Kennebec River, Maine – Sean McCormick fell in love with fishing as a teenager.
He taught himself fly fishing on the Shepscott River near his home in Whitefield. It was not an easy task, as the river presents enormous challenges for fishermen.
“You should have all the trick in your toolbox. If you don’t, good luck. It’s like a jungle,” McCormick said of the overgrown shoreline. “I learned how to dry fish.”
There were big fish in the river – landlocked salmon, brown trout, and trout – but conditions were making him master all kinds of molds. Find out how to match the appropriate dry fly to the hole and attach it to itself.
Despite the learning curve, McCormick became fascinated by the process and his enthusiasm for fly fishing continued to grow.
The 60-year-old Master Maine Guide now spends about 50 days a year sharing his knowledge and passion with clients as the operator of Blue Heron Fly Fishing.
McCormick, the chief estimator of the Augusta Fuel Company, guides mostly on the Kennebec River, where he paddles with a Hyde Drift boat to some of his favorite spots.
After his first trip on a drift boat with a friend, he was hooked.
“I came home and said, I’ll take one of these, come to hell or high water,” he said.
His wife, Leslie, encouraged him to buy his first floating boat. These days, he’s in his third hyde.
Through his involvement with Trout Unlimited, he learned that in order to donate pontoon boat trips to the organization, he had to become a guide. So he did.
“It turned into a very important side job,” he said with a laugh. “And I went from being a young man on the river to an old fart.”
On Sunday my son William and I were lucky to accompany Sean on the 6 1/2 mile long ride from Kennebec.
We were treated to a master class in fishing in Kennebec by a man who not only knows the river but is eager to share his knowledge of not only fishing, but also the wildlife, plants, flowers and conservation.
Sean stopped working. I’m a novice fly catcher, and William is a hypothetical novice. Our inexperience didn’t stop Sean from making sure that we pulled away with a new set of skills.
Sean is a model of organization. At launch, he systematically took out all the equipment from his car and put it in the boat. It included a Yeti fridge stocked with food and drinks, a Coleman stove, Yeti foldable chairs, a foldable table and other things.
In preparation for a long day in the hot sun, we all wore hats, long-sleeved shirts, and/or some sunscreen. Sean wore zip-up helmets and a visor, leaving only his sunglasses and the brim of his hat exposed.
We started with a quick history lesson, stopping at a rock ledge decorated with Native American carvings called petroglyphs. They are believed to have been from the pre-Columbian era, depicting people, animals, boats, and other scenes and are more easily recognizable after Shawn sprinkled some water on the rock.
We started fishing in the rapids not far down the river. By then Sean must have realized he was around for a long day of speaking lessons.
“I love teaching people,” he said, noting that he also hooks all his dry flies.
We started all of them using the golden stone fly.
We ‘fixed’ the line to delay the water pull in flight, then quickly flip more of the line over to help it float along the water.
“Foam is home,” he said of the bubbles floating on top.
Early on, Shawn picked up a stray life preserver and an empty Bud Lite can of water, noting that he was always on the trash detail.
Although we were standing on opposite sides of the boat, William and I occasionally got tangled up in our lines or tied together. Sean quietly revealed many of those crises when he gave advice on the casting process.
After an hour’s flight, we approached a promising riverbank bordered by well-moving water with a few overhanging trees. We managed to get the flies close to shore and Sean suddenly directed me to throw into a certain hole as quickly as possible.
I managed to put the fly on target and within two seconds I saw a flash as a brown trout sniffed at the fly. I raised the tip of the rod to adjust the hook and enjoyed a short struggle.
Sean, who commented that it was bigger than initially thought, carefully assembled the fish and left it submerged as we peeked quickly and snapped some photos.
The gorgeous brown trout was golden on top and bottom, with black and red speckled spots on a white background down the middle from nose to tail. It was the first brown trout I ever caught.
Sean gently coaxed the fish, which he estimated to be 19 to 20 inches, from the net. He handed me the fly as a souvenir of the occasion after learning that it was his first brown.
We came empty at a couple of other promising places and then it was lunch time. Sean disassembled the equipment and prepared a feast that included a cocktail of shrimp, cheese, bread, and steak with fried onions, mushrooms, potato salad, and cherry tomatoes.
Several kayakers and people in inflatable boats arrived, and one group was playing loud country music. Another woman paddled past carelessly, to our surprise, tanning her bare breasts.
While there, Shaun rows to retrieve a half-inflated buoy that holds a small igloo cooler. The owner passed by, but made no effort to come to retrieve it.
We ate our fill, and then went back to hunting. Sean entertained us with many entertaining stories about fishing exploits on the river and also tried to explain the dynamics of the various Kennebec fisheries.
And he didn’t stop training. He couldn’t, given my tendency to tinker with fixing my fly.
William later got into the act, using a zebra nymph—a replica of the many flies that hatch right in front of us—to catch brown trout and then landlocked trout.
With Sean as our coach, our selection improved greatly during the day.
Finally, as the sun sets, Shaun puts us at a bend in the river, hoping to see one last insect hatch, which never materializes. Today I culminated in the capture of the third Chub.
Sean led us to a nearby boat, where he pulled the boat out of the water and began collecting equipment amid a swarm of mosquitoes and fireflies.
We are exhausted, but elated, from the wonderful experience Shawn provided and can’t wait to have the opportunity to test our new skills.