View of the Northwest River upstream of Fitch Road. Notice the lack of holding pools
The Northwest River is a short stream which starts as the outlet of Peabody Pond in the town of Sebago and flows for about five river miles until it reaches the western shore of Sebago Lake, also in the town of Sebago (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 4 B4 C4 C5). It picks up water not only from the overflow of Peabody Pond itself, but also from several small named (e.g., Hill Brook and Mill Brook) and unnamed tributaries along the way. The State stocks this body of water several times each spring with between 400 and 500 8” to 10” brook trout (click here for more details). I’m spending some time this morning exploring the lower 1.5 miles of the Northwest River to assess its potential as a trout fishery.
The eastern shoreline of Panther Pond, with Betty’s Neck in the left background.
Some of the best smallmouth bass fishing on Maine lakes occurs in mid-spring when the fish are moving in-shore to prepare to lay their eggs. Typical smallmouth bass spawning habitat consists of a clean, rocky and bouldery shoreline in 2 to 10 ft of water, with easy access to nearby deeper water. The fish start moving in these shallows when the water temperature reaches the low 50’s in early May. Actual spawning typically starts towards the end of May when the water temperature hovers between the high 50’s and mid 60’s. The smallmouths feed aggressively in May in order to fatten up in preparation for the spawn. The goal, therefore, is to position oneself at the right place and the right time, using the right lure and the right fishing technique, in order to take advantage of this short window of opportunity.
Ice-out on Sebago Lake in the spring of 2015 occurred on April 21. Shortly thereafter – typically within 10 to 14 days after ice out – the rainbow smelt start congregating at the mouth of the major lake tributaries in preparation for their annual upstream spawning migration. The smelt, which are cold water-loving and pelagic (i.e., deep-water) creatures, are particularly vulnerable to predation during this period. The reason is that they are confined to relatively narrow and shallow areas while waiting for the right conditions to occur before swimming up the tributaries. And just as predictably, the landlocked Atlantic salmon and lake trout are in hot pursuit to gorge themselves on their favorite prey. This unique set of behaviors creates a golden opportunity each spring, which lasts about two to three weeks after the start of the smelt migration, to catch salmon and lake trout in shallow waters without the need of much specialized equipment. The combination of cold oxygenated water right up to the surface combined with an abundant food source disappears by mid-May, after which both prey and predators continue their endless game of hide and seek in the profundal zones of Lake Sebago where they are much more difficult to find, target, and catch.