April 04, 2020

Anglers return 102 of 153 salmon to Penobscot River

Out and About: When I broke camp here a couple of weeks ago, I set out to find a few fish tracks. Calling a spade a spade, that’s what I found the most of; and, as you well know, fish tracks are like deer tracks in that they provide poor table fare.

Aside from a few small salmon and a couple of short togue, my lake fishing produced nothing more than a sunburn. As expected, Atlantic salmon fishing on the Penobscot – or anywhere else for that matter – wasn’t up to snuff this spring. During the past few years, ocean catches of salmon have decreased. That, of course, doesn’t bode well for sport fishing in rivers. Currently, returns of salmon to rivers on either side of the Atlantic are low.

Also, because of insufficient rainfall, water has been held back at dams along the Penobscot. In accordance with that, much of the flow at the Veazie Dam now is spilling from the fishway, which, naturally, is attracting most of the salmon. As of Monday, the trap count of salmon taken at the fishway was 410.

Another factor to consider in regard to fishing success, or lack of it, is that the physical character of many of the pools along the Eddington and Veazie shores has changed. Spring freshets and ice have filled in many of the traditional lies, thereby rendering them unattractive to salmon. But in spite of the diminished run and unfavorable conditions, more than a few fishermen have had their feathered invitations accepted by salmon fresh up from the sea. The most recent rod catch figure is 153, 51 kept and registered, 102 released.

Teresa Boulier of Limestone is one Atlantic salmon angler who isn’t complaining, and for good reason. At the lower end of the Eddington Pool, the former Old Town resident’s rod abruptly bowed to a weighty command from the king of freshwater gamefish. “Scott, I’ve got one,” she yelled to her husband who was fishing a short distance below her.

Scott Boulier, immediately reeled in his line and went to his wife’s assistance. By then, however, the salmon had made a heartstopping run into the middle of the river. Teresa’s line was stretched as tight as a fiddle string, but there was no vibrant movement to her crescent-shaped rod. Obviously, the salmon had taken the line around a rock.

Luckily, Joe Meehan and Leo Goodine were fishing from a boat anchored nearby. Realizing the situation, the Eddington Salmon Club members came ashore and took Teresa aboard. While she reeled, Leo ran the boat slowly toward the rock around which the line was fouled and eventually succeeded in freeing it.

Cheers arose from the crowd gathered on the shore as the salmon made a cartwheeling leap that cast a sparkling veil of spray onto the river. When the salmon settled down, Teresa was ferried back to shore, where trembling like her rod tip, she worked the fish into the shallows. Shortly thereafter, Scott tailed his wife’s first Atlantic salmon, a 31-inch, 11-pound prize whose silvery image, in Teresa’s mind at least, will never become tarnished by time.

Making the event even more memorable is the fact that she caught the salmon on a fly created by her husband. Because he has caught more than 50 salmon on the glowing green pattern, Scott named the fly, appropriately enough, the “Salmon Slammin’ Special.” At the Eddington Salmon Club banquet, he gave me one tied on a No. 4 double hook. With the right amount of rain and a little luck, maybe it will make a memory for me. I haven’t raised a salmon this spring.

Low water also has affected fishing success on the Penobscot’s smallmouth bass pools. When I fished in the Argyle area a week or so ago, all the river’s ribs were showing. Consequently, the bass were unable to use their traditional spawning grounds. In some places the water was so shallow I couldn’t grab a paddle full of water.

It required a lot of poking around to find pockets and runs with water enough to hold the bronzed brawlers. On that particular day, however, they weren’t ready to fight at the drop of a popping bug or a plug. Lots of big chubs in the river, though, and they’re not bashful about taking a small popper or fly.

Again, the bass fishing wasn’t as fast and furious as usual, but the deer on the islands, the eagles perched in the pines, and the ospreys soaring above the river took up the slack. What the heck, the fun is in the fishing.

The Penobscot is, however, holding an abundance of striped bass. And if you’re looking for a fish to put a bend in your rod, look no further. You probably know that when a 2-pound “striper” strikes, it packs the punch of a 20-pounder. Below the splintered skeleton of the Bangor Dam, I’ve had good luck trolling a Rapala behind a color and a half of lead core line and seven feet or so of leader. The hard-hitting stripers are most active when the outgoing tide produces rips and boils below the breach in the dam.

For first-timers, a striper must measure at least 36 inches in length before it can be kept legally. The runs ascending the Penobscot are “school fish” averaging 2-5 pounds, therefore, they must be released. To accomplish that as quickly as possible and without injury to the fish, it’s a good idea to remove all but the trailing treble hook on plugs and lures.

Don Decker of Brewer carries the catch-and-release ethic a step further by replacing the lone treble hook with a single hook. During a recent conversation with Don, he suggested that a two-fish daily limit on school stripers might reduce mortality caused by harsh handling in releasing fish caught on treble hooks. “Fishermen who want a couple of stripers to eat,” Don reasoned, “would catch them and go home.” Could be he’s casting in the right direction. There’s no doubt, though, that runs of stripers have increased since the 36-inch length limit was implemented.

Aside from that, how’re you hitting ’em?

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