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There's a difference of opinion about raising the water level in the West Branch and how that affects the salmon. Don Lamson, who runs the Big Eddy Campground, is of the conviction that when Brookfield Power increases the water flow to 3,000CFS, that in turn raises the river level, the salmon still bite. I'm not sure if he's a better fly fisherman or luckier than me because when I fish during high water, the angling usually slows down. It's difficult to get a slow drift with a dry fly or a nymph in fast water because salmon will almost always refuse those flies when there's a drag on the line. That happened to me during a couple of trips last month when the water level was up and I got skunked.
According to my fishing journal I did experience great fly fishing during high water on one outing to the famous West Branch. That was in mid-July when the water rate was 3,300 CFS and I was in a favorite pool using my new Golden Stonefly. As soon as I presented that fly I raised and caught 3 small salmon. The leader had been twisted and I didn't bother to change it. A few cast later a large 20-inch landlock broke the frayed leader. By the time it was dark I'd hooked and released 11 salmon from 15-19 inches...so some times high water can work to your advantage on that stretch of the Penobscot River.
On August 30 I arrived at the river around 5 p.m. Once again the river was a torrent of white water at the Cribworks below the Telos Bridge and all the other renowned rapids along the river. After wading nearly over the chest-high waders I took my favorite position in one of the pools. It was a brilliant afternoon as I cast the large Golden Stonefly. On the third cast a massive salmon inhaled the foam offering and instantly exploded 4 feet above the sunlit river. The angry leviathan leaped 3 times, peeled off line from the screaming reel, then lay 'sulking' 4 feet away while my right arm burned. After a couple of attempts I netted, then lifted the irate monster from the translucent liquid. Despite a struggle, I managed to remove the fly from the fish's hooked jaw and immediately the salmon launched out of the net back into the rushing river. That 21-inch kyped salmon didn't need reviving. Around 7p.m. Frank Altimore appeared from the darkening forest and began to fish, too. We kept rotating positions and continued to land salmon until twilight. Suddenly fish were jumping everywhere in the moonlit pool. We both hooked and landed fish 'scaring' 20 inches while changing positions. Every time we'd swap spots, we would outdo the other guy!
Finally, I heard Frank call in the moonlight, "I've got one on again and this one's fighting 'funny', Paul."
I turned on my headlamp and staggered on the slippery stones upstream while watching the angler with the tip of his rod almost bowed into the dark water.
"Go easy. That looks like it might be a good fish!" I called as the angler tried to lead the irate game fish towards the shallows.
Slipping and stumbling on the algae-covered stones towards Alimore I finally managed to net the thick fish. Meanwhile, Frank had waded to the stone wall and was trying to get his Go-Pro to work in the dark.
When my headlamp illuminated the rotund, pink-bellied fish, I called to the Maine outdoorsman, "It's a beautiful 16-inch brook trout!"
Frank then examined the big trout and then the sport elected to free it. His big fish were all caught on my new purple streamer, called the PFT West Branch Smelt, that I'd designed. If you want to see what that fly looks like you could go to my website:maineflyfishingclub.com.
Many hunting enthusiasts are celebrating the results of the any-deer lottery that took place on September 8. I'm not one. This year I had selected zones closer to my home area but didn't luck out. Meanwhile I'm going to make the most of the remaining weeks of salmon fishing on the West Branch.
This new marabou streamer fly is effective on the West Branch. [See Tea Pail]
Don and Dot Lamson and their granddaughter Olivia, who is entertained by their new pup and its toy, pose for a photo at Chewonki's Big Eddy. Photo by Paul Thibodeau
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