Fishing in Maine:
Information below was provided by A Fisherman's Guide to Maine.
By the time the shot heard ‘round the world was fired in Lexington Massachusetts in 1775, the American colonies were in an active state of rebellion against England. Canada was also occupied by British troops at this time. To consolidate the fighting forces of both countries, American General George Washington planned to attack and help drive British troops from Montreal and Quebec City, and then annex Canada as the 14th American colony. This plan involved having Colonel Benedict Arnold lead a detachment of 1,100 men along an old Indian trading route up the Kennebec and Dead Rivers, and then down the Chaudiere River into Quebec. But from the time the expedition left Fort Western (now Augusta) in late September, until it reached Quebec City in December, more than half the men and nearly all of their supplies were claimed by the rivers and the weather. Despite being soundly defeated by the British on New Year’s Eve 1775, Arnold’s expedition up the Kennebec has remained noteworthy because it represented the first official naval operation in US military history. His journal and the maps he made on this trip were also used to help forge an inland route to Quebec (called the ‘Canada Road’), that was built through Jackman and the Moose River Valley in 1820.
Following the Revolutionary War, a number of towns with river-based industries sprung up along the Kennebec. Lumbering was the most visible and well-known of these industries, and every spring from 1834 until 1976, the Kennebec Log Driving Company had the sole responsibility of orchestrating the massive log drives that were conducted on the river. To process the bounty of wood that flowed down from the north, first lumber, then pulp mills, were built in river towns like Madison, Skowhegan, Waterville and Augusta. And in order to transport all these wood products to distant markets, steam and sailing ships were also built at a shipyard in Bath. The North American ship-building industry actually began on the lower Kennebec in 1607, and more ships have been constructed on the 3-mile stretch of river in Bath, than any other comparable-size spot in the world. Considering the relatively placid atmosphere on the lower Kennebec today, it’s hard to imagine the amount of activity described in this passage from over 100 years ago in the Bath Daily Times newspaper, “Yesterday, a passenger on the steamer Henry Morrison counted 27 schooners at Bath, 13 at Richmond, 55 at Gardiner, 16 at Hallowell and 2 at Augusta. Overall, the in-and-out traffic on the Kennebec this month has been 892 vessels.”
Ice harvesting was another major industry that took place on the Kennebec during the last half of the 19th century. Once described by ice mogul James L. Cheeseman as, “the easiest and cheapest crop in the world to raise”, during its peak in the 1890’s, the ice industry employed over 20,000 men and stored nearly 2 million tons of ‘Kennebec Diamonds’ in 150 huge warehouses that lined the river from Woolrich to Augusta. For many years, hundreds of ships carried Kennebec River ice to cities throughout the east-coast, and to places as far away as Cuba and India. However, competition from upstate New York and Massachusetts ice producers, along with the advent of refrigeration, brought the Kennebec River ice industry to an abrupt halt shortly after the turn of the century.
In its natural condition, the Kennebec River had no serious impediments to the movement of fish until 16-foot high Caratunk Falls was encountered more than 80 miles from the ocean. As a result, the Kennebec historically supported tremendous runs of anadromous fishes such as Atlantic salmon, shad, alewives, sea smelts and sturgeon. For hundreds of years, tribes of Abnaki Indians established seasonal fishing camps near the mouth of the river and at a number of inland locations such as Ticonic and Caratunk Falls. Because the survival of these native people depended on this annual bounty which swam up from the sea, they viewed the river and much of the land that surrounded it as sacred ground.
During the time the Kennebec Valley was being settled however, industrialization was sweeping up the east-coast, and most of the white men who ventured here were interested in the river for its ability to transport logs and power saw mills. Little regard was given to its fisheries, so in 1809 the first dam without a fishway was built across the river in Clinton, and 1837 another larger dam was built in Augusta. By 1850, many of the runs of anadromous fish that seemed nearly inexhaustable a generation earlier were gone. Later, effluent from textile and pulp mills, along with millions of gallons of raw sewage were also added to the river’s burden. This caused dissolved oxygen to completely disappear in the Kennebec between Waterville and Gardiner for several months each summer. Pollution got so bad during the first half of the 20th century that a frustrated Director of Inland Fisheries once described the water in the Kennebec as, “more resembling that of a neglected wood yard than a river.”
Fortunately, the Clean Water Act of 1969 brought pollution abatement measures throughout the watershed, and today the Kennebec is cleaner than it has been since before the Industrial Revolution. This has led to restoration efforts on Atlantic salmon, shad and alewives that Department of Marine Fisheries biologist Tom Squires says have been, “slow, but steadily improving.” According to Squires, “The biggest problem now isn’t pollution, but rather the marginally useful dams that still remain on the Kennebec and its tributaries.” A large step in the right direction was taken when Edwards Dam, the tidewater barrier that blocked the upstream migration of fish at Augusta for more than 150 years, was breached in 1999. The removal of several other dams, including one at the mouth of the Sebasticook River, is also currently under consideration.
Indian Pond to Carratunk
Route 201 follows along the river’s east bank from The Forks to Carratunk and offers many convenient places to fish. Because of the easier access, fishing isn’t as good here as in the gorge. My best success has been during the extended season in October, when pre-spawning salmon and brook trout respond well to bright flies like the Pink Lady, Mickey Finn and Trout-Fin Muddler. The drastic changes in water level produced by releases from Harris Station Dam can make this a dangerous place to wade and people unfamiliar with the river should be very cautious.
Wyman Dam to Hinckley
This area also supports one of the best naturally reproducing populations of rainbow trout in the state. This unique fishery was started with a modest number of rainbows stocked many years ago. These fish adapted to spawning in Austin Stream and a few other local tributaries and are now completely self-sustaining. I have taken a number of energetic 16-inch rainbows from this stretch of river, and have been told by regional biologist Dave Howatt that they can get much bigger.
Another prime section of the Kennebec is located between the Solon Bridge and the boat launch in North Anson. Dense woods and farm fields makes road access difficult, so I generally use a canoe to explore all the deep holes and shaded, undercut banks along the way. The upper 4-miles is prime brown trout territory and I’ll never forget a thick 20-inch specimen that my daughter Kristen took from beneath a log on a gold Rapala when she was young. Much of the habitat in this section of river is ideal for aquatic insects and match-the-hatch fishing can be fun here. As you approach North Anson, the water gets deep and slower, and although some eye-popping browns are rumored to reside here, most of the fish that I catch are smallmouth bass.
From North Anson to Hinckley, most of the fishing is for bass and is done by anglers who use small motorboats to fish lures and poppers along shoreline structure. A significant number of brown trout are stocked in this stretch of river however, and regional biologist Scott Davis says that, “Nice fish are taken from several spots around Madison and Skowhegan each year.” Because summertime water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels can sometimes reach critical levels, and the density of browns here is relatively low, Davis says that, “For practical purposes, this is a seasonal cold water fishery that is fairly difficult for casual anglers to figure out. This section of river can be a real sleeper though, for people who know how and when to fish it.” Shawmut Area The 3-mile section of the Kennebec from Shawmut Dam to Fairfield is one of the most productive areas on the river. It is also one of the most heavily fished, and on a pleasant June evening it’s not unusual to encounter a couple dozen people casting flies to trout rising within a mile of the dam. The river is 100-yards wide and very shallow in this area though, so it’s fairly easy to wade around and find a place of your own to fish. Brown trout comprise the bulk of the catch here and a number in the 18-22” range are taken each year. Anglers who fish late into the evening frequently catch these large browns using small dry flies on light tippets. I never have much luck with these big fish though, and currently my favorite excuse is that the abundance of natural food here keeps them too well fed. In reality though, most of these browns have been caught and released several times and are just too smart for a Shawmut novice like me. I know an excellent fly fishermen from nearby Benton who spends more than 40 evenings a year on this stretch of river and does very well. His advice is, “When you spot a big fish, don’t be in too much of a hurry. Watch his feeding pattern and make the first cast count.”
Newcomers can have lots of fun here as well, because smaller browns and rainbows are almost always willing to take a well-placed Elk-hair Caddis or Pheasant Tail Nymph. Later in the season, smallmouth bass also increase in numbers and provide great action for the limited number of people who target them. The dense mats of algae that often form on the rocks can be a nuisance for summer bass fishermen in the shallow upper river. This problem can be solved by using a canoe or driftboat to fish the deeper runs found farther downstream.
Waterville to Augusta
Some people fear that with free access from the ocean, striped bass, bluefish and even seals will feed heavily on browns, which up until now, were protected by the dam. But studies done in other states have shown that these marine predators do not typically utilize brown trout as a primary food item. One positive thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the availability of new high-energy foods like sea smelts and alewives should cause the brown trout that do remain in this area to grow larger. But fisheries biologist Scott Davis says that, “Until a few more seasons have gone by, no one really knows exactly what impact the removal of the dam will have. Ultimately, the State will probably go to a fall stocking of larger browns to help cut-down on predation by stripers, but until more time has passed, the only thing that can be said with much certainty is that the lower Kennebec is a river in transition, whose future looks much brighter now than before the dam was removed.”
BELGRADE LAKES REGION
In a big-fish loving state like Maine, it’s not surprising that many people view the establishment of pike in the Belgrades as a totally positive situation. In fact, a recent ice-fishing survey indicated that they were the most prized gamefish in the region. The problem with this new-found love affair with pike though, is that a few anglers are so eager to have them in their favorite lake, that they are doing the stocking themselves. Obviously, the toll that these toothy predators can exact on existing fisheries can be enormous, so the Department of Inland Fisheries has posted numerous signs explaining the serious consequences that individuals will face for unauthorized transport of fish from one body of water to another. Despite these warnings however, the illegal introduction of pike and other highly competitive warmwater fish is still a huge problem.
On lakes where pike are already established, the Department of Inland Fisheries encourages anglers to take advantage of them. And the fervor that some people pursue pike with is almost fanatical. Ice fishing has become particularly popular, and from mid-December to late March, you can usually find a band of hardcore anglers in search of a monster out on Great Pond and other local waters. Most serious pike fishermen will set a line of traps baited with 6-inch shiners across a shelf or shallow bay and spend hours waiting for the big one to swim by. On some days however, only pickerel and bass will cause their flags to fly. When a 15-pound pike finally does come along though, all the hours leading up to that moment disappear before the end of the first blistering run.
Northern pike are not the only species of interest in the Belgrades, which has competes each year with the Downeast region for the title of ‘Bass Capitol’ of Maine. Well known waters such as Cobbosseecontee, Messalonskee and China Lakes, along with Great and Threemile Ponds, provide great largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing all summer long. Fishing is good near dropoffs and underwater structure, but casting a popper or spinnerbait toward a rocky shoreline can also provide plenty of action in the early morning or evening. Anglers interested in catching large bass often concentrate on North and Webber Ponds and Annabessacook Lake. Moving waters such as Belgrade and Cobbosseecontee Streams are over-shadowed by the abundance of large lakes in the area, but these slow-flowing hideaways also produce plenty of bass, especially for fly fishermen who hit them in June and early July.
White perch are another popular warm-water species found in many local waters. Late in April, they congregate near spawning brooks and people sometimes carry away bucket-loads of these tasty fish. Popular locations include the bridges on Sebasticook Lake, the breakwater along the northeast shore of China Lake and both the inlet and outlet of Long Pond. Hefty white perch can also be taken near the railroad tracks along the southwest shore of Unity Pond.
The Belgrade Lakes region also supports some good cold water fisheries. In fact, salmon fishing on Long Pond used to be so good that outdoor writer Ken Allen once called it “one of the best places in the state to catch a salmon over 5 pounds.” Since the introduction of pike, the salmon fishery here has taken a downturn. Early in the season though, the inlet from Great Pond, the outlet below Wings Mills Dam, Castle Island and the shoreline adjacent to the deep hole southeast of the boat launch are still popular places for anglers to gather. Echo Lake and Parker Pond are other local waters that also provide good salmon fishing.
Brown trout form the heart of the coldwater fishery in this area though, and places like Cobbosseecontee and China Lakes, and McGrath and Great Ponds, regularly produce fish over 16 inches. Regional biologist Bill Woodward is pleased with the area’s brown trout stocking program and says that, “Despite the heavy angling pressure and competition from northern pike, a number of fish over 5-pounds are taken each year.” He attributes this to the fact that “Browns eat a wider range of foods, and are harder to catch than salmon and brook trout. Coupled with their longer life span, this leads to the production of some really large fish.” In the spring and fall, many browns move from the lakes into moving waters such as Cobbosseecontee Stream. The pool by the dam and the riffles below Collins Mill Road have produced good fly fishing for me.
SANDY AND CARRABASSETT RIVERS
According to regional biologist Forest Bonney, “Brook trout are available in the upper river all summer long for anglers who take the time to investigate the deep, shaded pools found above Phillips.” He also says that “Even though this area really isn’t known for its lakes, good fishing for wild, but rather slow-growing togue, is available in Clearwater Lake and Embden Pond, and nice brook trout can be found in Kimball and McIntire Ponds.” The Carrabassett River is annually stocked with several thousand brook trout and rainbows as far up as Kingfield and is primarily a seasonal fishery that provides good sport for anglers traveling along routes 16 and 27.
WYMAN LAKE AREA
ierce Pond is located about 15-miles northwest of Bingham and is this area’s most popular fishery. At just over 1,600 acres, this scenic water is can fish more like a big lake than a trout pond on early-season days when the wind is howling. But on calm June evenings when mayflies are hatching in the shallows, it can be a fly fisherman’s dream come true.
Department of Inland Fisheries statistics show that in the last 35 years, Pierce Pond has produced more brook trout over 4-pounds than any other comparable-sized body of water in the state. This includes an 8-pound, 5-ounce wall-hanger that held the state record from 1958-1979. Despite a steady increase in fishing pressure, special regulations and a conservation land trust are working to help maintain the quality of this fishery.
Because it provides the opportunity to catch big trout in a relatively easy to reach location, a number of Pierce Pond regulars are hard-core ‘been everywhere-done everything’ type fishermen, who have settled on this place as their home water. Early in the season, many will troll Rapalas or smelt-imitating streamers along the shorelines of the Lower Basin. But when the water warms up and the insects become active, most will anchor and cast nymphs and small woolly buggers around rocky points and dropoffs until some surface activity begins. I like to fish the area around Caribou Narrows because the trout and salmon here seem to respond well to dry flies, even when nothing is hatching. The best thing about this pond, is that with a small boat and motor, you can prospect from one end to the other, until you find a spot that produces for you. Outlying ponds such as Kilgore, Grass and Horseshoe also offer good fishing and can be reached by trails that leave from Upper Pierce.
The Carry Ponds are located a few miles south of Pierce and are the place where Benedict Arnold left the Kennebec River during his march to Quebec. East and West Carry have the best cold water habitat and can provide good fishing for brook trout. Smelts were illegally introduced into East Carry recently and biologists are still evaluating the impact that they will have on the fishery. The roads into these ponds have been gated for a number of years.
North and South Branches
Fish can be taken throughout the river in the spring. Weighted nymphs or cone-head Muddlers and Wolly Buggers are good flies to use here when the water is cold. Hornbergs and small baitfish patterns fished on a sinking line can also be effective at this time of year. Later in the season, trout look for cool water and often congregate at the mouths of inlets like Nash Brook. The stretch below the dam and around Greenbush Pond can also be productive. Some good hatches of mayflies and caddis take place on the North Branch during June and July. Alder Stream is a fishable tributary that is well known for its Hendricksons.
The South Branch is a smoother flowing, alder-lined river that begins at Saddleback Lake near Rangeley and travels for over 25-miles before entering Flagstaff Lake at Stratton. Route 16 provides good access to its middle section, so this is where most people fish for a mix of native and stocked pan-sized brookies. I caught my first trout on a fly in the upper South Branch many years ago and this is still my favorite section to fish. You can drive a short dirt road from Route 16 to near where Cold Stream enters and then wade up or downstream from there. The fish aren’t very sophisticated and will smother most buggy-looking flies that come floating by. Terresterials like ants, grasshoppers and the Madam-X produce well here. Be sure to bring bug dope, because when there is no breeze, the black flies can be thick. When the water is up, the South Branch also offers a number of good floats for people who like to fish from a canoe. Casting worm and small spinner rigs is particularly popular among boat anglers who fish the lower river near Flagstaff Lake.
Mainstem Dead River
Below Grand Falls, the lower river provides anglers with nearly 15-miles of riffles and pools to explore. Access is limited to a handful of places where a road extends down to the water, so if you are looking for solitude, you can find it on the middle section of the lower Dead. Areas that are easier to reach like Grand Falls, Spencer Rips and Poplar Hill Falls get much more pressure. Most fishing on the lower river is for wild brook trout and salmon with an occasional rainbow, brown trout or splake (from Wyman Lake) mixed in. Generally, fish don’t get as large here as on the upper river, but there are exceptions.
Since the lower Dead runs warm in the summer, salmonids are often found near the mouths of cool inlets like Spencer or Enchanted Stream. Fish also congregate around spring seeps located on the bottom of some of the larger pools. Spin fishing is legal here, but many anglers float nymphs or small streamers and wet flies through good-looking pools and riffles. Recently, I spent a day with guide Victor Smith who likes to fish dry flies, and he said that his clients catch fish here on everything from Grasshoppers to Elk-hair Caddis. The lower Dead is a premier whitewater river that provides about a dozen high-water days per season for rafters and kayakers to enjoy. The river is unfishable and should be avoided during these periods. Release dates are published well in advance on most rafting and whitewater websites.
Flagstaff provides lots of good habitat for warm water species and is best known for some of the monster pickerel that it produces. This lake also has a surprisingly strong smelt run in the spring, which produces some good fishing for brook trout and salmon. The best places to fish for salmonids is around the 50-foot deep hole above Long Falls Dam, and in the area between Eustis and Stratton where the North and South Branches dump in. The quickwater near the bridge that and the area around the old Eustis Dam are particularly popular spots. Some surplus brook trout and salmon are occasionally stocked in Flagstaff, but most salmonids here are wild.
Chain of Ponds is a group of deep lakes that form the headwaters of the North Branch. Historically, this basin contained 5 separate lakes that were connected by short streams, but when a dam was built at the outlet of Lower Pond, it raised water levels enough to connect them together. All of these are deep, oligotrophic lakes that contain good spawning and nursery habitat for brook trout, salmon and togue. Some fish are also occasionally stocked here to help offset the fishing pressure that results from the easy access provided by Route 27. Since Chain of Ponds is one of the few cold water fisheries in the western mountains that is open to ice fishing, they get hit particularly hard in the winter. This was clearly illustrated on my last trip to Long Pond on a windy, sub-zero day in January when there were a half dozen other parties set up within sight.
Jim is my favorite pond in the area because I caught an 18-inch brook trout the first time I ever fished here. It was a beautiful, late-September evening and I took that fish on a small brown woolly bugger less than 15 minutes after putting my canoe in the water. Subsequent trips to this easy-to-reach pond have always produced trout, but never anything that big. The road is gated just beyond Jim Pond, but for those willing to walk a couple of miles, Little Jim and Everett ponds are open to the public and can produce some nice fish. Much of the land beyond here is owned by the King and Bartlett Club which manages more than a dozen trout ponds for the exclusive use of their guests. Although I haven’t fished there, I’ve been told that the fly fishing during the Green Drake hatch can be outstanding. Trout fishing opportunities west of Route 27 are available at Arnold, Round Mountain and Blanchard ponds
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