Over the weekend of September 9, 2022, I was fortunate to fish the West Branch of the Penobscot River in Maine with a friend, Kyle Lombardi. We flew into Bangor and stayed in the Big Moose Inn Cabins (bigmoosecabins.com) in Baxter State Park near Millinocket and fished with Kevin McKay of Maine Fishing Adventures (mainefishingadventures.com).
We were blessed with beautiful weather, which ranged from the high 50s to the 70s, and featured bright blue skies. On both Saturday and Sunday, we put in at the Big Eddy and floated about a mile down river. It was big water with stretches of rapids and riffles and deep pools. We were fishing for big, native brook trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon. The fishing was quite technical and challenging as it was often difficult to get proper drifts.
On both days, we started at the base of some white water right above the Big Eddy, with dry flies and nymphs. On Saturday, I was able to catch a couple of brookies there, one on a nymph known as the Bugmeister and the other on a dry fly. I had a lot of other opportunities in the Big Eddy but was not able to capitalize on the many rises I had. The good news was that I was able to get good drifts; the bad news is that I found it very difficult to set the hook with the necessary amount of line I had to let out. I did get a lot of practice of letting large amounts of line out without disrupting my drift by moving the rod up and down. I really focused on keeping the line under my right index finger as I held the rod, something that I needed to practice and incorporate.
I also learned – the hard way – that keeping too much tension on the line when you are fighting a big fish can be counterproductive, when I lost a good Atlantic salmon. The fish was fighting hard, leaping, and seemingly walking on the water, and I had a lot of line out. While it did not end well, it sure was fun.
Further down river, we anchored below some rapids and fished a deep edge. There I used streamers and did a lot of stripping while using a sinking line. Strip, strip, pause. Strip, strip, pause. I had not done a lot of fishing using that technique but was able to land a couple of beautiful brookies.
On Sunday, I caught a couple of Atlantic salmon using that technique, one of which was about 17 inches, and two Chubs. Our guide, Kevin, commented on how it is unfortunate that many anglers do not welcome catching Chubs nor show them the proper respect given their beauty and tendency to put up a good fight. I can attest that I found myself in agreement with him. I focused primarily on dry fly fishing and was able to improve, somewhat, in my hook setting. I hooked a couple of brookies on my second dry fly in the setup, which was a midge, but unfortunately lost both.
That day, we enjoyed a special treat when our guide, Kevin, shared his famous Smashburgers during a shore lunch. He made them over a grill in a cast-iron griddle. First, he toasted some sourdough bread. After he removed it, he put some onion slices on and then added a ball of hamburger with Montreal Steak Seasoning. He then placed some wax paper over the hamburger balls and pressed them flat with a cast iron meat press. After adding some dill mustard and cheese, he cooked them to perfection. They were delicious.
The West Penobscot runs through some amazingly beautiful forest. That morning, on the way up to our put-in point, we were able to see a bull moose. We also were able to enjoy some amazing views of Mount Katahdin, which soars 5,267 feet and is one of the ending points of the Appalachian Trail. In fact, on our way out, we chatted briefly with a hiker who was on the last leg of a five-month hike from Georgia.
On our way home Monday, we stopped to see author Stephen King’s home, a famous water tower – The Thomas Mill Standpipe, that he has written about in some of his novels, a memorial to the U.S.S. Maine, and a statue of Paul Bunyan. The U.S.S. Maine Memorial included the brass shield and scrolls that were recovered from the wreckage.
It was a great experience, but the fishing was difficult, at least for me. It was also humbling but I learned a lot and had the opportunity to get some much-needed practice casting, mending, and setting the hook. I also very much enjoyed fishing with Kyle, who is new to our sport, and did quite well, catching about nine fish. If you are interested in fishing with Kevin, please know that he books up about two-years in advance. You should also know that he has lodging and a Tiki Bar available at his home for his guests.
By Mike Holland