Fly-fishing for landlocked salmon in Maine has been on my bucket list for a long time, so
when my wife and I started planning a trip to visit our daughter who moved to Bangor,
Maine a year ago with her husband, I seized upon the opportunity to piggy-back on our
visit and achieve one of my bucket list goals.
Our trip was booked in May for the week of September 22-27. The end of September is
reported to be prime time for salmon fishing as well as the beginning of fall foliage
season. Wishing to maximize my probability of success (and who doesn’t), I decided to
bite the bullet and hire a guide, Mike Hegarty of Chick Hill Guide Service (a decision I
came to appreciate as the trip unfolded). We agreed on the dates of September 23 & 24
as our dates to fish. As the date drew closer I would read about (and yes, dream about)
fishing for landlocked salmon. Somewhere around the first week in September, I began
checking the fishing reports and communicating with the guide to get updates. A week
prior to the trip found me calling Mike to put the finishing touches on our plans.
Conditions looked excellent! Water flows were ideal, weather looked good, and the
reports provided plenty of information about flies and techniques that were working.
According to all indications, THE place to fish at this time was near Moosehead Lake,
around Rockwood Maine. Specifically, the Moose River and the East Outlet of the
Kennebunk River. Fishing was HOT! All of the stars were aligning! I couldn’t believe my
Sunday, September 22 nd , the first day of our visit found us flying into heavy rain in
Bangor, with heavy rain predicted for the next two days (Monday and Tuesday) in the
Moosehead Lake region…I was beginning to think I was right to not believe my luck.
Now, I’ve fished in the rain before, but I don’t prefer it and the forecast was for clear
weather all of Wednesday and most of the day Thursday. So, I thought I’d call Mike
determine if he had the flexibility and willingness to change the dates that had been set
months in advance from Monday and Tuesday to Wednesday and Thursday. Mike
agreed and made some changes to his calendar to accommodate my request.
Mike picked me up at my daughter’s house in Bangor bright (as opposed to rainy) and
early Wednesday morning and in two hours I was about to begin fishing on the Moose
River. It was high from the previous three days of rain. Conditions were no longer ideal,
but the river was still fishable, so fish we did.
I was excited to use some of the traditional salmon flies and streamers (e.g. Montreal
Whore, Black Ghost, Gray Ghost, and Shufelt Special, to name a few). Up to this point
these were flies that I had only seen in pictures. They looked both beautiful and a bit
alien. We threw all of the streamers that were listed in the reports and then some. We
used floating line and sinking line…no luck. We switched to nymphing, with indicators
and without. We tried tandem rigs and single flies. Mike regularly changed offerings,
trying all kinds of options and combinations. Still nothing. It was small consolation that
no one else was catching fish, either.
Around noon we left the Moose and checked in to Maynard’s. Maynard’s is a 100 year-
old lodge with cabins that are original to the property and have a rustic charm and great
home-cooked meals…the quintessential Maine lodge. It is a true Maine experience.
After inhaling some turkey sandwiches and fresh peaches, we drove to the East Outlet.
The East Outlet is not an easily wade-able river when it is low and with the additional
water from increased dam release because of the rain, I was reintroduced to my wading
staff, which was quickly to become new BFF.
Our experience on the East Outlet was the same as on the Moose. We fished hard, we
moved, we changed flies often but with no luck. We did, however see three fish caught.
Having borne witness to those hookups helped be understand why landlocked salmon
are nicknamed “Leapers”. Once hooked, they put on quite the aerial display and seeing
how well they fight only increased my desire to at least hook one!
We called it a day around 5:15 and drove back to Maynard’s. After showering, we had a
home cooked meal (very tasty and large portions) and turned in early.
Morning came quickly, and after eating a country-style breakfast, we headed back to the
East Outlet again and began fishing before 8:00am. Renewed by the sense of a
fisherman’s optimism, we fished the other side of the river. It was overcast. Again, we
fished hard, moved, changed flies but the outcome was, at this point, all too
familiar…nothing. Not even a strike. We saw few people and those we did see were
also having a tough day.
With far more of the trip behind us than in front of us my “bucket-list” trip was shaping
up to be memorable for the wrong reasons. There was wind and rain predicted for the
early afternoon and I still had not gotten so much one strike.
We were disheartened but not defeated and Mike decided to go deep, both
philosophically and tactically. He stated that he had never heard of a fish that read the
fishing reports (clearly a deep philosophical observation), and that perhaps we should
try “something unconventional”. He then tied a tandem rig with a size 18 bead-head
pheasant tail as the dropper and positioned the indicator to ensure the flies drifted
deep. As I once again approached the river, the clouds parted and the sun peeked
through, which I chose to interpret as positive sign. After several minutes of fishing, I
asked, “Mike, do you think the seam I’m fishing looks good?” just as the indicator
paused. I lifted my rod tip and felt the telltale response. The fight was on! Several
jumps and some minutes later, I had my first landlocked salmon in the net! He had
taken the size 18 bead-head pheasant tail. I guess Mike was right…fish don’t read the
fishing reports! He measured 24” with a majestic kyped jaw. The requisite pictures
were taken and the fish quickly released.
As the beautiful fish disappeared with a powerful judder, I paused to enjoy the sense of
accomplishment that follows the attainment of a goal that requires preparation,
persistence, and resilience.
Pleased but not satisfied, and with time left to fish before the heavy weather began, I
set about trying to catch my second landlocked. The better part of an hour yielded no
additional fish, but did result in one strike…on my yellow indicator. Mike and I had the
same thought. Let’s try something that floats (also not suggested in any of the reports).
Mike tied on a size 10 Stimulator, shook it in desiccant, and I began casting.
As none of my presentations drew any interest, I started to ask the question “Mike, do
you think my drifts have too much drag?” but as I started to say “drifts” there was a boil
under my fly and it disappeared. I set the hook and within seconds, a salmon exploded
from the water. It shot straight up, not more than five yards directly in front of us. It
was big! Multiple jumps and a quite a while later he, too, surrendered to Mike’s net.
Larger, even than the one before, if the first fish was everything I had hoped for, this
one was even more! He measured twenty-five inches and was much fatter, also with a
After more pictures and the release, we spent some time laughing and high-fiving each
other. People in a nearby drift boat even gave us a round of applause!
Since the adrenaline rush from the first fish had the effect of suppressing our appetites,
we had fished well past mid-day. Given that it was now afternoon, and the predicted
wind started picking up, we agreed that it would be a good time to break for lunch.
As we ate lunch, the wind blew in dark clouds and rain looked like it was soon to follow.
With a two-plus hour drive ahead of us, we decided to conclude our trip on a high note.
We peeled ourselves out of our waders, climbed into Mike’s truck and drove back. The
clock confirmed that it was, indeed, a two-plus hour drive but reliving all that had
happened made the elapsed time seem not more than fifteen minutes.
That evening, as I reflected on the arc of the adventure that started in May, I recognized
that while I originally thought the fishing trip would have been unsuccessful had I not
caught a fish or two, I realized that the trip would still have fulfilled my bucket list goal
of fishing for landlocked salmon in Maine even without catching fish. Although the
salmon seemed at times to be Lock-jawed, rather than Landlocked, just being the Maine
woods, with the trees starting to turn and the sound of the river was nothing short of a
kind of spiritual experience and I am grateful for the opportunity to have spent time in
such beautiful surroundings and making a new friend in Mike.
I am reminded of what Zane Grey said, “If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips
would have ended long ago.”
Mike Hegarty is a Registered Maine Guide and avid outdoorsman passionate about fishing, bird dogs, and grouse hunting. After 40 years of active duty in the United States Navy, he now guides full time for fishing and bird hunting in the beautiful state of Maine.