Fishing for smallmouth bass on the Penobscot River in Old Town, Penobscot County, Maine (August 28, 2021)

 

This boat launch is spacious and provides lots of parking space

 

I’m exploring the smallmouth bass fishery on the Penobscot River in Old town, Penobscot County, Maine (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 33 E4). My goal this morning is to fish a 1.5-mile stretch of river that runs between Indian Island and Orson Island. I have no idea what to expect because I have never visited this section of the river before. For access to the boat launch, drive north on Stillwater Avenue in Old Town, turn left on Fourth Street, and continue for 0.4 miles all the way to the very end of this street (it’s a dead end). The large and spacious hard-top boat ramp, as well as a grassy picnic area, is on the right, with a huge parking lot to the left.

 

 

The pink soft stickbait worked well but only caught bass measuring between 11 and 13 inches

 

I arrive at the ramp by 10:15 am and push off with my motor boat 15 minutes later, eager to get going. The sky is overcast with an air temperature in the low 70’s, whereas the surface water is a balmy 77°F. This portion of the Penobscot River sits behind a large hydroelectric power dam located between the southern tip of Indian Island and Route 2. The section flowing between this dam and the Dewitt Municipal Airport situated about 1/3 mile upstream of the ramp is more akin to a reservoir, with water 10+ ft. deep and no or slow-moving current. I scan the area with my depth finder on the way up but don’t bother fishing it. The current picks up noticeably when I enter the channel running between Indian island and Orson Island. However, to my surprise, the river stays deep, with depths ranging between 5 and 15 ft. This situation is very different from other sections of the Penobscot River I have fished in the past around this time of the year (click here, here, and here for examples). I carefully put-put upstream through the channel for about 15 minutes while trolling with a 4″ unjointed floating Rapala minnow in the hope of scaring up a bass, but only catch a 7-inch youngster.

 

Even my deep-diving crayfish crankbait only caught smaller fish

 

I reach a choke point about halfway up the channel where the current visibly speeds up in response to a narrowing of the river. This spot is still quite deep (up to 15 ft.!) but the rocky shoreline along Indian Island seems to provide good bass-holding habitat. I switch over to a pink 4-inch soft stick bait rigged “wacky-style” and cast it towards shore while drifting downstream. I spend about 45 minutes motoring up and drifting down several times but all my efforts yield only three smallish bass. I clearly haven’t figured out the secret to the sauce yet… I store my rod away and continue motoring upstream. I reach a point where the Penobscot River splits, with one branch flowing back downstream behind Orson Island. I contemplate for a moment going down that branch (called the Stillwater River) but decide not to. I just don’t want to get caught in a situation where the river becomes too shallow, preventing me from motoring back upstream and instead forcing me to continue further downstream for 5+ miles all the way back to the boat launch. However, I’m keeping this location in mind for a future potential drift trip… Instead, I continue motoring further upstream for about 1500 ft. in the main stem of the river and finally stumble on the Promised Land.

 

But this four-pound dude made up for all the smaller bass!!

 

The Penobscot River at this location tumbles over a shallow bedrock ledge, which breaks up the current into multiple seams that then flow and swirl through an extensive area varying in depth between 3 ft. and 15+ ft., with steep drop-offs, small islands, strong current, and quiet pools. I land over 20 smallmouth bass (I lost count…) over the next two hours. I use mostly my pink soft stick bait, which appears irresistible to the fish below! However, except for one notable outlier, all the bass measure a uniform 11 to 13 inches, which is disappointing given that the high quality of the surrounding habitat should definitely be able to hold larger fish. I catch the outlier with the pink stick bait over a drop-off in about 10 ft. of water. This bass is a total brute, which insistently rips line off my reel and deftly takes advantage of the nearby currents to try to get away. What a fight! I can’t believe the size of the thing when it finally jumps out of the water! That is the biggest bronzeback I’ve ever caught in this river. It measures 20.5 inches and weighs a healthy 4 pounds! I run out of pink soft stick baits shortly afterwards and decide to call it a day.

 

The humble tube bait is back on my radar screen!

 

After I return to the boat launch, I make it a point to chat with the guy who pulled out his boat right before me. It turns out that he’s a regular on this section of the Penobscot River, and he confirms that large bass are routinely caught here. He then shares a brilliant piece of intel with me: he only fishes the deeper parts of the river using a green tube bait with a weighted hook! I gave up fishing for river bass using this method decades ago because the darned tubes constantly wedged themself among the boulders on the bottom. However, because this section of water is so unusually and consistently deep, my new friend simply keeps the tube bait bobbing up and down in the water column during the retrieve without making it touch the bottom. It’s crystal clear why this approach would be a killer application! I already bought tube baits and weighted hooks and can’t wait to put this new tactic into practice. Stay tuned!

 

The results: I caught over two dozen smallmouth bass (largest = 20.5 inches) in 3.5 hours of fishing.

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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