Take a shot in the dark for these fish

Spontaneity, as a component of daily life, often brings good things, or at least that has been my experience. Whether it is a party or a fishing trip, it is often the last-minute lash ups with minimal advance planning that are the most fun and the most memorable. Efforts to duplicate spontaneous good times with meticulous planning and thoughtful long-range calculation almost always disappoint.


A few days ago my sons and I, still thirsting for one more 11th hour trout trip before the warming water put the brookies into the silt and the spring holes, took a spur of the moment over-nighter to the West Branch (Penobscot River) country for salmon and trout, or whatever we could find. There could be a hex hatch, too. You just can’t ever tell.


The ladies in our lives wanted a brookie or two for the pan. So we had motive.


Marking time for the evening rise for salmon on the Big Eddy, we dragged the Old Town and the Raddison into a remote trout pond that my late fishing buddy Wiggie Robinson introduced me to a number of years ago. Midday and hot without a breath stirring, there was not a rise to be seen. We tried all of the best dry flies on top and down deeper with bead-headed Wooly Buggers and Maple Syrups.


Scotty, a skilled nymph angler with a sinking line, pulled out all the stops in hopes of coaxing a skulking brookie off the spring hole. Not to be.


In a last-ditch desperation move, I put two small split shot high on my tippet and tied on a drab little wet fly with a dull green body and mallard feather or two. Second cast, glup! A sassy 16-inch brookie bought the setup, hook, line and sinker(s). Josh changed flies, added two split shot and glup! He, too, boated a respectable 14-incher. We each had our one over 12 inches. Fish for the ladies. 


After supper we launched our canoes into the fast-moving water of the always-enthralling West Branch tailwater known as the Big Eddy. Unlike the trout ponds where hungry trout will hit anything that looks buggy, the West Branch salmon are wild, wary and wonderful. They are tippet savvy and drift detectors like no other.  If you don’t get the right size artificial and you don’t heed your cast and your drift, you might as well be playing cribbage back at camp. Oh, yes, put that little #18 Nancy’s Prayer smack dab in the middle of the foam, if you want to maximize the odds in your behalf.


The action was not fast, but salmon were snagged, not by me, but by sons Scott and Josh. As always the fish begin to get frisky at dark, which is not when I do my best casting or fly changing, headlamp or no headlamp. On the West Branch the earlier black flies and mosquitos have been replaced by three-cornered flies that are out for flesh. Shortly after Josh swatted his canoe free of a bunch of these rapacious flies, his # 16 Blue Winged Olive seduced a 16-inch salmon – a fun encounter on a 4 weight fly rod!


The hatches were disappointing. Even the signature caddis hatches that are so plentiful on the West Branch were nowhere to be seen. Visits to two different trout ponds revealed no significant hatches, including green drakes.


Comparing notes with a “trout bum” we did learn that a few days before there were some pretty good Green Drake hatches at some of the area trout ponds just after sunset.


Although another trout season in Maine is fast fading into the fleeting “sweet of the year,” you still have a few evenings left to take a shot in the dark.  




The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at or at

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