GRAND LAKE STREAM – Paul Kelly watched the fisherman next to him play a rising fish, reel it in and bag it from waist-deep water. Again and again.

If seeing the abundant game fish all around him in Grand Lake Stream wasn’t enough, watching a guy 100 feet away land them was.

You go past Bangor and get off Interstate-95 in Howland. Then go about 75 miles west, through Topsfield, to get there; or it’s about 33 miles east of the bridge connecting Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick. But it’s worth the trip.

“The salmon seem to be more abundant the last couple of years. You see them at your feet. It can be frustrating. I watched that guy catch two in the last 10 minutes,” said Kelly of Plaistow, N.H.

On a sweltering May day, with fly hatches going off and bugs swarming at 3 p.m., the fishermen also were swarming at this famous stretch of river.

Walking around in waders, some having just arrived from Missouri, Texas, South Carolina and New York, these anglers were as drawn to the bug life as the bugs were to the river.

It’s a scene that has played out along Grand Lake Stream for more than a century. And despite that pressure, the river still rewards.

It’s no accident, not in this area where locals, many of them guides, follow the health of the fish as closely as the flow of the nearby tides.

This is what this village sandwiched between a couple of big lakes has been for centuries: a salmon-fishing hot spot.

Grand Lake Stream has been famous for fishing since Europeans started settling here. Since the early 1800s, the area was known by sportsmen for its salmon. They were first guided by the local Passamaquoddy Indians, who knew this land first.

But when the tannery closed in 1898, the lifeblood of the area was impacted. Workers’ homes and boarding houses were vacated as the population was cut in half.

Immediately those residences were turned into sporting camps and the village became what it is today, a far-flung yet world-renowned fishing destination. And some think it’s as good as it has ever been.

A first-timer to Grand Lake Stream, Tom Eschenroeder said it was worth the trip from Richmond, Va.

“It was cold and rainy. Then the sun came out and the bugs started hatching. Today was exceptional,” said Eschenroeder, a fly fisherman of 40 years.

“When it’s very hard, it’s very hard. And when it’s very good, it’s very good. Tell whoever is doing something to keep up the good work.”

That would be regional fisheries biologist Greg Bur, and the area guides who take a keen interest in their home waters.

Bur said efforts to bring back the smelt population in the past few years have helped the salmon to thrive.

But more can be done, and that’s why the guides asked to hold a togue tournament this summer for the first time.

The tournament will be held at West Grand and Pocumcus lakes.

“The guides association started in the late ’60s. It’s always tried to promote the traditional guiding and education, protection of the natural resource,” said James “JR” Mabee, the association’s president.

“We try to promote catch and release.”

For native Mainers, however, the swarms of fishermen are not as exciting as the swarms of may flies.

Robert Elliott of Dover-Foxcroft said the salmon fishing around Grand Lake Stream is good, but he prefers the remote trout ponds further north, where there is little to no human traffic.

Even the fishermen from away notice the crowds in the springtime at Grand Lake Stream.

“It’s my first time back in 20 years. It hasn’t changed much,” said Tom Carroll of Cape Cod, who went out to troll the lake with a guide.

“There are more fishermen but there have been TV specials about the place. It’s one of Maine’s premier fishing destinations.”

However, among guides and locals, the love of this tiny village, no bigger than a four-point-stop, is in no short supply despite the spring rush of fishermen.

“The guides do a pig roast for everyone the weekend of Fourth of July. And then during the folk festival (July 30 and 31), they do a chicken dinner for everyone then,” said Andrea Swift, walking beside the lake with her two golden retrievers.

“The people who live here do it because they love it. It’s a very special place.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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