Smallmouth bass fishing on the Kennebec River, Sidney, Maine (August 21, 2017)

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The Kennebec River is gorgeous and I have it all to myself this afternoon!

The Kennebec River is an environmental jewel which flows out of Moosehead Lake, winds its way through central Maine and reaches the Atlantic Ocean by Popham Beach. The focus of my attention this afternoon is the 6-mile stretch between Sidney and Waterville. The last time I fished these waters was way back before the removal of Edwards Dam in Augusta in 1999. So, it’s about high time that I return to this gorgeous river and check it out!! An excellent hard-top public boat launch is located at the end of Recreation Drive off West River Road (Route 104) in Sidney (see The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 13 A1). Plenty of parking is available for vehicles with trailers.

 

 

Pulling my boat upstream gets tiring… Time to drift back down and fish!

I arrive at the launch at 2 pm. The place is busy with about a dozen people fishing from shore in the immediate vicinity of the access point. I’m also struck by the low water level which has exposed a 10-ft wide band of gravelly shoreline for as far as the eye can see both upstream and downstream. Everyone is greeted by a loud “splash” created by a 3-ft long sturgeon leaping clear out of the water as I’m preparing to put my small 12 ft/8HP boat in the water. Neat! My focus this afternoon is on catching a few members of the abundant local smallmouth bass tribe that dwell in these waters. I cautiously motor upstream, not knowing what to expect in terms of water depth, current, old logs sticking up from the bottom, or submerged boulders. I also keep my eyes peeled on my depth finder to avoid banging my engine into unwanted objects. The stretch in the vicinity of the boat launch is 5 to 7 ft deep but turns shallower about half a mile further upstream. It then becomes quite “riffly” and so shallow that I need to get out of my boat to pull it forward in an attempt to reach deeper water. I huff and puff for about 20 minutes but see only water which is too low and swift for motoring. I give up, realizing that I’m wasting my time and need to start catching fish! I’ve only made it about one mile upstream from the launch and am still far away from Waterville!

 

Feisty and aggressive little buggers they are, I tell ya! Note the prominent current seam in the background created by the exposed gravel spur along the shoreline.

To my surprise, the substrate in this short stretch of the Kennebec River consists almost entirely of gravel and cobbles, with very few boulders. I do observe logs on the bottom but not nearly as much as I would have expected in a historic logging river. This stretch has scant bass-holding habitat, with one notable exception: small gravel bars which stick out into the river perpendicular to the shoreline have been exposed by the low water levels. These bars bend the incoming current away from the shoreline, thereby creating classic current seams and back-eddies inshore where the bass love to sit in ambush. The river is ideally suited to be fished with a 4” soft stickbait presented “wacky style”. This open-hook bait, which gently sinks through the water column as it moves with the current, makes funny-looking twitchy contortions when slowly retrieved. Those movements are just irresistible to hungry bass! I use a bright pink stickbait which I know from past experience is a winning color with the smallmouth bass crowd. The action is immediate, even in the swift and more shallow water. But the best spots by far are those current seams and back-eddies along the shoreline. In fact, at one point I simply come onshore to fish. It is just as effective as sitting in my boat and beats fighting the current or moving by too fast! In total, I catch about two dozen smallmouth bass (I lost count after a while…) throughout the afternoon, hooked but failed to land another two dozen fish and have innumerable bites. However, all the bass are relatively small, measuring between 9” and 15”. But what they lack in size they more than make up in vigor and fighting spirit!

 

I have a truly memorable time on the Kennebec River today. The environmental setting is beautiful, the weather is gorgeous, I don’t see a single house and I have the place all to myself. I saw a single party of 5 kayakers float by in 3.5 hours of fishing time. And that’s on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-August! The smallmouth bass population in this stretch is extremely robust but yields relatively small yet aggressive fish. The river is perfectly suited to be safely canoed or kayaked. Now that I have a deeper understanding of the general lay-out, it is clear that a better way to fish this stretch of the Kennebec River is to turn it into a drift trip with the put-in point in Waterville and the take-out point in Sidney six miles further downstream. Stay tuned…

 

A chunky fighter. Note the pronounced “tiger stripes” on this fish’s flank.

I’ll end by noting that the entire shoreline along the one-mile reach of the Kennebec River upstream from the Sidney boat launch is open,accessible and unobstructed. It can therefore easily be fished from shore during the low-flow conditions that typically prevail between July and September. Hence, the trip described in this blog does not require a boat. Also, the lack of in-river snags and the abundant bronzeback population makes this stretch the perfect spot to introduce an inexperienced young angler to the joys of river fishing for smallmouth bass.

 

The results: I landed about two dozen smallmouth bass measuring between 9“ and 15” in 3.5  hours of non-stop fishing action.

 

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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