an interview by Craig fowler with Registered Maine Guide Randy Spencer
When my dad and I first went to the pines, on Lake Sysladobsis in Maine, we didn’t know where to fish. We asked the staff for suggestions and they referred us to Randy Spencer, a Registered Maine Guide.
20 years later my dad and I are still fishing with Randy and I look forward to my time with him all year long. Over the years our relationship has evolved from Guide and Sport (what clients are called), to friends. Mainly we fish for Smallmouth Bass but there are also many other species.
A day with Randy goes like this: We meet at the Pine Tree Store in Grand Lake Stream at 8 am. Randy is usually having coffee and catching up on his computer. Pleasantries are exchange and gear is transferred into Randy's Grand Lake Canoe or in the back of his truck depending on where we're going to fish that day. No later than 9am we're on the water in a boat or canoe. From 9 to around noon we fish, a lot. Randy knows each lake, hole, weed line, and any other place fish are to be found.
Around noon Randy motors to one of the many guide's lunch grounds. The boat is unloaded and as we stretch our legs after hours in the boat, we're served lemonade and the first course of the meal. The classic Maine Guide hors d'oeuvres are dill pickle spears and slices of cheddar cheese. While we enjoy this, Randy expertly fillets the fish we just caught that morning. Watching him fillet the fish is like watching a master sushi chef in action. After years of practice, he makes it look so easy.
Once the fish are filleted Randy starts a fire. Cooking on an open fire Randy prepares the next two courses. The second course is the fish we caught. They’re cooked in a cast iron pan over the open flame and are breaded with Randy’s wife Shelley, special seasoning. If you haven’t had fresh Smallmouth Bass or Chain Pickerel, which Randy has a special way preparing them so they aren’t bony, you’re missing out.
Sports have their choice of one of fourteen main dishes like burgers, New York Strip Steak, Grilled Salmon, Whiskey/Pepper marinated Pork Loin, and more. Most are served with home fries and onions which are cooked in the same cast iron pan as the fish. The food is done to perfection and there’s always leftovers.
While the main course is cooking, Randy starts the Guide’s Coffee. Guides coffee is yet another version of Cowboy Coffee. Coffee grounds and a raw egg are mixed together in a Ziplock bag, until the grounds are equally moist and then poured directly in the pot. The coffee pot is put next to the flame to cook. After the proper amount of time has passed, the pot is pulled away and as it cools the coffee grounds which are now formed into little balls, drop to the bottom. To serve, you just pour off the top.
The Guides Coffee is served with yet another of Shelley’s creations, freshly baked desserts. The whole lunch lasts about 2 hours. Watching Randy cook is a huge part of the day. After 20 years he makes it look so easy but at the same time, you see he still takes pride in his work.
After lunch, it’s back in the boat for more fishing in new areas from those that we fished in the morning. Around 4pm it’s lines up and time to return to the dock. Randy returns us to the Pine Tree Store, hands shakes are given, and plans are made for the next year.
Despite being the same experience year after year, it never gets old. I look forward to my two days on the water with Randy from the moment we leave him at the Pine Tree Store. The whole experience is something special. From the scenery, to the fishing, to the food, and the company, they’re two days of the year I never miss.
The last time fished with Randy, I interviewed him so I could share his story and the guiding experience with others. Here’s what Randy had to say:
CF: How long have you been a registered Maine Guide?
Randy: 20 years.
CF: What’s in your background that brought you to where you are today?
Randy: Upbringing with family hunting and fishing camp in Sebago, Maine.
CF: What is your favorite part of guiding?
Randy: The interesting people I meet.
CF: Who do you consider your role models and why?
Randy: My guiding mentor was Sonny Sprague, a legendary guide where I work. I met Sonny through his daughter who lived in the next fishing camp over. At first Sonny and I were just friends. Sonny was famous for his adventures, and I was lucky enough to go on many of them. I was always amazed during these trips by Sonny’s woods savvy. With my own background in the outdoors I secretly I wanted to be as savvy as Sonny was. Didn’t know I wanted to be a guide until I met Sonny.
CF: Describe the shore lunch for our readers.
Randy: It’s a three to four course meal cooked over an open fire. Our clients chose their preference from an online menu. It always includes guides coffee and dessert.
CF: What is your favorite part of cooking the shore lunch?
Randy: The spectacle. Clients want to see every minute of the process.
CF: How many days a year do you guide?
CF: What do you do on your days off?
Randy: Usually go fishing, or else work on my camp.
CF: What do you do during the off season?
Randy: I’m an outdoor writer and author. This is when I write.
I also go bird hunting with my two dogs Tenny and Dakota and ice fishing. Having seen fisherman who either became tackle shop owners or went into other fields slowly stop fishing themselves or all together, I didn’t want that to be my fate. I told myself I would continue to fish regularly, even if that meant creating trips or reasons to go. I never want my love for the sport to die.
CF: Sounds like a busy lifestyle. Do you have time for anything else?
Randy: Yes. I'm very involved with family and grandchildren, and I also play music.
CF: Your cooking utensils look quite simple, is this out of simplicity or is there something else to it? (I'm talking about the branch you use to hook the coffee.)
Randy: It’s all for practical reasons. Everything we use has a practical purpose, included the hooked stick, used to pick pots up by their bail.
CF: Do you have any tips for others who are interested in cooking on an open flame?
Randy: Stand your meats up in front of the fire in a broiler basket instead of cooking them above the flames. They cook through better this way, remain more moist, and free up grill space for other uses, e.g. coffee or chowder pot, fry pans, etc.
CF: What I do when the fishing is slow or when the weather is bad?
Randy: Rain rarely shuts down a guided fishing day, and guides will insist on good rain gear beforehand. Wind is the thing. Even then, it pays to have scouted out protected backwaters, deep woods rivers, and also lakes with lots of lee shore opportunities (for example, a lake with many islands). The fishing action is always fluctuating. It will sound a bit cliché, but figuring out what the fish are doing requires “listening” to them. One recurrent problem for many anglers is the insistence on catching fish on their terms. This runs counter to the fishing game. If fish won’t strike your favorite lure or fly, it simply means that’s not on the menu at that time. Something else will be, even if it draws a “reactive” strike. Fish aren’t feeding 100 % of the time. Sometimes, a fly or lure isn’t seen as food, but as a threat, or a territorial challenge. The strike a new bait might draw could be a reactive strike, but who cares? A strike is a strike, and once again, you’re in the game. On severely rainy days, we sometimes cook indoors in rustic camps.
CF: What’s your favorite dish to cook?
Randy: Fish Cakes.
Shelley’s Fabulous Fish Cakes
from RANdy Spencer’s book, Where Cool Waters Flow
• 3-4 pounds of fish, chopped
• 1/2 cup minced celery and onion
• 2 minced garlic cloves
• 1 large egg
• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
• 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Mix all ingredients in large bowl and blend well. Mixture will be moist. Mold into small cakes/patties and place on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Allow to sit 30-60 minutes. Bring oil up to temperature proper for cooking fish cakes. Test for good sizzle using a potato wedge. Just before frying, pat each fish cake with bread or cracker crumbs. Brown each side, turning only once. =Drain, and serve with tartar sauce.
• 1 small onion minced
• 2-3 pickles minced
• 1 cup mayonnaise
Mix all ingredients and chill
Randy Spencer is a registered Maine Guide, singer, song writer, does voice overs, and is a published author. You can find more out about Randy at his website.
Craig Fowler is a professional adventurer, motivator, and story teller. Bikepacking and hiking are his specialities (he's also an avid disc golfer, fisherman, and birder), Fowler has gathered his years of knowledge/expertise and put them into his website, oneofsevenproject.com. Through guides and various resources pages, he helps breakdown barriers, both mental and physical in hopes of encouraging others to follow their own passions. Fowler, is currently the only person to have completed both the bikepacking and thru-hiking triple crowns. For more on Fowler checkout his website, or follow his adventures at @oneofsevenproject.