Most fly fishers, asked to consider freshwater fishing in Maine, would conjure up visions of brook trout and landlocked salmon. Maybe, lake trout (togue, in Maine) as well. Perhaps, just perhaps, smallmouth bass might enter their minds, last, and probably least.
Maine has some outstanding warmwater fisheries for both smallmouth and largemouth bass, often in the same lake (or pond, or river), especially in the southwestern portion of the state. There is so much water here that after spending two summer seasons fishing up here, many nearby waters are still unexplored by me.
Mind you, I don’t have a motor vessel. All my fishing is on foot or by kayak. I’m headquartered in the town of Lovell, on Kezar Lake, 2600 acres. A considerable amount of my fishing occurs here (on Middle Bay), but I like to fish around, too. Kezar Lake is a popular vacation spot, and when the water skiers and pleasure boaters get going, I want a little more solitude than the big lake offers. Plus, I’ve always felt that the willingness of fish to bite is directly proportional to the amount of sweat equity I’m willing to invest. If only that always held true!
Tackle and Flies
I’m armed with a nine-foot, four-weight TFO rod matched with a five-weight, weight forward floating line. Yes, a bigger rod would toss those bulky bass flies more easily, but there is something to be said for delicacy. Most folks would opt for at least a six-weight. Leaders are about 12 feet long, tapered to a 10- or 12-pound test point. If you’re getting refusals, lighten the tippet.
Thousands of different flies can be used to fool bass. I carry Clouser Minnows, bunny-strip eelworms, minnow imitations made from synthetics, and other subsurface offerings. I seldom use any of them. Poppers, gurglers, and sliders make up the top-water arsenal I generally use, seldom changing flies until some catastrophe causes a lost fly.
Poppers seem to work better in deeper water, sliders definitely work better in the weeds, as they slide through the salad more easily. Gurglers are easiest to make. I make mine with a bunny strip tail and body, and even when they are not being stripped, that fur waves seductively, bringing strikes. I make almost all my flies, preferring ones that take five minutes to create, tying them on size 2 stinger hooks, always with a double-mono-prong weedguard.
Almost every one of my fishing trips in Maine is a search mission. I don’t know any of these waters, and in many cases have never seen them before.
Since we all know bass like structure, the first thing to do is find some. Conventional wisdom is that smallies like rocks, bigmouths like weeds. While there is truth to that, I get largemouths around rocks and smallies around weeds, so be prepared to be surprised. Weeds or rocks, preferably with nearby deeper water, are what I want to find. Fallen timber is also good. I know folks have success around docks, but that has not been my experience here. Kezar Lake, formed by glaciers, has large rock shoals made up of giant boulders, easily found by the buoys that warn boaters of their presence, a real time-saver.
Once the fishy-looking area is found, casting of the surface fly commences. That first fish is SO important! It lets you know you’re working the right area, and that they’ll actually take whatever doodad is tied on the end of the leader. If that fish doesn’t come, keep moving!
If you set out with the sun high, in the heat of the day, don’t expect much. You’ll enjoy your best success early or late in the day. One day last summer I made my first (and still only) visit to Heald Pond. It looked awesome. On the west side where hillsides dropping into the lake. The east side was shallow, full of weeds. I had no activity in either place, in spite of working it hard. Then the sun dropped behind the ridge, darkness started coming on, and in short order I got three nice bass.
I’ve fished after dark a few times, on Kezar Lake and Farrington Pond. Great fishing, every time! Fishing in the dark requires a change in the way you usually process your information inputs, but can be very rewarding once you figure it out.
Kezar Lake has a 150-foot deep hole. The state stocks the lake with landlocked salmon and salmonids. I have no interest in trolling down-riggers for these, preferring the wild genetics of the unstocked bass.
Those weedy areas hold plentiful chain pickerel. Although they don’t get as big as pike, the strikes can be equally heart-stopping. You will lose flies to their dentures, though.
Last summer I fished the pool beneath Swan’s Falls in the Saco River, casting a small Clouser Minnow, hoping for a smallie or maybe even a brown trout. I had a strike from a decent fish, strong enough to pull serious drag. It never jumped or showed itself and I thought I had that trout. It turned out to be a large fallfish, a type of minnow. While a bit of a disappointment, it took a fly and pulled hard. What more can a fly fisher ask for?
There are various panfish, sunfish and perch, in all these waters.
Some Water Bodies
I’ve already mentioned Kezar Lake, Farrington Pond, Heald Pond, and the Saco River. I’ve also fished at least once in Horseshoe Lake, the old channel of the Saco River, and Kezar Pond. I’d love to fish the Kezar River, but haven’t figured out how to get a kayak in there.
If you examine the southwest part of Maine on a decent map (I suggest DeLorme’s Maine Atlas), you’ll see there are hundreds of lakes and ponds there. The glaciers were very generous in their lake-creating! There’s no need to drive very far- if you’re in this part of Maine, you’re near some good fishing.
Southwestern Maine offers everything a fly fisher could want- plenty of places to cast a fly, beautiful surroundings, plentiful, largely unpressured fish, and loons. How could we forget about the wildlife you’ll see? I love visiting and fishing this area, and think that, if you visit, you’ll love it too.