Our productive season kicks in around the beginning of May when smelt runs are in full swing. The Moose River in Rockwood is always the early season indicator. Trollers flocked to the Moose in pursuit of salmon, brook trout, and lake trout that accompany smelt when they enter the river on their spawning run. The talk last spring was about bigger and healthier looking fish in the river with rumors going around that these early season salmon, brookies and lake trout were some of the finest anglers have seem for some time.
You can almost always count on a high water event around that time. A major rainfall produced near record water flows in early May. At that time Ripogenus Dam on the West Branch of the Penobscot was flowing at 17,000 cubic feet per second. What that did was bring the water level up on the lawn at Big Eddy Campground where they were raking smelt that got dumped into the river during the event. This sort of event is exactly what those salmon need to get big.
The same went for the East Outlet just in a different way. High water there not only draws fish into the river from Indian Pond but also dumps adult salmon and trout over the East Outlet dam and into the river. That big water soon went down so we could access the river and begin drift boat fishing. Our first trip down the outlet yielded fabulous results. The first fish landed was a 24” brookie easily weighing over 5 lbs. We found the river full of bigger than usual fish eager to chase down any big streamers that resemble a smelt. It was a lovely beginning to the season and we took advantage of many windows of opportunity and found bigger fish than we have seen in a very long time.
One might ask why more and bigger fish all of a sudden. The answer to that question saw it beginning many years ago when our fisheries people put a no size or bag limit on Moosehead’s huge lake trout population. In the coarse of only few seasons it was estimated over 50,000 lake trout were removed from the lake, mostly by ice fishermen during the winter. With far fewer mouths to feed our once struggling smelt population rebounded to where it is today. Last spring biologists found evidence of smelt runs in small streams around the lake that had been void of runs not that long ago. The tremendous smelt population provided an endless surplus of biomass (food) for all fish. So when no one was looking fish were chowing down. They aren’t living any longer than before they are growing bigger sooner.
So all summer fish fattened even more and when September rolled around the stars lined up once again. Good lake levels and a week of cool weather dropped the water temperature from 72 degrees F to 62 degrees F. Our biologist work closely with Brookfield Energy and fall releases began at just the right time. Within a few days after Labor Day there were major runs of trout and salmon in the East Outlet and the Roach River.
We had some of the best days of the season the weekend after Labor Day. Rivers were full of chrome bright 18-20” fish (some up to 22”) ready to hunt down just about any streamer swung across the river.
Then as it has in the last couple falls September became our newest summer month, water warmed just enough to give fish lock-jaw and sent others back into the lake to wait for cooler water. Fish came hard but if you knew the right combinations there were plenty of nice fish to be fooled. Mid- September saw another bump in water flows, which perked up the fish that were in the river and attracted another run of fish. The last couple weeks of September had people delighted with some of the biggest fish of the season.
Then October rolled around and more seasonable, 30 degrees nights which makes the East Outlet such a wonderful extended season fishery. It’s a fact many fish drop down from Moosehead to spawn and come in from Indian Pond. We saw good numbers of 19-21” salmon all colored up for the arrival of falls fabulous foliage.
You often need a big bag of trick about that time but the rewards are great. There’s a lot of back-slappin’, animated fish tale talk and much laughter around nightly camp fires. It was a great way to finish a season that started out strong and ended with a bang that everyone will be talking about until we get to do it all over again.