The Kennebago camp where roaches had fins

Came a letter the other day from old friend Bill Rotch. Bill and I are alumni of the old journalistic guard that didn't mean "treasure chest" when we said "quoin box," and our biggest fear was that the foreman would lock up a recipe for rhubarb jam in our boss editorial about honestly in public office.

He had the Milford Cabinet, a newspaper in a New Hampshire village that shall be nameless here. Now that New England newspapers are edited via fax from South Dakota, Bill, like me, is gladly retired and does some bird watching.

At the moment, Bill thinks I overplayed my instructions in a recent dispatch about building a fire in rainy woods. "What," he asks, "do you do in woodland where there are no birch trees and dry pine limbs?"

Once, many years ago, I quoted here a remark by Flint Johnson. Flint was my trail crony and the best woodsman I've known. Flint said one time that he'd be a foolish man who would freeze to death in a wooded country. When I quoted Flint to this extent, a copy editor for this newspaper corrected "wooded" so it came out "wooden."

Flint said, "I don't know how it happens, but every time I look there's somebody who knows more than I do."

Bill pronounces his name "Rotch" and "Roach." You won't hear too much nowadays in Maine about the roach. It was an old word for the whitefish, a freshwater beast otherwise registered as Coregonis clupeaformis. I believe that Thoreau took and ate some roach on one of his visits to the Maine Woods, and he pronounced it delicious. It is, but trout and salmon are better.

The whitefish will take a fly, but does not leap for it and put on the big act of trout and salmon, and is logy as a game fish. No great action. They are white meat, as advertised, and in the right water attain good size as a pan fish. I have no notion if they are related to the European freshwater fish called a roach, which you'll find in Isaac Walton as a respectable variety.

When the cluster of vacation camps was built at Kennebago Lake Club, each of the 25 or so cabins was named, and with the exception of the Roaches, all are extant today under their original names.

First in the line was Alpha. Then there was Sunset, and Antlers, and so on, and there were the two camps named for the whitefish, or roach, Big Roach and Little Roach. So long as old-timers were around, these names were regionally correct and the two Roach camps sat side by side on Hartshorn Point and the view of West Kennebago Mountain, down the lake, was superb.

The difference between Little Roach and Big Roach was, I believe, one bedroom and $25 a day. But times changed, the old-timers faded, and vacation resorts like Kennebago Lake Club went out of style. The word "roach" for a fish ceased to be commonly used. It became an unfortunate word when used for a lovely log cabin deep in the Maine woods and on the breakfast end of Kennebago Lake.

The resort closed, the individual camps were sold one by one to folks wanting such hideaways, and all at once the word "roach" meant a bug, and was no longer apt for the cultural purposes of serene vacationland living.

The two camps had their names changed to Little Yonder and Big Yonder, and one was sold to a gentleman from Hawaii, or Connecticut, or some such place, and the other was sold to somebody else. Both are well used, improved by additions and better facilities, and there are no old-timers around now to call them Little Roach and Big Roach. And this is wonderful to me, because every time I get a letter from Bill Rotch, it makes me think, not of a cockroach, but of the Yonder camps up at the lake.

One time I had gone to Kennebago to meditate (angling is the contemplative man's recreation), and after a modest breakfast of steak and with-its I packed a lunch, rubbed on fly dope, and set out to see if Blanchard Pond was in a relative mood. It was a lovely day, and as I ambled away from the cluster of buildings along the trail, I was loving my enemies at a great rate. I met a young man on the trail, coming from the pond I was going to.

"Good morning!" I cried in glee, "Do you think they'll have it?"

"Yes," he said, "They've built a platform and got a fire going." So he said the trout were leaping all over Blanchard Pond, but they hadn't taken anything he had to offer. He'd tried all his flies and the trout ignored them. They seemed to be feeding on some fly with blue wings, and he didn't know what the fly was. He said, "If I had some blue feathers I'd tie up some flies and come back for the evening fishing."

Blanchard pond used me all right that forenoon, so I ate my lunch and came back, and on the trail I found some pretty blue feathers, and I stuck some in the band of my angling hat to give to the gentleman who had frolicked conversationally with me on the trail that morning.

He didn't believe me, so I lied to him about how a bird flew down and took some of my sandwich, and I pulled out some blue feathers. Then he tied a couple of blue trout flies and went back to Blanchard Pond. The trout didn't go for them, either, but he did catch a roach. This excited everybody, as nobody knew Blanchard Pond had roaches.

And that explains why I like a letter now and then from Bill Rotch; it ticks off good memories.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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