Rangeley Fly Fishing Seasons
and Fly Recommendations
There are four distinct fishing seasons for the waters that surround Rangeley: Early Spring (Ice Out), Spring (Hatch season), Summer (Headwaters and Tail waters time), and Autumn (Spawning Season). The exact timing of these seasons varies year to year depending upon the weather.
Early Spring (Ice Out)
This is generally the period between late April and late May but can range from mid April to mid June depending on elevation, body of water, and weather conditions.
Although the water is still cold, some of the biggest fish of the year can be caught this time of year as the larger fish in lakes rise to the surface or run up the Magalloway, Kennebago, and Rapid River chasing smelt on their spawning runs. The best way to fish this time of year is to cast or troll streamers that imitate smelt. The use of Sink tip or sinking lines is the most consistent way to reach fish lying on the bottom in cold and fast water. Proven patterns are the marabou black ghost, marabou gray ghost, wood special, mickey fin, or white or black woolly buggers – but any smelt pattern might work. In May 2005 a four-pound brook trout was landed in one of the Magalloway pools above Parmachenee Lake on a wood special with sinking line.
On still and cloudy days midges will hatch in small ponds and quite backwaters and hungry trout will rise to them. Midge imitations (Griffith Gnat) or small parachute adams and black gnats can be effective.
Spring (Hatch Season)
Classic hatches start as the water warms towards 50 degrees and usually encompasses the time period from just before Memorial Day to the middle of July. In the waters around the western Maine mountains, hatches vary greatly from area to area and from year to year. Suffice it to say that some years, on some bodies of water, most of the classic hatches do appear in roughly the appropriate order – smaller march browns and hendricksons followed by brown and green drakes, and the hexes. There are regular caddis hatches especially micro caddis and alder fly. There can be tremendous black fly hatches that while painful for the fisherman can really turn the fish on. Some blue-winged olives and tricos hatch regularly especially on the lower Magalloway below Aziscohos dam.
Occasionally, matching the hatch exactly is required to consistently fool fish. But most of the time a fly that is “near enough” will work. Proven dry flies are hornbergs size 14, elk hair caddis sizes 16-18, parachute adams sizes 14-20; royal coachman and royal wulff’s sizes 12-18. When the drakes and hexes are hatching, wulff’s and standard drake imitations will work except when the fish become finicky in which case emergers or cripples can be a better choice.
For those that are comfortable nymphing, bead head hares ears and pheasant tails in standard colors work well. In the tail water section of the Magalloway or in the Rapid River, utilize enough weight to get the nymphs down in the faster current and go to progressively smaller sizes until you find the correct combination. Classic Maine streamers, particularly muddlers and marabou black ghosts will continue to take their share of fish.
The Summer Season
It is a great time to fish with warmer temperatures for wading wet with fewer biting insects and less fisherman. Mornings and evenings are best. The mid-summer season usually stretches about five weeks, from the third week of July through the end of August. Sometimes if we have a rainy July and a cool and early fall, the summer pattern only lasts for several weeks.
Fishing tends to be better where the water is cooler. The headwaters of the Magalloway River are spring fed and stay cool even during the hottest summer. Depending on the year, the upper stretches of Cupsuptic Stream will still fish. The tail water below the Aziscohos Dam never rises out of the low 60’s. Some of the ponds have spring holes.
Terrestrials usually are effective – ants, beetles, and grasshoppers. Caddis are still available to the fish. Some lighter colored mayflies hatch periodically as do moths and small butterflies that are available to the fish such that small white wulff’s and white millers are effective, particularly in faster water. In 2004 a three-pound brook trout was caught at noon on a bright sunny 80-degree day with a white wulff.
In popular pools that have seen a lot of fisherman, nymphing with bead heads maybe the best way to go. If some smaller fish are being caught, don’t be afraid to try a baby brook trout imitation. It may interest the biggest fish in the pool.
In the lower Magalloway River below the dam, small caddis and blue winged olive imitations are still productive.
Autumn (Spawning Season)
My favorite time of the year. Crisp nights. Warm days. Endless blue sky. No mosquitoes. The chance to catch the biggest fish of the year in full spawning colors.
True autumn fishing starts with the first cooler weather and a good rain. This can be as early as the middle of August to as late as the second week of September.
Larger trout and salmon move into shallower water in ponds and lakes and start to swim into the Magalloway, Kennebago, Rapid, Cupsuptic, the Dead Diamond, and other rivers to begin the spawn. Such fish become very aggressive and territorial. Large marabou streamers that have the colors red, yellow, orange, or green can draw aggressive strikes particularly after a good rain. 3 and 4 pound brookies and landlocks are not uncommon. Dry flies that are general attractors work well for the same reasons. Orange and Red humpies, royal wulff’s orange stimulators, yellow wulff’s, and yellow grasshoppers are worth trying.
If the waters remain low and clear or fishing pressure is heavy, sometimes the fishing becomes more technical. If fish are rising, matching the hatch can be important and most of the hatches are size 20 or smaller midges, tricos, micro stoneflies, and other small stuff. 6x or even 7x tippet maybe required. Dead drift nymphing remains an effective tactic under more technical conditions.
During the autumn fishing season, the larger fish can be moody. The most effective tactic is to keep changing tactics and flies until you find a combination that works for a while. When it stops working, switch tactics again.