The quintessential image of Maine brook-trout fishing tends to be a fly caster in a canoe on a still evening, covering rises on a pond’s obsidian-like surface.

That’s the iconic picture all right, and often enough this month and next, the hour before dark passes just like that. This tradition evolved during the Civil War when wealthy anglers from the New York City area started trekking to the Rangeley region by train and wagon for giant brook trout.

In this state, though, a common weather pattern conflicts with this classic image — wind. Waves pitching a canoe or boat prevail at least part of every day and often continue into the night, forcing fly casters to bottom-dredge from an anchored craft with fast-sinking lines and maybe weighted flies — or not fish until winds die.

It would be an exaggeration to say Maine fly rodders invented bottom-dredging, but not much of one. For well over a century, wind has forced still-water fly fishers to bottom-dredge while waiting for still air that starts aquatic-insect hatches.

I learned to bottom-dredge from an Ivy League biology professor named Bill Baccha from New Jersey, who learned from a Registered Maine Guide in the Magalloway region.

This technique begins with anchoring the canoe or boat from both ends so it doesn’t swing in the wind, which impedes the line’s sink rate.

If a doubting Thomas questions that two-anchor concept, I suggest standing on a dock above clear, well-lighted water and casting a sinking fly line as far as possible. Then, watch the line descend before moving the rod tip 2 feet to the right or left. That stops the sinking for a second or more and might even cause the line to rise. Now imagine a canoe with one anchor, constantly swinging back and forth.

Serious bottom-dredgers precisely time the descent of the fly with a watch, so if a brookie strikes on the retrieve — say after a 45-second sink time — the trout may be holding at that level in the water column.

Then, the fly rodder can duplicate fishing at that depth with every cast.

When fishing a deep hole, I cast around the canoe with a precise sink rate — say 10 seconds. After casting to 1 o’clock on an imaginary clock, I’ll go to 2, 3, etc. and wait 10 seconds each time before retrieving.

Then, after completing the circle to each imaginary number on the clock, I begin again with a 15-second wait, and so forth until hitting bottom.

If I think fish are holding on bottom, I’ll go right to a long sink rate until picking up weeds or ticking gravel and rocks.

Two tips help: 1) I cast as far as possible to cover the most water, and then 2) feed loose line out so it sinks in an L-shape instead of diagonally, which puts the L’s bottom parallel to the surface. That keeps the fly at the target depth on the retrieve instead of coming back diagonally.

After a 60-second or more L-shape descent, the line stays so deep that it really pulls on the rod. I strive for that weighted feeling.

When using a nymph, fly rodders often begin the retrieve by rolling the line over their fingers so the fly inches along as many larvae swim. If that doesn’t work, fly rodders change the speed and cadence of the stripped line until something works.

Generally, mayflies in the swimming category and caddis move faster, so the retrieve should imitate those speeds.

With a baitfish imitation such as a streamer or bucktail, the common retrieve begins with a rapid stripping of line so the hand looks like a blur.

This imitates the quick, darting movement of baitfish. Like with a nymph, though, switch speeds and cadences until something works.

Astute observers might take the time to watch a prevalent larva or baitfish in the water and duplicate the movement with the imitation.

And speaking of imitations, choosing a fly begins with imitating a natural food item in size, color and silhouette. Fly rodders can discover which food interests fish each day with an autopsy on one trout or for catch-and-release types such as myself — with astute observation.

This topic reminds me of my last conversation with Forrest Bonney before he retired from IFW as a fisheries biologist. After a career of checking this state’s brookie ponds in Region D, he felt many of them were under-fished in summer, despite all the boats that anglers leave on remote, walk-in ponds. In short, from after Fourth of July weekend, folks find solitude and brook trout in remote settings, particularly after the Hex hatch ends.

The best brook-trout action in summer occurs on higher elevation ponds at latitudes further north in the Pine Tree State.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be reached at

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