In Maine a river runs through it – the Kennebec, that is.

Recently, an Edward Abby quote in Desert Solitaire started me thinking about this river among rivers.

“Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind,” Abby wrote in the opening page of his book, “the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visual.”

Anglers in particular search for a spot that mirrors the soul, and perceptive ones know the setting’s appeal varies with the individual and often involves aesthetics and fishing quality. They want both – not just one.

Two wonderful examples on the Kennebec illustrate the concept:

In my humble opinion, the absolute best salmonid pool on the river, and perhaps in all of Maine, lies below Wyman Dam, but this monstrosity of a structure destroys my fishing experience there º a horrible backdrop. The pool below holds lots of respectable-sized landlocks, rainbows and browns, though, so folks can forgive a lot, even Wyman Dam. I can’t.

Along a wooded section of the Solon stretch, a tiny channel in the middle of the river slides past an acre-sized island. A deep, narrow pool below an overhanging oak always holds brown trout and the occasional brookie, one of those places where folks might get a camera ready before casting. The channel looks no wider than the Sheepscot River below the Palermo Rearing Station, so this run on the Kennebec offers unspoiled intimacy – a quality that strikes me as perfection in a fishing spot.

That picturesque channel highlights a feature of the Kennebec, too. By Maine standards, the river may look huge and brawling, but anglers seeking intimacy may feel as if they are casting into a small river.

Once I was explaining this Kennebec appeal to the late wildlife photographer Bill Silliker, and he asked, “If you like small rivers, why not fish them instead?”

One answer might include the fact that most large rivers produce bigger trout than streams do, but that’s not the case when comparing the Kennebec to the tiny Sheepscot. I once caught a 7-pound, 3-ounce brown trout in this Lincoln-Waldo jewel but have never hooked nor seen a larger Kennebec brown – or even one nearly that weight.

Even if I had taken bigger trout in the Kennebec, Silliker’s question requires an answer reminiscent of religion – more faith than logic based.

People claim the Kennebec is ideal for drift boats – except for one notable drawback. This river has a lack of good boat launches for putting in or taking out these 225- to 300-pound arks.

It’s a negative, all right, until folks realize that Maine is canoe country, or more specifically, canoe country for folks adept with a pole to push this ancient, honorable workhorse of the north upstream. That partially explains why expensive boat launches on the Kennebec and Androscoggin – just to name two rivers – strike me as a low priority with state government, particularly in these hard, hard economic years.

Many times in life, I have slid a canoe into a river, poled upstream until my arms and shoulders ached, and then leisurely drifted back to my vehicle, which eliminated the need for jockeying vehicles from the put-in to take-out spot or wrestling a heavy boat down and up steep banks. My 20-foot canoe weighs but 94 pounds – easily manageable by one person.

These days, though, I sit while writing or editing much of the day. This makes me avoid boats and canoes in favor of wade fishing, which brings up the most salient point: I have drifted the Bingham stretch of the Kennebec three times in a drift boat, and neither my companions nor I have caught a fish.

On the other hand, since June 1966, friends and I have parked at the old railroad bed south of downtown Bingham, walked the mile downstream to Jackson Brook, an ultra-productive stretch, and caught rainbows much of the time.

One way or the other, the Kennebec will produce salmonids from now through June, and again in fall, from Bingham downstream – a weather-dependent prognosis. It’ll have moments between spring and autumn, too.

Beware of fast rising water, though. It has nearly swept me downstream more than once.

Some folks say fishing has held up in the Bingham, Solon, Madison and Shawmut stretches of the Kennebec, and others claim it has taken a nosedive in recent years.

The debate brings up a tough point to argue: When people say they once did better on the river than they do now, folks often accuse them of not being competent anglers. For me in the last 15 years, though, those sections have gotten worse and worse as my skills have improved, particularly in the late 1990s and early 2000s after I learned the intricacies of blue-winged-olive hatches. Several BWO species and genera emerge daily on the river from spring through November.

I suspect multiple problems have developed on the Kennebec – perhaps a bad strain of hatchery brown trout, too much or too little stocking, or lenient regulations incapable of protecting the resource.

I’m no biologist and don’t pretend to know the answer, but most folks talking about the river just don’t catch fish now as they once did. They can’t all be getting dumber.

Meanwhile, those four salmonid stretches of the Kennebec fail to deliver their promises to so many folks. 

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

[email protected]


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