Fishing report from the Western Maine Mountains and Beyond
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For what seems like the 3rd autumn in a row, September in the Rangeley area was dry and hot, and the trout and salmon didn’t begin to move into shallow water or run up the rivers until the last week of the season. Global climate change really seems to be impacting Maine. I remember that 20 years ago in the western Maine Mountains, by the last few days of the season all of the leaves would be off the trees, and sometimes it would spit snow and sleet. The end of September now arrives with the leaves still green and this year there wasn’t even a frost until mid-October.
I think that Maine’s Inland Fish and Wildlife Department should consider extending the regular fishing season to the first week in October. I know more water is being kept open later but prime waters are not. I don’t think extending the season by one week would negatively impact the wild fish and it would minimize the crowding during the last week in the season.
Although another “official” fly fishing season has come and gone, lots of water is still open. I guided two anglers in early October to upper Dam – still lots of heavy machinery working – but everyone there (up to 14 anglers in the late afternoon) seemed to catch a few fish. Most were 10-12 inches and very thin – I assume that they were resident to that area and that during this hot summer, the water had warmed too much for them to feed actively. A few fresh larger salmon and trout were caught – some in the 20 inch range, but I got the sense that the real movement of fish hadn’t started yet.
I have some interesting photos and videos from the end of September that I will post as time allows.
In other news, I was able to stop into a new fly shop in Lincoln, NH – right at the end of the Kancamagus Highway. This new fly shop is good news for anglers in that part of NH who did not have a fly shop anywhere close by. The name of the shop is Mountain High Fly (www.mountainhighfly.com) and the owner, Sara, seemed quite competent and enthusiastic. They are on-line only during the winter, but the shop itself will be open again in the spring. Good luck with your new endeavor, Sara!
I thought I would give an update on fly-fishing conditions. Although we have had a few rain storms in September, rivers are dropping again. Very few smaller resident trout or salmon are around –they must of run into the lakes when the water got so low and warm in August. A few larger trout and salmon have moved into the rivers, but with water temps still in the mid 60’s or warmer, most fish haven’t moved yet. We still need more cold nights and rain to really start things going.
I have guided and fished with a few friends on the Kennebago River several times in the last week and we have run into small schools of fresh salmon here and there – one morning we did hook a half dozen or so nymphing.
I also caught a few beautiful trout in the Little Kennebago River. I also fished the upper Magalloway last week and found a few nice fish here and there. I watched a huge salmon cavort around one of the larger pools that looked to be around 5 pounds, but of course I couldn’t interest him.
I have heard that fresh fish moved into the Magalloway below the dam last week and anglers enjoyed dry fly action with the new arrivals.
In other news, I have made the decision to take a year off from guiding in 2017. I want to concentrate on promoting my latest book, and do some more writing. Also to recharge my batteries a little, lose some weight, and protect my knees. I would also like to explore a little and find new “secret” fishing spots. Some of my favorite guiding spots are now not as accessible, or more crowded, or aren’t fishing as well with the recent years of warmer and drier autumns. At the end of next year, I will decide about 2018.
Please continue to contact me, I will give you advice on where to go, and I have guides to recommend across New England. I probably will end up guiding some – if another guide needs help or someone intriguing comes along. And I will probably do some free guiding to raise money for fly fishing organizations, or give a few lessons, or participate in programs to introduce new women and kids into the sport – so my guess is that I won’t be out of it entirely – but days will be drastically reduced.
Early September has brought a few changes from August but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the lack of rain. Mid-August brought two rainstorms to the Rangeley region that dropped over 3 inches of rain in some areas, but the ground was so dry that much of it was absorbed with little run off. Still, it did raise and stabilize river flows in some areas. However, we have had little rain now for over a week and air temperatures are rising again into the upper 70’s during the day this week.
We did have cool nights (into the low 40’s several days) and water temperatures are dropping with rivers and streams falling into the 60’s. As a result some spawning fish are starting to move. Anglers are hooking a few nice fish in the upper Magalloway, a few nice salmon in the lower Kennebago, and seeing some big trout in the upper stretches.
Best bet is to fish early in the morning, be patient, and be satisfied with maybe one or two nice fish.
Fish are also starting to move into shallower water in the lakes and ponds and people are reporting the beginning of good action – although still with mostly smaller fish. Today on Kennebago it was cloudless, 75 degrees, and calm, but fish were rising at mid-day as tiny trico-like mayflies emerged in shallow water and mixed with a few tiny flying ants. Go figure.
In literary news, my new book is becoming more widely available and is now found in most fly-shops, sporting goods stores, and specialty book stores in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts including Bass Pro in NH, and Kittery Trading Post. Not LLBean yet. If you don’t see it at your favorite store – ask for it! Of course, you can always buy it directly from me. Good luck with your September fishing and keep praying for a good tropical storm to reach northern New England.
The drought of 2016 continues throughout most of Maine and New England. Most natural rivers are too low or warm to fish well or perhaps shouldn’t be fished at all to protect the stressed fish. I have never seen rivers in the Rangeley area as low as they are now. For example, the Diamond River at the Dartmouth Grant, which can flow as high as 14,000 cfs during snow melt was down to 34 cfs.
It is no better in Massachusetts or the other New England states with the exception of the northern half of Maine that has fared somewhat better.
As I outline in my first book, “Fly Fishing the Seasons of New England” some fishing options remain even under these conditions. Rivers from bottom-release dams such as the Magalloway River flowing from the Azischos Dam has still been fishing well, all the way to the New Hampshire border. I fished it several days ago and we caught 5 species of fish – salmon, brook trout, fallfish, smallmouth bass (up to four pounds), and yellow perch!
The headwaters of rivers and streams high in the mountains are still cold with adequate flows. For example, the upper Ammonosoc River near Mt. Washington was packed with brook trout and rainbows several days ago – I assume because they moved upstream as lower stretches of river warmed.
Lakes in the Rangeley area fished very well all summer until slowing down recently. Fish still rise early in the morning and right at dark. More nights like last Monday night when night time temps dropped into the lower 40’s will lower the surface water temperatures.
Late June and early July brought relatively cool weather and precious little rain for anybody. While parts of New England enjoyed some hit and miss thunderstorms that kept rivers and streams running, other areas were bone dry. For example, Kennebago River never had any real spring salmon run because of continued low water. On July 5 its temperature was 72 degrees, not good. In late June, I fished through the gorge of the Diamond River in the Dartmouth Grant because of water running at only 50 cfs. I fished with folks that have fished there for 20 years and have never fished the gorge because usually it is impossible if not dangerous.
The Rapid River and lower Magalloway both were at 300 cfs for most of this time, also extremely low. Charlie, the owner of Evening Sun Fly Shop in Massachusetts told me that the Squannacook River in early July reached record low levels. It makes for tough river fishing, although I have heard good reports. The West Branch of the Penobscot has been fishing well because that area received a bunch of thunderstorms and cooler weather (and of course it is a bottom-release dam draining a huge watershed).
A gentlemen I know sent me this photo of a 26.5 inch brown he took from the White River.
That river does not give up its fish easily but those who take the time to know its idiosyncracies, catch some impressive fish.
On the new book front, “Flyfisher’s Guide to New England” is now out and available. It has received some early great reviews as “THE where-to-go resource for New England”. Retail distribution will slowly increase over time but right now it is available at the Evening Sun Fly Shop in MA., Rangeley Sport Shop in Rangeley, ME., Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport, and The Tackle Shop in Portland, Maine. It is also available at Amazon and from me directly signed if you send me an email. By all means go into your local book store or fly-fishing store and ask for it. That will give them the incentive to order it for their store.
June is the height of the guiding season and the days can be long when it gets light at 4 A.M. and it is still light enough to fish at 8 P.M. This year has brought some hot days and a few very cold nights, but not very much rain. As a result, the fishing has been hot and cold. I have guided in a location where we didn’t see a sign of a fish, and then half an hour later another angler in the same place with a similar fly pattern, caught a half a dozen nice fish. I guided one person to a small river pool and we caught nothing, and then the next day, in the same pool, I guided two folks that caught 50 fish.
I had a few slow days, but a few successes as well. On the lower Magalloway River one weekend, when the fish were being pounded and fishing was slow, I had an angler who I taught the classic wet fly swing. On his first cast, he landed a beautiful 18-inch wild brook trout a size-18 wet fly – on the first cast!
I had a few new fly fishers who caught their first trout. Always an exciting event and a rewarding one for the guide.
Salmon started moving in the middle Magalloway River after a recent rain and I hope that they do the same on the Kennebago River because they haven’t as of yet.
My new book is finally arriving into my hands towards the end of this week. Then, I will be shipping it out and sending it to retailers ASAP. Enjoy the peak of the fishing season. Fish well and fish often.
An excited client with a nice brook trout hooked on a dry fly.
Hatches are at full swing now in the Rangeley Area with early season mayflies – Hendricksons, Quill Gordons, March Browns, or similar mayflies hatching regularly when conditions warrant –sometimes morning and sometimes afternoon.
The first really warm day on May 12 brought the first surface activity to Kennebago Lake. I had one of those magical evenings that sometimes one is fortunate enough to experience. I was the only one fishing on the entire lake, it was an 80 degree day and warm evening without a cloud in the sky. As the sun started to set, the lake was flat calm around the western shore. Two bald eagles watched me from a nearby tall white pine tree as fish cruised just under the surface sipping midges and other small fare. Every cast to a rise resulted in a fish. In the cold water they fought hard and some towed the canoe. I happily lost count of how many came to hand. It was so perfect, I half expected Kevin Costner to come out of a field of corn on the bank and ask me if this was heaven (that was a Field of Dreams film reference).
Then on Monday, May 16th, the area had 3 inches of snow and temps in the 20’s and 30’s and howling winds. And I do mean howling – Mooseluckmeguntic Lake had 6 foot waves. On the following Wednesday, the temp of the water had fallen to 44 degrees in the rivers and all of the hatches just stopped
But by last weekend, May 21st, the weather warmed and hatches commenced again including on Saturday afternoon a huge fly ant hatch on the upper river. 4 anglers fishing there caught 10 massive brook trout over two pounds in just several hours.
By the middle of this week, blizzard hatches of early season mayflies were everywhere. I guided yesterday and my sport had a 30 trout (at least) afternoon – not telling you where. My only concern is that we have had no rain and the rivers are at summer levels already – just like the last two springs. We need rain…
I fished Vermont’s Dog River last week, a tributary of the Winooski River that I cover in my book, “Flyfishers Guide to New England.” It is a beautiful river with aqua-marine deeper pools and large trout. The wild trout are not numerous and very spooky and hard to fool when a full-blown hatch is not occurring. It seems like a one trout per pool type of deal and it feels a little bit like stalking fish in New Zealand although the fish are not as large. My friend Dave Durovich (a great guide in the area and a great guy) and I spooked a few, he briefly hooked a very large rainbow nymphing, and I landed a very energetic 18- inch rainbow on an olive soft-hackle streamer. Alas, no photograph. I also spent a little time nymphing the upper Winooski – a small river/stream that is really fun to fish. One chunky wild rainbow succumbed to my high-stick nymphing although the release was of the long distance variety. Below are a few photos of the Dog River…