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…
An increasing number of people are now contacting me asking about my projections for Rangeley ice-out and trying to schedule fishing trips. Here is what I know….or think I know…
Ice is already out in most of New England and already up to central Maine. For most places it is the earliest ever. When I find some relevant articles, I will post links. Ice in more northern Maine locales is still frozen solid and this week ushered in colder weather with snow and night time temps in the teens. If you look at webcams from Moosehead Lake or Bosebuck Camps you can check the status of the ice.
The long-term outlook is for average or below average temps for early April. This may delay ice out and water warm up. However, I am still think ice out will be in mid-April in Rangeley and threaten the all-time record set several years ago. Snow is about gone so the ground will warm up fast and that will raise the ground water temperature.
What does this mean for the fishing? Maine opened the season last week so it means that it is now legal to fish everywhere. I know people are catching trout in small streams. Smelt will run early, once the lake temperatures rise into the low 40’s. Last time the ice went out in mid-April, it took a number of weeks before the smelt ran. But smelt, suckers, black-nose dace, shad, stripers, etc. will all migrate or spawn several weeks early at least.
Hatches will be early as well but not ridiculously so because the maturation of insects is based on cumulative degree-days of the water over the year. But since water temps have been much warmer than normal since basically last summer, I anticipate early hatches, certainly by a week or two.
Sporting Camps such as Grants are opening up earlier than usual.
Lakes and Ponds that are stocked heavily for the ice-fishing crowd will have plenty of fish to be caught in early spring because the ice-fishing season was so short or non-existent, so try places like Crystal Lake in Gray, Maine. Just to name one.
Given the mild winter and thin or non-existent ice, it is looking like an early start to the fly fishing season. While I don’t ordinarily gear up to fish until about May 1, this year I am going to be ready a full month earlier, especially since I have found some places in Massachusetts, Vermont, and southern New Hampshire that might fish well early in the season, although some of it depends on when some of these streams are stocked. Even the Rangeley area of Maine may be fishing well by the end of April.
We are nearing the end of fly fishing presentation season, and I must say that I always enjoy giving presentations and talking to avid fly fishers about my presentations or my books. Anglers always seem thankful to hear another location, fly pattern, or technique to try. I guess that’s what makes fly fishing great – the constant search for more knowledge. It is a life-long learning sport for sure.
My new book, “Flyfisher’s Guide to New England” is at the publisher and will soon be on its way to the printer. Here are a few photos from just two great places that I discovered as I was researching the book. Once again, I am running a contest. Anyone that wants to guess at the location where these photos were taken can participate. The first person emailing me the correct answers to both photos will be sent a few handtied soft-hackle streamers tied by yours truly. If no one guesses both, then the first person to guess one of them will win. Email your answers to email@example.com
Above photo is looking down at Rangeley in mid-October. Below photo is the Ellis River. Both photos look typical for late September, not mid-OctoberSorry for the long delay between posts. Busy with late guiding, travel and book deadlines, and then my website melted down for awhile. For yet another fall, weather seemed to shift by a full month. September was like a typical August, and October was similar to a typical September. Water remained low in October and even by mid-October hadn’t cooled enough to move many fish. Upper Dam did fish fairly well and when I guided there, most of my clients and other anglers were catching a number of brook trout (mostly smallish) and some big salmon. Casting Soft-hackle streamers into the faster currents and high stick nymphing on the edges of the faster water took the most fish.
I guided some in southern Maine, looking for freshly stocked fish in the upper Presumpscot or the Royal and sea run browns in the Mousam. Fishing remained relatively spotting and in southern New Hampshire stockings were postponed or eliminated because the water was so low. People were still harvesting beans and tomatos in October because of the absence of a killing frost.
The weather in November proved to be, what a surprise, similar to what one would expect in October. The fishing followed suit. Anglers that traveled to the East and West Branch of the Kennebec in mid to late November experienced fantastic fishing, but then again on November 22, here were a sampling of water temperatures…Upper Presumpscot River – 44 degrees, East Branch Kennebec 43 degrees, Kennebago Lake (closed to fishing but still 45 degrees. Folks, trout and salmon bite pretty aggressively at those temperatures. The upper Presumpscot also fished well with stocked and holdover fish. In a few hours I hooked beautifully colored brook trout, some washed out brown trout, a good salmon, and then lost a better fish that I never saw.
Early December so far has followed suit with highs in the upper 40’s or even 50’s so I plan to head to southern New Hampshire and try to jam in a few more days of fishing.
I can’t believe how the month of June flew by. Guiding, more exploration of Vermont fisheries, smallmouth bass fishing on Damariscotta Lake, Striper fishing in New Hampshire, and before you know it we are into July.
June was a cool and very wet month for much of New England. I had to cancel two scheduled classes that were supposed to take place in northern Vermont and on the Andro because all of the rivers were blown out. The Rangeley Rivers were very high and not fishable off and on all month. On the positive side, the waters have stayed cool and fishing continues to be good. The Rangeley River fished well thru June – and remains one of my favorite nymphing rivers.
The Kennebago Lake brown drake hatch occurred the last week of June and those that were on the lake enjoyed tremendous action from salmon and trout. A few trout approaching 20 inches – quite a treat on a dry fly No sign of any green drakes or hexes yet.
Kennebago River had some salmon come up in June with the high water but not as many as I might have thought. However, the river is filled with trout of all sizes, mostly 6-10 inches but more then I can ever remember – maybe because of several wet summers. With more rain at the end of June, more salmon have recently arrived. Yesterday, in a couple of hours, I landed 8 salmon on a simple mid-sized Royal Wulff. With cool lake surface temps, I think the river will continue to fish well through July.
The photo is my wife catching a nice trout during the evening rise on Kennebago Lake.
May was a strange month in the northeast. In several states (like Massachusetts) until the last day of the month it was going to be one of the driest months on record. In southern New England it was also one of the warmest May’s on record. Yet in Maine and northern New England it was very cold. Most of the hatch activity was late.
Fortunately, welcome rain arrived the last day of the month. I was getting concerned about real drought and the quick end to fishing season in many areas. Some streams were running at mid-summer levels. Continued rain has improved the situation considerably and early June has been cold. In Rangeley we had a number of mornings in the lower 30’s with frost in some areas and afternoon highs in only the lower 40’s
In the Rangeley area, early insects such as small black stoneflies, march browns, and even a few sulphers emerge during warm afternoons. The small tan caddis are emerging in droves on Kennebago. The lake is active with some good fish but no one is catching salmon on the river as of two days ago.
Two days ago I guided Rita, a 72 year old woman who had never fly fished. She was a very enthusiastic student but as of 8:30 had not landed a fish without help – casting, hooking, and landing by herself. On just about the last cast, she cast, hooked, landed and released a twelve inch brook trout on a dry fly. Victory!
This has been a different spring for me because I have been traveling extensively to attend my daughter’s graduation and then her wedding, and also researching my next book. I have fished some new and very interesting water. I will share some of my learnings and photos periodically. This week I am going to Damariscotta for some smallmouth bass fishing and then on to fish northern Vermont for the weekend. Next week I will be back to Kennebago to guide for a lot of the week.
Ice-out is official. For all practical purposes, ice was almost all gone on Rangeley, Mooselookmeguntic, and Kennebago on May 6th or 7th.
I was guiding on Wednesday and didn’t see too many signs of smelt however. Water temps were below 40 on the Rangeley River in the morning but with air temps approaching 80 degrees in the afternoon, water temps were 43 on the Rangeley and Magalloway Rivers by afternoon. By the time you are reading this, I am sure the fishing has picked up.
Everyone anticipated potential flooding from the snowmelt but with little rain falling in the last two months, it didn’t happen. Now with the lakes low, dam operators are trying to refill them and some river levels are low. It is hard to believe given the amount of snow that we had. Mooselookmeguntic Lake is at least four feet low, but maybe this is intentional due to the Upper Dam work being done. This will limit fishing opportunities on the Rangeley River if it stays at that level.
The best thing about giving presentations and signing books at fly fishing shows an Trout Unlimited chapter meetings is all of the interesting people you meet including talented outfitters and guides, some of who you end up fishing with. Over time, I will introduce some of them to you.
Brian, owner of Pheasant Tail Tours (www.pheasanttailtours.com) and Harry, owner of Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing (www.berkshireriversflyfishing.com) have introduced me to Massachusetts fly fishing. People from northern New England don’t think about going to Massachusetts to fish, but that is a mistake. Mass. rivers fish better early and late in the season then more northern climes and you can extend your season.
The Deerfield River is a great river to float for rainbows and browns, and the Hoosic and Housatonic Rivers are being rediscovered for their very nice brown trout fishing. There are other options as well and Brian and Harry can take you there on either wading or float trips. I have been enjoying my time fishing in Massachusetts – you don’t get a lot of chances at holdover brown trout or rainbows in Maine.