Fishing for brook trout on Lower South Branch Pond in Baxter State Park, Maine (September 29, 2018)

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A stunning view of Lower South Branch Pond from the canoe launch area

 

My son Joel and I are leaving town for the weekend to partake in our annual fall camping, fishing, and hiking trip. We’ve decided to visit one of our favorite destinations to pursue these shared passions, namely Baxter State Park (BSP) in northern Maine. The plan is to fish for native brook trout on Lower South Branch Pond on Saturday afternoon, sleep at one of the lean-tos at the camp area by the pond Saturday night, and spend the next day hiking the awesome Traveler Mountains loop trail, which starts and ends at the pond. The South Branch Pond camp site is accessible by car, which makes it very convenient to get to. Camping reservations must be made in advance by contacting BSP directly. Before I get on the topic of fishing, let me say that the effort required to hike the Travelers is, in my opinion, on par with hiking Mount Kathadin located at the southern end of BSP! The Travelers hike may take up to 9 or 10 hours to complete, ascends and descends three main peaks (and numerous “false peaks”), and is quite technical, particularly the first half of the hike (Center Ridge Trail) where long stretches of the “trail” consist of enormous boulder fields that will test your ankles, knees, balance, and muscles. Keep in mind that this hike is NOT for novices or beginners. And here’s the best part. Joel and I encountered a grand total of only two people during the entire day, while I suspect that Mount Katahdin was overrun by hordes of tourists!

Lower South Branch Pond from the Travelers Mountain trail

Lower South Branch Pond covers 108 acres and is located in the northern part of BSP in Piscataquis County (see The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 51 A1). This one is a beauty of a lake! The view of the Travelers Mountains peaks to the east are simply stunning, particularly now that the leaves have started to change colors (however, we’re actually a week too early for peak colors). The substrate of the pond consists entirely of gravel, cobbles, and boulders. The water is crystal clear. This pond is also remarkably deep, with a maximum and average depth of 60 ft and 32 ft, respectively, with very little shallow areas along the shoreline. The brook trout population was originally stocked in the early 1960’s but is self-sustaining and can therefore be considered “native” at this point. General fishing laws apply to this body of water except that (a) the pond is closed to ice fishing, (b) use or possession of live fish as bait is prohibited (the use of dead fish, salmon eggs, or worms is allowed), and (c) motorboats or outboard motors are prohibited. Click here for a depth map and more fisheries information. Keep in mind that the open-water fishing season in this part of the state ends on September 30. BSP itself closes on October 15.

 

I’m the first to land a native brookie this afternoon

Based on previous experiences fishing for brook trout in Upper South Branch Pond next door (click here and here), our strategy this afternoon is to rent one of the canoes from the ranger at the pond for $1/hour and troll until sunset. We are fishing with “sown bait” (i.e., dead shiners) placed 20 to 25 ft below the surface using lead-core line (me) and a portable downrigger (Joel). We paddle away at 2:30 pm full of excitement, and I get a hook-up within three minutes! WOW, it looks like we’re on to something. Unfortunately, the fish unhooks but it shows that we’re hitting the right target area down below. The wind is blowing ferociously out of the northwest. This phenomenon is not uncommon this time of the year in BSP and we’re expecting wind to settle down once the sun starts to set (click here and here for examples). Thirty minutes later, I hook and land the first fish of the afternoon, a beautiful and hard-fighting 14” brookie. And then nothing happens for the next two long hours, except paddling around and around Lower South Branch Pond, chatting with Joel, and getting mighty-sore butts from sitting for so long!

 

But Joel’s brookie is much nicer than mine!

Joel, as he is wont to do, mixes things up. He sows a 3” yellow plastic fish-imitating lure on his line and sends it down 20 ft with his downrigger. No more than five minutes pass before his rod starts shaking angrily. He sets the hooks and brings up a gorgeous 16” brook trout! Nice. Neither one of us is skunked, which is always a good thing. We have another hour left before it gets dark. I switch out my sown baitfish to one of his plastic fish lures in the hope of imitating his success. Meanwhile, the wind has completely died down and we’re hoping that the calmer conditions and the reduced light levels may entice an evening hatch that would bring the trout to the surface. We both have our fly rods ready, but the hatch or the rises do not materialize. Actually, that’s not a total surprise given the great depth of this pond and the lack of shallow areas. We call it good at 6:30 pm, satisfied that we both caught a brookie from Lower South Branch Pond under tough conditions.

 

The results: I caught one 14” brook trout, and Joel caught one 16” brook trout, in 4 hours of trolling.

 

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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