[cs_drop_cap letter=”W” color=”#000000″ size=”5em” ]y should sports mags and websites have all the fun with annual power rankings? We like performing expert analysis! We like crunching data and rumors to determine who’s poised to have a big season! Unfortunately for us, Maine doesn’t have any big-ticket pro athletic teams whose players we can rank — but it does have lakes and ponds. Thousands of beautiful lakes and ponds!
We asked our not-at-all-imaginary Down East Aquatic Recreation Analysis and Commentary Team to weigh in on the summer prospects* of some of our favorite spots in the Maine lakes region, broadly defined. What’s new on the conservation scene? How’s the fishing been? How are the camps and campgrounds holding up? Sebago to Rangeley, Belgrade to Winthrop, here are some of the lakes where you can find us this summer.
*These rankings are totally tongue-in-cheek and arbitrary. We love all these lakes. Please don’t write us angry letters.
Our pick for a Cinderella story: Milfoil has been giving Annabessacook a hard time since it was discovered there in 2014, and the lake’s had a few rebuilding years. But groups like the Cobbossee Watershed District, Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, and the Annabessacook Lake Improvement Association removed thousands of pounds of the invasive plant last year, thanks to tens of thousands of dollars in state grants. Among those rooting for them are Kale and Brittany Malmsten, who last year took over their family’s venerable Augusta West Kampground (183 Holmes Brook Ln., Winthrop; 207-377-9993). The new, young owners have added a pool, rental paddleboards, and other upgrades to the RV park and campground.
Not much has changed at Mooselookmeguntic’s Stephen Phillips Memorial Preserve, which is exactly how we like it. The 6,000-acre preserve has more than 4 miles of lakeshore and 67 primitive waterfront campsites on the mainland and islands. No electricity, no showers, no RVs. If you like your lakeside camping as pure and rustic as it gets, Mooselookmeguntic is your sleeper favorite.
Long Lake looked promising as last season came to a close. Lot of assets here, including the famous Songo River Queen II (841 Roosevelt Tr., Naples; 207-693-6861), a 93-foot replica of the old Mississippi paddle wheelers, which cruises daily in summer. The Lakes Environmental Association rallied a superb offense when milfoil was discovered in the lake last summer, with the group’s milfoil control coordinator declaring the invasive “nearly gone, if not completely gone.”
For team spirit, it’s hard to beat Aziscohos, where conservationists and sportsmen recently banded together to help the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust raise nearly $90,000 to complete an acquisition of Mailbox Pool, just below the lake’s outlet, a storied fishing hole on the Magalloway River and critical to wildlife conservation efforts.
Sebago is the Shaquille O’Neal of lakes: it’s a perennial powerhouse everyone’s heard of, and it’s huge (300 feet deep, holding nearly a trillion gallons of water). It’s also full of sharks, if you believe Facebook. Fans of Maine’s second-largest lake (after Moose-head) balked this spring at a fake news story making the rounds about a Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife plot to stock bull sharks to control invasive carp — an April Fool’s joke, turns out. For the residents of Frye Island, this summer is an anniversary season; the summer colony marks 20 years since successfully seceding from Standish.
Ringed with rustic camps, the lake that inspired On Golden Pond is still as tranquil as when playwright Ernest Thompson spent his summers there in the ’50s and ’60s. Sure, that serenity was briefly shattered last August, when a renegade pontoon boat ran aground behind Belgrade’s Village Inn and Tavern, sending diners leaping as the boat careened into outdoor tables (everybody’s fine). But Great Pond is getting even greater thanks to a happier collision: the Maine Lakes Resource Center and the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance converged last summer to form the 7 Lakes Alliance, a streamlined conservation org that’ll spearhead conservation and water-quality issues in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed. The group hopes to make strides this summer against algae-triggering phosphorus.
4 Long Pond
Towns: Belgrade, Mount Vernon, Rome Max depth: 106 feet Key player:7 Lakes Alliance
Long Pond, Great Pond’s neighbor, also benefits from the momentum of the new 7 Lake Alliance and hosts yet another nonprofit with a head of steam, the Travis Mills Foundation. Mills, a Michigan native who resettled in central Maine, is an Army veteran and quadruple amputee who served in Afghanistan — he’s also a motivational speaker, bestselling author, and noted pontoon enthusiast. He and his team renovated Elizabeth Arden’s former summer estate on the pond’s north shore and opened it last year as a retreat for combat-injured veterans and their families. Retreat staff leads vets in a number of adaptive sports and activities, including getting them out on the lake.
Not content to be making one Maine lake cooler, enterprising veteran Travis Mills and business partner Zach Stewart are taking over the Lakeside Motel & Cabins (77 Turtle Run Rd., Winthrop; 207-395-6741), a well-loved resort and tackle shop on Cobbosseecontee. Mills and Stewart are expanding tackle offerings, adding boats to the rental fleet, and adding beer to the store’s inventory — all welcome news for the many anglers who take to the lake each summer. Those in the know point their boats toward Horseshoe Island for a smallmouth bass bonanza.
Rangeley’s Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum (8 Rumford Rd., Oquossoc; 207-864-3091) is a stop on this year’s Great Maine Scavenger Hunt, but even if you’re not on the hunt, you should stop by to check out the historic photos and vintage camp cookery in this summer’s Picnics & Shore Lunches exhibit. When you’re done, enjoy some lakeside refreshment of your own at the lovingly restored Rangeley Inn and Tavern, where the newly redone bar and lounge “feels like a cool living room,” according to owner and manager Travis Ferland. “In the summer, I recommend bringing drinks and snacks around to our sun-drenched front porch and watching the town go by.”
Kennebago and its strong bench of surrounding lakes and rivers are legendary among fly-fishermen. Mainers will tell you it’s where streamer fishing as we know it was born — the lake is known for trout and landlocked salmon, which grow fat and gullible in its clear, clean water. The largest lake to allow only fly-fishing east of the Mississippi, Kennebago is also the last lake to host a fleet of handmade cedar Rangeley Boats, a style of supersized, square-sterned rowboats first built for guided fishing in 1869. Grant’s Kennebago Camps (138 Grants Camps Ln., Rangeley; 207-864-3608) owns the vintage fleet and has hired a boatbuilder to restore the boats this summer.