Below is my son Tony’s write-up of his recent trip to Moosehead Lake with my grandson Sam.
The History Behind the Tradition
From the late ’70s through 1985, my dad led an annual pilgrimage to Moosehead Lake. It was a large contingent that grew larger every year. Many of my dad’s friends would join us. My grandfather and his friend Jim would drive up in my grandfather’s camper van. My cousin Ralph and his friend Dana joined us almost every year as well.
There is a very long story behind why we stopped this tradition after 1985. Perhaps we’ll blog about that some day. In any case, we picked up the tradition again in 2010, this time with my two nephews in tow–15 year-old Ian and 13 year-old Sam. The four of us made the same trip in 2011. Then, Ian and Sam got busy with their high school activities and teenage lives. Dad and I continued on the tradition from 2012 through 2016.
The reasons that we ended the tradition again after our 2016 trip were twofold:
- The brook trout fishing had gone downhill.
- The wind.
This year, the wind was even worse, but the brook trout fishing had improved notably, which is why we decided to give it a try again.
The Fall and Rise of Moosehead’s Brook Trout
The story of the brook trout’s decline and rebound is a classic case of the American model of wildlife management. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) last stocked lake trout (called “togue” in Maine) in Moosehead Lake in 1975. The togue, which are not native to Moosehead Lake, took off from there. Creating a naturally reproducing wild population that grew and grew, much to the detriment of other species, especially the native brook trout.
In the short, seven-year span from 2010 to 2016, we personally witnessed a decline in the size and number of brook trout. Luckily, Maine’s IFW also took notice, and they acted. They increased the number of togue that fishermen could keep, and they decreased the size limit. This year, you could keep five togue per day, with a minimum size limit of 14 inches. In 2016, I believe the size limit was 18 inches, and the bag limit was two fish. The results speak for themselves. The brook trout have bounced back very well.
OK. Enough with the history lesson, let’s get to the fishing, shall we?
This Year’s Fishing
As I mentioned, the wind was terrible, which made the fishing more difficult, and it showed in the results of our first couple of days. In our first 48 hours–much of that spent fishing–we only had four brook trout to show for our efforts. I was starting to think that the fish were taking this “social distancing” recommendation too seriously.
When we arrived on Sunday evening, I managed to “long-distance release (LDR)” two brook trout that probably measured around 9 inches. I caught them both casting a small (T101) watermelon-colored Buoyant into West Outlet.
The next morning, we trolled the Moose River from 7:45 until noon. Sam caught the only fish, a 12-inch female brook trout. He was trolling a size 7 rainbow trout-colored sinking Rapala. Since the fish are feeding on rainbow smelt, we find that rainbow trout-colored lures work really well–sometimes better than the real thing, but not on this day. Other boats that were live-lining smelt caught more fish than we did.
We spent the rest of Monday fishing any body of water where we might be sheltered from the strong, gusty winds–West Outlet, East Outlet, the Roach River, and Misery Stream. There wasn’t a fish to be found in any of them. I started to question the wisdom of coming back to Moosehead after a four-year hiatus.
Putting the “Moose” in Moosehead
The only silver lining to Monday was all the wildlife that we saw. One of the things that makes a fishing trip to Maine so special is seeing moose. On Monday, the animals made me look like a genius. We saw that there was rain and snow in the forecast for late Monday night and Tuesday morning. I told Sam that a lot of wildlife, particularly ungulates with four-chambered stomachs would be out in droves filling up before the storm blew in so they could hunker down and chew their cud during the storm.
I had no idea how right I would be. We saw four moose. I had to slam on the brakes for two of them.
We saw nine deer, including a buck in velvet.
As forecasted, we woke up to about three inches of snow on Tuesday morning.
When it stopped snowing, Sam bailed out the boat, and we trolled the Moose River from 9:30 AM to 1:00 PM. Again, Sam caught the only fish–a 17-inch fallfish (called a “chub” in Maine) and a 15-inch female brookie, which he brought home.
Bring In The Guide
We were stumped so we called The Guide. Dad asked us, “What have you done in the Moose River in the evenings?”
“We’ve avoided the Moose River like the plague in the evenings,” I said. “If you look at our fishing logs from 2010 to 2016, you could count on two hand the number of fish that we’ve caught in the river after 2:00 PM.”
“Even so,” Dad said, “You should still go out there for the last hour of daylight. You’re right there.”
He was right, as usual. Our cabin was just a few steps from the river. Why not take a run down and back up the river during the last hour of the day? Sunset was 8:00 PM. Sam and I agreed that no matter what we did in the middle of the day, we’d be back on the river by 7:00 PM.
For the remainder of the afternoon, we fished a few other spots that were a short drive from the cabin with nothing to show for it. We made sure to be back to the cabin by 6:30, and we were on the river trolling by 7:00. What was interesting was that all the other boats on the river were pulling in their lines and docking for the night. No one wanted to be on the water during that last hour of light.
Right at sunset (8:00), I hooked into an 18-inch landlocked salmon. I decided that this would be the fish that I kept to bring home for dinner. I caught it on a Rapala that they stopped manufacturing in 2011. It’s called the fathead minnow color. This time, I was using a floating lure. The fish were right on the surface.
The Turning Point
That salmon was the turning point in the trip. We felt like we finally understood how the fish were behaving. It was like when the momentum shifts late in a sporting event. Sam and I felt like we had been losing this battle with the fish all week, and suddenly we saw a path to victory.
Sunrise was 5:11 the next morning. Sam and I were up at 4:15 and on the water by 4:45. I caught the first fish of the day right at sunrise, another 18-inch salmon. Two hours later, I caught a 20-incher.
Sam didn’t have any of those discontinued Rapalas so I lent him mine. At 7:35 AM, one minute after he put the lure in the water, he caught an 18-inch salmon. Unlike mine, his jumped four times. You can see the last quarter moon over his shoulder in this picture.
We fished for another hour, but in that hour two things happened: the wind picked up, and more boats than we’d seen all week combined appeared on the river. Also, we never caught another fish.
Unlike on Monday, on this day (Wednesday), we didn’t see any of those guys live-lining smelt or trolling flies catch a fish or even get a hit. This was one of those days where the artificial lures outfished the bait.
On Wednesday, the animals made me look like a fool. I wanted to tell Sam (but didn’t) that with the storm gone and the high winds, we wouldn’t see any wildlife on our drive to the Roach River. Boy was I wrong. We saw another moose, eight deer, two beavers, a turkey, a snowshoe hare, and a roughed grouse (or should I say “a partridge in a pear tree”?).
Again, we didn’t catch any fish in the Roach River or East Outlet. Sam managed to catch an 11-inch brook trout in West Outlet on a silver and blue Phoebe that his grandfather (The Guide) gave him for Christmas.
Once again, we were sure to be back on the Moose River by 7:00 PM to fish the last hour of light. And once again, all the other boats were docking as we were launching. We had the whole river to ourselves for that hour. Although we saw one salmon jump, we didn’t catch anything, which was perfectly acceptable to me.
We had already had a successful trip by my way of measuring. We caught some nice fish, saw quite a bit of wildlife, and I got to spend a few days fishing with my nephew. You can’t ask for much more than that.