Hatches & Hints

Our Hatches & Hints page is dedicated to educating you about fishing the Moosehead Lake Region and its many windows of opportunity that present themselves throughout our fishing season. Starting with early season smelt runs, followed by the sucker spawn, then major mayfly, caddis and stonefly hatches culminating with the spawning season.

We’ll fill you in on what you can expect to encounter and when, along with proven techniques you can add to your bag of tricks that should help you become a more aware and productive angler.

A Simple Solution

Every summer, around Drake season, fishermen wander into the fly shop frustrated about their leader getting all twisted when casting big drake patterns to feeding trout at their favorite pond. They want to lay the blame on the particular brand of leader they were using. Fortunately it’s not the brand of leader’s fault. Because it doesn’t take a ten pond test leader to land a brook trout, many of which are under twelve inches, we choose a 5X – 4 lb test tapered leader. It makes scense because any brookie can be brought to the net on 4 pound test if we’re careful. The thing we don’t factor in our decision is how a big fly, say size 8, moves through the air during the act of casting. We all want to make a long cast because there’s plenty of room so we can really reach out there. But the further we cast the more we flex the tip of the rod so the faster a fly moves through the air. A big Green Drake imitation is not very aerodynamic and wants to spin or corkscrew out of control leaving many revolutions in the leader once the fly lands on top of the water. Sometimes you’ll watch as your bug tries to unscrew on the surface of the pond. Bring your fly to hand to see hwats wrong and the leader is twisted up and we end up blaming it on the leader.
There is an easy fix and it’s not changing brands. First, forget about the trout, they don’t figure into this equation. Think about the fly you chose to imitate one of natures monster drakes. In order to minimize corkscrewing you need to use a heavier, stiffer leader. Save your 5X – 4 lb test leaders for smaller size 14, 16, and 18 flies. Ramp up to a 3x – 10 lb or 2X – 12 lb test leader. They are much stiffer and stop big fluffy mayfly imitations from spinning out of control. Your fly will cast much easier, turn over better and land more naturally than when cast using a lighter, whimpy leader that can’t control you’re bulky bug. And consider backing off on that country mile cast so your bug won’t be traveling at warp speed. You’re perennial problems with twisted leaders will become a thing of the past.
Here is a nice table, to follow regarding
dry fly size in relation to leader size.
 6X – # 18 to 24
5X – # 14 to 18
4X – # 12 to 16
3X – # 10 to 12
2X –   # 6 to 8
**** When it comes to streamers you can get away with lighter leaders simple because streamers are generally much more aero dynamic than dries. With streamers it’s more about pound test than leader diameter. Just remember when big salmon and trout grab a streamer it is likely going to be a violent act. If you go too lite that big fish you’ve been hoping for might steal your streamer, leaving you with just another sad story to tell while you’re drowning your sorrows.****

Ice-Out Time

Variety is the salt of angling. In the Moosehead Lake Region, the angler can find a variety of angling opportunities. There are various fish species to pursue and most can all be found in the same place early in the season. After a long winter in the Moosehead Lake Region we hear the welcome sound of the words “Ice-Out”. Snow melt and spring run-off are changing angling opportunities daily. Our many ponds and lakes are preparing to produce some of the fastest fishing of the open water season shortly after ice finally leaves the region.

Lake trout fishing strategies change with the season. Usually one has to seek the depths of the lake to find them. Lake trout typically seek a constant water temperature between 40-52 degrees F which most of the open water season is 25′ – 95′ below the surface. But lake trout move into shallow water at ice-out. There is a window of opportunity when smelt begin their spawning activity and run up brooks and streams to spawn. Lake trout primarily feed on smelt year round and a large smelt streamer like the traditional Grey Ghost tied in a size 2 often fool lake trout as they feed on spawning smelt. There are many fly patterns that imitate the rainbow smelt like the Magog Smelt, Mitchell Creek Maribou or Joe’s Smelt. Spawning smelt in our region have a lavender hue along their lateral line during spawning season. Any large streamers tied with some lavender bucktail mixed in will be quite effective. A full sinking line is a must. Lake trout, landlocked salmon and brook trout alike will all be together while the spawning run continues for about a week, typically starting the last week of April through the first week of May. Anglers can find some fast fishing on Moosehead Lake, First Roach Pond, and Lower Wilson Pond if they are target early season smelt runs.

There are many places where fish gather for this event. The mouth of rivers and streams like the mouths of the East Outlet, Moose River, and Roach River are prime at ice out. Also the Mouth Ragged Stream where it enters Caribou Lake near the Golden Road. And if you are adventurous the mouth of Allagash Stream where it enters Allagash Lake is a sight to behold at ice out. Find a body of water that has a population of smelt and you’ll find smelt at the mouth of most every stream that runs into that body of water.

Many of the season’s largest brook trout are caught along the shores of  Moosehead and other ponds and lakes the first two weeks after ice out. Traditional trolling methods using fly rods and sinking lines, towing tandem smelt streamers can prove extremely effective. Big brookies are taking advantage of this once a year opportunity to dine on smelt traveling the shore in search of a stream to spawn in. Concentrate on the the zone where you can see bottom on one side of the boat and not the other. We always say if you don’t need a new prop for the motor you’re not in the zone. A big canoe or a small boat is the best vessel for working coves near the mouth of streams.

It’s usually been a long winter and there’s is two week window of opportunity that revolves around the smelt runs when streamer fishing mouths of streams and  river can produce some very fine fishing. There’ll be time to chance the hatches but at ice out dries aren’t the answer.

We have an excellent selection of tandem and large single hook streamerat our On-Line Catalog.

Moose River Smelt Drift

Estimating Smelt Drift through Brassua Dam into the Moose River

Fisheries biologists keep a watchful eye on smelt populations in Moosehead and other lakes throughout Maine.

Rainbow smelt are the most important forage item for landlocked salmon and lake trout, two of the most important coldwater gamefish in Maine. Smelt populations are notorious for natural fluctuations which can cause serious growth problems for these gamefish species which typically inhabit the larger, more popular lakes in Maine. As fisheries managers, we have struggled to develop methods to predict and evaluate smelt abundance and the causes for sudden declines in abundance. On Moosehead Lake, Maine’s largest lake, there are several studies are underway to address some of these issues.

In most lakes in Maine, the smelt population is produced entirely within that lake. However, we have a unique situation on Moosehead Lake. Brassua Dam sits 3 miles upstream of Moosehead Lake on the Moose River. This 30-foot dam on the outlet of the 9,000 acre impoundment is a hydro-generating facility with the intake near the base of the dam. Rainbow smelt are present in Brassua Lake and are often found in the discharge creating considerable smelt drift into the river and down to Moosehead Lake at certain times of the year.

We operated drift nets for an entire year to capture a subsample of the discharge from Brassua Dam to estimate the total number and biomass of smelt passing downstream to Moosehead Lake. A series of six metal stakes were placed on each side of the river. Two 4’x4’x6’ drift nets were attached to stakes. Stake selection was based on the flow. The nets were set for a 24 hour period on 1 day per week throughout the year, except when flows were too high to work in safely and on two occasions when we operated the nets for an entire week to examine the range of catch.

Catch was moderately related to discharge from the dam. We saw a peak in May likely associated with post-spawning movement and an increase in flow. There was another peak in January that was likely associated with an increase in flow. Overall we estimated 355,397 smelt passed downstream into the Moose River from Brassua Lake. This would not include smelt that were too small to be seen or caught in our 3/8” mesh drift nets. It appears that young-of-the-year smelt became vulnerable to netting in mid-July.

It was interesting to follow the length frequency of smelt captured during the sampling. Most notable, smelt in the 50mm range were present throughout the year, suggesting a wide range in growth rates for young-of-the-year smelt or perhaps some delayed spawning.

This work will continue for at least another year as we try to determine the potential range of smelt drift into Moosehead Lake.

Submitted by: Tim Obrey, Regional Fisheries Biologist- Moosehead Lake Region

Swinging Streamers

Streamer fishing is probably the most productive way to catch early season fish. You’ve got your favorite streamer on and made a great cast. The fly is right where you want it. Now what do you do? There are two schools to fly fishing, the 1st is learning how to get your fly out there. You just did that. The 2nd is what to do with your fly now that it’s where you want it. It’s all about the retrieve. Different flies, different fish, and different times of the season require different retrieves. Ever been with someone who was doing all the catching and you’re using the same fly and not getting a tug. I’ve been asked this question a thousand times. “How come he’s catching fish and I’m not?” My answer always is the same “Because you’re not watching him and doing what he’s doing”. We’ve all been there. Don’t focus on where they are fishing pay attention to what they are doing with the fly. It’s got to appear natural, if it doesn’t you’re not playing the game right.

I’ll try and make some sense of it all, starting with early season streamer fishing on moving water. When you’re fishing streamers in the spring your fly is supposed to represent some species of minnow, mainly smelts in our neighborhood. Baitfish scurry about, not staying in any one place for any length of time. They stop in the wrong place and they stand the likely chance of getting gobbled.

In moving water, as your fly swings across the current, flick the tip of your rod slightly up and down to give your fly a little life. Flip the rod tip 4 inches and your fly accelerates ahead 4 inches. Pump the rod a foot and so goes your fly.

A fish may slam the streamer as it moves cross current but we all know most streamer strikes come at the end of the swing when your fly stops in the current for a second or two. Try leaving it there for a few seconds and give it a couple more jigs before you start the retrieve. You’ll provoke more strikes. Now as you retrieve stop the retrieve every few feet. Your fly may go right by a fish that may not be in the mood to chase it but then it stops close by and becomes a very easy meal.

So many times fishermen recast before they can see their fly at the end of the retrieve. It drives me crazy. If we had a fly camera to prove it, I’ll bet anything they may be taking the fly away from an interested fish without knowing it. I always, always, always retrieve my streamer close enough to see it, stop it, then jig the fly in that spot a couple of times before making another cast.

A – I’m making sure the fly is not fouled. Streamers are notorious for that. Ever reel up to leave or change your fly and find your streamer in a tangle. Who knows how long you’ve been fishing a fly that can’t even catch bottom.

B – A fish may just make a pass at your fly before your very eyes, which is always a thrill you’ll probably be braggin’ about later around the campfire.

If one retrieve isn’t working, try another. I like to not cast all the line I have off the reel and as the streamer swings cross current feed more line allowing the fly to drop downstream then use a couple quick jigs to turn the fly giving it a little different presentation. Subtle changes sometimes make huge differences.

If a fish makes a pass at your fly at the end of the swing leave the fly there. Do not recast, you’re taking the fly away from an interested fish. Leave it in the water and jig the fly, move it just a little to the right then left. Do a strip tease. Tickle him. It’s amazing how many times you’ll get a fish to chase your fly again. Some fish can be down right suicidal if you give them a chance.

And when you finally connect ask yourself “What did I just learn here?” Give it some thought. You were probably doing something different. Duplicate the retrieve in another spot and before you know it you’ve got a game going that fish like. Now you’ve taken your game to another level.

So I’ll just end by saying “It is important where you put your fly but I believe it’s way more important what you do with your fly after it lands that will get your fly a lot more attention.”

Moosehead Lake Region Wild Brook Trout Ponds are True Jewels

In the Moosehead Lake Region we have an inventory of wild brook trout ponds that, for the most part go overlooked. To be accurate there are 40 trout ponds within a 40 mile drive for Downtown Greenville.

An effort was made many years ago by our then Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, Bucky Ownes, to put more restrictive regulations in place and revive our then ailing wild brook trout populations in these ponds. It has been a wonderful success story but never made the pages of fishing publications. Pick up any fly fishing magazine and it’s all about moving water. So there they sit full of wild brook trout. It’s a dream come true for anyone who loves small pond fishing for wild eastern brook trout.

A flat calm trout pond may not appear as exciting as the next pool in the river but there is just as much live and you will likely have it all to yourself, everyone else is on the river. The one piece of equipment you need other than your fly fishing gear is a watercraft in the form of a canoe, kayak, or float tube and you’re good to go.

A pond’s insect cycle starts a few days after ice goes out. As mid-day high sun begins to warm the water a bit aquatic insects become more active. Midges begin hatching on warm afternoons. They’re size 20 to 24’s and hard for our aging eyes to tie on a 6X tippet but OH do they work. It may be a Griffith’s Gnat or tiny Blue Wing Olive or Olive Dunn. If you have a hard time finding that tiny little fly way out there try tying on a larger attractor pattern like a Royal Wulff.  Now tie 3 feet of 6X tippet to the bend of the hook and add the midge to it. The Wulff is easy to find and if anything happen within 3 feet of it assume trout are after your midge and  lift your rod tip to set the hook. You’ll should be connected to the first trout of the season taken on a dry.

Also early in the season dragon fly nymphs are busy prowling around preying on mayfly and caddis nymphs that are everywhere on the bottom. A sink-tip line and a good dragon fly nymph or small woolly bugger fished around drop-offs along a sunny shoreline will usually produce good numbers of brookies.

By the end of May-beginning of June mayflies begin their cycle. They start hatching in early afternoon and continue hatching until about 5, leaving plenty of time for happy hour. The action can be fast and furious, spotting, stalking, and casting to cruising fish eating everything in their path. Tie an emerger on as a dropper behind your mayfly and you may catch two at a time.

During your time on a backcountry trout pond don’t be surprised if a moose or two are sharing your cove as they feed on the aquatic plant life also beginning to grow. Pick a pond that produces lots of trout with liberal laws and you can take a few for breakfast or choose a pond where more strict regulations allow fish to grow and look for a BIG one. The peace and quiet can become infectious.

Have a look at our Remote Pond Info where you’ll find 40 ponds within 40 miles of Greenville. Grab your Maine Atlas, do a little research and this season devote a little of your precious fishing time chasing wild brook trout on one of our many backcountry ponds. You won’t be disappointed.

You’ll find a nice collection of dragon and damsel fly nymphs, woolly buggers and early mayfly selection at our On-Line Catalog.


What makes a generic fly so frigin’ good.

What makes a generic fly so frigin’ good?

If you could only have one fly to use for the entire season which one would you choose, certainly one that has worked for you more often than not. Your go to fly.

Conduct a survey and many would pick the Woolly Bugger, others a Muddler Minnow, or perhaps a pheasant a tail nymph. What is it about these flies that fish find so appealing?

The answer is simple, “Just let the fish use their imagination.” A Wooly Bugger will catch fish from just below the surface all the way to the bottom. To begin a Woolly Bugger with or without a bead is a great leech pattern when tied in black or olive. Tied in white with a bit of pearl krystal flash it can easily imitate a smelt. Fish a small olive bugger along the bottom of a trout pond early in the season and fish could easily see it as a dragon or damsel fly nymph. Add a bit of weight and bounce it along the bottom of moving water so fish see it as a stone fly nymph or even a sculpin. Assemble a box of buggers in a variety of colors, sizes and weights and you’ll have flies that imitate some sort of fish food from spring until fall.

A Muddler Minnow would be our choice but its name is a little deceiving. Yes it does look like a small minnow when fished as a wet fly. Twitch it on the surface and a muddler can imitate a hopper or add some weight and when pulled along the bottom fish mistake it for a skulpin. A small standard muddler fished in the surface film on a small trout pond could easily appear to be a struggling hex nymph. Tie on a cone head muddler wherever there are bass, hop it around and smallmouth believe it’s their all time favorite crayfish meal.

Assemble a collection of pheasant tail nymphs in a varied of sizes, colors and different weights and you‘ll imitate a variety of naturals depending on the season. Fish see smaller sizes as one of many species of mayflies. A pheasant tail is not met be a caddis but tied in the right colors fish think they are. And in larger sizes they can fool a fish into believing they are lovely little stoneflies.

There are lots of flies that imitate one bug only and will easily fool fish for a short span of time. But if you let fish use their imagination a good generic fly tied in variety of natural colors will fool lots of fish throughout the entire season.

The Sucker Spawn

If you have ever spent any time on a stream in the spring chasing smelt runs, the presence of mature suckers is very obvious. Unlike trout which are fall spawners, suckers spawn in the spring just after the smelt spawn when the water temps begin to creep up between 40-50 degrees. The first to spawn is the longnose sucker which is 6-12″ The larger common suckers grow to be 20 ” or more and spawn later when water temperature approaches 50 degrees. The sucker spawn can occur shortly after iceout until late in May.
A few years ago I was guiding some customers who were catching a good number of brookies. When I remove a fly from a fish I often have a peek in its mouth to see if there are any nymphs present. There is always something to learn. On this occasion trout were spewing sucker eggs. As I looked more intently into the river I could see a good number of big suckers. The trout were just downstream gobbling up their eggs. I did a bit of research and the following spring started fishing sucker egg patterns with great success.

Fishing them is easy. On a 9′ – 4X leader tie on one of the patterns. At the bend of the hook attach an 18″ piece of 4X tippet using an improved cinch knot. To the end of this tie on one of the lighter colored patterns. Between the two place a small to medium size split shot. Above the flies place the strike indicator of your choice. The length of the leader below the indicator and the size of the split shot depend on water depth and current. The object is to bounce your flies as close to the bottom as possible, so adjust the leader length and shot size accordingly. Try to work the water over as thoroughly as possible casting upstream and dead drifting the flies down until they swing then repeat the procedure along another line. Suckers spawn in shallow, gravel areas. The eggs are spread about and adhere to the bottom. Remember the eggs will remain along the bottom for up to 14 days after the suckers have spawned, them they hatch and this game ends until another season.

If you want to be ready for the Sucker Spawn we offer a nice selection at our On-Line Catalog. They come pack in a Clear-Top Riffle Foam Case.

Moving Water Mayflies

The first of our moving water mayflies is the Blue Wing Olives. Hatches begin mid-May into early June. They love lousy, drizzily weather. There may be just a few or they may cover the entire pool. The odd thing about BWO’s is river fish often don’t both with them. Other times they eat some but salmon and brook trout around us don’t get crazy over them. You know the fish are there. We’ve been catching’em everyday prior to. Early season BWO’s are big for BWO’s, size 14 & 16.

When our BWO’s hatches slowdown the moving water mayfly event of the season kicks in. The first day of the Hendrickson hatches is a “Window of Opportunity” that everyone should experience at least once. It is without a doubt the best day of dry fly fishing we see. Every fish in the river is making a pig of itself. They can’t get enough and they’ll eat any fly that even comes close. Spot a feeding fish, give him a nice drag free drift and he’ll swallow it to his tail. There have been times when four different anglers have four different flies on and everyone is catching fish. All you need to know is to do a drag-free drift. You’ll eventually leave the river giggling with a big ear-to-ear grin. The very next day they hatch like the day before but fish begin refusing the same flies they couldn’t resist the day before. Don’t get me wrong you’ll still have a great day but fish aren’t as easily fooled. You may have to change from a traditional dry to a parachute style and by day 3 or 4 they stop take the adults all together and prefer the nymph or soft hackle fished just beneath the surface.

After day 3 or 4 of the Hendricksons, Red Quill begin and you can go right back to dries.

Once mayfly hatches begin we say “You can set your watch by the hatches”. They’ll start around 2:00 pm and last until the dinner hour when they’re all full and there isn’t a fish showing. You can head for Happy Hour without feeling the least bit guilty.

If you want you can stick it out until dark hoping to be in the right pool for the spinner fall. It’s a very short window just after sundown when yesterday’s mayflies drop to the water all at once to lay their eggs. Its ten minutes of crazy fishing if you know where your fly is out there in the fast fading light. There is a lot written about spinner falls and spent wing flies. Our take on it is “It’s a little overrated.” We prefer Happy Hour with friends over tangled leaders and lousy light.

The Drag Free Drift

Our best advise during the mayfly hatches is ~ A Good Drift is Better than a Good Cast ~ After mayflies hatch they drift on the surface like tiny sailboats until they take to wing. They seldom bounce around on the surface as do caddis when they hatch. The bottom line is, if your mayfly drags at all fish will probably not even consider eating it.

Also when you spot a feeding fish don’t be in a big rush to drift your fly over it. Instead be patient and watch how the fish feeds. If you time the intervals between rises you’ll find it may be a few minutes or more. After a fish rises it has to return to the bottom, get back to that sweet spot in the current and begin looking up for another treat. Drift your fly over the fish too soon and it’s not even ready to feed again. The fish is going nowhere so you have plenty of time to make that perfect drag free drift over the spot where the fish is taking bugs. A little patients goes a long way especially when it comes to big fish.

Fly choice is simpler than you might think. Once you find a feeding fish don’t be in a rush, again the fish are going nowhere. Look for bugs on the surface. Follow them as they drift over feeding fish. Spot one eating a particular bug then have a look in your fly box. Make such to choose the same size and color fly. After you tie it on cast it close to the real thing for a comparison, if it’s bigger or smaller it likely won’t work. Make the adjustment and your odds of getting a feeding fish to take are way better. Don’t hound a fish with a fly it doesn’t want, you can’t make him want it. Three or four drifts will tell the story.

If at first you don’t succeed try another fly.