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Kicking Back on the Kennebec by John Van Vleet

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Kicking Back on the Kennebec by John Van Vleet Kicking Back on the Kennebec by John Van Vleet

The Kennebec River, flowing through central Maine, is a well-known—yet surprisingly underused—trout fishery.

The Kennebec River, flowing through central Maine, is a well-known—yet surprisingly underused—trout fishery. Holding healthy populations of both rainbow and brown trout, the Kennebec is undergoing drastic environmental changes, which makes it both unique and dynamic—but certainly not devoid of fish.

The Kennebec River, flowing through central Maine, is a well-known—yet surprisingly underused—trout fishery. Holding healthy populations of both rainbow and brown trout, the Kennebec is undergoing drastic environmental changes, which makes it both unique and dynamic—but certainly not devoid of fish.

Bobby Van Riper, a regional fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, says that due to the removal of the Edwards Dam, the Kennebec is an evolving watershed with an increasing saltwater presence.

"The Kennebec, the section basically from Waterville south, is really undergoing a lot of changes," he tells FISH & FLY. "We had a major dam removal there six years ago and we still haven’t really gotten the dynamics of the fishery down, because essentially the blockage was the limit of the saltwater tidal influence."

Since the removal, both shad and striped bass have inundated the inland water, something that was unheard of—and entirely impossible—when the dam was still standing. With the new species taking over certain areas of the water, it has changed the way trout are fished, but not to the point of being a detriment.

One concern about the river in years past has been pollution, but Van Riper says that problem has been alleviated in recent years, and he sees no real explanation as to why the river is generally ignored by anglers.

"It’s a fairly under-utilized fishery, and I don’t really know why it’s under-utilized," he says. "It’s a big river. It’s had, I would say, pollution problems, but not within the past 15 to 20 years. The river’s cleaned up probably 500 percent better than it was in the past. We’re looking at really a very, very under-utitlized resource. We do some cursory survey work in the fall and we see brown trout in some of those tributaries like you wouldn’t believe."

But those that do fish the river understand its virtues and work to maintain them. Locals appreciate the waters, and catch-and-release anglers are the status quo. Van Riper says many of the locals can be quite passionate about taking care of both the fish and the river, sometimes to the point of being forceful to intruders.

"It’s a tailwater fishery that supports both a rainbow trout and a brown trout population that are extremely good and extremely productive," Van Riper says. "Most of our fishers up that way are big put-and-take fishers. They really help the fishery out by short play periods and quick returns and barbless hooks. I’m pretty pleased with that community up there of anglers because they really know they’ve got something good and they know if they want to hang on to it, they’ve got to treat these fish with care."

Benjamin Glazier, the fishing manager at Joe Jones and the Great Outdoors, says that May is as good a time as any to head toward the Kennebec. Just be sure to pay attention to the hatches. For dry-fly action, Hendricksons and Bluewinged olive duns will be the patterns to run on the surface. These will be the early hatches and should bring out a brown or a brook trout.

"As far as early fishing goes in May, you’re looking into catching mostly trout, browns and brookies," he says. "You’re going to be using anything from a Hendrickson early on to a Bluewinged olive dun for successful flies throughout the spring, all depending on the hatch and what you’re actually looking to catch. Generally speaking, the first kind of insects to come out are going to be resembled by the Hendrickson or the Bluewinged olive dun."

On the Kennebec, some of the best water is found below the Shawmut Dam all the way to Fairfield. The first part of the stretch is mostly wade fishing, but opens up to good floating after the first mile. Some March browns will still be on the water, so remember to bring those along with the Bluewinged olives and Hendricksons.

Although Maine is home to several excellent trout waters, it’s impossible to ignore the lake fisheries. The smallmouth bass populations are healthy, and easily fishable in the spring. Despite a recent influx of transplanted northern pike, the bass are holding strong and provide fly fishers fantastic outings. Tossing popper or sculpin patterns to these fish can be just as exciting as heading to trout waters.

Van Riper says that the lakes become very well mixed in terms of temperature and oxygen profiles in the springs, resulting in schools of fish that aren’t holding in certain spots of the lake. They expend more energy traveling around the complete waters, and are more easily taken by flies.

"That’s why fishing really picks up in the springtime," he says. "I’ll spend my day with a popper or dragging a streamer and I’ll spend my evenings with a nymph."

If fishing rivers and lakes isn’t enough, Glazier says the striper fishery on the coastal waters is something else entirely. He caught over 300 stripers last year alone, and has trouble describing just what it is about catching them that makes it so enticing—and exhausting.

"They’re funner than hell to catch on a fly rod," he says with a laugh. "I can’t sum it up in one word. You catch one and you’re done for the day."

To successfully target stripers, at least a 9-weight rod is recommended, and large streamers and poppers will usually be the flies of choice, although it doesn’t take the most intricate pattern to lure a hungry striper.

"Any type of large streamer or poppers," Glazier says. "Stripers are aggressive, aggressive, aggressive fish. It doesn’t take much. If they’re feeding, they’ll hit just about anything and everything. They’re going to be held up in places where the current’s running swiftly over them."

When trying to locate the big boys, Glazier suggests looking for any current that breaks against an object. The stripers love to congregate in these broken currents and along any sandy bottoms— where their favorite meal happens to live.

"You’re going to want to fish rips, anywhere where there’s water being pulled around any type of structure," he explains. "A striper takes up a lot of oxygen. Anywhere where there’s an extreme change in depth, anywhere you can find a nice, flat, sandy bottom. Their chocolate is the bloodworm. The stripers absolutely love them."







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