Five Maine Fishing Experiences to Have Before You Die
We asked a few fishy friends about the quintessential ways to wet a line in the Pine Tree State.
All illustrations via Shutterstock
By Brian Kevin
I would rather fish any day than go to heaven,” Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby is said to have declared. Plenty of Mainers agree with the legendary first Registered Maine Guide — and so, presumably, do many of the 2 million overnight visitors who came to Maine in 2019 hoping to bend a rod, according to state tourism surveys. Those who would join them should begin online, where the departments of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (fresh water) and Marine Resources (salt water) post laws and limits, licensing and registation details, and helpful hints about where and how to fish. From there, it’s of to a whispering stream, a quiet stretch of surf, or a pond so productive that old Fly Rod might just call it heavenly.
1. Outsmart a Wild Maine Brook Trout
Elsewhere in New England, the eastern brook trout has been all but eliminated in its native range by stocked competitors. Not in Maine, a stronghold for the small, feisty fish, the only state with substantial self-reproducing populations in lakes and ponds, plus brookie-rich habitat in more than 22,000 miles of cold-water streams.
“Get out your DeLorme Gazetteer,” instructs author Kathy Scott, a former chair of the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited. “Find a thin blue line, get there through the maze of the woods, and discover some new-to-you water, maybe knee-deep. You test that pocket, and there’s a colorful little jewel of a brook trout that’s only big because the stream is so small.”
Author and naturalist Tom Seymour advocates the “thin blue line” approach as well. “Take an atlas and look for streams that don’t have names and that cross a back road,” he says. “You don’t have to go way out to the wilderness to catch these wonderful little native trout. In Maine, if it looks like it has trout, it probably does, and that’s a special thing.”
Or, says Scott, consult the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s list of “heritage” waters — lakes and ponds that aren’t stocked, some of which have never been. “These are legacy trout from the retreat of the glaciers: they’re pure, their colors are more vivid, their attitude is just a little bit feistier,” Scott says. “Picture it: Evening, still water, your canoe gliding. There’s loons, the reflection of a mountain, moose in the shallows, and these lineage little brook trout just sipping flies. How can that be more perspective reshaping?”
2. Stay at a Historic Maine Sporting Camp
In the 19th century, “sports” fleeing the urbanized Northeast in search of peace, quiet, and a few trophy fish traveled to Maine’s wooliest corners by train, steamboat, horse cart, and canoe. The far-flung rustic lodges that welcomed them offered simple cabin digs, hearty shared meals, a feeling of family, and the services of guides who knew their surroundings intimately. Maine had some 300 sporting camps around the turn of the 20th century. Today, there are fewer than 50 — many easier to access by forest road, some still welcoming guests by seaplane.
“It’s all about the history and tradition,” Maine Professional Guides Association executive director Don Kleiner says, “and all of them are located on incredible fisheries. It’s so cool to be alone on one of those remote ponds.” The Maine Sporting Camp Association has members all across the state, but the most venerable camps tend to cluster in a few hubs: the Katahdin region, the Rangeley Lakes, the Aroostook river country, and the fishing mecca of Grand Lake Stream. An inveterate bass fisherman, Kleiner says the latter belongs on any bass-head’s bucket list. “The smallmouth fishery in Big Lake, it just knocks your socks off.”
3. Go Trolling on Moosehead Lake
“Maine has some wonderful salmon lakes and trout lakes, but to me, Moosehead Lake is the center of the universe,” says Seymour, who writes a monthly column on Maine’s biggest lake (and one of its most scenic) for Maine Sportsman magazine. Moosehead famously has something for everyone, with healthy stocks of landlocked salmon, brook trout, rainbow trout, lake trout (or togue), bass, white and yellow perch — you name it. Recently, biologists have documented a unique population of shore-spawning brook trout that grow unusually hefty, avoiding the rigors and predators that come with spawning runs.
Trolling — drawing one or more fishing lines behind a boat — is the norm on Moosehead in the early summer, and for many anglers, Kleiner says, “a pretty high-tech experience,” with fishermen using wire line, fish finders, and downriggers, which use weights to hold a lure or bait at a specific depth. But the tech-heavy approach isn’t the only one.
“Anytime from ice-out in May until mid-June, troll the north end of the lake with a fly rod with streamer flies,” Seymour says. “While that season lasts, it’s something special, and everyone who fishes owes it to themselves to do it at least once. Bring a fly rod, sinking line, and a couple of Gray Ghost flies, and have at it.”
4. Book a Charter or Head Boat for an Offshore Adventure
Maine’s saltwater fishing scene can go toe-to-toe with the bass ponds and the trout streams, and the state has a robust fleet of for-hire head boats (where a crowd of individually paying strangers fish side-by-side) and charters (where one group rents boat, captain, and crew).
“If you want the true Maine experience, you go down to the dock in the morning and you line up and get on a head boat, and it’s elbow-to-elbow offshore fishing,” says outdoors writer Bob Humphrey, who’s also the licensed captain and Registered Maine Guide behind Sport-Ventures charter company. “It’s such a historic, classic thing when you come to the coast of northern New England during the summer.”
Offshore anglers tend to be in it for the action, and captains like Humphrey can put clients on groundfish like the Gulf of Maine’s of-late abundant haddock; lively porbeagle, thresher, or blue sharks; or even, for patient fishermen, monster bluefin tuna. Even when it isn’t a trophy day, the setting sure ain’t bad.
“It’s fishing — you can have slow days,” Humphrey says, “but if you can swing by a seal haul-out or see some ocean sunfish on the ride out, everybody enjoys that.”
Kleiner concurs. “Don’t get me wrong, I love fishing remote ponds,” he says, “but man, it’s pretty hard to beat the eye appeal of the coast of Maine on a fine morning.”
5. Reel in a Striped Bass
“Stripers are iconic on the Maine coast,” Kleiner says. The migratory, anadromous fish are beautiful, can put up a fight, and occasionally reach truly eye-popping size (the state-record striper, caught in 1978, weighed 67 pounds). In the summer and fall, surf-casters looking for stripers post up on rocky shores and jetties, in tidal rivers and estuaries, and along the surf line of beaches during outgoing tides. And plenty of guides lead inshore trips that are ideal for novices — not least because the fish aren’t the only reward.
“For a lot of people, just to get in a boat and look at the land from the water, to see the lighthouse, the seals, the birds, then feel the tug on the line and get to pull something — they don’t get to do that too often,” Humphrey says. “Usually on fresh water, you’re targeting a specific fish, but you never know what you’re going to pull up out on the ocean. Even striper fishing, we catch cod, black sea bass — once in a blue moon, you might even get a bluefish. I think one of the neat things about salt water is that it’s kind of a mystery.”