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

The boat launch by Ayers Island is spacious. The fishing hole is located just passed the half-submerged rock visible in the center left of this picture.


I’m exploring the Penobscot River in the vicinity of Ayers Island, in Orono, Penobscot County, Maine (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 23 A3). My goal this morning is to catch smallmouth bass in the back channel which runs between the mainland and the island, and motor upstream up to the location where the Stillwater River spills over a low dam into the Penobscot River. The outflow of hydrodams represent classic smallmouth bass summer holding habitat (click here, here, here, and here for examples). I don’t know what to expect because I’ve never fished this section of water before. To reach the boat launch, drive down Route 2 north (into Orono), turn right on Island Avenue (just past the Leadbetter’s convenience store) and continue for about 0.1 mile until you hit railroad tracks. Turn right before the tracks and make an immediate left on Union Street. Continue for less than 0.2 miles until you see the access point on the left. The launch is hard-topped and wide, and offers plenty of parking space, as well as a small picnic area.



This first smallmouth bass caught on the Mepps spinner tells me I found the spot. Ayers Island is visible on the left of this picture.


I arrive at my destination by 8 am. It’s actually cool (52°F), with partly-cloudy skies, and air temperatures forecast to rise into the low 70’s. The water temperature is a balmy 77°F, which is not unusual for late August. I launch my boat, and eagerly push off to go explore. I soon realize that the water level in the immediate vicinity of the ramp is simply too shallow to safely motor away. Damn! I take out the boat and put in my canoe instead (I’m glad I came prepared for this contingency). I paddle off into the back channel but see no current in the water. That’s not a good sign… I soon discover why: this time of the year when the water level is low, the back channel gets cut off from the rest of the Penobscot River and becomes a stagnant dead end. OK, time to implement the second half of the plan: I paddle out of the back channel, around the lower tip of Ayers Island, and back upstream into the river. I immediately run into another problem: this stretch is extremely shallow, swift, and filled with algae-covered rounded rocks… I just don’t feel like dragging my canoe for one mile upstream towards the hydrodam while stumbling on slippery stones. I reluctantly give up on my original plan and turn around to go try my luck elsewhere on the river.


But the soft stick bait works such as well…


As I paddle back towards the boat launch, I unexpectedly stumble on a deep(er) 5 to 6 ft. depression measuring about 150 ft. long and no more than 50 ft. wide, located roughly 75 ft. in front of the boat ramp. Water tumbles into this feature from several different directions and swirls around in the pool before flowing out further downstream. This general habitat setting really intrigues me and makes me pause. Just for the heck of it, I anchor the canoe, and toss a #2 Mepps spinner to check things out. I get an immediate hit on the first cast, and hook a little smallmouth bass on the second. Houston, I think we’re on to something!


As does the floating Rapala minnow…


Over the next hour, and without moving one inch from my initial anchoring location, I hook 25 bass, and land 13 of them! The fighting spirit of these tenacious creatures is incredible even though none of them exceed 14 inches in size. In fact, the fish are biting so insistently and aggressively that I make it a point to rotate through several proven river smallmouth bass lures just for the fun of it, including the Mepps spinner mentioned earlier, a 4-inch soft stick bait rigged wacky-style, a 4-inch unjointed floating Rapala minnow, and 2-inch floating crayfish crankbait. The latter triggers numerous hits but yields a lousy hooking rate. The action is a ton of fun and I’m glad to have found this particular spot on my way back to the ramp. The only negative is that all the bass are on the smaller size, but then I wouldn’t expect this restricted holding habitat to yield much bigger fish this time of the year. Regardless, I’m not leaving skunked, and Life is Good.


… and the crayfish crank bait!


The results: I caught 13 smallmouth bass (largest = 14 inches) in 1 hour of fast and furious 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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