I’m on my annual extended Memorial Day weekend fishing pilgrimage to Pierce Pond located in Somerset County, Maine (see The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 30 A2). Click here for a more detailed description of this water body. My son, nephew, and I are spending five days camping rough on one of the island camp sites on Upper Pond owned and operated by Cobbs Camp. Unfortunately, we won’t be staying at the Cobbs cabins on Lower Pond this year on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
We’ve faithfully gathered at Pierce Pond for 20+ years to experience what I consider to be the most exciting way to catch landlocked Atlantic salmon, i.e., fly fishing using dry flies. The Hendrickson mayfly hatches typically occur around Memorial Day weekend towards the end of May in western Maine when surface water temperatures in the larger lakes reach the low- to mid-50’s. During a two-to-three-week period, the salmon take full advantage of this seasonal bounty by snacking on various mayfly stages (e.g., nymphs, emergers, duns, and spinners) which can be present in large numbers below or on the water surface. Much of the hatching activity occurs in areas less than 15 ft deep which therefore draws the landlocks into shallow waters, sometimes no more than 2 ft deep right up against the shoreline. The trick to catching these fish on the dry fly is for the angler to position him/herself at the right time and place to take advantage of this sweet situation, and to have patience!
Years of fishing at Pierce Pond have allowed us to identify strategic spots in Upper Pond that promote fly hatching and attract landlocked salmon under the right conditions.
Brandy Reef is a 0.1 acre “sunken island” located in the northeastern corner of Upper Pond. The top of the reef is no more than 1 ft below the surface, but the reef structure itself sits in 15-20 ft of water. The shallow water over the reef warms quickly and triggers reliable mayfly hatches in early afternoon, but only if (a) the sun is out and (b) the wind dies down. The mayfly duns sitting on the water are gently blown off the reef and fall prey to the landlocked salmon which patrol all around the edges of the structure and constantly rise to the surface to snatch flies. I arrive on the reef around 1 pm to check things out. The conditions are great: the flies are hatching, a light breeze is present but dies out intermittently, and the sun is blazing above. I anchor my boat on the reef and look out for activity. It doesn’t take long before I observe fish feeding on duns right along the edge of the reef. Rise… rise….rise….rise. This is the life! I carefully climb out of my boat and quietly wade towards the edge. I stay about 20 ft back to prevent the fish from spotting me and place my dry fly in the vicinity of the rises. The breeze suddenly picks up, turning the water choppy, and sending the fish lower. Patience… The wind quiets down five minutes later and soon the feeding resumes. I place my feathery offering in the path of a rising fish, get the anticipated hit on the fly, and immediately set the hook. The fish instantly makes a deep run before jumping several times into the air. It’s a long (20”) but skinny fella which nonetheless gives a splendid fight. The wind picks up again but doesn’t relent after 10 minutes. I reluctantly leave this choice spot to check out a different reef.
Grassy Reef in Upper Pond is a large boulder field located near the southern entrance to the Back Channel. It consists of a dozen or so car-sized boulders scattered about. The tops of some of those rocks lay just below the water surface. The landlocked salmon love to cruise all around these boulders looking for mayflies. As with Brandy Reef, though, this structure is fully exposed to the prevailing wind and only “works” when the wind dies down, as it has intermittently this afternoon. I quietly put-put into the boulder field and set anchor in about 6 ft of water at the edge of the reef. I don’t observe any duns on the surface but the regular rises show that the fish are feeding on something, probably spinners. I therefore attach a spinner fly to one end of 1 ft of tippet line, and attach the other end of the line to the hook of the dry fly. I’m now fishing with two different flies. The breeze blows intermittently but then quiets down. It is during the quiet parts that I hook five landlocked salmon and land four over the next 45 minutes. They measure between 15” and 18”. Two fish are caught on the dun imitator and two on the spinner imitator. I’m glad I included the latter to my offering! The bonanza abruptly stops when the wind becomes sustained and makes it impossible to observe the dry flies on the surface.
I move to a specific spot along the western shoreline of Upper Pond which provides a distinct “wind shadow” whenever the breeze comes in from the south, as it does this afternoon. This area is always protected by the surrounding forest and shoreline no matter how hard the wind blows from that direction. Unlike the two reefs discussed earlier, this area lacks any specific structure. Instead, the first 10-15 ft along the shoreline are 5 ft deep before the water depth quickly drops to 20+ ft. The landlocked salmon cruise in that shallow water sipping flies from the surface, in the knowledge that they can immediately escape to deeper water if they feel threatened in any way. I anchor my boat in 20 ft of water and observe the shoreline for any signs of feeding. I see rises within a couple of minutes of arriving. Fantastic! I deploy my dun/spinner combo flies in the target area in the shallow water and hook and land four landlocked salmon over the next hour. This fishing is just so much fun!! Unfortunately, the sustained commotion associated with hooking, fighting, landing, and releasing fish seems to finally have spooked away my quarry. The rising stops and does not resume further. I give up 30 minutes later, fully satisfied by my experiences this afternoon.
The results: I caught nine landlocked salmon in 3 hours of fantastic fishing.
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