Paddling Tomah Stream with friends

The weather forecast looked good. Partly sunny, 60 degrees, a breeze. Steve loaded the kayaks-an Otter, a tandem Otter and a Vapor 10XT (10 for ten foot), the lifejackets and a small cooler for lunch. The bug spray and other necessities were stowed away in a waterproof box in the Vapor’s well.

Taylor, our youngest daughter, picked up her friend Felicia Vincent, and met us in Topsfield. When everyone arrived we’d met up with Tammy Morris and Dennis Kerekes, Laura Reay and Gilman Phelps.

Taylor, Laura, Felicia and Gilman have been hiking, camping and paddling the Waite and Talmadge area together for years. “For years” isn’t very descriptive or impressive until you know that the oldest of them is only 21. They’re old hands at loading up the canoes and kayaks and paddling several miles across a lake to camp on a beach overnight. They’re part of a larger group of outdoors kids who grew up to become outdoors adults, and who make me proud on a regular basis.

Tammy and Dennis started planning this trip six months ago; about the time they started planning their long-term future together. They made many trips down dirt roads along Route 6 in Topsfield and Codyville, looking for a place to put a canoe in and later take out. They invited us to go along. Steve’s plans to canoe the Machias River with friends changed and he was able to make the trip. I’m grateful he was there, and you’ll see why later.

We reached our destination and unloaded three kayaks and two canoes. While the men shuffled vehicles to the place we’d be taking out, the women put the water crafts in the stream and paddled around a little. It was my first day in the kayak this year and needed a few minutes to get comfortable again. It’s like riding a bicycle, only wetter.

Steve, Dennis and Gilman returned and the trip began. We didn’t know what to expect. Would there be a beaver dam to get over? I hadn’t thought of sand bars to get lodged on. Smelly things hadn’t occurred to me.

Starting out.

The day was uneventful, which is nice but not exciting. Nobody flipped, there was only one mild water fight between Steve and Taylor that got Felicia damp, and nobody had any problems. Well, Gilman and Laura’s canoe has a small leak so Gilman did a little bailing, but they weren’t any danger of sinking or even really even getting very wet. I think I heard Laura say “we could have taken my canoe” once.

Tomah Stream runs through a huge meadow. Trees along the bank are few and far between.

Tammy and Dennis paddle near the few trees along the banks of Tomah Stream.

We disturbed a few Canada geese along the way. I think I found paths to nests but I’m not sure. The vegetation was worn down and there were small feathers in the grass but I couldn’t see any nests or geese. Two American Bald Eagles soared in the updraft high over head, almost out of sight. A muskrat quickly disappeared out of sight along the bank. Taylor and I stopped to wait for it to reappear but wherever it resurfaced, we couldn’t find it.

The sun was warm while it was out, and we shed our jackets early. The breeze was chilly when the sun was blocked by clouds but paddling was enough to keep us from being cold. Thanks to the breeze, black flies weren’t an issue while we were on the water.

There are a lot of beaver lodges along the portion of the stream we paddled. None seemed to be active. There were no new sticks added and no activity in the stream. The only beaver I saw was on the bank, long dead. The stench was overwhelming, enough to bring me close to gagging. I picked up the pace, moving past it as fast as I could.

Gilman likes to make sure Laura is close enough to a lodge to get a good look at a beaver. This amuses Gilman much more than it does Laura.

We looked for Tomah Mayflies along the way. There was a hatch but they weren’t Tomahs, and that was a little disappointing.

Gilman and Laura

Steve and Felicia. Felicia served as the trolling motor a few times while Steve fished. She’s a good sport.

I spent most of my time behind everyone else. I headed toward the bank or turned with the current while taking pictures. When you’re the only person paddling you have nobody to keep you on course, and this made pictures a bit of a challenge. To get more than the backs of everyone’s heads I needed to get ahead of everyone.

Tammy and Dennis invited us to join in their trip down Tomah Stream.

“I’m on a mission,” I told Dennis and Tammy as I dipped and swished past them.

“You’re on a mission,” Dennis asked.

“To get pictures of everyone head on rather than back to.”

I paddled ahead and was almost ready to spin my kayak around when I heard Tammy laugh and yell, “She’s definitely your daughter.” I turned my head to see that Taylor, who heard me tell them what I was doing, turned her yak around and was paddling backward along side Tammy in the canoe. Smartbutt! Unfortunately I didn’t get that picture. By the time I turned my yak, she was facing me again.

Taylor earned the money to buy her Old Town Otter kayak by working with me at farmers market when she was only ten years old. She’ll be 20 next month.

Notice the orange sticker on Taylor’s kayak? We have them on all three of our yaks. These stickers list the owner’s name and two telephone numbers. If a craft is found without a person this sticker makes it easy to get in touch with the owner. If the craft drifted away a search can be avoided. If the person has turned the craft over, rescuers have a better idea of who they’re looking for. These stickers are free and they are the responsible thing to do. Send an email to to request yours.

We spotted a red Chevy truck parked at the edge of the stream and for a moment I was disappointed to be at the end, then realized it wasn’t one of our trucks.  A man and woman were fishing just down stream. She caught a chub as I rounded the corner and said nothing else was biting. Steve didn’t have any bites.

This was an easy stream to paddle. The water moves slowly. There are a few sand bars you can get caught up on if you’re looking at something else but they’re easy to move off. When the water drops they’ll be obvious. Paddling felt a little bit like work for about 30 minutes when we paddled into the wind but it’s otherwise a relaxing trip.

We pulled out at the end of a dirt road that runs past “Croman’s Camp.” Locals will know where that is but I couldn’t point it out on a map.  Laura and I seriously considered moving further down stream to an easier place to get out. This spot involved walking through a marshy area. She wore hiking boots and I had just Keen sandals on my feet. I wished for my tall Muck boots. I’m completely grossed out by walking in mud and muck. I really….really didn’t want to get out of the kayak, fall in the muck, walk through the mess and possibly sink thigh deep the way Steve was sinking. I’m not usually spleeny about stuff but this is off my acceptability scale.

Steve came to our rescue (He’s great about rescuing me.). He grabbed our bows and pulled us past the gross part, into solid footing. The water was cold but it wasn’t muddy or mucky. As it turns out, if Laura and I had continued further downstream, we’d have made it to the old Tomah Dam site in 30 minutes. I think we’ll do that next time.

We had lunch on the bank before Taylor and the men drove back to the beginning to get the rest of the vehicles we left there. An uneventful trip down Tomah Stream with good friends was the perfect start to our paddling season.

Robin Follette

About Robin Follette

Maine Press Association award winner, 2013. Robin's Outdoors, Bangor Daily News, third place in Sports blogs. I grew up with a fishing pole in my hand and have always loved the outdoors. From gardening to hunting and fishing, kayaking, camping, hiking and foraging, most of my time is spent outdoors. I teach outdoor skills as a volunteer instructor for Hooked On Fishing - Not On Drugs and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman. Pro-staff at The Limb Grip. My personal blog is here. I'm currently working on my first book, a collection of short stories based on my outdoors experiences.