As I write this, I'm on the dock at our annual tackle test.
This year we returned to Migis Lodge, a lovely place, set amid the pines along the quiet shores of Lake Sebago, Maine.
Those searching for a great place to take the family need to check this place out. (207-655-4524; migis.com) The setting is stunning-cozy cottages sit along the tree-lined shores. The main lodge, which has been in continuous operation since 1916, really has that warmly rustic feel of a Maine great camp, with roaring fires in stone fireplaces and fantastic views of the lake. For those looking for a seaside retreat, owner Tim Porta also operates The Inn At Ocean's Edge near Camden, Maine. (207-236-0945; innatoceansedge.com)
Thirty-one cabins of various sizes are scattered among the pines on the 100-acre property at Migis, and there is a state-of-the-art conference center for corporate retreats. Food and service is absolutely five-star-all homemade (and to die for). The staff is attentive and there are lots of activities. Hang out and swim, water-ski (they have a powerful boat all tricked out for waterskiing), hike, bike, sail a classic wooden sailboat or hire a local fishing guide like our friend, registered Maine guide Brooke Hidell (207-415-3787; mainelandlocked.com), who guides right out of the lodge for fantastic smallmouth fishing. Brooke is a first-class guide who really knows the local waters and the fish. Charter him for a half or a full day and take the kids-you won't be disappointed.
We love coming here after the Labor Day rush because it's just so peaceful. The days are quiet but the weather is generally lovely, with days in the 70s and nights just cool enough for a fire.
I got the early morning flight out of La Guardia and arrived one hour later in Portland. The weather today is perfect-lots of sunshine and temps in the 70s. The view coming into Portland over Casco Bay was spectacular; all the inshore islands were lit up in the early-morning sun. Fishing editor Jerry Gibbs picked me up at baggage claim for the 35-minute drive out to Migis.
Associate editor John Taranto and Brooke were just coming in from a morning of fishing when we arrived at the lodge. Fishing this time of the year can be fantastic. In two hours the boys landed about a dozen fish. Most of the catch was scrappy smallmouths up to 1 1/2 pounds. The catch of the day was a single largemouth that ran about 3 pounds-big for largemouths in these waters.
The boys had all of the rods racked up on the casting dock and we went straight to work. Lots of new rods and reels this year, with plenty of innovations. The big news this year is the continuation of "specialized" tackle for all manner of fishing species and techniques. Among the many rods in this year's test were specialized salmon/steelhead rods built for drifting baits (mainly in rivers and river mouths). Several special drop-shotting rigs, walleye rods and ultralight rods for crappies and panfish are also among the rods we're testing.
The big trend toward inshore fishing continues as companies continue to expand their line of inshore rods and reels, and it's easy to see why. Right now, just off the beach where I live up along the Long Island Sound, the stripers are in close. A friend caught a 38-incher the other night in the pitch dark by throwing the biggest, ugliest bunny fly in his tackle box. He heaved it out there and wham!, he had a 35-minute fight on his hands. It's awesome. Saturday morning at my son's soccer game one of the local dads told me that they were covered up with bluefish running up to 12 pounds that were hammering the baitfish just off the rocks.
Back at Migis, the calm morning turned increasingly windy as the day wore on, but we kept casting until 5 p.m., when Brooke broke out a special bottle of bourbon he'd received for Christmas that was simply awesome-a nice way to end a perfect day as we watched the sun slip down over the mountains to the West. Weather tomorrow is calling for rain and high winds, so I'm glad we had at least one full day of sunshine.
Dave Tueffel from L.L. Bean joined us for dinner. It was good to catch up on all the news from Dave. Those perusing the L.L. Bean Web site will find all sorts of great new additions to their hunting line of clothing. I was telling Dave that, at least where I live, practically every kid owns a Bean backpack that they haul their books to school in. Dave said he wasn't surprised and noted that in the weeks leading up to the start of school, L.L. Bean sells a child's backpack every 7 seconds.
He also told us that Bean will be expand their retail store operations in the Northeast over the next five years. Plans for some five or more stores are in the works right now, which bodes well for sportsmen. It was also interesting to hear just how much L.L. Bean contributes to conservation efforts all over the country. It's not something that they make a big deal out of, but trust me: Their contributions are substantial at many levels, all of which help hunters and fishermen.
[pagebreak] Day 2
Well, the weatherman didn't lie. Winds are up around 30 knots this morning. No rain yet, but the barometer is falling. I spent an hour or so finishing up on the dock this morning before breakfast trying a variety of bait-casting reels. The neat bonus for fishermen that I see is that as new innovations are added to the high-end lines of most manufacturers, features that just a year or two were only available on the most expensive reels are trickling down into the lower-priced rigs, making even the least expensive reels better than ever.
Just a few years back, a 5-to-1 retrieve ratio on bait-casters was big news. Today, just about everyone is offering reels with 6-to-1 retrieve ratios, and one of the new reels we tested from Quantum has an incredibly fast 7-to-1 ratio. This is a real plus for guys working lighter baits that need to get in and out of tight cover quickly, although you may find yourself growing a little weary of cranking by the end of the day when using these high-retrieve ratio rigs on larger baits, deep-diving baits in particular.
More titanium parts, closer machine tolerance and the addition of ball bearings to just about every model we tested makes for very smooth-casting (and smooth-retrieving) reels.
Winds have increased and Jerry and I have moved inside to begin crunching the numbers to determine who will win our "Editor's Choice" in the various categories (spinning and bait-casting) for both rods and reels. We don't know who the winners are yet, but you can catch all of the announcements in our March 2006 issue, which will hit newsstands right around the last week in February. I'm sure there'll be some surprises when all the tallying is done.