I have read that we root for the underdog in any contest not because we like playing long the odds in Vegas but to satisfy our sense of fairness and justice, as in “they must have put forth more effort to overcome the odds to have a shot at toppling the champion” or “look what they are able to accomplish with so few resources.” It’s like my view on the Patriots; I root for whoever they are playing for two reasons: One, I am a shareholder and life- time Green Bay Packer fan by birthright and Two, they have won so many times recently that I like to think that it is someone else’ turn. What’s funny though is how our perception of fairness and justice can waffle when we are able to enjoy the fruits of the system, like how the Packers have won the majority of division titles over the past decade yet I never root for anyone else. Oh yeah, this is an outdoor blog… I have recently been rooting for the Alewife.
The Alwife is smallish fish that lives partially in the ocean and is born and reproduces in fresh water rivers. For ID purposes if you know what a tarpon looks like, shrink it down from 4 feet to 10 inches and you have a pretty good match. Long story short, due to water quality issues, river impediments, and invasive specie introduction the alewife had seen a serious decline in the returning population- enter the underdog. In recent years the huge (thousands of fish) schools have returned enough to draw crowds to places like Damariscotta Mills ( check it out, it’ll blow your mind) and the Cobbosseecontee River where I have had way to much fun recently catching these little silver darts on a fly rod. Sure, I could be driving to other local rivers to catch trout, but they are stocked (mostly) with fish whose heritage is either west coast US or Germany. Either way, unless you are catching a native brook trout, these fish are recent arrivals to this area, and while I’ll never hold it against them when they are aggressively taking size 12 caddis flies off the surface or hammering meaty streamers, I have started to appreciate the local, native beauty of this area.
The other fish in the title…A few weeks ago I was out west in south central Montana marrying the woman of my dreams and doing a little fishing too. I had the opportunity to catch a few outstanding rainbow trout in gin clear water under the bright Montana sky while the surrounding snow clad mountains were peppered by lightning; so awesome.The fishing and catching were great, but those fish, while wild, were not native and had taken up space from the Montana undergdog, the Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. Would I fish for those non-native fish everyday of the week if I could? Yes, oh yes, but there is a caveat. To me catching a fish that is part and parcel to the landscape is different than fishing for a fish put there for us to catch. So I root for the underdog and cherish every alewife I catch these days, after all if there is any justice in the world they should be filling our rivers and heading up stream to do their thang.
On a larger scale this is all about appreciating what we have for what it is and not overlaying our experiences with expectation. Love exists without comparison and when we do we undermine the purity and wonder of the moment. Our native fish are awesome, our paddleable water is endless and our mountains are shockingly majestic (and rugged, what’s up Maine, never heard of a switchback?) Children love with open eyes and with unbiased hearts and that is what I am finding here in Maine- the chance to love freely what we have instead of pining for what we don’t. So get out there, it’s summer BTW, enjoy all the goodness of the warm month(s) , and make sure watch out for ticks, black flies, mosquitoes and the road construction in Hallowell.
Paul Sveum, a former Maine Sport Outfitters employee, is a Registered Maine Guide, Fly Fishing Guide, Bushcraft & Survival Instructor, and a blogger…among many other things.