Strait, west of Greenland, the salmon had swum more than 2,000 miles, down
through the Labrador Sea and southward again past Newfoundland and Nova Scotia,
guided by temperature changes, tidal currents, perhaps odors, homing in on the
river of their birth. As they rounded Cape Sable the signals were stronger.
They headed down the coast of Maine, into Penobscot Bay, into the Penobscot
River—journey's end, except that the Penobscot in July was warm and low. They
swung left into a tributary, the Kenduskeag, at its confluence with the big
river in the city of Bangor. And there last month, as the salmon struggled to
negotiate shallow pools, becoming stranded when the tide dropped, they were
pierced with arrows, battered with rocks and baseball bats, snagged by gang
hooks and hauled ashore or left bleeding in the water.
Like diamonds or
gold, the Atlantic salmon brings out the worst in humanity. Too many citizens
of Bangor reacted to the bonanza as a Norwegian farmer or a Scottish shepherd
would. Salmon are beautiful, rare, valuable. So kill them.
particular Atlantics were in a special category of rareness. The salmon
resource of the Northeastern U.S. was, for the most part, squandered by the
middle of the 19th century; dams and pollution saw to that. But in the last 20
years considerable efforts have been made to restore the once-great salmon runs
of the rivers of New England. The state of Maine, for example, has spent $1.2
million constructing fishways on the Penobscot alone. And by the end of June of
this year it seemed that the money had not been wasted. On a single day 24
salmon were taken by sporting methods from the river.
Then came last
month's big run. In downtown Bangor, a city of 32,000, hundreds of people lined
the banks at Kenduskeag Plaza to watch the magnificent fish endeavoring to
force their way upstream, and by the 10th of the month anglers were out in
strength, hurling worms and lures at the all-too-visible salmon, watched by
crowds of office workers. There were even purists who brought fly rods down to
the river and laid out short lines to salmon that were swimming not more than
two or three yards away from them. It was perfectly legitimate fishing:
officials of the State Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife confirmed
that it was legal to fish without a license so long as the fish were in tidal
waters, which covered the downtown area of Bangor. Almost certainly this was
the only place in North America where it was possible to fish for Atlantic
salmon within city limits—one of the very few places in the world, indeed,
together with Grantown-on-Spey in Scotland and Galway in Ireland. The anglers
had some success: 13-year-old Jeff Lewis, for example, got a 12-pounder on a
spinning outfit after a 45-minute fight.
But the fish were
too available, too tempting. By July 12 several youngsters had been cited by
game wardens for trying to snag salmon by throwing weighted hooks across their
backs. From then on, wardens began to patrol in plain clothes. "I was there
Wednesday noon and it was embarrassing," said Harry Leslie of neighboring
Brewer. "Seven people surrounded four or five of these poor fish, and when
one of them hooked a salmon, the people on the banks cheered. I walked away
One man was cited
three times and finally arrested and jailed because he could not provide bail
after he had been apprehended snagging fish. Twelve people circled a pool and
worked over a school of nine salmon. Some brained the fish with rocks, others
used mackerel jigs to snag them.
On July 20 more
than 20 people were tried in the District Court for illegally attempting to
take salmon from the Kenduskeag and the Penobscot. Ten adults were fined $50
each after pleading guilty, 10 other cases were continued and, in all, 70 cases
involving alleged infractions of salmon-fishing regulations were readied for
processing. Judge F. Davis Clark, noting the fine weather, declared, "It's
a beautiful day to watch salmon in Kenduskeag Stream, and I emphasize the word
'watch.' Do not molest."
Among the abashed
molesters in court were four juveniles, three of whom worked as delivery boys
for the Bangor Daily News. They were given reduced fines by Judge Clark, who
told them to report to the paper's outdoors editor, Bud Leavitt, for
instruction on sportsmanship and fishing regulations.
One young man who
could look back with modest pride on the Kenduskeag's great salmon run was
16-year-old Gary Gilmore. All he had to work with was a spool of 8-pound-test
nylon line, a hook and an angleworm at the end of it, which was taken by a
15-pounder. Not precisely purist tackle, but it was no small feat to play the
fish on such gear, making sure that the salmon could run and then rewinding
furiously when it came toward him. Five times his fish jumped, and the line had
burned his hands before a landing net was slipped under his first Atlantic
salmon. As a result, a local columnist suggested that the "City Beat"
in downtown Bangor be reserved for boys and girls of 16 or younger. They would
be given casting instruction in the closed season and a fund would be set up to
provide fly-fishing tackle for those who could not afford it.
But as the run
continued, there were further reports of the illegal taking of salmon. Now, it
appeared, bows and arrows and gigs were being used, in addition to baseball
bats and rocks. In one case brought before Judge Clark, Richard (Grasshopper)
Grover of Bangor was found guilty of killing three salmon with rocks after the
fish had been herded toward him in shallow water by a club-wielding