September 22, 2019
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Committed anglers can find open water for opening day

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
In this file photo from the 2017 opening day of open water fishing, Dennis Perry (left) tries his hand at fishing at Grand Lake Stream.

For some of us old “April Fools,” the first day of the fourth month gives us the chance to prove just how foolish we are.

That’s the traditional opening day of open water season, after all, and for many Mainers, that means they’d better be ready to wade into 33-degree water, withstand quickly numbing toes, and flog the sacred waters in search of finicky landlocked salmon or brook trout.

So what does opening day mean to you? Will you be out there? Or are you like Bill Pierce, who checked in from Rangeley with some opening day suggestions, along with his own April 1 itinerary.

Pierce, it seems, has things figured out pretty well.

“Thankfully, my anniversary happens to be April 1,” Pierce wrote in an email response to my query. “When it comes to my wife’s judgment and folks who like to fish in Maine, they don’t call it April Fools Day for nothing. I myself will be fishing that day, but at 60 years of age, I have smartened up a tad. I will be standing in 18 inches of 78-degree water casting for bonefish on a flat in Abaco in the Bahamas. That’s wisdom, big fella.”

Indeed, it is.

But some of us don’t have that option, and will be toughing it out here in Maine. This column is for them. Included are a few fishing options, some conditions updates from fisheries biologists, and one man’s idea of a perfect opening day.

Let’s start with that opening day ritual, shared by reader Paul Markson.

My open-water fishing opening-day “tradition” is to grab my old cane rod and some streamers, travel all of two miles from home to the Kenduskeag Stream, find some ice-free water, wade and cast until my feet go numb (less than one hour usually), then head over to the Tim Horton’s on Broadway and warm-up with strong coffee and sweet treats,” Markson said. “So far I have never caught a fish on opening day. But as a fly-fisher, catching fish is secondary to fishing, and what really matters is that I am smiling the whole time.”

And though Pierce is heading south, he is very knowledgeable about fishing and the outdoors scene in the Rangeley area — he’s the executive director of the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum, after all — and he shared some thoughts for those who’re looking for opening day options.

“I will say that there is quite a bit of early action here in Rangeley if one is willing to wade through snow drifts to then stand in bone-chilling water and chuck weighted nymphs at trout and salmon,” Pierce wrote. “It’s really no secret that the Route 16 Bridge on the Magalloway River will have anglers standing in the water in the dark, to insure themselves a spot on the pool. I would bet dollars to donuts that a few eager nimrods will arrive about 2:30 a.m. just to do that. There are other places one could go as well including Upper Dam and slogging through mud and snow to chuck some nymphs and catch early brookies on the Rapid.”

Over in Hancock and Washington counties, Gregory Burr, regional fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said there are a few options available.

“There are several waters on [Mount Desert Island] that are ice free now, where trollers might be able to put a boat in,” Burr wrote. “These waters are Echo Lake in Mount Desert and Eagle Lake in Bar Harbor. Anglers could also try fishing below the Alamoosook Lake Dam on the Orland River in Orland, as well as below the Graham Lake Dam in Ellsworth, as well as below Pennamaquan River Dam in Charlotte as well as of course Grand Lake Stream.”

The situation at Grand Lake Stream is a bit worrisome, however.

“The flow at Grand Lake Stream is above 800 [cubic feet per second] and quite dangerous for most anglers, so hopefully the flows will come down soon so that anglers can more effectively and safely fish the stream come April 1,” Burr wrote.

Up in Aroostook County, spring weather hasn’t really arrived, but regional biologist Frank Frost does have some suggestions.

“We have a few options for early open water fishing all of them being in rivers. The Allagash River immediately downstream of Churchill Dam in T10 R12, northern Piscataquis County, will have open water and there are a few anglers who make the long trek across the logging roads to get here for opening day,” Frost wrote.

“Two other options closer to home with better access are Scopan Stream, Masardis and Fish River in Fort Kent. Both of these waters are open to fishing year round on designated stretches and both have open water now,” Frost wrote. “Scopan Stream is influenced by operation of Scopan Dam so flows do fluctuate some; when water is being released the stream is not fishable but when the dam is closed anglers can easily wade. The Fish River, downstream of Fish River Falls, has a small but popular following of anglers. You can expect to catch wild salmon and stocked brook trout in this reach. This is a natural system with no dams so flows are weather dependent.”

Gordon “Nels” Kramer, the regional biologist working out of the DIF&W’s Enfield office, said most of the lakes and rivers in his area are still socked in with ice and snow. There are a few options available, however.

“We don’t have much early flowing water opportunity other than maybe the West Branch of the Penobscot River at Sourdnahunk Deadwater and below North Twin Dam,” Kramer wrote. “The East Branch of the Penobscot River is another spot for some early season tailwater opportunity, but after speaking with the dam operator at Matagamon Dam last weekend, caution should prevail. Anglers should be aware that because of the heavy snow pack and need to shed water for spring runoff, impoundments will need to be drawn hard and consequently flows below will most certainly be too high to fish and in many cases dangerous! Anglers should be aware that many of the tailwater fisheries will be unfishable at least for a while, and anglers should use extreme caution.

“Sorry to be a downer, but as the spring develops there will be increasing opportunities, it just might a few weeks later than normal,” Kramer wrote.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

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