Fly Fishing the Allagash Waterway
Maine's Allagash Waterway
The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is the true gem of the North Maine Woods and one of the few remote wilderness areas left in the lower 48. The AWW was established in 1966 in order to protect the natural beauty and habitat of this remote wilderness. The waterway consists of 92 (depending on where one starts) canoeable and fishable miles of lakes, ponds, and river. The area is a popular destination for canoes, fishermen and women, hunters, and trappers. The waterway boasts a tremendous population of native brook trout, lake trout, and whitefish, and it is frequented by the coveted moose, as well as deer, lynx, and many smaller fur bearing animals.
Fishing Maine's Allagash Waterway
Native brook trout are the primary fish species throughout the waterway. The best time to visit is from late May through early July when the residents of the river feed heavily on the abundant aquatic insects. Early season midge hatches can produce solid fishing if the water levels are not too high from ice and snow melt but cold temperatures can keep things slow. March brown hatches are sporadic and can be difficult to locate but in some of warmer coves on the lakes during the evening, these hatches can produce some spectacular brookies. The real dry fly action begins when the blue wing olives hatches begin. These begin in late May to early June and will last all summer long. Shortly after the BWO's begin hatching, the caddis will become active. Caddis are the most abundant of moving water aquatic insects in Maine and on the Allagash waterway. Many of the area ponds and lakes have prolific hatches of caddis that will entice even the laziest brook trout to come to the surface.
Best Flies For Fly Fishing the Allagash Waterway
From nymphs, to dry flies, and streamers, do not leave home without these flies in your box.
Best Dry Fly Patterns for Maine
Olive and/or Tan body caddis size 16 - 18
Blue Winged Olive size 16 - 18
Black Midge size 20 - 22
Dark Hendrickson size 14 - 16
Best Nymph Patterns for Maine
Pheasant Tail size 16 - 18
Hares Ear size 14 - 16
Pat's Rubberleg size 8 - 10
Caddis Larva Olive size 16 - 18
Best Streamer Patterns for Maine
Black and/or Olive Woolly Bugger
Black Nose Dace
The AWW begins at the aptly named Allagash Lake, the entire system's true headwater. It is a large, deep, and cold lake with a great population of brook trout and lake trout. The lake has no road access and the use of any motorized vehicle, boat, or tool (such as a powered ice auger in the winter for ice fishing) are prohibited. Access is either through hiking trails or canoeing from Allagash stream. Allagash stream can be accessed via a very rough gravel logging road, or the easier way, across Johnson Pond and down its outlet and into Allagash stream. There are multiple state maintained campsites around Allagash Lake, all with picnic tables and fire rings. Aside from the lake's natural beauty and great fishing, there are a set of accessible caves to explore that often hold ice year around. Continuing on the waterway journey, one would exit Allagash Lake through the outlet, Allagash stream. The stream empties into a small deadwater called Little Round Pond before explorers must portage around the beautiful Little Allagash Falls. From there it widens out into the 18 mile long north/northwest end of Chamberlain Lake. As you enter Chamberlain Lake, you will pass by the remnants of the old Eagle Lake
and West Branch railroad bridge. Chamberlain is a long narrow lake with a handful of camps and a ranger station at its southern end and what is left of Chamberlain Farm from the early logging days. This is also where Henry David Thoreau would enter the Allagash Waterway via Mud Pond (an entirely different way to access the waterway and a week long trip in itself). AWW trips often begin here at Chamberlain as there is an improved gravel road that takes you directly to a nice boat launch in the Chamberlain/Telos Lake thoroughfare.
Canoeing and Fishing the Allagash below Chamberlin Lake
Regardless of how a waterway trip begins, everyone continuing through Chamberlain must portage the old lock dam on the northeastern side of the lake. It is not a difficult portage, especially if there is plenty of water in the short stream from the dam to Eagle Lake. Lock dam is an interesting spot to explore as there are remnants from the old lock system. On the Eagle Lake side, the lock would be lowered to allow logs to move in. That side would then raise up as the Chamberlain Lake side was lowered, allowing the logs to flow into Chamberlain Lake. From there they could be floated to Telos Dam, then to the Penobscot and the sawmills in Bangor.
Once into Eagle Lake, it is a short paddle to historic Pillsbury Island, the furthest point Thoreau ever made it in the AWW. There is a set of camps on the northwest side of the island called Thoreau campsites, a favorite spot for regulars to stay for a night. The narrow and deep section of lake between the island and mainland is great brook trout fishing. From Pillsbury Island, it is a couple mile paddle up to the north/northwest to the “Ghost Trains,” the two massive steam engine trains used to move timber from Eagle Lake to Chamberlain Lake after the lock dam was no longer utilized. The trains were left there in the 1920’s once road expansion and the improving technology of vehicles started making their way into the North Maine Woods. From the trains, it is a 13 mile paddle through Round Pond, Churchill Lake, and finally Heron Lake before reaching Churchill Dam/Depot.
Fly Fishing the Allagash below Churchill Dam
Churchill Depot was once a thriving logging village with families, homes, and a school. The remnants of the old boarding house still stand at the depot, along with a small logging museum with tools and artifacts from the logging boom. This is also another popular access spot for the waterway as there are improved gravel roads that lead directly to the dam. There is also a ranger station and several campsites for canoeists to utilize on their journey. The headwater of the Allagash River boasts some of the best native brook trout fishing in the entire country, and is a location the
Fly Fishing Guides of Maineiac Outfitters have had the privilege of fly fishing for more than three decades. The water level of the river is controlled by the dam which increases the flow daily around 10am for canoers to continue their journey northward and downriver. There are about three miles of class II rapids immediately after the dam that are a bit technical, but loads of fun to canoe through. The ranger at the dam will portage all gear down to the old Bisonnette Bridge where it can be reloaded after running the rapids.
From the old bridge, it is six miles down to the delta-like entrance of Umsaskis Lake. A popular spot to camp for the night as the slow meandering river has many back channels where an abundance of wildlife resides. In the evening, this is a great place to get up close and personal with moose! This area is also great dry fly fishing for brook trout in the spring. From here it is an 11 mile paddle across Umsaskis, past another ranger station and gravel road access point, across Long Lake to Long Lake dam. Through this stretch there are numerous springs and stream inlets where native brook trout reside. Across from the ranger station at the north end of Umsaskis is a nice ledge hole that holds big lake trout for much of the year.
Long Lake dam is a tricky spot to navigate as the old dam’s cribwork still remains just under the surface and can give a false sense of being able to canoe over them safely. There are large metal spikes scattered through the cribwork that can easily tear through a canoe if not navigated properly. Inexperienced canoers are strongly recommended to portage the dam on the east side of the river. The large pool below the old cribwork holds very nice brook trout, as well as the numerous stream inlets entering the river.
From the old dam it is a 10 mile paddle down the quick, meandering river into picturesque Round Pond. Round Pond (one of three Round Ponds along the waterway) is a small pond full of brook trout. On the north end of the pond there is a campsite and trail up to an old fire watch tower with amazing views of the surrounding area. My favorite spot to camp here is at the outlet where the river picks back up in a shallow stretch of small rapids. This is a great spot to catch a mess of brook trout.
From the Round Pond outlet, it is a 15 mile paddle down to Michaud Farm, an access point and ranger station. This section of river meanders back and forth through natural pine forests. It consists of small rapids down through the Musquacook Deadwater where Musquacook Stream enters. From the stream inlet down to Rosie’s Rock, named after the wife of Willard Jalbert of Jalbert camps, the brook trout fishing can be outstanding.
Fly Fishing Allagash Falls
The large pool below the Allagash falls is as far up the Allagash river landlocked salmon and muskie can swim, as the falls are impassable to fish. However, it can be good fishing for salmon and brook trout in the spring before the muskie move in. This is the final stretch of the AWW down to Allagash Village, where the Allagash river enters the St. John River, the northern border of Maine and Canada.
Above the falls Michaud Farm is often the final stop of the float trip during low water as the river below the farm can be very low and difficult to navigate during the warm summer months. The numerous gravel bars are often inches below the surface or protrude all across the river. For those who wish to power on, it is well worth the extra effort to view the 40 foot drop of Allagash Falls. This is a must portage with good signage warning canoers of the danger ahead. There are numerous campsites along the falls and portage trail. There are still large metal rings mounted to the rocks along the trail from where old loggers would drag their 20 foot wooden bateaus up the rock face around the falls. Using horses and pulleys, the horses would walk down the rock face, pulling the loaded boats up the rock face and around the falls.
Guided Trips on the Allagash Waterway
TJ, owner of Mainiac Outfitters, is one of very few Registered Maine Guides that provides canoe trips and fly fishing trips on the Allagash. He offers five day long canoe trips, from Churchill Dam, and ten day canoe trips from either Chamberlain Lake or Indian Stream. The trips include all the food, gear (aside from personal bedding and clothes), cooking equipment, fishing gear, first aid supplies, canoes, paddles, life jackets, transportation from a designated meeting location, and gate fees. These float fishing trips on the Allagash are a once in a lifetime trip for any outdoor enthusiast and fly fisherman.
For more information about America's best trout streams and others in the area, check out our articles an Fly Fishing the Kennebec River, Fly Fishing the Penobscot River, and Fly Fishing Maine.