BIG MOOSE TOWNSHIP — The water in Moosehead Lake was unusually warm in September and the fishing was uncharacteristically slow. But that didn’t keep anglers away for the final weekend of fishing at Maine’s biggest lake.

“It’s standing room only today. There are at least one or two fishermen in the (pools) we like to fish,” John Hinkley of Augusta said Sept. 26 as he looked out on the East Outlet, the headwaters of the Kennebec River.

For some who came last weekend to the East Outlet, the Moose River or Roach River, and other premier trout and salmon waters in the region, wetting a line meant sharing the views with at least a half-dozen fishermen who could be seen wading or fishing from small drift boats.

While a change in state laws in 2010 opened more waters in southern and eastern Maine to year-round fishing, the vast majority of lakes and streams in Maine’s five northern counties close at the end of September to protect wild trout and salmon populations. There are exceptions, such as the East Outlet, which does stay open for year-round, catch-and-release fishing. But the exceptions are few – and few fishermen dare to wade into the waters once the temperatures plunge.

“It’s pretty brutal here in the winter. And it’s a little dangerous with ice around the edges,” said Tim Obrey, a regional fisheries biologist.

While Maine’s 11 southern and coastal counties have many more stocked fisheries, which make year-round fishing a viable option, northern Maine is a stronghold for the largest remaining populations of wild eastern brook trout in the United States. So in this part of Maine, the traditional closing date for the open-water season for the most part remains Sept. 30, and fishermen pack up their rods in October.

That means anglers come in droves to fish for wild trout and salmon before the season ends.

“I left at 3 a.m. We got here at 6:15. Then we’ll drive back tonight,” said Mark Karass, 50, of Scarborough as he fished the East Outlet with his buddy, Richard Libby.

“We’ve been doing it 30 years. We fish here 30 times a year. We can fish the crowded rivers of southern Maine or come here. It’s the quality of the fishing that draws us.”

Libby caught just two salmon and two brook trout by noon after casting into a river covered in fog. But one brook trout was 21 inches and the other was 16 inches, so they made it worth a trip.

“I’ve been fishing up here since my brother brought me up as a kid,” said Libby, 60, who grew up in Durham. “It’s well worth it. Even if you don’t catch fish, that’s fine by me.”

Tim Richardson can relate. While Richardson lives just a half-hour down the road in Dover-Foxcroft, he chooses to commute more than two hours round-trip to his job in Ellsworth so he can live with his family in the Moosehead region.

“It’s the best of the best,” Richardson said of the fishing. “This is the first year the fast fishing is late. This year, September is August.”

Still, Richardson, 47, said he would rather enjoy slow fishing on a wild river during an off year than fast fishing in a more developed area.

“Normally this time of year, the waters are down in the 30s and the rivers are full of fish getting ready to spawn,” Obrey said.

“It’s still pretty traditional up here; after the summer people pack up after Labor Day, there is a lull. Then the fly fishermen start showing up and are here until the end of September.”

Last weekend, as trees showed signs of bright reds and yellows around Moosehead Lake, fishermen spoke of the tranquility of the region. Certainly, just how wild the undeveloped river banks here look during the last hurrah of the fishing season is a matter of perspective.

While summer residents like Hinkley found the rivers the last weekend of September too crowded, others said Moosehead offered an escape from the comparative bustle of central and southern Maine.

Ronald Young comes with his family from Vinalhaven each year in late September because the brook trout are changing to spawning colors and the fishing usually is good. He caught fewer fish this year and the trout’s colors were dull, but Young didn’t care. It’s where he comes to relax.

“This is when I take my vacation. It’s a tradition. The brookies are beautiful with their red and yellow spots,” Young said.