just ’cause I don’t get scratch today doesn’t mean I ain’t gonna next time. I just maybe should be more careful. I got no idea which or what license I should have.

What a gorgeous day. The temps perfect. All that good stuff is kicking in. I’m coming back here for sure. You folks would love it. You’d be walking away singing, “Way down upon the Suwannee River,” or something like that. Two kayakers float on by and they say they’re having the time of their life.

You know, it’s funny: When I was a young lad, I couldn’t even get close to this river. Big, ugly things, like foam, floated on it. Goddamn stuff made you want to puke. Coming from S.D. Warren — God knows what it was. To be fair, a few others chipped in pollution also.

Bruce is the bus driver, and he’s done a real good job showing me the way. If you take the bus out, try to get Bruce. He’s the regular driver. You take the No. 6 bus to Auburn Street and get off and head for the bridge. You can see it easy and you’ll come to a real nice spot, for fishing or just a picnic. Maybe I’ll see
ya there.