Why the Registered Maine Guide Still Matters
Lance’s Grand Laker is a 21-footer that he built for himself 14 years ago. Inside it’s aged to a pale tawny hue. Lance has made more than a dozen of these boats. This one was weighted to balance his not-inconsiderable bulk–he has the physique of a retired football player–although he grouses that now he’ll have to reconfigure the next one to accommodate the new, heavier four-stroke outboards.
Over the next couple of hours we catch a mess of perch, then around noon pull up to Monument Island, where we scramble over gray rocks and through marsh grass flecked with tiny white and yellow flowers. There’s a small clearing in the middle, with a picnic table and a fire pit. Massive yellow birches, too big to put your arms around, dot the island. Lance pulls out some dry firewood he carries in a plywood box, then shaves three sticks with his knife, stacks them like a pinwheel, and lights one match. The fire blazes. A few minutes later, he dredges the filleted perch in cornmeal, salt, and pepper, and fries it in oil. It comes out crisp, not the least fishy-tasting, as light as potato chips. “I like to cook fish that come out of water you can drink,” he says.
Younger fishing guides who lack connections to the land and the past are more likely to be products of the modern age, Lance says, and they repeat what they’re familiar with: They pack along sandwiches made with supermarket cold cuts, which they hand to clients, who eat one-handedly with rods still in the water. It’s efficient and allows more fishing time for those from the city following the “work hard, play hard” mantra. The modern guides are supplying today’s market with what it wants, although it’s hard not to wonder about what’s being lost in the process.
One of the things I recall learning in my failed effort to become a Junior Maine Guide was how to make that pot of guide coffee, and I’m pleased to see Lance quietly set about making it. Just before the pot heats to a rolling boil, he cracks open an egg into the coffee grounds, then dumps the chestnut-colored slurry into the coffee pot, which he sets on the ground in front of the fire. “It sets up a percolating action,” he explains.
And so it does: The water boils up the hot side and down the cool side. The egg rounds out the bitterness, he says, and helps bind the grounds so that they sink quickly to the bottom when the pot’s pulled from the fire. No filter needed; less to pack or worry about. No one really knows who invented Maine Guide coffee, but this is how it’s been done out on the lakes since anyone can remember.
Lance at last pours us two steaming cups. “You’re working with all these old guys, and then one day you look around and you are the old guy,” he says. “I never thought I’d be doing this at 66.”
He hands me a cup, then takes a sip of his own. “It’s a little weak,” he announces. “I like it when a spoon stands up in it.”