author in Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot 120
Author Emily Kantner testing out a fishing kayak. Photo via Old Town

Maine is Ripe with Unique Outdoor Traditions

Mainers just do some things differently.

While most moose hunters will pack-out a bull, Maine hunters traditionally leave moose whole. Somehow they manage to get the massive animals out of remote logging areas and to a weigh station. They judge cervids by body weight rather than rack size, so they'll go to great lengths to avoid quartering in the field.

And although 94% of the state's forest land is privately owned, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reports that landowners have opened up more than half that ground to the public. The agency advises outdoorsmen to get express permission before using private land, but "legal trespass" or "implied permission" leaves the door open for hunters and anglers to go onto any property that isn't posted.

I recently spent a few days in the Pine Tree State with Old Town Canoes and experienced some of Maine's unique ways firsthand.

Arriving in Maine

maine outdoors

My plane touched down in Bangor on a Tuesday afternoon, and our crew headed to Wilsons on Moosehead Lake—the longest continuously operated sporting camp in the state, located along the largest mountain lake in the eastern United States. We settled into our rustic cabins situated just feet from the water.

Before heading to dinner, we met outside and got a rundown on the Old Town kayaks we'd be putting to the test the next day. I'd never used anything beyond a basic kayak before, and I was eager to hit the water with these high-quality setups. We had four different models available to us, including the two I tried out:

  • Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot 120: The flagship model of Old Town's Sportsman Line, this kayak employs a fully integrated Minn Kota motor with Spot-Lock technology to effortlessly travel through just about any conditions and virtually "anchor," even in a strong wind or current.
  • Old Town Sportsman Salty PDL 120: Old Town's fastest pedal kayak, the Salty is built for fishing through moving waters with a powerful, easy-to-use pedal drive system.

While we fueled up for the fishing ahead, we learned more about Maine and the state's outdoor heritage—plus its quintessential victuals like red hot dogs, Moxie soda, and Allen's and milk drinks—from members of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and Registered Maine Guides. The more we heard, the more we knew we were in a truly special place.

Fishing the Maine Way

Old Town

Wednesday morning came early. We loaded up for a short drive down the road to meet Reel Moosehead Guide Service at our launch for the day. Among other fish and wildlife, Moosehead Lake is home to landlocked salmon, brook trout, and lake trout. With our motorized and pedal drive kayaks, we'd be trolling for these fish—but not with the traditional tackle you'd expect. Instead, we rigged up Orvis fly rods in true Maine fashion. The weather was wet and windy, and the water was choppy. I started-out on an old Town Sportsman AutoPilot 120, which made moving through the rough conditions much more manageable. Steering with both the remote and the foot brace was surprisingly easy—I preferred the latter for hands-free navigation.

We docked for a brief lunch break before heading back onto the lake. For the second portion of the day, I jumped into an Old Town Sportsman Salty PDL 120. While I loved the ease of the AutoPilot, I enjoyed pedaling on a chilly fall day even more.

The sun finally started peeking through the clouds, and the conditions calmed in the early afternoon as float planes touched down around us. Although it had been a slow fishing day, our entire group had a blast moving through Moosehead Lake, surrounded by some stunning September scenery.

I stayed comfortable through eight hours of powering and pedaling around the lake, thanks largely to the ergonomic constructions of these kayaks. The rod holders and mounting tracks were perfectly positioned for keeping the essentials within arm's reach while trolling. Even for an inexperienced kayak angler, the AutoPilot and Salty PDL were easy to operate and keep steady on unpredictable waters.

Fly Tying Tradition

Old Town

That evening, Selene Frohmberg, owner of Selene of Maine Fly Shop, stopped by camp to put on a fly-tying clinic for our crew. She's mastered the techniques of fly-tying pioneer—and fellow Mainer—Carrie Stevens.

Selene shared wisdom from decades of tying and teaching, walking us newbies through tying two different flies. Although we took much longer than her experienced hands to recreate the designs, we each walked away with two fishable flies and even more new foundational skills.

Old Town Flair

Knut Müller/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The weather grew worse heading into Thursday, so we abandoned our plan to fish with the flies we tied the night before. Instead, we packed up and headed out early for an Old Town factory tour. The country's oldest watercraft manufacturer, Old Town has been leading the industry for nearly 125 years. The company is steeped in tradition and fits right into its Maine hometown with a commitment to quality, sustainability, and loyalty to its roots.

As we entered the factory floor, we spotted a life-size recreation of the original factory's facade (the company donated the property to the town when it moved to its new facility). We made our way through the building, learning how the canoes and kayaks are built with attention to detail every step of the way. From its recycling process to high-product standards, every aspect of Old Town was impressive.

After making our way through the factory, we grabbed fresh lobster rolls for lunch. You can't visit without enjoying this Maine classic!

Our hosts sourced swag, snacks, and gear from New England companies—all but one from right in Maine—including:

  • Orvis rods, reels, and line
  • Opolis sunglasses
  • Good To-Go dehydrated meals
  • Grandy Organics granola and trail mix

I'm a proud Pennsylvanian, but the people of Maine literally beam with pride when talking about their home. In a world where everyone is trying to one-up each other and adopt the latest and greatest advancements, sticking with tradition is a breath of fresh air. I can't wait to go back to the Pine Tree State.