Igor Sikorsky is a kind, gentle man. He’s 56 and the grandson of the Igor Sikorsky of aviation fame — the inventor of the modern helicopter, among scores of other achievements. Igor Sikorsky III is a float plane pilot of over 25 years and owns, along with his wife, Karen, the iconic Bradford Camps in far northern Maine.
The turn-of-the-century sporting camp in classic Thorough style sits on the northern shore of Munsungan Lake, a salmon-thronged boomerang-shaped pond where Sikorsky lands his 1968 Cessna 172. Every day during his six-month season, he glides into the lake with guests looking for piscatorial inspiration, relaxation, or both.
The Sikorskys took over Bradford in 1996. The camp was founded in the 1890s by Will Atkins and has been in operation since. A few original structures exist on the property, which Sikorsky doesn’t own. Rather he leases from a conglomerate of landowners. They’ve granted Sikorsky, for a price, the rights to operate his eight-guest-cabin operation with a mutual contingency: A land easement is in place protecting not only Munsungan but 750,000 more acres. It will forever be protected as a wild tract of land where the fish run deep and the moose wander.
I visited Bradford with my father last month. We’ve not been on a fishing trip in more than10 years and this was the perfect fit. Hearty meals, warm beds, and rustic but comfortable cabins made the experience worth repeating for years to come. Most of Sikorsky’s guests are return customers. From the guest from Iowa to the man who brought his 98-year-old father, a World War II B-29 pilot, back for his 26th season, it seemed we were the only new customers.
Bradford consists of a central lodge building surrounded by others. Giant moose busts pair eloquently with a framed flag gifted by the crew aboard Marine One, the president’s helicopter and a Sikorsky creation. Meals were served each night after the chime of a dinner bell. Pork tenderloin one night, a fresh salmon I caught served poached the next morning. It’s a comfortable place with propane in each cabin, allowing for hot showers and warm lighting. A woodstove kept the chill at bay.
Each day we left the camp, one day by plane, one day by truck, to fish local waters. The first day we flew out to a remote pond, No Name Pond, where Sikorsky had left a canoe long ago. Under the auspices of a guide, T.J. Hebert, a 32-year-old former Navy hospital corpsman, we angled for hours for hungry native brook trout. As the water roiled with rising fish, I caught a handful of plump brookies, my father landing three times my haul. Brook trout are one of the most vibrant freshwater fish. Emerald green with a wormwood pattern on their backs, they have artistically placed orange dots on their side and bright orange fins. And they fight your fly line as energetically as their vibrance shines.
On the second day, Hebert, a patient, astute guide, drove us on washboarded logging roads to fish the Allagash River. One of the few designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, a federal act that is 50 years old this year, it’s a rapid watercourse with riffles and runs. I pulled out scores of native brook trout as I flipped my fly line into the current. We returned to the camp to troll Munsungan for salmon, which we did successfully.
Sikorsky is an environmentalist. He learned that nearby Big Reed Pond had a dwindling population of Blueback trout, actually a landlocked arctic char, flaming orange in color, that were left behind by the receding ice shield that once covered Maine. Smelt were introduced into the pond by a bait fisherman, and took hold, choking out the Bluebacks. Sikorsky harvested 12 fish, flew them to a private hatchery, and arranged to have the pond sterilized with rotenone, a pesticide dropped from, ironically, two Sikorsky Blackhawks contracted from the National Guard. After confirming sterilization, he reintroduced the Bluebacks, which worked. The pond had been restored.
Back at camp that evening, we pontificated about four days in the time warp that is Bradford Camps. It’s simply a special place, one where you go back in time and live life without electronic devices (they’re banned in the central lodge), complications, and the details of life in the urban jungle. We sipped scotch, chilled from ice Sikorsky cuts in the winter and stores under sawdust all summer, and played cribbage under the glow of a propane lamp. A warm fire crackled in the fieldstone fireplace. The staff wiped off the tables, then joined us for a nightcap.
In the morning, I arose early. Thick mist hovered over Munsungan. Freighter-style canoes with outboard motors drifted adjacent to the dock. A floatplane hovered in the mist, waiting for another day of hard work under the skillful yoke of Igor Sikorsky. As I fired my camera’s shutter I saw Sikorsky walk down to the plane. A few minutes later the engine purred, preparing to whisk us back to the complicated thing that is life. As we peeled away from the lake the verdant carpet of Maine’s Great North Woods stretched out before us. Moose waded in the streams we passed, lakes stretched our eyes as we glided over 750,000 acres of protected land. I pictured my father and I returning, when he is 98, and finding the wilderness untouched and unfettered, just like it’s been for hundreds of years.
If you go . . .
Lodging and food are all included. $199 per person, per night. Guides are $300 a day. Daily fly outs and the flight into and out of camp vary, from $120 per person. A family week exists as well, $3,365 a week for four people. www.bradfordcamps.com. 207-746-7777.Brian Irwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.