Fishing for smallmouth bass on the West Branch of the Penobscot River in Millinocket, Penobscot County, Maine (September 23, 2022)

 

This is the largest bass I caught after the first 2.5 hours of fishing. Very frustrating!

 

The West Branch of the Penobscot River flows through a complex set of reservoirs and hydroelectric dams in the area around Millinocket. My interest this afternoon is on a small section of river that runs between the boat launch off Medway Road and Dolby Pond located about one mile further downstream. Note that Dolby Pond is the iconic stump-filled reservoir visible on both sides of Route 11 when driving between East Millinocket and Millinocket. Medway Road starts at Route 11 in downtown Millinocket (look for the Millinocket Municipal Airport sign), loops down towards the Penobscot River, and then rejoins Route 11 about 3 miles further east.

 

 

This fat fallfish fell for my tube. Who knew they’d go after crayfish?

 

I heard rumors that this section the West Branch of the Penobscot River has some serious smallmouth bass, so I decide to check it out for myself. I notice a problem after arriving at the boat launch: the normal water level is down by at least 3 ft., exposing large swaths of the stumpy shoreline. Damn, that was a prime reason I wanted to fish this area: when the river runs full, much of the shoreline is a warren of hiding spots from which smallmouth bass can pounce on unsuspecting prey, or anglers’ lures. An official-looking note tacked on a nearby pole informs visitors that the water draw down is required to repair the Dolby Dam located at the downstream end of Dolby Pond. As a result, the bouldery boat launch, which is not hard-topped, is high and dry. Keep in mind that, under these conditions, putting in and taking out a trailered boat absolutely requires a four-wheel drive vehicle.

 

This 18-inch bronzeback was caught after I lost the “horse”. I’m still in pain thinking about it!

 

I put my boat in the water at 12:30 pm and leave my truck and trailer behind in the nearby spacious parking area. The air temperature is in the mid 60’s with an overcast sky and a strong wind blowing out of the north. The surface water is a surprisingly fresh 57°F, which seems cold to me for the end of the summer. Anglers can fish this section of the river for either salmonids (specifically, landlocked Atlantic salmon and brook trout) or smallmouth bass. My attention this afternoon is on the latter. Since I have never fished these parts, I spend a bit of time slowly motoring downstream to get “the lay of the land” using my fish finder and ensure that I do not hit my engine on submerged rocks. Fortunately, the current is slow and gentle. I quickly discover the presence of the old river channel down below, which reaches depths of 20+ ft. I hatch a plan out of that finding: I will stay away from the exposed shorelines and instead use a weighted tube bait to probe these depths by both jigging the lure and casting it out and swimming it back to the boat.

 

This was the weapon I used to probe the deep waters in the former river channel: a hollow tube bait with a 1/4 ounce jig head and an extra sliding weight to quickly bring the lure deep into the water column.

 

Well, to make a long story short, the size of the six smallmouth bass (the largest of which measures about 14 inches) I catch over the next two and a half hours leave me decidedly underwhelmed. I am deeply disappointed with the results and decide to slowly motor back up to the boat launch while trolling my tube bait (but making sure to “rip” it constantly to impart the lure with erratic motion). I have been at it for about 10 minutes when it suddenly feels like I have hooked into a horse! Holy mackerel, this fish is HUGE by the way it fights!! It pulls and rips line of my reel for about 30 seconds before the hook pops out of its mouth and the line goes limp. Noooo! This can’t be true…. F*ck! I tell you, that fish was one for the record books. I am crestfallen but continue trolling. Then, lightning strikes a second time ten minutes later when I hook, fight, and land a smaller 18-inch smallmouth bass, followed by a 15-inch bass four minutes later. Boy, it looks like I finally found a pattern, but I have to move on to my next destination. The bottom line is that the rumors are correct about monster bronzebacks residing in this section of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. It just took me a while to figure out how to catch them. I definitely plan a return visit in the future to spend more time exploring this beautiful area.

 

The results: I caught 8 smallmouth bass (largest = 18 inches) in 3 hours of slow fishing.

 

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