North of Greenville, Maine, a logging road starting at Moosehead Lake twists and turns across wooden bridges and around mid-road boulders. When it turns into a dirt road at Kokadjo, you know you’re out there. The dirt track meets Golden Road, the privately owned artery of the paper companies, and, eventually, Chesuncook Lake comes into view. Just beyond, the wild west branch of the Penobscot River flows near the base of Mount Katahdin. In that river are stream-born landlocked salmon and brook trout, grown large and fat on ample insects and smelt.
First Flies, Then Metal
Concentrate on the mile and a half of river from the Ripogenus Dam to the Telos Road Bridge; it’s designated flyfishing only with a one-salmon-a-day limit, 26-inch minimum. Make sure you cast to the famous pools just downstream-Culvert, Big Eddy and Steep Bank (they’re large and easy to find). The stretch of river from the Telos Road Bridge downstream to Debsconeag Deadwater, about 15 miles, is designated artificial-lures only, one salmon a day, 18-inch minimum.
The season is condensed in this country, with snow cover sometimes staying into May and arriving again in early October. So take a broad spectrum of caddis and mayfly imitations. I’ve seen early-season March Browns mixed in with Hendricksons only to give way a day later to Pale Evening Duns. The W.B. Caddis fly works well.
Beyond the bugs, anything that remotely resembles a smelt gets eaten-fast. Black or Gray Ghost or a Jerry’s Smelt are streamers that have a long, victorious history in this part of New England. Keep a few Mickey Finns in your fly box as kickers. Effective hardware includes small silver-and-blue swimming plugs, and flashy, narrow spoons in silver and blue. A small, bright spinner can be irresistible to a big brookie.
Bushwhack to Remote Trout
The 15 miles of river below Telos Road offer rare angling solitude. Big, strong salmon and fat brookies lurk below the Big Ambejackmockamus and Nesowadnehunk falls. But if the river is roaring out of its banks, hike up a remote stretch of the Appalachian Trail along Nesowadnehunk Stream to find remote ponds where big brook trout rule. You can spend your nights at Big Eddy or Abol Bridge campgrounds. A permit (available at any North Maine Woods checkpoint) is required if you want to pack into the woods and camp near a stream or pond.
Bear in mind that Penobscot’s west branch is big and strong, with heavy flows, treacherous footing and fierce rapids. The surrounding forests are dense and disorienting, and help is far away. Take your survival pack. But the fish are large and abundant, and their strength and stamina, born of the hard flows of the river, is unmatched anywhere in the Northeast.
Contacts: Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Augusta, ME (207-287-8000, www.mefish wildlife.com); North Maine Woods, Ashland, ME (207-435-6213, www.northmainewoods.org); Chewonki Big Eddy Campground, Wiscasset, ME (207-350-1599, www.chewonki.org); Maine Guide Fly Shop, Greenville, ME (207-695-2266, www.maineguideflyshop.com).