Our goals on a glorious midweek September day were pretty modest. Rob Dunnett would drive the boat, suggest a few flies and tell me where the smallmouth bass were likely to hold.
I’d listen, enjoy the beautiful 70-degree afternoon, and tell a few stories.
And maybe, if we were lucky, we’d catch a few fish.
Actually, that last part was pretty much a given. Here’s the classified part of this fishing report. (Promise you won’t tell anyone else). This place? This stretch of the Penobscot River up around Greenbush, or Costigan, or something like that? It’s not too shabby.
“It’s not a secret. Some of the bass clubs have tournaments on the river. There’s a number of guides who fish up through here and make a good living fishing for smallmouths on a fly in the river,” Dunnett says between casts.
Then he gets to the punchline that might prompt you to peel the shrinkwrap off your winterized boat and haul it to the nearest boat ramp.
“It really is a world class smallmouth bass fishery,” the Brewer angler says. “It’s beautiful. We’re just spoiled.”
On this day — an impromptu trip afield that we’d been trying to put together for a few weeks — we had the vast Penobscot to ourselves, and didn’t see another boat, or another angler.
Dunnett said he began fishing the Penobscot River a bit farther downstream back in 2007, when he joined the Penobscot Fly Fishers. Another club member, Don Corey, was among those fishermen who had “discovered” the amazing bass fishery that had taken hold in what had traditionally been known as an Atlantic salmon river.
And as a diehard fly fisher, Corey didn’t use the traditional tackle that tournament bass anglers use — baitcasting reels, rubber baits, and the like.
Instead, he fly fished the river, and had great results. Then he showed Dunnett the ropes, and Dunnett was hooked.
“We had some incredible days fishing up here. There were some evenings when we would catch 30, 40, 50 fish,” Dunnett said. “That was on the lower part of the river, before the Veazie Dam came out. I’m still learning this upper part of the river. I just don’t know it as well as I did the lower part.”
Now, in the wake of the removal of two downstream dams — Veazie Dam and Great Works Dam — having been removed as part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project, that impoundment no longer exists, and the best bass fishing has moved farther upstream.
Up near Greenbush, Dunnett has plenty of mid-river islands to fish near, and he targets the kind of underwater structure — rocks and sunken logs — that the fish will prefer.
“We’re going to go up and kind of pound the shore a little bit. The water temperature is 63. The fish shouldn’t need to be in the deep, so hopefully we can get some action in under the [overhanging] trees,” Dunnett says. “They want protection. They want to feed, but they don’t want to get eaten by the eagles.”
Over the course of a few hours, we found a few fish, caught some, and missed some. And while we might have chosen more productive methods, we couldn’t have found a more enjoyable way to fish.
Dunnett likes to see the action take place, you see. That’s why he prefers to fish floating flies, even when subsurface flies or lures would likely put more fish in his net.
“Everyone says topwater isn’t the way to go, that all the fish are below, but I love fishing topwater poppers and seeing the fish take the fly,” Dunnett explains. “You can catch more with Clousers and baitfish imitations and whatnot, but it’s not about how many fish I catch when I come out here. It really isn’t. It’s about getting out and spending time with friends and seeing the beautiful scenery.”
On this day, the scenery was spectacular. Ducks flushed from their hiding spots. An eagle soared overhead. And the glass-clear surface wasn’t marred by even a puff of breeze.
At the end of the day, as he pulled his 16-foot Lund boat back to the ramp, Dunnett summed up the day.
“Fish were caught. Stories were told. Good times were had,” he said.
And fun was had.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter, @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.