For today’s expedition, Giovanni and I are fishing for smallmouth bass on the Kennebec River at the dam located upstream of the Ticonic Falls dam in Waterville, Kennebec County, Maine (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 76 [Waterville/Winslow] B2). This spot can only be accessed by putting in a canoe or kayak at the foot of the historic “Two-Cent Footbridge” (also known as the Ticonic Footbridge) located at the Head of Falls municipal park off Front Street in downtown Waterville Keep in mind that this launch is not accessible to trailered boats. The dam is about half a mile further upstream. I fished this spot last year and enjoyed the action and the setting. I hope to repeat that earlier experience today with my grandson.
We drive into the spacious parking lot by the municipal park at 10:30 am and are eagerly pushing off 15 minutes later. We are enjoying fine late-summer weather, with a partly-cloudy sky and air temperatures in the high 70’s. The water temperature feels in the mid-70’s. Since we have to paddle upstream for a good 10-15 minutes, I arrange for each of us to troll with a 4″ floating Rapala lure behind the canoe. And that strategy pays off: we each catch two small smallmouth bass before we even get to our fishing spot. For the record, the current in this stretch of the Kennebec River is not excessive. It is therefore an easy and pleasant experience paddling up to the dam.
I notice upon arrival that the hydraulic conditions are quite different from last year. The 20-ft gaping hole that was present in the wooden flashboards on top of the dam has been fixed such that little or no water spills over. Instead, the entire Kennebec River flows through the hydroelectric turbines in the powerhouse located to the extreme right of the dam (looking upstream). The long spillway channel below the turbine house measures about 400 ft long by up to 100 ft wide, is from 4 to 6 ft deep, has a hard bottom, and multiple current seams. It is flanked on the extreme right (looking upstream) by a 30-ft high vertical cliff wall, and on the left by a long but narrow bedrock island in the river. The current in the spillway channel is uniformly strong this morning and, unlike last year, does not flow upstream back towards the dam along the cliff wall. This is unfortunate because now we have to anchor in order to remain within the channel. One feature is immediately obvious upon arrival: much of the water surface along the cliff wall is covered by white foam, representing froth generated when the river water is whipped into a frenzy as it flows through the hydro-electric turbines. It doesn’t seem to bother the bass because we continuously catch fish using #2 Mepps spinners on our ultralight spinning rods, and 4” soft stickbaits rigged “wacky style”. It appears that they like to hide under that stuff. But except for two 16” bruisers, all the bass are noticeably smaller this morning, measuring between 10” and 14”.
We catch 15 smallmouth bass over the next 2 hours, and have a fun time doing so. Giovanni asks if he can check out the island. He has lost interest in fishing but I’m not done yet. So, we paddle to a safe access point and get out of the canoe. He goes about exploring the area whereas I continue fishing from shore with my ultralight. To my great surprise, 30 minutes of additional casting in the spillway only generates a single small bass. Clearly, the fishing is over for today. Giovanni shows me all the treasures he’s found on the island: round stones, a seagull skeleton, iron spikes, and a big heavy iron bar. The skeleton and the bar are retained for further examination at home. We paddle back to the car and catch another two little bass trolling with Rapalas. Even though we had a successful fishing day, I’m disappointed by the size of the fish. But Giovanni doesn’t mind: he caught fish, went exploring, found treasures, and is looking forward to eating his Subway sandwich on the way back home. Life is mighty good.
The results: We caught 21 smallmouth bass (largest = 16”) in 3 hours of fun fishing.
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