Mother's Rock

By Joe Talbot Jr. | May 10, 2018

My dad, Joe Talbot Sr., was thought by everyone who knew him to be born with a fly rod in his hand.

He was forever a lover of Maine, salmon & trout fishing, deer & bird hunting, and living a clean and simple life.  He became a registered Maine Guide in his mid-20s and started out at some fishing camps on the shores of Lilly Bay on mighty Moosehead Lake in northern Maine.  He would guide "sports" as the guides referred to the people who came there in search of landlocked salmon, trout and toque (lake trout).  He and many other guides would take them out on the lake in their 20-foot canoes, and paddle them all day while trolling with sewed-on live minnows and hand-tied streamer flies.  The need for guides on the lake was necessary because of the dangers that the largest land-locked lake east of the Mississippi presented.  It is over 40 miles long, 20 miles wide, with many islands, bays, and coves.  The wind could rise up with very little notice, and often people could be capsized, or stranded on shore for days without food or any provisions.  There were very few roads to allow access beyond two or three miles north of Greenville.

Some of his fellow guides were Maine Native American Indians, and before long, each summer, Dad was so tanned, with his checkered wool shirt made by Brewster Textile Mill in Camden, and wide-brimmed felt hat, he looked just like them. They were a tight-knit bunch, and they willfully shared with each other, where on the lake they found ample fish. Often they would agree to meet at one of the beaches on the lake at noon, and together they would have broiled salmon they had caught that morning, along with johnny cake, roasted corn & egg coffee.  Then they would fish back to the camps for a mid-afternoon nap, and perhaps go out again for an hour or two before sunset.

Norm Capen, the owner of Capen's Hotel & Sporting Camps on Moosehead Lakes' Deer Island about 20 miles up from Greenville, came to see my dad in Camden one winter.  He convinced Dad to come to his hotel, and bring three of his guide buddies with him for the fishing season somewhere around 1948 or 49. A few days later Dad accepted his offer, especially because Norm also invited my mother to be the head waitress in the hotel dining room, and I could come along too.  He gave us a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of the hotel. Thus began a change in our normal routine whereas all three of us aimed for "up country" when the report of the ice-out at Moosehead became known.  I was released from school early, just like the farmer kids were for planting, and usually my mother and I would be back for start of school just after labor day weekend.

The winter of 1954 brought disaster to Norm: the hotel burned flat to the ground.  It looked like God himself had just removed the massive structure completely from where it once proudly stood.

A few months later, Don Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Hotel at the East Outlet, called my dad and asked him to move over with him, and of course knowing that my mother was an excellent waitress, offered her an opportunity to serve in the hotel dining room.  It was a big relief to my father, and he of course, liking Don very much, quickly accepted, so the result was, no interruption the next summer in what had become our summer routine.   The first year, we lived on the fourth floor with other guides and employees, but shortly thereafter, Don offered us a two-bedroom camp on a very small island a couple of miles away from the hotel.  Dad gladly accepted; no running water, no electricity, and the outhouse far enough away from the camp created a true adventure for me.  "Charades" was the game of choice most evenings, with cribbage a near second.

Speaking of fish, one day my dad was trolling up the lake with a sport named Ed Feely.  He was a disagreeable sort, complaining about how he was paying the famous "White Water Joe" $50 a day to give him a tour of the lake.  In other words, there was no action.  As they neared a very small island with a tapering ledge on one end and a few scrub bushes surrounding one lonely pine tree on the other end, they saw a lady sitting in an aluminum chair with a wide-brimmed hat and checkered shirt, reading, and a fishing rod (Dad never allowed us to call it a "pole").  As they drew a bit closer, they saw her jump from the chair, and drew back on the rod to "set" the hook.  She stood there for nearly twenty minutes, carefully "playing" the fish, without any hurry, until at one point, the fish jumped out of the water, and landed on the ledge at her feet, flopping around like crazy.  She wetted her hands in the lake, gently lifted the fish off the ledge and put him back in the water.  She continued playing the fish until it could barely move any more, then she released what appeared to be a three or four pound salmon back into the lake.  Dad and Ed continued trolling on back to the hotel.

It was the custom of a couple of guides to take turns coming in to the dining room during the evening meal, and offer a song for the enjoyment of the guests every once in a while.  That night, Dad was there for that purpose, and after his song, and polite applause of the dining guests, Ed, his sport for the encounter earlier that day, rose from his table, tapped on his water glass with his spoon, and said the customary "May I please have your attention?"   He began by telling all the guests  "Joe is a much better singer than he is a guide. I've been riding around the lake for two whole days, without so much as one strike!  We came upon a little island this afternoon, and we saw a woman fishing from the ledge, playing a salmon like I've never seen before, and I'll be d****  if I didn't see with my own eyes, when the fish jumped out of the water and landed on the rock at her feet, and she threw it back and played it some more.  She didn't even realize we were watching, but when the poor fish was worn out, she released it back to the lake, then went on reading her book!  That was one crazy lady, bet me!"  Everyone one in the dining room suddenly became aware that Ed was the only person in the room that didn't have a clue that the woman he was talking about was his guide's wife, my mother!  Then they all started laughing.  I'll bet Ed went to his grave not knowing the truth.  Dad guided him the next day, without ever telling him.  Soon after that, the little island about 75 yards from the island we lived on, that she fished a couple of days a week, was ceremoniously named "Mother's Rock.”  Many people told the story in the dining room for years and years after that.

Joe Talbot is a former columnist for Peterson Publications’ “Off Road Magazine” and “Four Wheeler Magazine.” He lives in Belfast.





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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | May 10, 2018 16:07

Great story! Typical Maine lore. I heard great hunting stories spun in my store at Hope Corner. Some whoppers and some believable. Great laughter and camaraderie. I gave free coffee and enjoyed the fun! I also tagged some large deer!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever

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