Reporting aside: It’s never been a bad day on the Kennebec River

It’s always a good day on the river — that’s Willie Grenier’s philosophy, anyway.

Whether he’s fishing for Shad or not, the 75-year-old Waterville fisherman enjoys being on the Kennebec in the 14-foot-tall aluminum Lund van for which he bought his new 15-horsepower Mercury engine this year.

With his left hand on the winch, Grenier went out into the river Thursday morning from the boat that had landed at the south end of Water Street in Waterville, the sun at full tilt, not a cloud in the sky.

The temperature was 63 degrees and calm except for the sounds of birds chirping and the sound of water crashing against the sides of the boat.

About 100 yards to the south, the cars and trucks on the Donald Bridge at Carter Memorial looked like toys moving along the river. About 3/4 mile to the north, Lockwood Dam flowed into the water.

We sailed along the Winslow side of the river. As we approached Fort Halifax Park at the confluence of the Sebasticook and Kennebec Rivers, Grenier waved a fisherman who was standing, thigh high, in the water, throwing a fly.

Fisherman Willie Grenier, 75, talks with a passing fisherman Thursday near Teconic Bay on the Kennebec River in Waterville. Grenier caught Shad and released him during his journey down the river. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“do you know him?” I asked.

“Everyone is a friend,” Grenier said. “I have a lot of friends who fish there. They bore with me.”

Having been fishing since he was five years old, Grenier knows a lot not only about fishing, but also about the ecology of the river. A 35-year-old retired Clinton Elementary School teacher, he has taught river environment to many high school and college students over the years, and worked for 10 years with the Healing Waters Project, taking disabled veterans fishing. A member of Trout Unlimited, he taught at that organization’s Maine Trout camp in Solon.

Standing in the boat, Grenier raised his stick and threw a fly towards the east. Punishment flew over the head.

The river level was a bit too low on Thursday to fish in Ticonic Bay, the area between Fort Halifax Park and Lockwood Dam where the Alloy population exploded after the Edwards Dam in Augusta was removed in 1999. It’s where Grenier usually fish for Shad as it is A world class shad fishing spot, but we stayed a little further downstream.

Willie Grenier, 75, catches Shad with a fly Thursday while fishing from his boat near Teconic Bay on the Kennebec River in Waterville. Grenier estimates the fish to be about 16 inches long and weigh more than 2 pounds. Grenier says his biggest shadder caught in Kennebec was 24 inches and 6 pounds. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

He was quickly struck by a blow – a silver-gray 16 inch in diameter slithered into the water until it gathered into a net and then slid back into the water. The fish is estimated at 2 pounds and is about 4 years old. Born in this part of the river, he explained, Shad returns here every spring to lay eggs and then goes back to the ocean, 64 miles away. Alewives are also sea-run fish that climb into the river to spawn.

The river wasn’t always full of shads, birds, small and big-mouthed fish, and other fish, but after the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, led by then-Maine Senator Edmund Musky, the river’s environment improved.

Grenier remembers growing up in Lewiston at the age of twelve, throwing a line in the foul-smelling Androscoggin River while hearing a toilet flush in the nearby river. It was the same situation here in Waterville, where the sewage was pumped directly into Kennebec.

According to Grenier, maintaining a healthy ecosystem and ensuring the passage of Atlantic salmon and other fish upriver so they can spawn and not go extinct.

“I want to see this river useful for future generations,” he said. “I am always looking for the future. I remember as a kid thinking that life would never be good. There was a lot of pollution. Seeing soot on the top of my dad’s car, behind a truck spreading DDT on ash trees and paint It flakes off the car because of it. What they later find out about Dutch elm disease is that it can be taken care of by putting a ladybird on it, which would have eaten the parasites. Nature has a way of saving itself, and man has a way of destroying it.”

An immature eagle soared through the sky near a bald eagle perched in a maple tree on the river bank. As we head back to the boat landing, Grenier reflects on his long-standing love of the outdoors.

A bald eagle flies over fisherman Willie Grenier, 75, as he fishes Thursday from his boat near Teconic Bay on the Kennebec River in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“For me, fishing has always been part of my escape. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a relief from everyday life. It was my port, I grew up. It’s so peaceful. You never know what you’re going to catch.”

The most majestic fish to be seen in Québec, he said, is the sturgeon.

“The whole sturgeon just jumped out of the water and splashed me in my boat. It’s about 6 feet long.”

This summer, Grenier plans to head to Grand Falls on the Dead River, past West Forks, where he’s camping outside his pickup truck and spending his time fishing and reading.

“This is my absolute favorite place,” he said.

Amy Calder has been a reporter on Morning Sentinel for 34 years. Its columns are shown here on Saturdays. May be accessed at [email protected]. For previous reporting columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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