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Fishing at a Maine Camp - Small Business Series

Updated on May 31, 2012
The Main Lodge Check-in and Dining
The Main Lodge Check-in and Dining
Part of the Friendly Staff
Part of the Friendly Staff
Dining Hall
Dining Hall
Cabin on the Pond
Cabin on the Pond
Typical Cabin Interior
Typical Cabin Interior
The 'Mighty' and a Smallmouth Bass
The 'Mighty' and a Smallmouth Bass

Bear Spring Camps


History

Established in 1910 from land that was originally a farm - and Mosher family run since inception - with a location on a quiet yet accessible part of Maine is Bear Spring Camps. At the turn of the last century the family built six cottages and converted a wood shed into a dining area, they were thenable to accommodate travelers from Boston and New York. As the family grew so did the number of cottages. By 1946 there were twenty-one cottages. Over the years eleven more cottages joined the business as well as indoor plumbing.

Peg Churchill, who is of the Mosher line, and her husband Ron took charge of the business in 1987. I was curious, and asked Peg, as to how the clientele has changed over the century, " Years ago when my parents were running the camp I believe our clientele was from a wealthier (strata of) society - most of them were executives or business proprietors. Now our guests seem to be mostly from the working class. Also we have a much larger crowd of men that come up in groups in the May and June season than we did in those years." Peg continued, " I think people return year after year because things here do not change much and in a world where every day is uncertain for so many families - camp offers someplace where there is stability. They come back and say it is like no time has passed. It also affords them real down time to be together as a family or couple without the stress of an agenda. Lastly it is affordable to many young families." The camp is affordable. I have been traveling to Maine from Virginia for over ten years and still pay $70 for a private room in a lakeside cottage with dock and three full square meals a day. Peg doesn't do much advertising instead relying on a good reputation and the best advertising of all - word of mouth. With the internet changing how we all do business, Peg has on her 'to do' list a way of monitoring and interacting with reviews on the web.

Running the camp is a tough business with long hours taking care of the bones of business (accounting, payroll and reservations) as well as supervising kitchen and wait staff. Other areas needing attention are coordinating maid, maintenance and client issues. And doing all this while cheerfully greeting and interacting with guests on a daily basis. I asked Peg what advice she has for aspiring hospitality entrepreneurs, " Don’t do it! No just kidding. Don’t think you can do it alone; you need to build a good team." And she does have a great team, " The largest challenge is being good to your employees and continuing improvements while still maintaining a reasonable rate. Remember to be good to your staff; they work with you not for you." I asked Peg how difficult it was to recruit good wait staff since these are the folks who have frontline contact with her clients, " I don’t recruit food servers; they typically find me through friends or acquaintances. The typical profile is a college student who needs money, otherwise they would not be willing to work six days a week at about 48 hours. They do however make a tidy sum for the season. If I find myself in a pinch I use JobsinME.com."

Day One

We arrive from a long journey tired but excited to be reunited with old friends at a location where we have been meeting for close to ten years. We were booked into a newly renovated cabin along the north shore of Great Pond in Rome, Maine.

Our cabin is located down the main gravel road, over the spring that bubbles out of the hill, and down a tree covered lane next to the chop and breeze flowing off the lake. Newly upgraded with knotty pine and spacious bathroom it is a welcome and comfortable base for fun, fishing and relaxing. We walk up and down the hill to the main lodge which serves as a kitchen and dining hall. The days' menu is on a marker board attached next to the main door and includes a nice varied selection, Peg said the menu has evolved with her clientele, " We have had to expand our menu to accommodate more low fat eating and vegetarians. It used to be that we would do three heavy choices at the evening meal, where now we almost always have a salad plate as one choice. We also hired a new evening chef in 2008 that brought many new (and welcome) ideas to our menu. Originally our menus consisted almost exclusively of comfort food, now we still serve some but have other lighter and fresher choices."

Today's meal is Corn Chowder followed by Meatloaf or Fried Haddock, mashed potatoes and green beans. Dessert is a choice of pies. I order the Haddock, since I am at a fishing camp, and even though it is a salt species it puts me in the mood. Peg's kitchen crew lightly breaded the three generous sized pieces and very quickly fried them. The result was a beautifully brown and light filet with very little oil that I was able to hold and dip in the chef's homemade tartar sauce.

The meals we usually choose are hearty which works well for hard working fishermen, who burn many calories, boating to their secret spots, casting lines, and hoisting their beverages of choice.

We went early evening fishing off our favorite spot above the rocks off Hoyt Island motoring slowly on the tired but true pontoon barge known locally as the Gubefest - a name whose meaning has been lost to Maine antiquity. We only caught three smallmouth bass each, about 16 inches long, they put up a nice fight - occasional breaking the water. The bait used was live worms purchased at the Camp. The rest of the time was spent tossing lines and smoking cigars - Bahia Blues, a nice mild smoke - no more fish.

Day Two

Friday night we were treated to Maine lobster presented on a bed of mussels. Dipped in butter, this is a meal not usually offered at the camp and was heartily welcomed by our crew. The wait staff is extremely friendly and when asked for seconds on the mussels - brought them over without delay. Two of our contingent, New England fishing champions 'The Mighty' and 'Cap'n Ned', had the prime rib as an alternative.

Afterward, 'The Mighty' , dressed in his lucky fishing shirt, with combed back graying hair on top of his six foot frame and muscular shoulder girth, he is known as a fishing machine, suggested we go to the 'rock pile' located off the camp about a half mile. This outcropping under 5 to 10 feet of water is known to the intrepid angler as a fish magnet - not unlike the infamous Flemish Cap was known to the lost crew of the Andrea Gail. As the whitecaps were tossing our small craft we were anticipating a momentous catch but were treated to two small white perch and one smallmouth that 'stole' the lure. Had the Mighty lost his touch? Maybe we were too early in the season. Nevertheless - back to camp for a roaring campfire, cigars, some Sam Adams and a tall tale or two. Steaming back to port I was thinking of the lost lure and a fish story Peg told me earlier, " One of our guests was bass fishing with what he called his favorite lure. The bass took it, broke water and cut his line leaving with his lure. Two days later the same couple was out scuba diving on the shoals, looking for anchors etc. and he saw the same bass with the lure still in his mouth!"

Day Three

Leftover day - served Yankee Pot Roast, potatoes and broccoli - the Mighty swears this is reworked prime rib. Moist and tender and lots of it - leftover or not I thoroughly enjoyed it!

We were also subjected to a free offering from the next table of half of their catch of Pike! What a treat, I thought, I had never tried this demon of the deep. The fish that was illegally introduced to Great Pond eons ago and, legend has it, decimated the thriving salmon population in the Pond. Now we would have our revenge! But, alas, the fish was so foul - even though prepared by the kitchen with the best of their magic - that only two bites were taken. The earthy pungent smell coming off the carcass left our crew vowing to throw any Pike caught in the future directly back into the lake.

Environmental Issues

Having a business close to a lake has many modern issues that were not a factor years ago. I asked Peg how these issues have had an impact on the camp, "Environmental laws affect us in many ways. The Clean Water Act changed the way we get our water. We used to use lake water for showers and toilets, but the law made that illegal, so we had to drill three separate wells at a cost that exceeded $30,000. The laws that govern the water front are very restrictive. Many of our camps were originally many feet from the edge of the lake, but when they put the dams in the lake level rose. As a result we have several camps that are less than 25 feet from the shore and those you are not allowed to do anything except maintain them. For instance we cannot stabilize them by putting a cement slab under them."

Business Lessons Learned by The Mosher Family

"The best lesson we learned from my father", said Peg, "Was not to spend money you don’t have, never carry a credit card balance and always pay your bills on time. As a result we operate on a cash basis. He also stressed the importance of personally taking in your bank deposits weekly so you build a relationship at the bank face to face, that way if you do need to borrow they are familiar with you. The other thing he told me when we first started here, was don’t disillusion yourself that people come here because you are running it – if it is run well, they will come no matter who is sitting behind the desk. This conversation came up as many people were asking him if he was going to sell, and they would follow this up with “oh it just wouldn’t be the same”.

Conclusion

Over the years we have had great luck pulling smallmouth Bass from several of our secret spots throughout the lake. They put up a terrific fight. We have had catches of 20 or more in a day with some measuring just north of 20 inches in length. As all fisherman know a lot of environmental factors can determine when a fish will 'bite'. This year we happened to be out of sequence with what the fish were doing - better luck next year!

Fun Pond Facts

  • Great Pond is among the largest water-bodies in the world named "pond".
  • Long Pond is separated from Great Pond by a mountain called simply "The Mountain".
  • Great Pond was formed into its present shape by the construction of the Great Pond Storage Dam on Belgrade Stream in 1886.
  • There are several islands in Great Pond, including Hoyt , Chute , Joyce, Oak, and Pine.
  • Great Pond has a 2-fish bag limit and a 24-inch minimum length on pike. Key Species: landlocked salmon, pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass, white perch, pickerel, brown trout and brook trout.
  • Great Pond supports a good smallmouth bass fishery that attracts many anglers to the area. Northern pike, which were illegally introduced in the Belgrade Lakes system, are now present in large numbers. The effect this large, voracious predator has had on the existing sport fisheries is debated.
  • Rome, Maine was once part of the West Pond Plantation and was incorporated on March 7, 1804 - named after Rome in Italy.
  • By 1839, when the population was 1,074, it was described as "a beautiful farming town," with "a pleasant and flourishing village."
  • By 1870, when the population was 725, it had two post offices—Rome and Belgrade Mills.

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    • profile image

      screaming 5 years ago

      Your hub wants me to go vacationing there! Voted up!

    • profile image

      Jeff Allen aka "The Mighty" 5 years ago

      Great job Rick,,,keep up the good work...

    • profile image

      Lou...man 5 years ago

      Sounds good to me. Let's go!

      Good work Rick. Working on the video.

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