Native brook trout fishing in Baxter State Park: Day 1 (September 26, 2014)

View of Mount Katadhin from south of Millinocket, Maine

View of Mount Katadhin from south of Millinocket, Maine

 

Baxter State Park (BSP) is the crown jewel of the Maine state park system. Tens of thousands of nature lovers every year make the pilgrimage to northern Maine to enjoy its outstanding beauty. Most people, however, enter this natural wonder at the south end of the park and head straight for Mount Katadhin and its legendary Knife’s Edge, the most spectacular 1.5 mile trail in the northeast. But there’s so much more to BSP than Katadhin! In an effort to expand our horizons and combine our favorite outdoors activities (i.e., hiking, camping, and brook trout fishing), my son Joel and I decided in September 2012 to hike and fish our way across BSP starting at Trout Brook Farm by Matagamon Gate in the north all the way across to Roaring Brook in the south. This adventure was cut short on the third day due to an unfortunate foot injury.

 

The five blogs that follow tell the story of the successful completion of this trip, which took place between September 26 and 30, 2014. Joel and I were joined by my nephew Salvador on our adventure. The blogs will not repeat all of the background information provided here on how to reserve camp sites at BSP, rent canoes for fishing, identify brook trout ponds, obtain maps, or select hiking trails.

Keep in mind that if your focus is fishing for native brook trout, as it was for us, then the two best times to make this trip are (a) late May to late June and (b) the last week of September. The May-June window coincides with the annual spring mayfly hatches, when the water is warming up but is still cool enough to draw trout to the surface and keep them there. Starting in late June, and until the seasonal cool-down at the end of September, the warm surface waters force the trout to remain deep to find colder water, which makes them much harder to catch.

 

I can think of several good reasons to make this hiking trip in late September, as we did:

 

  • The first cold nights of the season, which typically occur towards the end of September, will cool down the surface water in the native brook trout ponds. The cooling trend will draw the trout higher up into the water column and make them easier to catch.
  • This cool-down will also thin out the hordes of mosquitoes, blackflies, and deer flies which can make life miserable in the woods during late spring and into summer.
  • The maple and birch leaves reach their peak color in this part of Maine by the last week of September. It is glorious to combine a multi-day hiking and fishing trip with serious leaf peeping!
  • You’ll have the place essentially to yourself. We saw a grand total of five other hikers on the trails during our five-day trek!

 

Keep in mind the following key pointers about fishing for native brook trout in BSP in late September:

 

  • The last day of open-water fishing in northern Maine ends on September 30. Hence, with a few exceptions which do not pertain to any of the ponds visited during this hike, fishing is no longer allowed in BSP after that date, even though the park itself closes for the fall on October 15.
  • Don’t expect to catch lunker brook trout. All the ponds visited during this trip are relatively small (< 100 acres) and unproductive. Some of them also lack forage fish. As a result, the typical native brook trout feeds on bugs and remains on the small side (12” or less).
  • Include in your back pack a reel with lead core or sinking line to allow you to place lures or wet flies well below the surface, if needed.
  • If spinner fishing, consider bringing smaller spinners (e.g., #1 Mepps) to match the smaller size of the native brookies.
  • Some of the ponds are loaded with leeches, which represent a tasty trout snack. Hence, don’t forget to bring some leech-imitating lures such as a black-colored spinner or spoon, a dark woolly bugger, or something equivalent.
  • Finally, rent a canoe ($8/day) if you’re planning on fishing!! BSP keeps locked canoes at many of the ponds in the park. Your chances of catching wild brookies will increase exponentially if your have access to these canoes.

 

DAY 1: Trout Brook Farm to Long Pond

 

We register with the park ranger at the Matagamon Gate, pick up the keys to unlock the canoes at Long Pond and Lower Fowler Pond, and arrive at Trout Brook Farm at the north end of BSP around 12:30 pm.  Our target today is Long Pond (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 51 A1), located an easy 3.5 miles from Trout Brook Farm. We reach our camp site, called Long Pond Outlet, after hiking two lazy hours on the Five Ponds Trail. This relatively-flat trail loops around Trout Brook Mountain and passes by Littlefield Pond, Billfish Pond, and Round Pond, before it reaches our destination. We arrive at the camp site in mid-afternoon and get down to business setting up our tents and putting our fishing equipment together. We walk back to the canoe storage site located on the narrow strip of land which separates Long Pond from High Pond. We quickly launch the canoe and clamber inside of it. It’s about 3:30 pm and we are eager to get down to fishing!

 

View Map

View of Long Pond towards the east

View of Long Pond towards the east

Long Pond covers 70 acres, and has a maximum and mean depth of 33 ft and 14 ft, respectively. The water is crystal clear. The substrate consists mostly of gravel and cobble. The pond supports a robust native brook trout population, with the largest fish reaching up to 14”. The pond is also unusual in that it is one of the few small native brook trout ponds in BSP which has a self-sustaining population of rainbow smelt. I’m sure that the larger trout must feast on this forage base. The water column in the pond stratifies in the summer, with warmer water on the surface overlying colder water further down. The daily bag limit on trout is five fish with a minimum length limit of 6″. Use or possession of life baitfish is prohibited, but dead fish, salmon eggs, and worms are allowed as bait. Click here for more information on the fishing regulations. Click here for a depth map and more information on the pond and its fisheries.

 

A quiet evening on Long Pond

A quiet evening on Long Pond

We start by trolling using lead core and sinking line on the assumption that the trout will be deeper in the water column due to the blazing sun high up in the mid-afternoon sky. We try smelt-imitating spoons and wet flies placed 5 ft to 15 ft down. We paddle around the pond several times for about 1.5 hours, but catch nothing except aquatic plants. We also toss spinners in the shallows, but to no avail. By 5:30 pm hunger, plus the lack of fish activity and the uncomfortable seats (or the bottom of the canoe for the third person) on the aluminum Grumman canoe, force Joel and Salvador back to the camp site to cook their evening meal and to relax.

 

 

A native brookie caught in Long Pond

A native brookie caught in Long Pond

I’m not done yet, so I decide to stay put and keep on fishing. I’m quietly paddling along the shallow (< 7 ft deep) western shoreline when I notice a subtle change… The sun has dropped below the mountainous horizon, throwing the entire western shoreline into shadow. It has also become wind still now that the sun is no longer cooking up the atmosphere. To my great surprise, I find myself in the middle of an early-evening fly hatch! It looks like the warm and sunny afternoon brought these bugs to life. The flies are small and dark brown, and the brookies are on them! Of course, I didn’t think of bringing my back-packable fly rod for this trip since I wasn’t expecting hatches this late in the season… First I see a few tentative rises here and there, which become steadier and more numerous as time goes by. I paddle around as quietly as I can, tossing my spinner at nearby rises but without success. It’s obvious that the trout are focused on the flies, and my lure does not interest them. Regardless, I love this kind of “targeted” fishing. I keep casting at the surrounding rises, until a 13” brookie finally takes pity on me and grabs my spinner. I’m in Seventh Heaven, marveling at the tenacity and feistiness of this gorgeous creature. I take a picture and release it back to its habitat. I keep at it for another 15 minutes, which generates three hits but no hookup.

 

Long Pond sure is pretty

Long Pond sure is pretty

It is now 6:30 pm and getting dark fast. The rises have slowed down markedly and the hatch is coming to an end. It’s time to rejoin my companions around the camp fire. I see Joel paddling my way as I return back to the camp site. He figured, correctly, that I was up to something when I didn’t come back earlier. I tell him about the hatch and the rises, and he takes off to try his luck. He returns 25 minutes later, having caught an 11” brookie using a small spinner. He brings the fish back for the frying pan, and we all enjoy its tasty, sweet meat.

 

The results: I fished for 2.5 hours and caught one 13” brookie; Joel fished for about 2 hours and caught one 11” brookie.

 

This story continues here

 

Was the information in this blog useful? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions. Also, feel free to discuss your fishing experiences at this location.

 

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