Fishing for smallmouth bass on the Stillwater River in Old Town, Penobscot County, Maine (September 12, 2021)


The fishing was tough today and most of the bass were on the smaller size


I’m exploring the smallmouth bass fishery on the Stillwater River in Old town, Penobscot County, Maine (see the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map 33 E4). My goal today is to drift down part of this river while fishing the backside of Orson Island. The Stillwater River represents a side branch of the Penobscot River; these two watercourses split off from each other in Old Town and merge back together again about ten miles further downstream in Orono. This drift trip is also unique in that it starts and end at the same location, and therefore only requires one car. 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.



Antony only succeeds in catching a clam…


To start the drift trip requires motoring (or paddling) upstream for about 1.5 miles through the channel that runs between Indian Island and Orson Island, before turning left at the tip of Orson Island to enter the Stillwater River. If paddling, keep in mind that the current flowing through the channel between these two islands is strong and that moving upstream will take some arm juice. Once in the Stillwater River, however, the current is one way and the distance back to the boat launch is about five miles. Beware to hang a left at Orono Island in order to enter the side channel that brings you past the Old Town municipal airport back to the boat launch. Otherwise you’ll continue drifting into Orono… I found it very useful to take The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer map on the boat to help my situational awareness. Of course, the GPS on a cell phone will do the same trick.


The fishing action is just too slow for Antony and I soon lose the little guy…


I arrive at the launch at 9 am with my 11 years-old grandson Antony. We load up my boat with our gear and are soon motoring upstream towards the start of our trip. I’m struck by the fact that the water level has risen by up to 2 ft. since my last visit to this location two weeks ago due to all the rain that has pummeled the region recently. The water temperature has also dropped precipitously from 77°F to 66°F during that same short period, which is bound to affect the quality of the fishing.


The tube bait is a lure of choice to probe the deeper parts of the Stillwater River. Notice the fallen tree in the background.


This stretch of the Stillwater River is visually very pleasing, with only a handful of cabins visible along the wooded shore. About a dozen picturesque forested islands dot the watercourse, providing nice breaks at various locations. We also observe several bald eagles soaring overhead or eyeing us from high perches in trees along the banks. Best of all, we don’t see any other anglers during our entire trip, even though it’s a beautiful late-summer Sunday.


The Stillwater River holds bigger bass but I have a hard time finding them!


The first mile or so of the Stillwater River remains on the swift and shallow side (4-5 ft.), but the rest of the river is a slower-moving, relatively-featureless 10 to 15 ft. deep. Unfortunately, such conditions do not provide optimal smallmouth bass holding habitat. The fishing is accordingly tough. To my great surprise, we don’t catch a single bass during the first hour of fishing! As a result, Antony quickly loses interest and I realize that I’m going to have to pull tricks out of my hat in order to make something happen. Two habitat features end up producing bass today, i.e., fallen trees along riverbanks, and vegetated bottoms in 4 to 8 ft. of water next to shorelines. A soft stick bait works great around the fallen trees were bass love to hide underneath sunken branches. On the other hand, a tube bait with a weighted hook is a great lure to fish farther away from shore given the high water level, consistent current, and greater depth. This lure quickly sinks and can be made to dart around enticingly in the water column. I succeed in landing 14 smallmouth bass in 4.5 hours of hard fishing. With a few exceptions, most of these fish are on the small size (< 13 inches). I also break my line on two much larger fish, which I suspect are northern pike, which are notorious for slicing monofilament fishing line with their needle-sharp teeth. The ancestors of those pike originated in Pushaw Lake when someone illegally introduced them about two decades ago. These voracious predators have made their way down to the Stillwater River, and presumably the Penobscot River, via Pushaw Stream.


Overall, the fishing today was slow and the size of the smallmouth bass under par. Fortunately, the beauty and peacefulness of the place made it all worthwhile, as did the one-way drift. Be ready to spend 5 to 7 hours on the water to complete this trip. I’d skip the first mile of shallower water and focus on fishing near the shorelines. Pay particular attention to fallen trees that serve as bass magnets in an otherwise less-than-optimal habitat. If seeking northern pike, I’d also use a large spinnerbait to probe the weedier parts of the shoreline. I have no doubt that big pike haunt this river!

The results: I caught 14 smallmouth bass (largest = 16.5 inches) in 4.5 hours of drift 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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