It’s always a good day on the river — that’s Willie Grenier’s philosophy, anyway.
Whether he catches shad or not, the 75-year-old Waterville resident and avid fisherman enjoys being on the Kennebec River in his 1999, 14-foot aluminum Lund for which he bought a new 15-horsepower Mercury motor this year.
His left hand on the tiller, Grenier motored out into the river Thursday morning from the boat landing at the south end of Water Street in Waterville, the sun at full tilt, not a cloud in the sky.
It was 63 degrees and quiet except for birds chattering and the sound of water lapping against the sides of the boat.
About 100 yards to the south, cars and trucks on the Donald V. Carter Memorial Bridge looked like toys moving along, high up over the river. About 3/4-mile to the north, the Lockwood Dam jutted out into the water.
We cruised along to the Winslow side of the river. As we approached Fort Halifax Park at the confluence of the Sebasticook and Kennebec rivers, Grenier waved to a fisherman who was standing, thigh-high, in the water, casting a fly.
“Do you know him?” I asked.
“Everybody’s a friend,” Grenier said. “I have a lot of friends who fish over there. They put up with me.”
Having fished since he was 5, Grenier knows a lot about not only fishing, but also river ecology. A retired, 35-year Clinton Elementary School teacher, he has taught river ecology to many high school and college students over the years, and for 10 years worked with Project Healing Waters, taking disabled veterans out to fish. A member of Trout Unlimited, he taught at that organization’s Maine Trout Camp in Solon.
Standing in the boat, Grenier raised his rod and cast a fly off to the east. An osprey flew overhead.
The river level was a bit too low Thursday to fish in Ticonic Bay, the area between Fort Halifax Park and the Lockwood dam where the alewife population exploded after the Edwards Dam in Augusta was removed in 1999. It is where Grenier typically fishes for shad as it is a world-class shad fishing spot, but we stayed a bit downstream.
Soon he got a hit — a 16-inch, silvery gray shad that flopped about in the water until he scooped it up in a net and then slipped it back into the water. I have estimated the fish at 2 pounds and about 4 years old. Shad born in this part of the river come back here every spring to spawn and then head back to the ocean, 64 miles away, he explained. Alewives also are sea-run fish that come up the river to spawn.
The river wasn’t always rife with shad, alewives, small and large-mouthed bass and other fish, but after the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, spearheaded by then-Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, the river ecology improved.
Grenier remembers growing up in Lewiston and at 12, casting a line in the foul-smelling Androscoggin River while hearing a toilet flush into the river nearby. It was the same situation here in Waterville, where sewage was piped right into the Kennebec.
Maintaining a healthy ecosystem and ensuring Atlantic salmon and other fish have passage upriver so they can spawn and not become extinct is critical according to Grenier.
“I want to see this river be useful for the next generations,” he said. “I’m always looking for the future. I remember as a kid thinking that life would never be good. There was so much pollution. Seeing soot on the top of my father’s car, being behind a truck spreading DDT on elm trees and the paint peeling off the car because of it. What they found out later on the Dutch elm disease is that it could be taken care of by putting ladybugs on them, 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 overhead, near a bald eagle perched in a maple tree on the riverbank. As we headed back to the boat landing, Grenier reflected on his long love of the outdoors.
“To me, fishing was always part of my escape. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was relief from everyday life. It was my outlet, growing up. It’s very peaceful. You never know what you’re going to catch.”
The most majestic fish to see in the Kennebec is sturgeon, he said.
“I have had a sturgeon jump completely out of the water and splash me in my boat. They’re about 6 feet long.”
This summer, Grenier plans to head to Grand Falls on the Dead River, past West Forks, where he camps out of his pickup truck and spends time fishing and reading.
“That is my absolutely favorite place to be,” he said.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 34 years. Her columns of her appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.
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