Cigars and the Angling Life

Redacted Pond Somewhere in Maine

Since finally giving up marrying and divorcing I have been able to devote the proper space in my life to angling and cigars. My angling consists mainly of fly fishing for trout and salmon and occasionally for striped bass in the abundant waters of my home state of Maine. My cigar smoking encompasses the highs and lows of lighting up. I’ll explain.

Some of the best trout fishing in Maine occurs in the spring and early summer, when trout food is at its most abundant. Mayflies are not called mayflies for nothing. Insects that have been living the life aquatic as nymphs in pond mud or in crevices of stony stream beds decide what they really want in life is to fly and have sex, all the better if it’s sex while flying. So one day they leave their ancestral homes in the mud, swim frantically to the surface, rip off their ugly little nymph suits, spread their gossamer wings and, now all ephemeral beauty, they take to the skies with high hopes of hooking up with a mayfly of the opposite sexual persuasion during the twenty-four hours they have to live. Of course through this entire process their short lives are in great danger because, if you believe the trout, they are delicious. Well, nourishing, anyway.

The angler who is present at the creation, so to speak, flings upon the waters a tiny item made of feathers and thread, cunningly crafted around the shank of a very sharp hook, that looks for all the world like a mayfly – at least to the angler, and sometimes to the trout, whose case of mistaken entymology lands him in the angler’s waiting net.

This elemental drama often takes place in some of the most beautiful places on Earth – remote ponds of clear, cold water surrounded by dark forests of pine and spruce, the silence broken only by the call of a loon and the splashing of feeding trout. Paradise, yeah? Almost.

Enter the Blackfly. While on the idyllic pond the graceful mayfly is doing its mating dance, in the swampy slums of the dark forest clouds of thuggish blackflies are rising, thirsting for the blood of an angler. The blackfly belongs to the species simuliidae, an extended family sort of like the Mafia only more annoying.

The prepared angler mounts a variety of defenses against the blackfly. Some swear by Deet, the active component of many bug sprays, but some research has shown that blackflies are attracted to Deet. Fine mesh head-nets can be deployed but they darken one’s vision. My favorite defense: a Cheap Cigar. A plastic-tipped Swisher Sweet is the most effective blackfly deterrent I have found in many seasons on the water. Mind you, I don’t smoke the things. I burn them. I light them, clamp the plastic tip in my teeth, and wreath my head with a cloud of smoke that repels most of the cloud of blackflies that wreath my head. I still suffer some blood loss but not fatally.

It is only when the fishing is done that the real cigars come out. And the real booze. Back at camp, whether a stout cabin overlooking a pond or a tent pitched streamside, it’s time to uncork the good stuff and put a flame to a fine smoke. When it comes to the booze, my tastes are eclectic. I am not wedded (pardon the marriage reference) to any one of the many blessings of the spirits world, but at camp I keep it simple – bourbon on ice, dash of bitters. Bourbon has become a “thing,” I know, but I’m not trying to be trendy; I was years ahead of the curve on bourbon. Now that there are so many terrific bourbons it’s fun to play the field. I’m currently flirting with the Widow Jane, a sprightly ten-year-old from upstate New York.

And cigars? I have been fortunate to have done a fair bit of gallivanting and have puffed a fair number of smokes, running the gamut from Hoyo de Monterreys and Cohibas to Davidoffs and Ashtons, down to vile fake Cubans from Russia. I prefer a milder smoke, medium ring gauge – an Ashton Corona, a Davidoff Signature #2. When in Washington D.C. I am always happy to let my friends at Georgetown Tobacco, Walter, Teresa and David make the choice for me.

My perfect scenario is a cool quiet evening within sight and sound of trout water, a crackling fire and a breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay (the blackflies have gone to bed by now). Somehow even a fine cigar tastes better when lighted with a flaming stick from a campfire, and the Widow Jane is even more lovable under the stars of a Maine night sky.

About the Author:

Nick B.Mills is a cigar-smoking fly fisherman who has done side gigs as a Boston University professor, global strategic communication consultant, author, radio news anchor, combat photographer and hockey goalie. His forthcoming book, when he finds a publisher, will be titled Fly Fishing in Baghdad and Other Angling Adventures.

For our readers in New England, you may best know Nick from his famous poem read annually on opening day at Fenway. Any fan of baseball should give it a listen: