The Sportsman’s Corner: A return to Tim Pond

  • Chris Roche, the columnist’s brother, with his first Maine woodcock. Photo/Mike Roche

Published: 9/30/2022 11:50:38 AM
Modified: 9/30/2022 11:46:25 AM

This writer just returned from his third stay at Tim Pond Wilderness Camps in Eustis, Maine. It happens to be the oldest continuously operated sporting camp in America. My history there began after meeting Betty Calden at a sporting show in the mid-’80s. She mentioned that they were stating a fly-fishing school and invited me to check it out. The resulting “Sportsman’s Corner” column was sent to her and was used for many years in the brochure for the school that is still held each spring and still conducted by Bonnie Holding.

The camp’s history goes back to the “Gilded Age,” when wealthy New York City industrialists would send their families to Maine for the summer to escape the city. Word spread and many more people headed to Maine to enjoy the great fishing and outdoor activities. The former logging camp is ideally located on a beautiful trout pond, and it has continuously provided lodging, meals and good fellowship for fishermen, hunters and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. It consists of private individual cabins accompanied by a main dining lodge.

Tim Pond Camps is located in the Western Mountains of Maine, a scenic two-and-a-half-hour drive from either Portland or Bangor, near the Rangeley Lakes region and just north of the Sugarloaf Golf Course. Tim Pond is rich in history. The first camp was built in 1832 by Charles Lyman Eustis and his Indian guide, Tim, and was used as a lumber camp. Tim also guided fishermen. It has changed hands a few times over the years. Harvey and Betty Calden purchased the camps in 1981 and began operation in the spring of 1982. The Calden Family still own and operate the camps today.

Their son Bill and his wife Darcie were great hosts. My recently retired brother Chris joined me and Laney (my Britany spaniel) for the trip. Our cabin was equipped with a wood stove that Chris tended expertly, keeping it quite comfortable. This entire column could be devoted to the food, which was excellent. The afternoon we arrived we saw two different big brook trout that were caught by guests, and both were at least 16 inches long! Our quest was for upland birds and our Sunday arrival meant that we needed to wait until Monday, as Maine has no Sunday hunting.

Monday morning, after a perfect breakfast, we headed out in search of birds. We quickly learned that, unlike the North Quabbin region, western Maine had recently gotten a lot of rain! So much that it hindered walking in places where moose trails were full of water. In addition, the climate change that is so evident to those who are outdoors a lot has made the onset of real autumn weather three or four weeks later. The foliage and understory were more like August than late September. As has been chronicled in this space, the early season upland hunting (we never hunted birds before Columbus Day weekend) now poses real challenges. The dogs struggle with penetrating and scenting the four-foot-high mix of grasses and plants and the thick vegetation dangerously hides the ruts made by past logging operations from man and beast. To top it off, literally, the aspen were still fully leafed and birds disappeared after rising 10 feet in most cases. Adding to the challenge was the slash, which consists of tops and branches left behind by the logging that created the habitat that both woodcock and grouse tend to populate, as it provides what they need to flourish.

This is not intended to be whining. This bird hunter knew what he was getting into when the early season (Maine grouse and woodcock opened last Saturday) hunt was booked last March. There was always hope that an early frost might occur and that would kill the understory and leaves and conditions would be perfect. Those conditions will eventually happen and result in great hunting, but it was what it was!

We did move birds, at least woodcock, our first morning and then spent the day trying to identify the habitat type where the birds might be congregated. That did not happen. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that the logging roads all have very high berms, the piles of dirt on the shoulder, and you could never really see exactly what vegetation was like. I will admit that my experience in the type of cover found in northern Maine is very limited. Give me reverted farm covers and I will locate birds but this was a real test.

When the target, drained upland with two-inch or thicker aspen stands were found, we got into some woodcock. Getting to Laney’s points in less than five minutes and then hitting, or even seeing the woodcock was a different story. Day two, Laney opened with a superb grouse point, but my hesitancy waiting for Chris and poor position resulted in a difficult shot that was missed. It turned out to be the only producing grouse point of the two days we hunted. Chris did manage to down a woodcock and, all in all, the Roche brothers had a very enjoyable time.

We did technically “wet a line” in the fly-fishing only water of Tim Pond but the wind was quite strong, and we were ready to head back to Massachusetts where the responsibilities and tasks that we were to able escape at Tim Pond were waiting for us to return.

Things will change quickly once a frost changes the environment and the grouse hunters, who are now a big part of Tim Pond’s fall bookings, will enjoy banner hunting in late October. This writer will be in New York guiding for the ruffed grouse. Too bad you can’t be in two places at once! Tomorrow, woodcock open in Massachusetts and grouse in two weeks. Finally!

Mike Roche is a retired teacher who has been involved in conservation and wildlife issues his entire life. He has written the Sportsman’s Corner since 1984 and has served as advisor to the Mahar Fish’N Game Club, Counselor and Director of the Massachusetts Conservation Camp, former Connecticut Valley District representative on the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board, has been a Massachusetts Hunter Education Instructor and is a licensed New York hunting guide. He can be reached at

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