Eastern Fly Fishing

By King Montgomery

The West Branch Penobscot River begins its journey just above Moosehead Lake and ends 50 miles later in the river’s main stem near Medford. It travels mostly through a series of lakes until it is interrupted briefly by Ripogenus Dam. The stretch below and downstream of the dam harbors lots of landlocked salmon and brook trout, all in the shadow of Katahdin, Maine’s highest mountain at just a few feet less than a mile. (Penobscot is an Abenaki Indian word meaning “descending ledges or rocks,” and the Penobscot Indian group took their name from this description.)
   From below the dam to the Nesowadnehunk Deadwater, particularly the stretch below Big Eddy, is where I fished with Maine Master Guides Greg “Boz” Bostater and Matt Bickford of Maine River Guides over several fine fall days. We all fished and caught salmon and brook trout under warm and blue skies.
   Creel census data over the years reveals this part of the entire Penobscot system is one of the best big salmon fisheries in Maine—anglers catch many salmon over 4 pounds.
   Shortly after we launched Bostater’s handmade drift boat at the Big Eddy Campground, (207) 882-7323, www.chewonki.org, we were hooking gorgeous landlocked salmon that seemed to prefer drifted nymphs instead of attractor dries. They were holding in the foam lines where current seams define that space salmonids seem to like. Copper Johns tied with rubber legs worked well, but the fish weren’t all that particular.
   Big Eddy is just that: the water coming out of the gorge below Ripogenus Dam enters this wide part of the river and spreads out in strange hydrostatic ways. Many smaller eddies also form; once you cast a fly onto these dancing waters, you’re never sure which way the fly will go. But the fish really seem to like it. The tailwater is cool, well oxygenated, and fertile; Hendrickson and Blue-Winged Olive mayflies, along with caddisflies, abound, and plenty of smelt make their way through the Ripogenus turbines. Thus, many of the old standby Maine smelt patterns, such as the Gray Ghost and the Supervisor, work well here.
   As nightfall approaches, the fish don’t stop their activity and neither do the anglers, who fish Big Eddy in watercraft ranging from drift boats to canoes, and by wading or fishing from shore. Everyone waits for a hatch of various insects, and that’s when an Elk Hair Caddis or Adams can score; underwater presentations work very well, too. Once the gloaming gives way to the dark, anglers make their way back to their camp or their vehicle, most with broad smiles on
their faces.
   On our second day, we floated farther east and hit some good brook trout water where salmon showed up as well. In one spot, where a fallen tree obscured the mouth of a little bay, smaller brookies smashed dry flies and gave a good accounting of themselves. Brilliantly colored and spunky, these engaging fish can temporarily steal your heart. 
   A Maine shore lunch is traditional. Most guides don’t cook trout or salmon or smallmouth bass as they did before the advent of catch-and-release, but there is nothing wrong with a beautifully marinated beefsteak instead of fish. The homemade marinade Bostater uses makes a great piece of meat even better. Much of the West Branch Penobscot is accessible on Golden Road, a wide, packed-gravel/dirt road owned and used by timber companies. Always give way to the huge trucks that barrel down the road empty and return loaded with logs—they really do own the road.
   Anglers can camp at the Big Eddy Campground or stay in Millinocket at the Big Moose Inn, (877) 666-7346, www.bigmoosecabins.com. Bostater, who stays at Big Eddy, can take care of all your arrangements if you fish with him. Contact him at (207) 749-1593, www.maineriverguides.com.

 

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