JOHNSON MOUNTAIN TOWNSHIP — Jeff Reardon came to Cold Stream for a glimpse of wild brook trout and their remarkable fall spawning colors.

But the fishing was slow. So Reardon, Maine’s brook trout project director for Trout Unlimited, moved over to one of the nearby ponds with a new strategy.

“I’m going to go totally weird,” he told his fishing companion, Wolfe Tone, state director of the Trust For Public Land. “I’m going to use a Yellowstone pink grasshopper.”

It’s not an insect native to Maine or typically found at the end of a Maine fisherman’s fly line. But the piece of pink fuss worked magic in Little Berry Pond.

In less than 15 minutes, it enticed a 6-inch wild brook trout to the end of Reardon’s line. He set the hook, landed the fish and released it after a quick photo of its purple and orange colors. Within another 10 minutes, he hooked another brookie. A little while later, another brook trout snapped at the fly.

After Reardon and Tone had circled the pond, Reardon asked the only obvious question: “Want a pink grasshopper?”

The two conservationists were making their first fishing trip together to the area since they helped to protect 8,159 acres in Cold Stream Forest, near The Forks in Somerset County in northwestern Maine. The 15 miles of Cold Stream and its nearby ponds are home to wild native brook trout, making up a fishery found in few other parts of Maine – and nowhere else in the country.

“There’s access now for generations and there is the (promise) of a healthy fishery,” Tone said. “It’s the forest around these waters that protects them. From an ecological standpoint, it helps with climate change. It’s also a recreational corridor and it’s still a working forestland.”

While there were many reasons to protect 8,159 acres here – including an important deer yard – the wild trout fishery is unique.

Cold Stream is located at the convergence of the Kennebec and Dead rivers, and serves as the primary nursery for both, Reardon said. Considering the Kennebec River is Maine’s third-longest river stretching 170 miles from Moosehead Lake to Merrymeeting Bay, this little tributary is important.

“A study by the state using radio telemetry tags on fish running up the Kennebec showed it was the most important tributary of the Kennebec,” Reardon said. “It was a priority for conservation.”

In March, more than 8,000 acres was purchased by Trout Unlimited and the Trust for Public Land from the timberland company Weyerhaeuser for $7.34 million, using $1.5 million of Land For Maine’s Future funds, $5.5 million of federal Forest Legacy Program money and another $340,000 from private funds. The land was transferred to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to become part of the state’s Public Reserve land system.

Now, fishermen, hikers and paddlers can camp here at primitive campsites.

Located a half-hour north of Bingham off the Cold Stream Mountain Road, the fishermen’s playground is not easy to get to. It’s a good 90-minute drive from Augusta just to get to the dirt road that takes you into it. Then it takes the better part of an hour to get up into the system of ponds. That’s if you don’t get a flat tire, which is always a danger on these back dirt roads.

But all along the river lie pools that are home to native wild brook trout.

From Route 201, it’s a 30-minute drive on rough dirt roads to the Upper Falls, even though it’s less than three miles from the paved road. Restoration work has provided large boulders in the middle of the stream, making it easy to look down into pools. From there it’s another two miles to Cold Stream Falls, where pools abound below the falls. The fish are small but feisty.

Some ponds require more of a hike, such as Big Lang and Big Berry, both of which are about a half-mile hike from the road. The six-acre Snake Pond is about a mile uphill, and typical of fisheries that require a hike, is rumored to offer good fishing.

At the end of the road sits a wilderness campground with 20 picnic tables and fire rings for those who don’t want to make it a day trip. These were empty at the end of September when Reardon and Tone fished during the last week of the season.

“I’m a trout guy but this land has multiple values. There’s the deer yard and (access for) snowmobiles,” Reardon said.