In the middle of a Maine summer, glaring sun and high humidity make us forget about fishing for landlocked salmon and brook trout in northern rivers until September, but we should remember a salient point.
Cold rain from a big nor’easter or line storm rejuvenates salmon fishing in rivers like the Kennebec’s East Outlet, running from Moosehead, or the Roach or Moose, pouring into the big lake. Cool river currents from downpours draw landlocks (and brookies), and fly-fishing can rock.
Years ago, old friend Randy Richard owned Northern Pride Lodge and a campground on the First Roach Pond in Kokadjo east of Moosehead, and I spent a lot of time camping there – the best of memories.
One July after a big rain, I spent evenings on the classic Roach River. A northwest wind made the weather feel like mid-spring – seasonal shock – and high water was dropping to fishable levels, promising exciting possibilities. (Randy was busy with a full dining room so he couldn’t fish evenings.)
These days the Roach is catch-and-release to ensure its quality fishing but back then it didn’t. I’m a C&R salmonid angler pretty much to the core, but on rare occasions sacrifice a salmon or trout for a meal. This was one of those nights.
The Roach River has magnificent caddis hatches but fewer mayflies, and the East Outlet has fantastic mayflies as well as caddis. The Roach pouring into Moosehead offers calendar photo scenes for the seven miles between Roach Pond and the big lake. The East Outlet looms much larger, a big, brawling river with the same opportunities for calendar photographers.
That evening I caught four salmon on nymphs – a 19-incher, two 17-inchers and a 15-incher – and released three of them. The first salmon was the biggest – too much fish for a single diner, as were the two in the 17-inch range, so I returned them to the water. Finally I caught the little guy, perfect for a dinner party of one.
During the walk from the river to my campsite, a bright full moon rose over Roach Pond and bathed the water and woods in silver light. In the afternoon I had split dry beech to kindling size and piled it over birch bark, so it would quickly burn to coals for broiling the salmon. One match soon had a small blaze, and flickering light lit the conifers around the tent site.
While I was looking at the moon and smelling the broiling salmon sputtering and spattering over bluish coals, a thought hit me hard – one of those revelations we occasionally confront by a campfire.
If a time-travel machine brought a Roman soldier fresh from a campaign in the British Isles circa 100 A.D. and dropped him by my campfire, he would have recognized the smells and sights, and felt at home.
Records show that Roman soldiers indeed ate Atlantic salmon, cooked over bluish beech coals. Furthermore, the Latin word for this species is “salar,” meaning “the leaper.” Romans indeed recognized this magnificent species’ leaping abilities, and a landlocked salmon is the same genus and species – Salmo salar.
My image had transcended two millennia, adding reason to remember that evening forever. It gave me an affinity for humans of 2,000 years ago.
These days on Moosehead rivers, stricter regulations protect the salmonid fishery, stricter than they were in the old days with Richard, particularly the C&R reg on the Roach. The Kennebec’s East Outlet is also C&R each October. Both are fly-fishing-only rivers, too.
Elk Hair Caddis in different body colors, depending on the hatch, and LaFontaine Deep Sparkle Nymphs have treated me well on the Roach, and in summer, small mayfly dries and emergers in the size 16 to 24 range have worked on the East Outlet. I also like a size 20 to 24 CDC Caddis Emerger with a pea-soup green body, CDC dun collar and orange head.
Fly rodders flock to these two rivers in spring and fall, but in mid-summer when hot, humid weather discourages salmon and brookie anglers, a line storm can bring landlocks and brookies boiling up northern rivers. Even a spring seep can hold fish much of the summer. In short, serious fly rodders can enjoy fast summer fishing at times and even better, they may have days in solitude before folks at that moment figure out fishing is hopping in higher elevations in the North Country.
Those Moosehead rivers, Rangeley rivers such as Kennebago, Magalloway, Cupsuptic and South Bog Stream’s lower sections, and maybe the Penobscot’s West Branch below Ripogenus can offer grand sport now.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be contacted at: