Episode #2: Christi Holmes on Becoming an Outdoorswoman
It’s an hour before dawn at the tail end of the ice-fishing season in the Sebago region. Christi Holmes is making quick work of drilling holes in the surprisingly thick ice with an auger and setting up traps on Waterford’s Bear Pond. Her cheery “Good morning!” at this early hour is the first indicator that she is in her element.
Others quickly follow. The enthusiasm with which she shouts “FLAG!” and goes racing towards a trap that has a raised triangle of cloth indicating a fish may be on the line; the ease and expertise with which she inserts forceps into a fish’s mouth to remove a hook; and her obvious pleasure in chatting about how she came to learn and love traditional Maine outdoor activities are just a few ways to tell she is right where she belongs.
Her relationship with fishing and hunting was not always so natural. Holmes grew up the daughter of a judge and a registrar, both with the Probate Court in Machias, a small community Down East. Her family spent time outdoors, but did not hunt or fish. After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail when she was 21, she was looking for a non-hiking outdoor activity to keep her occupied. This desire and her growing concern with where her meat came from prompted her to learn how to capture food in the wild.
Her learning journey has included teaching herself, gaining knowledge through friends, and taking courses and lessons through the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and L.L. Bean. “Anytime you try something new, it’s a little overwhelming,” Holmes says. “And then you put firearms into the mix and taking an animal’s life, and it’s serious. And if you’re a woman, you might not feel comfortable being in the woods alone. If you don’t see anyone that looks like you doing it, it’s hard to think you can do it.”
For these reasons, Holmes started the Facebook group Maine Women Hunters, which provides a place for female hunters of all experience levels to learn from and support each other. The group also organizes hunting and fishing trips and educational and social events. “When you’re in a group of just women, it’s different,” Holmes says. “You make the decisions and you gain the confidence. We’re all equal, so it’s not intimidating.”
Each summer, the Maine Women Hunters group organizes a guided trolling trip on Sebago Lake for salmon and lake trout. While recalling last year’s outing, Holmes notes the economic impact of a clean Sebago Lake. In addition to fishing license fees, “there’s the docking fee, or you rent a boat, or you pay a guide, and that money is staying super local,” she says. “You buy bait and you buy a fishing rod. Then you go eat on Frye Island for lunch. It all adds up. Also, think about the real estate value Sebago provides.”
After rebaiting a hook that had moments ago been attached to the mouth of a stunning, iridescent splake (a cross between a brook trout and a lake trout), Holmes rejoins her growing group of friends, who are gathered around a camp stove set up on a table on the ice. Earlier, they had a breakfast of grilled venison sausage made from a deer Holmes hunted last fall. Now one friend kneels on the ice to fillet a handful of white perch and splake he has brought up from the depths of the frozen pond on this unseasonably warm March day.
It’s easy to understand in this setting why Holmes sees herself and other hunters and anglers as stewards of wild places like the Sebago Lake watershed. “It’s 30 minutes from the most densely populated city in our state, and you can go hunting and fishing and see tons of wildlife, and I think that’s pretty special,” she says. “It’s telling about the health of the ecosystem that the wildlife is doing great. There’s this clean water and undeveloped land, and it’s at our backdoor. I think hunters and anglers, especially, because they’re so connected to the wildlife, the water, they’re going to fight to protect it.”