Moosehead Lake Region FIshing
The Moosehead Lake Region encompasses 4,400 square miles of West Central Maine, and includes 127 townships plus Moosehead Lake. The region is drained by 330 miles of main stem rivers, into which flow 3,850 miles of smaller tributaries. During the last glacial era more than 1,200 natural lakes and ponds were carved into its landscape, varying in size from one-acre ponds to Moosehead, at 74,890 acres Maine’s largest lake, and one of the largest natural freshwater lakes in the United States. The total area of all standing surface waters in the region is more than 238,000 acres – 24% of the total area of lakes and ponds in Maine!
Because it lies at the headwaters of the Kennebec, the West Branch of the Penobscot, the Piscataquis, the Pleasant, and the St. John rivers, the Moosehead Region has experienced fewer biological and physical changes than other areas in Maine. Anglers will find, and enjoy much of the natural beauty described by Thoreau and other nineteenth century visitors to the region.
The Moosehead Region is best known for Maine’s three premier coldwater game fish species – brook trout, lake trout, and landlocked salmon. Brook trout are native to waters throughout the region. Maine’s wild brook trout resources are unequaled in the Northeastern United States, and the Moosehead Region is well-endowed with wild trout populations. Lake trout, known for the large size which they attain in some waters, are also native throughout the region. Landlocked salmon, originally native only to Sebec Lake, in the southern part of the region, have been introduced throughout the region. There are also opportunities to fish for Maine’s other coldwater species: burbot (cusk), lake whitefish, char (blueback trout), and brown trout. Even smelts, which are perhaps known best as an important forage fish, also provide fisheries in some waters. Splake, a hybrid between the lake trout and the brook trout, have been introduced to overcome competition from nongame species and create successful fisheries where other native fish, such as the brook trout, have not been as successful.
Coolwater and warmwater game fish species, though more limited in their distribution, are also present in the region. White perch, pickerel and yes, even the yellow perch have provided popular fisheries in the southern part of the region for years. Recently, smallmouth bass have increased in popularity throughout Maine. Although once very limited to the southernmost part of the region, they now provide fisheries in several waters around Moosehead Lake. Muskellunge have created new opportunities in the northwest corner of the region
Moosehead Lake, central to the region, is a popular destination for anglers, both winter and summer. In addition to the fishing, the clear water, miles of undeveloped shoreline, magnificent scenery, and the opportunity to observe wildlife all make a trip to Moosehead a memorable experience. Landlocked salmon, lake trout, brook trout, and cusk provide the principal fisheries which have attracted anglers for many years. Natural reproduction maintains the lake trout, brook trout, and cusk populations. Although annual salmon stocking contributes to the fishery, wild salmon produced in the tributaries comprise approximately half of the catch each year.
Moosehead Lake’s major tributary is the Moose River. It originates near the Canadian border to the west of Jackman, and all of the headwater streams offer fishing for wild brook trout. Just to the west of Jackman the Moose River flows through or near a series of lakes – Holeb Pond, Attean Lake, Big Wood Pond, and Little Big Wood Pond. Historically all of these waters were noted for salmon and brook trout. After yellow perch appeared in the drainage, in the late 1960’s, brook trout fishing in the lakes was compromised. Nevertheless brook trout continue to contribute to the fisheries, and splake have been successfully introduced to add to the offerings of these waters. Salmon from annual stockings as well as some wild fish continue to provide fishing action in all of these lakes. The unique arrangement of these lakes relative to the Moose River allow for a canoe trip – the Bow Trip – which begins and ends at the same location, either on Attean or Big Wood, with only one major portage between Attean and Holeb.
East of Jackman the Moose River flows through Long Pond to Brassua Lake, where salmon and brook trout again provide the major fisheries in these waters. Smelts also provide a popular fishery in Brassua. Downstream from Brassua, especially the mile of river immediately below its outlet dam, the Moose River is especially noted for salmon and trout fishing from June through September.
Throughout the Moose River drainage there are numerous small trout ponds accessible over gravel roads or by trail. Many are wild trout ponds, others are stocked annually by aircraft. All await discovery by those willing to get back off a paved highway.
The Roach River drainage, to the east of Moosehead Lake, is Moosehead’s second largest tributary. The six miles of river between First Roach Pond and Moosehead offer seasonally excellent fishing for salmon and brook trout, in a small-river environment. This section of river is restricted to fly fishing only, catch and release fishing. First Roach Pond, the largest and deepest water in the drainage, is noted for salmon, trout and togue.
Flowing out of Moosehead to the southwest are its East and West Outlets. The East Outlet is well-known for salmon and brook trout. The East Outlet is one the waters in the Moosehead Region open in October to catch and release fishing, and anglers are beginning to discover this late season opportunity to fish before putting away their rods for the winter. The West Outlet, open to general law fishing, offers both brook trout (yearlings are stocked in the upper reaches each spring) and smallmouth bass fishing. Although much smaller than the East Outlet, an adequate flow all summer allows a leisurely day-long canoe trip down to Indian Pond. Both the East and West Outlets flow into Indian Pond, where both salmon and smallmouth bass are found. Many small trout ponds drain into Indian Pond, and into the Kennebec River downstream from Indian Pond. Some of these ponds are accessible over gravel roads, many require a hike in. Especially noteworthy are the ponds that lie at the headwaters of Cold Stream, to the east of Parlin Pond. Wild brook trout and one minnow species are the only fish in these fly fishing only waters, and the trout thrive there in the absence of competition.
South and east of Moosehead the region is drained by the Piscataquis and Sebec rivers. Most of the Moosehead region’s year-round population lives in this area, and many of the ponds are developed with seasonal camps. The headwaters of the East and West Branches of the Piscataquis River, above the town of Blanchard, support wild brook trout. The main stem of the Piscataquis between Guilford and Sebec is stocked with yearling brook trout each spring, and yearling brown trout each fall. These stockings have created a fishery where one did not exist prior to 1990. Smallmouth bass are also present in the Piscataquis below Guilford, and provide good fishing. There are no dams to control the flow on the Piscataquis, so during the summer it gets quite low. However, spring water levels are conducive for an excellent float fishing trip down the river. Many of the ponds which drain into the Piscataquis are stocked each year with either brook trout, salmon, or splake. Ponds such as Kingsbury, Whetstone and Piper Ponds attract anglers’ attention each year.
The Wilson Ponds, though located just to the east of Greenville and Moosehead Lake, flow south into Sebec Lake through Wilson Stream. The Wilson Ponds provide fisheries for salmon and lake trout. Wilson Stream provides brook trout fishing for those willing to get back away from the road.
Waters on the other major tributaries to Sebec Lake, Long Pond Stream and Ship Pond Stream, include Long Pond (salmon/trout/togue), Onawa Lake (salmon and trout), Big Benson Pond (togue), and the Greenwood Ponds (brook trout and togue). Sebec Lake, one of the original homes of landlocked salmon in Maine, continues to support a fishery for wild salmon. Lake trout are stocked there each year, and provide an attractive fishery. Sebec’s smallmouth bass and white perch fisheries should not be overlooked by warmwater enthusiasts.
To the East of Moosehead lies the headwaters of the Pleasant River. Both the West Branch, which flows through Gulf Hagas gorge, and the East Branch are excellent wild trout streams. All of the small ponds in both of these drainages are managed for wild brook trout.
Access into these areas is over gravel roads, and the areas are managed for recreation by the KI-Jo Mary unit of North Maine Woods, which charges day use and nightly camping fees. Most of the waters can be reached only by trail.
The West Branch of The Penobscot River drains the largely undeveloped, forested area immediately to the northwest, north, and northeast of Moosehead Lake. Most of this area is owned by Great Northern Paper, access is provided by gravel roads, and overnight camping fees are charged. The North and South Branches of the Penobscot, to the northwest of Moosehead, comprise the headwaters of the West Branch. These rivers and their tributaries all provide stream fisheries for wild brook trout; there are no salmon in the drainage above Seboomook dam. The large lakes – Penobscot, Canada Falls, Long and Dole Ponds, and Seboomook – are also managed for wild brook trout. Penobscot Lake offers a chance to fish for blueback trout, and Long Pond has a population of wild lake trout. Numerous small ponds throughout the North and South Branch drainages offer trout fishing, with the fisheries in all but a couple supported entirely by natural reproduction.
The West Branch downstream from Seboomook Lake to and including Chesuncook Lake, is best known for its landlocked salmon fishing. Salmon were introduced into the drainage in the early 1900’s, but since 1978 natural reproduction has maintained all of the salmon fisheries that presently occur throughout the upper West Branch drainage. The best river fishing opportunities are found in the 4 miles immediately downstream from Seboomook dam, and in the 6 miles or so immediately above Chesuncook Lake. A long stretch of relatively flat water separates these two popular fishing areas. The West Branch, including the side trip into Lobster Lake, is noted for canoe camping. On this waterway, now managed as the Penobscot Corridor by the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, outdoor enthusiasts can follow in the footsteps of Henry Thoreau and other nineteenth century visitors who explored the region with their Indian guides. In Lobster Lake anglers will find lake trout and white perch in addition to the salmon. Chesuncook Lake is best known for its wild salmon population, but it also provides fishing for white perch and cusk. Loon and Caucomgomoc Lakes flow into Chesuncook from the north through Caucomgomoc Stream. These waters also provide salmon fishing opportunities.
Ripogenus Dam impounds the waters of Chesuncook Lake. Flows through the dam generate power for Great Northern, but also assure adequate year-round flows for salmon habitat and salmon fishing downstream in the West Branch. The river below Ripogenus Dam provides one of the best high quality salmon fisheries in Maine. To the south of this section of the West Branch lies the Rainbow and Nahmakanta lakes country, which provides many opportunities to hike into remote ponds. Rainbow Lake, one of the few large lakes left in Maine not accessible by road, is home to the blueback trout as well as to wild population of brook trout.
A height of land separates the Penobscot River drainage from headwaters of the St. John River to the north. Access to all of the waters in this area is over gravel roads, and through gates managed by North Maine Woods. Day use fees, and overnight camping fees are charged here. The headwaters of the Allagash River lie in the Moosehead Region. The Allagash is one of very few Maine drainages left with its natural assemblage of native coldwater species unaltered by many introductions of other fish species. The smelt is the only species introduced into the upper reaches of the waterway. Natural reproduction supports the brook trout, lake trout, lake whitefish and burbot (cusk) fisheries in the lakes of the Allagash Waterway. Anglers can launch a boat with a motor to fish Chamberlain Lake, Telos Lake, and Round Pond. But to reach Allagash Lake requires a walk or canoe trip of at least a mile, and paddling a canoe while you are there. It is one of very few places in Maine that cannot be reached easily, and where no motorized equipment is allowed.
The headwaters of the main stem of the St. John River lie to the west of the Allagash Waterway. All of the St. John’s tributaries offer excellent, though seasonal trout fisheries. The St. John River has long been noted for its spring canoeing opportunities, with trips beginning at either Fifth St. John Pond or Baker Lake on the Baker Branch. Fishing for wild brook trout along the way has been an integral part of most St. John River trips. Recently a new fishery has developed on the upper reaches of the Baker Branch, where muskellunge have wandered into the drainage from an early 1970’s introduction in Lac Frontiere, Quebec. Muskies have established a self-sustaining population in Baker Lake, creating one of the most exciting fishing opportunities in the Moosehead Lake Region. Anglers must travel long distances to find the kind of muskellunge fishing available in Baker Lake. Muskellunge are very large predators, so there has been some concern over their impact, especially on the brook trout in the drainage. So far the news is good. No brook trout fisheries have been adversely affected, and the new fishery that has developed is for muskellunge that average over 7 pounds! Like smallmouth bass, muskies can be caught throughout the summer, when traditional coldwater fisheries are dormant.
Individual preferences determine the best time to fish in the region. Traditionally, surface fishing for salmon and trout in the lakes is best in the weeks following ice out, though some years the fishing for these species improves again as the waters cool in September. June and September are probably the best months to plan on stream fishing for salmon and trout. Brook trout in the small ponds respond well from ice out until early in July, and again in September. Surface fishing for lake trout is best for a short time after ice out. After that anglers must fish down where this deep water dweller finds temperatures that suit it throughout the warm summer months. Bass fishing action is usually fastest around the time they spawn, in early June, but bass do provide action all season long.
Access into the Moosehead Region over paved highways is through Dover-Foxcroft, Guilford, Greenville, Rockwood, and Jackman. Accommodations in the region vary from motels, to sporting camps, to campgrounds, to individual remote campsites. Fishing opportunities abound, whether from boat with motor, canoe, or from the shore; whether roadside or hike-in for a day of solitude on a remote pond.
Serious anglers should come prepared to explore and discover for themselves the diversity of fisheries and opportunities that the Moosehead Region offers. There’s a lot of fishing to look for, and to look forward to, in the Moosehead Region.