Rangeley Fishing Guide

As a young man, the first couple of times I came to Rangeley, I was so anxious to get a line in the water, that I hardly noticed an old sign near the south end of town that said, “Welcome to Rangeley–Land of Fishing Legends.” But as the years have gone by, and I slowly came to learn and appreciate the long and storied history of this area, that old sign, and everything that it represented, has become a lot more meaningful to me.

The village of Rangeley is named after Squire James W. Rangeley, who purchased the township and arrived with his wife and four children in 1820. The unusually large brook trout that inhabited the lakes of this area were noted almost immediately in the historical record, and the first report of sport fishing was from Henry Stanley in 1842. The great fishing around Rangeley remained a fairly well-kept regional secret until 1862, when New York City businessman George Page presented a story of eight brook trout that weighed a total of 52 pounds to his home town newspapers. From that point on, the word about fishing in Rangeley spread like wildfire, and for the next 40-years or so, this region became the brook trout capital of the world.

Traveling to Rangeley in those early years was difficult though, and usually involved taking a train to Phillips, and then riding a stage or walking the remaining 15 miles to the village. Anglers could then either fish Rangeley Lake from the comfort of a full service hotel like the Greenvale House, or continue their journey by water to more remote locations. Despite the effort required to get into this area, fishing pressure rose so quickly during the 1860’s, that a small group of far-sighted sportsmen banded together to form the state’s first conservation organization in 1868. Headed by George Page, the man who first publicized the area less than a decade ago, this 50-member club was called the quossoc Angling Association, and had a stated mission to “preserve and protect the quality of the fishing in the Rangeley Lakes region.”

The real fishing boom in Rangeley came around 1890, when a direct rail link was established, and a number of hotels and lodges such as the Angler’s Retreat, Bald Mountain Camps and the Kennebago Lake House were built. Spurred on by the need to attract guests to re-coup their investments, these new establishment’s launched widespread advertising campaigns that included everything from articles in national publications such as the New York Times and Atlantic Monthly, to having the term ‘Vacationland’ adopted as the Maine state motto. The result of all this attention was that by the turn of the century, Rangeley was attracting hundreds of fishermen from all the major east-coast cities. And writers, some of whom had never even set foot in the region, were describing it with glowing phrases such as “a modern-day Garden of Eden for sportsmen.”

The problem with promoting Rangeley’s fishing so heavily, was that the daily limit on brook trout was 50-pounds per person. And, as evidenced by the following quote from I. O. Woodruff, it was almost unheard of for an angler to return a perfectly good fish to the water, even if they had already put far more than they could ever eat into their creel.

“With three flies on, the first cast hooked two beauties, and the next cast gave me one on each fly. Nothing but the toughness of my old rod, and the strength of the silk line enabled me to land the whole party. I then took off two of the flies, and would have five to ten trout throw themselves completely out of the water with each cast, even though I was standing in full sight on the bank. After hooking a fish, my guide would then land them, take them off the hook, and toss them into a little pool back of him. In two hours time, the pool was filled to overflowing with such a pile of golden beauties as Fulton Market never knew. There was not a fish under fourteen inches, and from that up to twenty-two inches for the longest.”

But the true measure of angling prowess in those days was tied to the number of large trout that you brought back to camp. Trophy fish were so sought after, that they were almost always killed, yet rarely eaten. Their higher value was to serve as a tribute to the skills of the guide and angler who caught them.

By the turn of the century, this over-exploitation of large brook trout had begun to produce a sharp drop in the number of trophy fish that were logged in at many camps. And by 1910, trout over 5-pounds had almost completely disappeared. It’s hard to imagine that over-harvest alone could be responsible for such an abrupt decline. And many well-informed people think that the drastic winter draw-downs that were initiated on area lakes around this time, along with the local extinction of the blueback trout, the large brook trout’s principle forage, were probably more important factors. There is no denying however, that the access facilitated by the coming of the railroads and hotels contributed significantly to the demise of these magnificent fish.

Don’t get the impression that all the good fishing in Rangeley was over by 1900. Landlocked salmon were introduced into the area 20 years earlier, and by the turn of the century, fish over five pounds were turning up everywhere. By this time, many of the guides and camp owners had also come to recognize the benefit that managing the lakes for a sustainable yield of quality fish would have on their livelihood. As a result, Rangeley became one of the first places in the country to have a Fisheries Commissioner, require licenses for guides and have sport fishing laws that were enforced. One of the first references to catch and release fishing ever to appear in print can be found in the 1897 logbook of the Rangeley area’s Megantic Fish and Game Club.

“I have seen the sickening sight of nearly a bushel of trout of all sizes piled upon the shore of the landing, in a state of decay, that had been caught by vandals who did not know enough to return all except those needed for the fry-pan. Such wanton destruction of fish is unwarrantable, and no gentleman worthy of the name sportsman should ever allow it. Thus, in fishing this pond, anglers should be careful to return all trout under eight inches in length, as plenty of half and three-quarter pound trout can be taken to supply the camp with food. With proper care, the fishing here can be made better, and the trout average larger.”

The interconnected system of ponds, lakes and streams that make up the Rangeley Lakes Complex occupies more than 75% of the territory in this region. The best way to summarize all of the fishing opportunities is to divide this complex up into three separate drainages and then discuss the details of each of them separately. I will begin with the places that are highest up in the watershed and then work down in elevation to the point where the Rapid River enters Umbagog Lake.


Kennebago Lake
The first white men to see Kennebago Lake were a handful of Civil War deserters from Rangeley who fled northward in December 1862 to avoid being drafted into the Union Army. They survived that winter by hunting and trapping out of a crude shelter that they built in a wind-protected area on the north side of the lake that was subsequently named Skedaddle Cove in their honor. In the years that followed, Kennebago Lake was also discovered by an ever-increasing number of guides and fishermen who made the long trip to get away from the crowds that were beginning to plague them on more accessible waters. Ed Grant was the most well-known and colorful of these Kennebago pioneers and in 1904 he helped to construct a set of sporting camps on the southwest shore of the lake that have remained in continuous operation until today.

At 5-miles long and nearly 1-mile wide, Kennebago is the largest fly fishing only lake in Maine. A high rate of natural reproduction and restrictive angling regulations produces a large population of brook trout and salmon that usually respond well to a fly. This makes Kennebago Lake a great place for a novice fly caster. Of course, this high density of fish, coupled with the relatively low productivity of the lake itself, combines to produce individuals that are usually smaller than those at Rangeley and other area lakes. Kennebago Lake fish are healthy, full-bodied specimens though, which are full of fight, and a pleasure to catch with a fly rod.

Smelts were introduced into Kennebago in the 1890’s and now form the base of the food chain. Like many other large lakes in Maine, the early fishing here is closely linked to the smelt runs and is mostly done with streamer flies like the Gray Ghost, Black Ghost and Nine-Three. Good places to catch fish in May include the Logans on the west side of the lake and near the mouth of tributaries such as Norton Brook.

Once the water begins to warm up, a succession of mayfly hatches that include Hendricksons, Blue-Winged Olives and Green Drakes occur throughout the shallow areas of the lake. One easy way to catch fish here in June is to cast a fairly large dry fly like a Kennebago Wulff out in front of Big Sag or one of the lake’s other brooks and simply wait for a trout to take it. This is a great time of year to visit here, because even when the fish aren’t rising, they often cruise just under the surface and can be taken fairly easily with a Kennebago Muddler, Hornberg or Black-Nosed Dace fished on a sink-tip line. My standard routine is to get up early and fish the lake for an hour or so before breakfast when it is dead-calm. Then, I usually head to the river during the middle part of the day, only to return to the lake and spend the evening chasing rising trout after dinner.

Prospective Kennebago Lake anglers should realize that vehicular access is only available to property owners and guests at commercial sporting camps. This long-standing history of restricted access dates back to when the first carriage road into Blanchard Cove was built by J. Lewis York in the 1890’s and gated shortly thereafter. A second private road which followed the Kennebago River from Oquossoc to Grant’s Camps was built several years later. During the next century, this river road went through a variety of manifestations, including a 20-year period from 1913 until the Great Depression when it was converted to a rail line. Throughout all this time, access into this area has always remained private.

People who can’t get through the gate frequently fish on Little Kennebago Lake, which is located just a couple of miles north of Big Kennebago. This mile-long lake is often reached by paddling a canoe up the outlet for a few hundreds yards from a logging road bridge. Canoes can also be carried through the woods from a road that travels near the east shore of the lake. The seasonal calendar for hatches is quite similar for both of these waters, but the fish generally run larger on the big lake.

Kennebago River
The Kennebago River originates from a cluster of trout ponds in Seven Ponds Township and travels for about 25-miles before flowing into Cupsuptic Lake near Oquossoc. Most discussions divide the river up into two sections and use the dams that are located near Kennebago Falls as the breakpoint. Since these dams block the upstream migration of fish, anglers on the lower river catch trout and salmon that come from Cupsuptic and Mooselookmeguntic Lakes, while those on the upper river catch fish of Kennebago Lake origin.

Of all the rivers in the Rangeley area, the lower Kennebago is my personal favorite. When conditions are right, plump brook trout that often measure more than a foot, along with salmon that can exceed 18 inches, can be taken from a variety of pools. Yet despite its notoriety, there have been days when I fished alone here for hours.

A big reason for this solitude is that much of this river is closed to vehicular access by the same gates that prevent people from driving to Kennebago Lake. The situation on the river is different though, because there is a 2-mile stretch below the gate that can be easily reached from a gravel road that travels near the east bank. This road provides anglers with good access to Steep Bank Pool and several other popular places. A short run of quickwater that lies below the Rt. 16 bridge can also provide some good, easy-to-reach fishing, especially when the water is high. Be sure to access this spot from the east-bank of the river, not from the private road leading to the Oquossoc Angling Association.

The gated-section of the lower Kennebago has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best fall salmon fisheries in the state. Recently, biologist Forrest Bonney told me that several thousand mature salmon spawn in the river each year. This fall run can begin with the first freshets of rain in September. However, most fish remain out in the lake until a larger storm cools and raises the water level significantly. Several years ago, I was in Rangeley when the remnants of Hurricane Floyd passed through the area in early September. Shortly afterward, masses of salmon charged up the river and provided Kennebago anglers with the best fall fishing that anyone could remember. Just the opposite can occur in dry years, when salmon hold in deep water just off the mouth of the river until nearly the end of the season.

Since fall salmon have spawning on their minds, many people fish them with bright streamers like the Mickey Finn, Colonel Bates or Cardinelle. I find that when the water is clear, bead-head nymphs, small wet flies, and even dry flies like the Royal Wulff and Black Gnat, often work better than these flashy attractors.

An earlier run of salmon also enters the lower Kennebago in June. And although the size and number of these fish is generally smaller than in September, this is my favorite time to visit this river. In fact, for the past three seasons, I have spent a couple days on either side of Father’s Day here, and caught a number of 20-inch salmon, along with several nice brook trout in places such as John’s, Abutment and Powerhouse Pools. Nymphs and dry flies like the Goddard or CDC caddis are popular at this time of year, but I tend to catch my largest fish on streamers like the Black Ghost and Supervisor. The number of summer-run fish in the river is very dependent on water flow and temperature and can vary from year to year.

The upper Kennebago begins at the outlet of Big Island Pond and travels for about 12-miles before emptying into the Logans on the west-end of Kennebago Lake. Several gates limit access to this section of the river. The lowest gate is near the bridge that crosses the river just below the outlet of Little Kennebago Lake. The short section of river from here to the Logans contains several nice pools that can be reached by a fairly easy walk down the road. People with road access also frequently use a canoe to float-fish this stretch.

The first time I came here was a couple of days after a heavy rain in the fall and I could hardly believe the number of fish that were in the river. I’m sure that on the first day, three friends and I each caught at least 20 brook trout and salmon apiece on everything from white marabou streamers to stonefly nymphs. We probably should have quit while we were ahead, because even though fish continued to splash and roll throughout the week, they got progressively harder to catch. In part, this was due to the fact that a number of them had been hooked and released previously. However, this increasing reluctance of pre-spawning fish to bite also occurs in waters that receive little angling pressure and seems to be related to the amount of time that they have been in the river. Atlantic salmon fishermen use the word ‘stale’ to describe sluggish fish that are unresponsive to a passing fly. And I think this term would be appropriate for these fish as well. With this in mind, it is clear that good timing is a critical factor that determines fall fishing success on the Kennebago and many other rivers in Maine.

The next gate is about 4-miles above Little Kennebago Lake near Crowley Brook. Vehicles and ATVs are prohibited beyond here, but foot traffic is allowed. A few ambitious anglers carry float tubes to fish the trout ponds in Seven Ponds Township. But most people stick to the easier-to-reach fishing that is available in the river. Although a number of nice pools can be found in this upper stretch, my favorite spot is at the inlet of Little Kennebago Lake. Wading is possible here on a broad sandbar that extends several hundred yards out into the lake. Many people also fish from canoes, which can be carried down from the nearby road. During spring and fall, trout can be taken throughout the day on baitfish imitating streamers and buggy-looking wet flies. In the summer however, fishing here is limited to the early morning and evening.

Rangeley Lake
Of all the waters in this area, Rangeley Lake is the place that historically produced the largest brook trout. One early account by R.G. Allerton described catching 30 trout that averaged over 6-pounds apiece. Numerous other old camp records, tracings and skin mounts also indicate that until around the turn of the century, trout this size were fairly common. Genetics undoubtedly played an important role in helping to develop such magnificent fish, which lived long and grew well in the clean water of Rangeley Lake. Many biologists feel the most important factor to the production of these trophy trout was a forage fish known as the blueback trout.

Many historical documents indicate that fall spawning runs of bluebacks in places like Dodge Pond Stream and Quimby Brook were so heavy that people could practically walk across the water on their backs. The pursuit of these tasty fish as a winter food staple was intense however, and led to their wholesale slaughter by means of net, grapnel and spear. This blatant over-harvesting caused bluebacks to be completely eliminated from the Rangeley Lakes region by 1904. The last of the giant brook trout also disappeared from this area around the same time.

Today, brook trout only make up around 10% of the catch on Rangeley Lake and a 16-inch fish is considered a good one. The salmon fishery is flourishing though, and despite heavy early-season pressure, this lake is still one of the best places in the state to catch a trophy. These salmon are not easy to catch however, and even the area’s most experienced area anglers find fishing here to be somewhat of a hit or miss proposition.

A perfect example of this took place a couple of years ago when I journeyed to Rangeley Lake on consecutive weekends in mid-May. The first Saturday, I fished out front of state park and caught four fat salmon between 16-21 inches in about 5 hours. I also had a couple more hard strikes and observed several other people catching fish, including one fellow trolling a streamer from a kayak who released what looked to be at least a 5-pound salmon. However, on the following day, and during the entire next weekend, I fished hard but only managed two hookups. In my youth, I used to invest lots of time and effort trying to analyze situations like this and understand what made the fish behave so erratically. Lately though, I’ve quit trying to figure them out and simply enjoy the action when they decide to cooperate.

Of all the lakes in this region, Rangeley is definitely the most user-friendly. Hardtop boat launches can be found across the street from fly shops in Rangeley and Oquossoc, and at Rangeley Lake State Park. The first time I was out in a boat here, I was struck by the feeling that for a place with such a great reputation, at just over 6,000 acres, Rangeley Lake really isn’t very big. Traditional hotspots include Greenvale Cove, the gut between Doctors Island and Haines Point and the north shore in the vicinity of Hunter Cove. Salmon can be found just about anywhere in the springtime though, so on days when there is lots of boat traffic, I often just head for an uncongested area that has between 30 and 60 feet of water and let my fish finder do the rest.

Early in the season, many anglers fish sewn-smelts anywhere from the surface down to 40 feet deep. And on days that are flat calm, or when I’m being driven crazy by a fish-finder full of salmon that won’t bite, I do the same. Typically though, I use streamer flies here most of the time and am satisfied with my rate of success. Over the years, traditional tandem streamers like the Nine-Three, Rangeley Favorite, Blue Smelt and Gray Ghost trolled at a fairly brisk speed have been productive. Lately though, I’ve been experimenting with sparsely tied bucktail patterns and been having better results.

Rangeley River
The Rangeley is a shallow, freestone river that only flows for about one mile from the dam on Rangeley Lake to the inlet of Cupsuptic Lake. Holding water is limited, so fishing here tends to be spotty. When high water draws baitfish and salmon in however, this little river can be surprisingly productive. Good places to fish can be found directly below the dam in a small pool known as the Bathtub, and in the long run below the snowmobile bridge, near where the river flows into Cupsuptic Lake. Both these areas can be easily reached from roads and thoroughly fished in a couple of hours. If there are no signs of salmon in these two pools, I generally don’t bother fishing the pocketwater in the middle section of the river.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake
Mooselookmeguntic is a moderately developed lake that supports a significant sport fishery for wild salmon and brook trout. Prior to the construction of Upper Dam in1850, Mooselookmeguntic Lake was separated from Cupsuptic Lake by a short stretch of river. For many years, these two lakes have been joined into one large body of water whose fisheries are similar. So for the purposes of this book, both basins will be lumped under the heading of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. At just over 16,000 acres, that makes ‘Mooselook’ the largest lake in the region. The busiest boat launch on the lake is located west of Oquossoc at Haines Landing. Access is also provided just off Route 16 near the mouth of the Cupsuptic River and along the South Arm Road near Toothaker Island. Traditionally, action on Mooselookmeguntic has been faster-paced than on nearby Rangeley Lake, but the fish have been smaller. The recent imposition of special regulations, along with a trend toward voluntary catch and release, has significantly improved the fishing here.

I usually fish with Mooselookmeguntic Lake with streamer flies on either a sink-tip or full sinking line. Between ice-out and the end of June, the most popular area to troll is the 3-mile stretch of shoreline that runs along the Bald Mountain Road between Haines Landing and Bugle Cove. Early in the season though, fish can be found just about anywhere. I often fish in the Cupsuptic Basin around Birch Island. In the main lake, the rocky shoals between Stony Batter Point and Farrington Island, and the shallow shorelines of the south arm can also produce some good brook trout action. The weather can turn ugly in a hurry on Mooselookmeguntic in May, so be sure to bring a deep-sided boat if you plan to venture very far from the landing.

Many people with smaller boats concentrate their efforts in the narrows that are located just west of Haines Landing. The Rangeley and Kennebago Rivers both flow into the lower end of Cupsuptic Lake here and represent a natural place for gamefish to search for food. A shallow bar with deep water on both sides that extends out from the north end of Echo Cove is also worth a few passes when trolling in this area. Sewn smelts and lures like the Mooselook Wobbler and Cecil’s Smelt seem to be the baits of choice for many of the people who fish in the narrows. And last year, my flies were badly outfished here by a friend using smelts and hardware. Early in the season when lots of baitfish are present though, salmon sometimes stack up here and can be caught by almost angling method that you choose to employ.

Once the water warms up, most fish drop below the thermocline and get tougher to catch. The majority of the deep water in Mooselookmeguntic is located on the east-side of the lake from Haines Landing down to Students Island. In July and August, many people use downriggers or lead-line to troll sewn-bait between 30 and 60 feet down. However, long-time area guide Michael Warren told me that he catches a significant number of salmon during the dog-days of summer fishing streamer flies on a sinking fly line. His keys to success are to fish either very early morning or late evening on dull or rainy days and to troll faster than when the water is cold in the springtime.

Upper Dam Pool
Upper Dam Pool was created by a dam that was erected for log driving purposes at the western end of Mooselookmeguntic Lake in 1850. The pool serves as the primary inlet to the Richardson Lakes and represents one of the most hallowed sites of Maine fly fishing. In the early days, brook trout that averaged five pounds drew well-to-do anglers from all around the East Coast to this remote spot in the Maine wilderness. Most sports traveled by railroad to Bemis Station on the south end of Mooselookmeguntic Lake and then transferred to a small steamer for the five-mile trip to the dam. A comfortable hotel was built near the north bank of the pool and a strict fly fishing only protocol was maintained here at all times. According to legendary Rangeley angler Colonel Joseph D. Bates, “At Upper Dam, you had to act properly and fish properly, or you just weren’t in”.

Since long-shanked streamer hooks had not been developed, wet flies such as the Parmachenee Belle, along with Atlantic salmon patterns like the Silver Doctor, were used for most of this early trout fishing. In 1902 however, Herbie Welch reforged some bluefish hooks down to freshwater proportions and tied the first true Rangeley-type streamers. These flies imitated the smelts that were introduced into these waters a few years earlier and proved to be deadly on both brook trout and salmon. During the 40 years that followed, Upper Dam was a hotbed for the development of streamer flies, and hundreds of new patterns were turned out by scores of different tiers. The best known of these included, Herbie Welch (Black Ghost), William Edson (Edson Tiger), Joe Stickney (Supervisor and Warden’s Worry) and Carrie Stevens (Gray Ghost, Colonel Bates and Shang’s Special).

Although most of the 5-pound trout have long disappeared, fishing at Upper Dam can still be very productive for foot-long brookies and salmon up to 22 inches. The pool can be reached either by road, after walking one-mile from the gate, or by boating across Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Boaters should follow the channel markers to the public dock on the south side of the dam. Fly fishing methods vary greatly at Upper Dam and range from people standing on the wooden piers, trailing large marabou streamers into the roaring outflow, to others casting tiny nymphs and dry flies into one of the pools swirling back eddies. I like to fish here on evenings when the insects are active in June and early July. CDC caddis patterns, soft-hackle emergers, black gnats and small Hornbergs all produce well for me. I don’t usually catch many monsters at this time of year, but top-water fishing for fiesty, 16-inch salmon can be lots of fun. Historical records indicate that the largest fish of the year were traditionally taken at Upper Dam shortly before the season closed at the end of September. Recently, the season was extended for catch and release through October, and Department of Inland Fisheries reports indicate that 20% of the pool’s total angler use, and more than 40% of its legal size fish are now being caught during this month.

Cupsuptic River
The Cupsuptic River originates from a remote pond near the Quebec border and flows south for about 20-miles before emptying into a long, shallow bay on the upper end of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Unlike other Rangeley-area watersheds which are dominated by dam-controlled lakes, the Cupsuptic is basically a large free-flowing mountain stream that is prone to periods of high and low water. The river supports a healthy population of resident brook trout throughout the season, but fishing for the larger lake-run trout and salmon is usually best during periods of high water. A network of ungated roads allows anglers to reach popular fishing spots, such as Little Falls, Big Falls and Big Canyon fairly easy. Despite this good access, the Cupsuptic receives less fishing pressure than most other rivers in the region.

One reason for this lighter usage might be because the Cupsuptic does not look like a classic fly fishing river, that is comprised of one easy-to-wade, fishy-looking pool after another. In fact, throughout much of its length, it fishes more like a mountain stream than a river that can hold fish that are measured in pounds rather than inches. But for people who like to strike off on their own, the Cupsuptic provides plenty of opportunities to park your vehicle at a convenient access point and bush-whack up or down stream, until you discover a small shaded run or undercut bank where the fish are holding. The pools from Big Falls up to the old Riverside Camp, and the area in the vicinity of Big Canyon are a couple of good places for newcomers to get started. When the water is fairly high, small woolly buggers or streamers like the Black-Nose Dace or West Branch Special are good flies to use here. Later in the summer, small wet flies or terrestrials like grasshoppers and black ants seem to work better. Anglers with a canoe may also want to explore the deadwater that extends from the Lincoln Pond Road Bridge down to Little Falls.

The problem that all these places share in the eyes of some fishermen, is that during much of the year, most of your catch will be made up of small trout and no salmon. The reason is that big fish need lots of food, and this small, biologically unproductive river simply can not produce enough of it to support them. Despite the size of most fish, the solitude and scenic rewards that this river offers has created a loyal following among the people who fish here. Well-known Maine outdoor writer Ken Allen has been traveling to Rangeley for more than 30 years and is a big fan of the Cupsuptic. Frequently, he bypasses better-known area waters to fish this little river and says that “anglers who really take the time to learn the Cupsuptic do much better with larger fish than most people realize.”

In his 1940 book, A Biological Survey of the Rangeley Lakes Region, Gerald Cooper called the Cupsuptic “the most important breeding stream for trout in Mooselookmeguntic (Lake)”. This fall spawning period is when large fish can be reliably taken here. And Big Falls, an impassable barrier located about 7-miles up from the lake, is where migrating salmonids often congregate. When water levels are good though, brook trout and some salmon, can also be found around Little Falls and in a variety of other lesser-known places on the lower river. Unfortunately, siltation from massive timber harvesting operations done in the 1960’s has reduced the depth and overall quality of many of these smaller pools. And it is the lack of holding water that has limited the number of large fish that have been taken here ever since. Recently, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Rangeley Guide’s Association have begun a collaborative habitat restoration project aimed at removing silt and restoring some of the Cupsuptic’s degraded pools. Everyone is hopeful that these efforts will be successful and help restore this little river to its former glory.

Richardson Lakes
The Richardsons were originally two separate lakes connected by a short thoroughfare. When the construction of Middle Dam raised the water level nearly 20 feet in the late 1800’s, their two basins were joined, and they have been managed as one large, 7,000-acre waterway ever since. Brook trout were native to the Richardson Lakes and 7-pound specimens were commonly caught by early anglers. Salmon were introduced in the late 1800s however, and soon replaced brook trout at the top of the food chain. Things remained stable here for nearly 100 years, until an unauthorized stocking added togue to the lakes in 1975. Landlocked alewives also became established here a few years later, after dropping down from Rangeley Lake, where they were introduced to supplement smelt as a forage fish for salmonids.

Today, landlocked salmon are the primary attraction for anglers on the Richardson Lakes. In the spring, fishing can be good in the vicinity of smelt spawning tributaries such as Mill, Mosquito and Metallak Brooks, and along the dropoffs on either side of The Narrows. In the fall, pre-spawning salmon will sometimes congregate near the small cove where the flow from Upper Dam enters into the lake. But at this time of year, fish are usually quite spread out. Boat launches at Mill Brook and South Arm Campground provide excellent access to both Upper and Lower Richardson. However, Department of Inland Fisheries statistics show that these waters receive less fishing pressure than the other lakes in the region. Bait fishing is popular here, and a sewn smelt or shiner trolled slowly behind a dodger or set of flashing spoons is the method of choice for many anglers. Bright spoons like the Williams Wobbler and Doctor Spoon mimic the wide-bodied profile of alewives and are also popular on these waters. Both of these lakes are quite deep, and once the water warms up, the salmon often cruise down around the thermocline rather than right on top. Therefore, a fish finder and down-rigger can be very helpful here.

The Richardsons are the only lakes in the Rangeley region that contain togue. These fish were introduced through an unauthorized stocking around 1975 and grew very well. A few years later, the Department of Inland Fisheries decided to begin a regular stocking program so that this popular, developing fishery could continue. The management goal was to maintain a hatchery-only population of togue, whose numbers could be controlled by adjusting the stocking rate. In the mid-1990’s however, wild togue began showing up in angler’s catches. Around this same time, the growth and catch rates for salmon began to decline. Biologists concluded that the number of forage fish in these lakes was inadequate to support the increasing number of predators, so the stocking of togue was suspended. To help increase the lake’s forage base, several important smelt-spawning brooks were recommended for closure, and the number of salmon being stocked was also reduced significantly. Continued monitoring of baitfish and salmonid populations will be necessary to determine if the stocking of togue might become possible again in the future.

Rapid River
The Rapid River begins at Middle Dam and flows for about 4-miles before entering Umbagog Lake. Despite its notoriety, the Rapid is a remote river that has no direct road access. Traditionally, more than half of the people that fished this river were guests at Lakewood Camps who were transported here by boat from the South Arm launch site. But since the Rapid went to catch and release on brook trout in 1997, there has been an ever-increasing number of fishermen who either walk or mountain bike to the river from nearby logging roads. Once on the river, most anglers then use the old Carry Road that travels along the north bank to move among a dozen popular pools. People planning to fish the Rapid should realize that walking all these trails and wading this river’s powerful currents can be a physically demanding proposition. And that each year, there are a number of injuries and wading accidents that are directly related to exhaustion. Many of these problems could be avoided if people would invest a little time getting in shape, before trying to spend three consecutive 14-hour days fishing and trekking around this remote region.

Pond-in-the-River is a natural 500-acre impoundment that is located less than 1-mile below Middle Dam and divides the Rapid River into two distinct sections. A recent survey showed that nearly 80% of angling activity on this river occurs in this upper stretch. One reason for this area’s popularity, is that its close proximity of Lakewood Camps makes it a convenient place for many people to fish. More importantly, is the fact that Middle Dam provides a constant source of cold, well-oxygenated water throughout the summer months that attracts many large fish.

Dam Pool is the uppermost pool on the river is, and for the most part, is a churning froth of swirling water created by the outflow from Middle Dam. It is heavily fished, generally by people casting streamer flies who are stationed on shoreline rocks or one of the dam’s wooden casting platforms. The thing I find most interesting about this pool, is the subtle way its currents change at different water levels. One day, fish will be holding behind a rock in a small pocket or back eddy. Then after a flow adjustment the following day, the fish (and frequently the back eddy itself) will be gone. Unless smelts are present in good numbers, small green nymphs, soft-hackled wet flies and black woolly buggers usually produce more fish for me here than streamer flies.

Chub Pool is located just above the Pond-in-the River and is another very popular spot. This complicated, 250-yard long piece of water is actually made up of three distinct mini-pools that each fish quite differently. The upper section begins at a set of rapids that spill into a long deep run that can be fished effectively with everything from dry flies to nymphs and streamers. The middle section is made up of an enormous slick that is formed as the river bends around a small island. This area is favored by dry fly fishermen, who routinely catch some very large fish on some very small flies. The final spot to fish this pool is right where the river flows into the pond. This lower area is a great place to work a streamer on a sinking line and is popular with both wading anglers and people who fish from small boats. I have witnessed some wild feeding blitzes, where salmon pursued baitfish with bluefish-like intensity, take place right at this spot. And over the years, have seen a number of nice salmon and brookies taken here.

The biggest problem with Chub Pool lately however, is that it’s getting much too crowded. This became abundantly clear during my last two evening visits, when I counted 20 anglers fishing here both times. The rise in fishing pressure at Chub Pool however, is just a reflection of the booming interest in the Rapid River itself that took place in the late 1990s. To a large degree, this increase in awareness, and subsequent over-utilization of the resource, can be blamed on writers and Internet users who touted the virtues of this river in a number of very public forums. Hopefully, someday soon we’ll all (myself included) come to heed the words of Don Henley in the old Eagles classic The Last Resort that warn “…. call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

Below Pond-in-the-River are nearly a dozen more excellent pools that can be accessed from fairly short trails that depart from the Carry Road. The Spawning Beds Pool near the outlet of the pond, and the area just above and below the remnants of Lower Dam, are both good places that are easy to reach. Farther downstream, Long, Cold Spring, Smooth Ledge and Hedgehog are all deep, classic-looking pools that generally offer much more solitude than other places on the river. Since they are farther from the river’s cold water source, I tend to put more effort into them early in the year, than during the dog-days of summer. People who visit here regularly however, assure me that fish can be taken throughout the season.

A couple of final notes on the lower river: (1) The small active settlement (complete with foot-accessible fly shop) that you encounter along the Carry Road just beyond Lower Dam includes the home (Forest Lodge) where author Louise Dickinson Rich wrote We Took To The Woods, and several other popular novels about early life along the Rapid River (2) Most of the runs and pools here are deep and powerful, so always use a wading staff, and try hard to suppress the urge to cross the river. I gave in and tried to do so near Lower Dam, and ended up taking a very unpleasant, wader-filling, 50-yard swim on a cool, rainy evening in late May last year.

Aziscohos Lake

Aziscohos Lake was formed in 1910 when a dam was built across the Magalloway River near the village of Wilsons Mills. It is a narrow, 10-mile long impoundment that has an average depth of only 30 feet. Brook trout are the primary attraction for most anglers at Aziscohos. Water quality and habitat are good for them, and without competition from warm water species, they grow at a fast rate. Restrictive regulations and the closure of many tributaries to smelting should help keep the brook trout populations here healthy. Salmon are also a popular sportfish at Aziscohos. But a limited amount of coldwater habitat and occasional seasonal water draw-downs of more than 15 feet sometimes hurt this fishery. As long as the baitfish populations stay strong however, salmon fishing should hold up fairly well.

Good access to Aziscohos is available from a boat launch located just off Rt.16 on the south end of the lake. Early in the season, people catch fish by trolling sewn-smelts or baitfish imitating streamers like Joe’s Smelt or the Magog Smelt along the east shore from Black Brook Cove to the point across from Nobb’s Brook where a number of camps are built. Casting woolly buggers and bucktails like the Little Brook Trout, Warden’s Worry and Mickey Finn in the shallow waters near the mouths of the west shore tributaries can also be productive. After the water warms up, fish congregate in deep holes like the one on the south end of Beavers Island. These are great spots to troll with lead-core line or to still-fish below the thermocline with worms and baited jigs.

I like to fish the north end of the lake in the area where the Big Magalloway River enters. In the spring, fish hold along the edges of the fast-flowing water and ambush the baitfish and nymphs that drift by. Trolling copper Mooselook Wobblers or small Daredevils through places where the current moderates can produce good action for both brook trout and salmon. Casting streamer flies or Rapalas into back eddies and deep corner pools is also worthwhile. Early season fish can also be taken around north-end tributaries like Big, Meadow and Twin Brooks. In the fall, the boat-accessible deep water just inside the mouth of the Big Magalloway River serves as a staging area for salmon waiting for rain to trigger their spawning run and is a great place to work a bright colored streamer on a sinking line.

All these places on the north end of the lake are a long way from the public landing. So in order to avoid a cold, bumpy boat ride, many people drive out the Green Top road, and carry a small boat or canoe down to the water from the primitive campsite near Hurricane Brook or one of the other undeveloped access points in this area. The most convenient way to fish this area however, is to stay at Bosebuck Mountain Camps, which are located on the north end of the lake near the confluence of the Little and Big Magalloway Rivers, and can provide their clients with a boat and motor.

Parmachenee Lake
Metallak was chief of the Abanaki Indian tribe that inhabited much of the Rangeley area in the early 1800’s. He had one beloved daughter who was called Parmachenee and he picked the most beautiful lake in the region to name after her. Before the creation of Aziscohos Lake, Parmachenee was also the largest lake in the Magalloway watershed and was prominently featured in many of the early writings about this area, including several volumes of Charles A. Farrar’s Illustrated Guide to the Androscoggin Lakes.

 Throughout its history, Parmachenee Lake has always been a remote and private place. Roads into the area were gated almost as soon as they were built, and from the late 1800’s through the 1950’s, the Brown Paper Company maintained a lodge called the Parmachenee Club that was reserved for the exclusive use of their guests. The club was disbanded in the 1960’s after the Brown Company sold it’s timberlands in this region. And today, with less than a dozen camps on the lake, things don’t look too much different than when Metallak himself traveled the area.

Fishing at Parmachenee is restricted to the use of flies that can either be cast or trolled. Action here can be fast for brook trout and salmon that average around 16 inches. Smelt imitating streamers like the Grizzly King and Black Ghost are the most popular patterns on the lake. But everything from nymphs to wet flies like the Wood Special are trolled here. Well-known guide Carroll Ware told me that nice fish can also be taken with dry flies during the Green Drake hatch that takes place in early July.

Upper Magalloway
The Big Magalloway is a charming little river that can be divided into three zones that each have a distinct personality. The upper section arises from a series of small brooks and ponds on the Quebec border and flows for about 12-miles before dumping into Parmachenee Lake. Most of the fishing on this stretch takes place within 5-miles of the lake in some of the Rangeley area’s most hallowed pools. Working upstream from the first vehicle turnout, you can hit Landing Pool, Little Boy Falls, Cleveland Eddy, Island Pool, Rump Pool and the Pork Barrel in a day’s fishing. Or, you can slide a canoe into the river at Upper Rump and fish your way back to the bridge just above Little Boy Falls. Because all the roads in this area are gated, in order to fish this section of river, you must either be a property owner or stay at Bosebuck Mountain Camps.

The upper Magalloway has a strong run of smelt that draws trout and salmon into the river shortly after ice-out. Then a rich insect fauna produces a succession of mayfly and caddis hatches that helps to keep them here throughout much of the summer. Despite their reputation, I haven’t found the fish in this river to be particularly finicky. Usually, a basic assortment of smelt patterns in the spring, along with some Adams, woolly buggers, grasshoppers, Zug-Bugs, small bead head nymphs and elk hair caddis for later in the season, are about all you need to be successful here. Of course, when a hatch is occurring in a place like the flats below Upper Rump, it’s nice to have some small comparaduns or CDC emergers in your box. But generally, you don’t need to get too technical here. One point that Bosebuck guide Ernie Spaulding emphasized when we spent a day fishing together last fall however, was that it is often necessary to use a sinking line to move the bigger fish off the bottom in some of the deep pools and runs. As with many free-flowing rivers in Maine, angling success on the upper Magalloway is often more closely tied to water flow and temperature than fly selection. Fortunately, because of its high elevation and springfed inflows, this little river usually holds up fairly throughout the summer.

Middle Magalloway
The Middle Magalloway is a 2-mile section of fast-moving water that flows from the outlet of Parmachenee to the head of Aziscohos Lake. One popular place to fish is on the upper reaches, near the remains of the old wooden dam at the foot of Parmachenee Lake. This spot is within 75-yards of a spur off the main logging road and is readily accessible to anyone with a key to the gate. It contains a couple of long, fast-flowing pools below the dam that frequently hold a salmon or two that are willing to strike at a fast-stripped streamer or dappled Stimulator. Fish also hold in the deep, boulder-laden water just above the dam. Leeches, nymphs and assorted baitfish patterns can all be productive here, especially when fished on a sinking line from a small boat or canoe. In spring and fall, the lower end of the deadwater near where Black Cat Brook empties in can be particularly good.

Another popular place to fish the Middle Magalloway is in the vicinity of where the # 10 Bridge crosses the lower river. Since this bridge is below the locked gates, this spot gets more fishing pressure than the upper river. When the fish are in however, it’s not unusual to catch a half dozen legal sized salmon in a morning’s fishing here. During high water in the spring, it’s possible to motor a small boat or canoe almost all the way up to the bridge from Aziscohos Lake. And from ice-out through early June, trolling streamer flies or smelt-imitating lures such as Rapalas and small Yo-Zuri minnows is probably the most effective way to catch fish in this spot. As the water drops, wading anglers can also have lots of fun fishing the runs and corner pools between the bridge and the lake. Timing is a critical factor here though, because the bigger fish usually disappear rather quickly after the water begins to warm up. Heavy rains can trigger a spurt of hot fishing activity almost any time of year. This is particularly true in September, when salmon stage near the head of Aziscohos Lake and wait for a rise in water to begin their spawning run.

Upstream from #10 Bridge, you will encounter Long Pool after about a 10-minute walk. This is a great place to fish dry flies or use a strike indicator to dead drift nymphs through the pool’s complicated and turbulent flows. Few people travel past Long Pool, because the river valley narrows and the trail deteriorates considerably beyond this point. Several years ago however, I decided to spend a day thoroughly investigating the water upstream from Long Pool. For the most part, I found lots of shallow, fast-flowing pocketwater that only held a few small fish. Things might have been better if I made this trek on a day when water levels were higher and more big fish were in the river. So, the next time I find lots of fish, along with a crowd of people down around # 10 Bridge, I plan to hike back to the solitude of this up-river area and try my luck again.

Lower Magalloway
The lower Magalloway emerges from Aziscohos Dam as a cold torrent that eventually mellows into a meandering pastoral stream by the time it reaches the New Hampshire border about 8-miles away. Easy access is provided via several good roads and fishing pressure is heavy, especially in the 2-mile stretch from Aziscohos down to the Rt. 16 bridge.

A recent Department of Inland Fisheries study showed that more than 75% of the brook trout and salmon caught in the lower Magalloway come from the special regulations area on the upper river. This is a classic tailwater fishery in which the cold water drawn from the bottom of Aziscohos Lake extends the prime fishing period further into the summer than on the other sections of the river. The growth rate of salmonids here is also boosted by the smelts that get passed from the lake into the river through the dam.

The easiest access to these upriver pools is from the power company parking lot located just off Route 16. Most fish here have seen dozens of flies and many show evidence of being hooked. Therefore, they typically aren’t very easy to catch. Much of my success has come either in early morning or late evening, with small pheasant-tail or Prince nymphs fished dead drift with a strike indicator. I have also seen other people do well here by casting a sinking line down from the head of a pool and slowly creeping a weighted stonefly nymph back along the bottom. Fishing space in the prime pools is limited, so try to avoid weekends when planning your visits to this river.

The Little Magalloway is a stream-sized river that originates in the mountains along the New Hampshire border and flows into the western arm of upper Aziscohos Lake. If it wasn’t for the large brook trout that are occasionally taken here, this innocent-looking little river could easily be overlooked by anglers in search of more promising waters.

The Little Magalloway serves as the primary spawning and nursery stream for the brook trout of Aziscohos Lake. And every fall, large breeders congregate near the mouth and wait for a rise in water to enter the river. Because of the intimate nature of the Little Magalloway, it would be impossible to point out the specific pools where these large fish go, without jeopardizing the well-being of the fishery. Therefore, I will leave you to explore this little river on your own. Mixed age classes of brook trout can be found here during most other times of the season as well.

Most anglers who travel to Rangeley are initially attracted by the big lakes and river fishing opportunities that are available here. As people become better acquainted with the area however, they discover the trout ponds, and often end up spending a significant amount of time on them. This is particularly true for fly fishermen who come during the mid-summer months when the surface temperature of the lakes is warm and the rivers are low.

One feature that endears Rangeley area trout ponds to many people is that they are usually a lot easier to get to then similar waters in other parts of the state. In fact, some of the better ones such as Quimby, Round, Tim and the Richardson Ponds either have a set of sporting camps right on them, or can be reached by a short drive in a sedan. Others like Flatiron, Cranberry and Sabbath Day require varying degrees of effort to get into. Most local trout ponds lie close enough to the beaten path so that you can return to town for a hot shower and good meal after a full day of fishing.



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