Quality smallmouth bass can be found on many of Maine’s rivers.
by Ken Bailey
Maine – the last great wilderness east of the Mississippi. Our eastern-most state is known for its extensive woodlands, hundreds of lakes, ponds and rivers and a variety of abundant wildlife.
Anglers travel hundreds of miles to fish for Maine’s vast variety of fresh and salt-water species, many now available year around. To many ardent anglers, the feisty smallmouth bass is their primary target either with fly rod or light spinning gear. And today, thanks to years of environmental action and industrial clean-up, many of Maine’s rivers are running clear and are home to the King of the River, the smallmouth bass.
In some non-fishing circles a fish is a fish, and for some anglers a bass is a bass. After guiding clients over the past 20 years on lakes and ponds, as well as on the Penobscot and Piscataquis rivers, I am constantly reminded there are countless differences in bass, especially river smallies.
Although the Penobscot is better known for landlocked salmon and brook trout in its northern stretches, and Atlantic salmon near Bangor, this river, from Medway down stream to Orono, is one of the nation’s premier smallmouth fisheries.
This fantastic bass factory, as well as one of its major tributaries, the Piscataquis, goes mostly unnoticed by local anglers even with increased publicity and a number of nationally-televised fishing shows.
River smallies are among the toughest fish, pound-for-pound, that will ever stretch your line. Right from the moment they hatch, smallmouth must fight a never-ending river current for their daily survival. This toughness is evident as soon as they are hooked, as they display airborne antics on the end of a line that are truly spectacular.
The steady current that makes them tough also means that in most cases the river smallmouth don’t often grow to huge proportions as do some of their lake cousins. Even so, the average river bronzeback approaches two pounds, with enough three pounders and an occasional four to keep the excitement level high all day.
During many of our trips to either the Penobscot and Piscataquis, we average between 25 and 35 fish or more each day. This is not to say that you will catch numbers like this every time out, but the number of bass caught on these rivers will nearly always exceed even the best smallmouth lake or pond, especially during the summer heat.
Hot summer weather doesn’t affect river fishing as much as it does in late in the day, there are always shaded areas and current breaks that will allow you to catch fish at high noon on a day when the temperatures are in the 80s.
Although the fish are plentiful on these rivers, so are the rocks. Taking a motor boat up and down the channels can be a nerve-wracking experience. Rocks and boulders the size of VWs appear without warning. Because these rivers were used many years ago for log drives to the many paper mills, there are numerous man-made pilings scattered throughout the river. You can go from 18 feet of water to nearly nothing in just a few yards. Many of the river guides I work with use jet-drive outboards to work their way to the best fishing grounds. If not, you must work very slowly on some stretches and remember to carry a spare prop.
When fishing rivers, look for the smallies to be hanging around rocks, ledges, the base of a dam, trees that have fallen into the water, or any other object that breaks the flow pattern of the river. Because the current is steady, the fish look for a place to rest and wait for a meal to pass by.
River fishing is also different than lake or pond fishing, as you are dealing with greatly-varying water depths, temperature changes and inlets that range from tiny brooks to major rivers.
Although these rivers provide a high-quality fishing environment throughout the summer, it can change on a daily basis. The water flow and level is controlled by a number of up-stream dams used for power production. Their regulation often causes water levels to go up or down by a couple of feet overnight. This feature can offer great opportunities, but can also create obstacles were non existed just a few hours before. Knowing how the bass react when the water is rising or falling will also add to your success.
Fish are taken regularly with top-water lures, small crankbaits, spinners, jigs and grubs. Fly anglers connect with poppers and a variety of weighted streamsers, and always must be ready for a flying ant hatch. I have seen them happen often, and when they do if you have an ant pattern in the fly box, be prepared for some of the fastest fishing you will ever experience.
With a proper presentation, and with a little practice using the current to your advantage, the fish will not disappoint you.
If you are tired of dragging the deep water during the heat of summer, try some smallmouth bass river fishing. Once you try it, you’ll know why folks from across the country come to Maine just to catch these red-eyed fighting machines.
If you want to get into some excellent smallmouth fishing, try one of Maine’s premier rivers. The fishing, the scenery and the ever-present eagles will make it a trip you will long remember. It will also be a fishing experience you will want to repeat over and over again.
Ken Bailey is a Registered Maine Guide who lives in Camden, Maine.
FMI: Wilderness Ways Guide Service: (207) 236-4243; e-mail email@example.com