Christi Holmes is a woman who truly is doing it all! She’s not only a registered Maine hunt/fish guide and Founder of Maine Women Hunters, but she’s also an outdoor writer, Old Town Prostaffer & L.L. Bean Ambassador, photographer, AT thru-hiker, & full-time civil engineer. We’ve picked Christi’s brain on all things Maine fishing more than once and have benefited from her expertise on a handful of Old Town press trips. For this month’s Coffee Talk, Christi shares her experiences hunting and fishing in the gorgeous state of Maine as well as moments from her thru-hike of the AT.
Growing up in Maine you have so many beautiful, wild spaces for recreating. It’s clear you have a passion for the outdoors, can you share how the state shaped you and your interests?
I have always loved the outdoors, where I grew up there were no other forms of entertainment. I grew up in Machias, Maine, a very rural coastal town, 30 minutes from the Canadian border. It is the largest town in the area, despite there being only 32 kids in my high school graduating class and no stoplights (not even a blinking yellow). The one-room movie theater was 45 minutes away, had one showing per night, and played the same movie for two weeks. So, there’s was really nothing else to do!
There were no ski mountains or golf courses, but there were forests and ponds everywhere. I raked wild blueberries every summer growing up which is back-breaking work and worked on a lobster boat in high school. I think those things taught me grit and gave me a sense of adventure. Living in the state with the terminus of the Appalachian Trail exposed me to the trail that I eventually hiked and that in turn, gave me the confidence to realize I could do anything.
Tell us about your experience as a Registered Maine Guide and the process that goes into achieving this accreditation.
Maine is known for our rigorous guide testing process. There are three categories- hunting, fishing, and recreation. You must pass a written, map and compass and oral exam in the category you’re testing for. The oral exam is the most difficult and is given by two Master Maine Guides, and/or a Game Warden, and they grill you for an hour about laws, flora and fauna identification, and then they ask you what you would do in certain situations. You need to show that you have a depth of knowledge in your field, as well as a breadth of knowledge across all fields.
After becoming a Registered Maine Guide you founded Maine Women Hunters. How did you identify the need for this group and why was it important for you to launch it?
There was another group – Maine Women Fly Fishers and I saw how empowering it was to have a sense of community for a beginner like me. I thought that women needed something similar for hunting even more so, given the stigmas around hunting and the challenges. You’re dealing with firearms and you’re taking a life, it’s serious. Being a female hunter can also be frustrating – people often assume you don’t know anything.
What are some examples of how this group is bringing women hunters together in the state of Maine?
It’s hard to picture yourself doing something if you’ve never seen anyone that looks like you doing it, so in our group women see other women hunting and fishing and it encourages us all. Our guided trips provide an affordable way to try something new with other beginners. Our group is a safe place where women can share both tales of success and of disappointment and ask questions they may not feel comfortable asking in other settings.
What are some experiences you have planned for Maine Women Hunters this year?
This past winter we went ice fishing, and last month we chartered three boats to go striped bass fishing. This month we have two haddock fishing trips and a skeet shooting night and then this fall we have a freshwater fishing trip, a pheasant hunt, a freshwater fishing trip, and several waterfowl hunts. We also have an informative whitetail deer hunting workshop prior to deer season.
Can you share some advice for folks who may be interested in getting into hunting but don’t know where to start?
Try to find a mentor or join a local club like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, if you can, but even if you can’t, just go out there and give it a try. Sit in the woods and observe what animals you see. There is so much to learn between the laws and gear to hunting strategies that it can be overwhelming, but you learn every time you go out.
Alright, hypothetical time: in a perfect world, you have one beautiful Maine day that provides all four seasons– how do you spend your time outside (ice fishing, turkey hunting, striper fishing, clam digging, etc.)?
I would definitely ice fish, then as the day warmed up, I would go foraging for fiddleheads and mushrooms, then when it was really hot, I would go offshore fishing for bluefin tuna and hopefully catch some haddock, then as it cooled down again, I would go grouse hunting with my brittany, Argos.
You’re an accomplished angler who has targeted species across the country. Please share with us one of your favorite days on the water?
My favorite day on the water was this past winter, when my family and I ice fished out of the cabin my great grandfather built 100 years ago. The cabin hasn’t had any improvements since then- no running water, no insulation, etc. but the lake it’s on is known for excellent landlock salmon fishing. The sunrise was spectacular, and we caught five healthy salmon that day, their bellies full of smelts. It’s cool to think that we are enjoying the same place that my great grandparents did a century ago.
Do you remember a specific experience or moment in time when you became hooked (pun intended) on fishing and you realized the passion would stick with you?
I had barely learned to cast a fly rod when my friend and I hiked two miles into this remote pond in northern Maine where he had a canoe stashed on the shore. He let me use one of his extra rods and we fished out of his canoe at dusk as native brook trout rose around us. Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin, also the end of the Appalachian Trail loomed over us. It was a magical night, and I caught my first fish on a fly rod. I knew after that I would be getting my own fly rod.
Speaking of Katahdin and the Appalachian Trail, we learned that you also thru-hiked the AT, when did you do this and what inspired you to do the entire trail?
After I graduated college, I wasn’t ready to settle into a career, so I decided that hiking the AT would be a not too expensive adventure. I was familiar with parts of the trail here in Maine and it seemed like a good challenge.
Did you learn anything new about yourself while hiking the AT?
I learned that if I could get through the rain, mosquitoes, blisters, and monotony of the trail without giving up, I could do anything. Most people who quit don’t do it for physical reasons, your body gets used to that, but they quit because psychologically it’s a grind. You wake up, pack up, and walk, you eat the same foods, all the views look the same, you get homesick, you get soaked, and you get blisters. But the people you meet on the trail are great. In the moment, the simplicity of the trail seems boring, but looking back now, it’s my favorite part. No landlord, no appointments, no responsibilities except walking.
Do have one particular moment on the trail that will stick with you?
Myself and another hiker, Crop Duster, stopped into this town in Pennsylvania for lunch and wanted to spend the night but there were no cheap motels or laundromats, so not a great place to spend the night. We were just going to keep hiking, but then it started pouring. Luckily, this older couple seated near us overheard our situation and invited us to stay with them. We slept in their grown kids’ rooms, we did laundry, we went out to dinner, and they fed us a feast of a breakfast. They had never taken in hikers before, but were our “Trail Angels.” I still exchange Christmas cards with Bev and Joe annually. Strangers were so kind everywhere I went, and acquaintances of mine I hadn’t seen for years came out of the woodwork, offering a place to stay, or to deliver food to the trail. It really restores your faith in humanity, as cheesy as that sounds.
What’s one experience on your bucket list that you’re dying to check off?
Canoe the Allagash Wilderness Waterway here in Maine, a nearly 100-mile wilderness lakes system. It is extremely remote and scenic!
With such an active lifestyle you must need time to recharge every once in a while. What’s your go-to activity for recharging your battery?
I sit in a cubicle working as a design engineer at a civil engineering firm, so I get to recharge my physical muscles for 40 hours a week but flex my brain muscles. Then I’m ready to go hard before or after work and on the weekends.
You’re clearly quite busy and seem to manage your many hats seamlessly. We’ve heard a rumor about a glorious spreadsheet that you use to track everything, including your hobbies. Can you elaborate a little bit?
I guess it started when I bought my house. There are certain seasonal homeowner chores that I wanted to keep organized. Then you have fun things with short seasons, things like river smelts running, fiddleheads picking, tapping maple trees for syrup, and if you don’t have them on your radar, you might miss them. So I combined the two lists into a monthly to do list containing both “chores” and “fun” stuff.
We also hear you make a mean Venice Chili. What’s your go-to recipe in the summer?
My fiancé and I eat a lot of fresh fish in the summer- haddock, trout, and clams, but my favorite summer delicacy is fresh calamari. When we go bluefin tuna fishing, we catch squid as bait, and at the end of the trip, I bring home the leftover squids, gut and clean them (trying not to get ink everywhere) and make fresh fried calamari. I made a video on how to clean them, and it’s pretty interesting (and slimy).
Your gear closest is likely extensive. What are a few pieces of gear that are non-negotiables for you?
Bug Spray- we call the blackfly the Maine State Bird, and we have a lot of ticks that carry Lyme disease so I’m always spraying my pants in the spring. I also really like carrying a few reusable zip ties; they’re cheap and handy for all sorts of things.
Last but not least, your photography is beautiful. Can you share with us one of your favorite photos and the story behind it?
Thank you! I just use my iPhone but hunting and fishing require early mornings and harsh conditions so I’m often in photogenic settings where it’s difficult to take a bad photo.
My most famous photo was actually a selfie and it landed on the cover of Down East magazine. I was out ice fishing, and it was -20 degrees with the windchill. After getting my five tip ups set, I pulled out my phone to take a photo of the sunrise, but it was flipped around on selfie mode, so I got a glimpse of my face and I was like, “oh my God,” my face was frozen- my eyelashes, hair, everything.
My second favorite photo is one I took of me holding the heart of a deer, with the deer in the background. It’s powerful and evokes a lot of emotion for me. It’s sad to take a life, but if I’m going to eat meat, then I want to be connected to where it comes from and honor and thank that animal.
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