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Kennebec River Fly Fishing

The Best Fly Fishing on The Kennebec River

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The Kennebec River begins below Moosehead Lake in Greenville, Maine. At 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in New England, and at nearly 250 feet deep, it is the second deepest lake in the state of Maine. With Moosehead’s deep, cold water, there is a tremendous population of landlocked salmon, lake trout, and brook trout. Trophy Brook Trout in the coveted 4 pound range can be found in Moosehead Lake and the Kennebec River arms below. Trout move in and out of these bodies of water to feed up on smelt, prolific insect hatches and to spawn. These migrations happen around the same time period each year but can be difficult for locals to track, and present a challenge to fly anglers visiting the area in hopes of running into some of the beautiful Maine fish that call the lake and river home. Each of the dams on the river offer different angling opportunities and challenges throughout the year. The Kennebec River departs Moosehead Lake at two different points: the West Outlet and East Outlet.

Fly Fishing the West Outlet of the Kennebec River

The West Outlet produces good early season brook trout and landlocked salmon within 200 feet of the dam, before it widens and deepens. During the warmer months, the West Outlet fills in with smallmouth bass which provide great quantity and quality of hard fighting fish. As the West Outlet meanders its way down to Indian Pond, the current slows and makes for a very nice canoe or kayak trip with an abundance of birds and small mammal sightings, along with the occasional moose or deer. The surrounding mountains and calm water make for an enjoyable day-trip.

Fly Fishing the East Outlet of the Kennebec River

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When venturing to the Moosehead Region, most anglers target the East Outlet of the Kennebec River, the area's true fly fishing gem for landlocked salmon and brook trout. The East Outlet is a fly fishing only stretch of fast moving river with deep pools and runs loaded with salmon and brookies. The East Outlet runs for three and a half miles from the dam at Moosehead Lake to Indian Pond. There are many wading opportunities along the river, however, floating the river in a drift boat gives anglers the greatest opportunity to catch the large,hard fighting landlocked salmon and big colorful brook trout that reside in nearly every hole and run.

The dam on the East Outlet which regulates water flow into the river contains a fish ladder for fish to move freely between the lake and the river. It also allows the abundant smelt in Moosehead to drop into the river for the early spring spawn. This is one of the best times to be on the river, as the salmon and brookies have been feeding on smelt in the lake under the ice all winter and will follow the smelt into the river.  Swinging streamers such as a Grey Ghost, Blue Smelt, Magog Smelt, or nearly any other colorful smelt pattern produces some of the largest fish of the year. As water levels drop and become warm in late May/early June, the aquatic insect activity kicks off. Early in the fishing season black midges are abundant and occasionally bring trout to the surface under the right conditions. Early season streamers and nymphs produce the most fish. Nymphs such as a Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail or Flashback Pheasant Tail, Zebra Midge, Frenchie, or a Pat’s Rubberleg are the go-to nymphs. Blue Wing Olives (BWO) will be the first big hatch of the year, which can make for fast action fishing when the fish start looking up. Following the BWOs comes the champion of all dry flies: the Caddis. The East Outlet boasts massive caddis hatches and can spark a surface feeding frenzy. Nearly every fish in the river will come up for Caddis when they start covering the surface. I will often shake some of the many alder trees lining the river's edge and watch it “snow” caddis onto the river. This typically starts around mid-June and will continue through the summer. Having a large supply of Caddis (olive, tan, and slate bodied), Blue Winged Olives, and stimulators is a must when fishing the river from June through September. Into the fall, the pre-spawn begins and the bite really picks up. During the warmest part of the summer, the big fish will often move back into the deep cold water of Moosehead Lake to escape the heat. As temperatures begin to fall, they will move back into the river to prepare for the spawn. This is my favorite time to fish. From late September through October, all the biggest fish of the river will be staged and feeding heavily in preparation for the exhausting spawning process. The fish are aggressive, abundant, and love to chase streamers. This is a great time to throw the big ugly colorful streamers in your box to aggravate a waiting salmon into biting. Fish will still feed on the typical nymphs, but swinging colorful streamers like the Sneeka, the Complex Twist Wooly Buggers (especially orange), or the Montreal Whore can get the big ones to take.

Fly Fishing the Indian Pond on the Kennebec River

The Indian Pond marks the end of the East and West Outlets of the Kennebec River. Indian Pond is essentially a reservoir created in 1954 when the Harris Station Dam was constructed at the head of the Kennebec River Gorge. This long, shallow pond gets very warm during the summer months and is a world class smallmouth bass fishery. In the early spring at the mouth of the East Outlet, salmon and brook trout will be staged up eating smelt, but by mid-June most of the larger fish have moved up into the river and away from the smallmouth of Indian Pond. A four mile long gravel road on the north end of the pond is the best access for visiting anglers and leads to a gravel boat landing big enough for a pontoon boat. There are only a handful of camps on the pond, and this location offers a wonderful view 

of the surrounding mountains. Indian Pond is an artificial lure only pond which is fished almost exclusively for smallmouth bass. The smallies here are prolific and can be well over four pounds. Much of the shoreline is dotted with stumps from the logging days, and the pond bottom is covered with sunken cut logs making for ideal cover and habitat for the smallmouth. Fly fishing for the smallies can be fast and fun with poppers on the surface or large streamers- like Wooly Buggers, Clousers, and Game Changers- on a sink tip line.

Fly Fishing the Kennebec River Gorge

Below the Indian Pond and Harris Station Dam, the river flows through a large deep gorge. This stretch of river is nearly unfishable for the first five miles or so as access is nearly impossible due to the steep rock walls and often rapidly changing water levels. However, this is one of the most popular stretches of whitewater rafting in all of New England. Once the gorge begins to level off and the rapids dissipate, there is a stretch where two remote streams enter the river. Cold Stream to the north and Moxie Stream to the south feed into the river only a few hundred feet apart.

Fly Fishing Cold Stream and Moxie Stream

Moxie Stream holds an impressive waterfall that is a popular tourist attraction via a parking area and walking trail. This trail also leads down to the river right along Moxie stream and just downriver from where Cold Stream enters. Fly fisherman can find good populations of native brook trout, in this stretch of the river as Moxie and Cold streams feed the river with cold water, making this area an ideal holding spot for landlocked salmon and brook trout. Beyond this trail, access becomes difficult as the river becomes remote with as no service roads parallel the river until it flows through the town of West Forks. Here there is a parking area on the north side of the bridge that crosses the river with a walking trail up the north shore. Fishing can be decent here in the spring if the water levels stay down. Once the weather warms, the

smallmouth begin to take over. A short distance from the bridge in the town of West Forks is the confluence of the Kennebec and Dead Rivers. There is a nice pool where the two rivers meet that occasionally hold salmon and brook trout along with smallmouth. Below this confluence it enters the north end of Wyman Lake. The lake holds landlocked salmon, brook trout, lake trout, splake (a brook trout/lake trout hybrid), rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and several warm water species.

Trout Fishing the Kennebec River below Wyman Lake

Wyman Dam is a 155 feet tall bottom release hydroelectric dam in Bingham, Maine. The stretch of river below the dam is fed with constant cold water from Wyman Lake above, and it produces good fishing all summer long. There are landlocked salmon, brook trout, and smallmouth bass here, but the real prize fish of this section is the rainbow trout. Rainbow trout are not native to Maine, but they were stocked in select places in the 1930’s, including this section of the Kennebec River. The stocking program in the Kennebec has long since ended, making this section the only one in the state to hold a self-sustaining wild population of rainbows. The rainbows here get very large and are the hardest fighting trout species in Maine. At one point the state record rainbow was caught from this area at 13 pounds. Along with the rainbows, the section holds a good population of landlocked salmon, a few brook trout early in the year, and the occasional splake. A handful of smelt spill through the dam and become a favorite for the trout and salmon in the early spring, making it a perfect time to throw streamers. Smelt patterns and wooly buggers are the most productive. There is a good caddis hatch on this section of the Kennebec in June, which makes for excellent dry fly fishing for the rainbows and salmon. In late June and July, there are sporadic sulfur hatches which produce nice fish when timed right.

Kennebec River Access in Bingham

There is access to the river both at Wyman Dam and via an improved boat launch about a mile down from the dam. In the spring, many anglers launch a boat and motor up river to the dam to target the larger fish waiting for food to wash through the dam. As the river flows south away from the dam, it widens out and gets warm in the summer. In these areas, the occasional rainbow is landed, but the primary target down river are smallmouth bass. As the river makes its way through farmland and along an ATV trail, it widens and slows as it approaches Williams Dam and the town of Solon, a beautiful area frequented by ducks, cormorants, egrets, and several bald eagles.

Fly Fishing the Lower Kennebec River

The lower section of the Kennebec runs between Williams Dam and an old mill dam inthe town of Madison. It has around six miles of relatively fast driftable current before widening and slowing for several miles before the dam in Madison. The entire lower section is ideal for warm water fish like smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and chubs. The upper six miles is where the trout and salmon tend to be, although it is not uncommon to catch smallmouth and chubs in these areas as well. Brown trout are the real prize fish in this section of the Kennebec. This is the likely the only place in Maine where brown trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, and landlocked salmon can be caught. Brown trout were first stocked in the late 1800’s, and the state maintains a steady stocking program. Directly below Williams Dam,

there is a deep ledge pool that is quite a challenge to access but rewarding for visiting anglers. There is a good parking area near the dam and a trail down to the river; however, to access the pool below the dam one must essentially rock climb down to the water. This pool often holds brook trout and landlocked salmon, along with an occasional smallmouth bass. Just below the ledges, the river flows out into a large eddy where salmon, brook trout, and brown trout hold early in the year. It is a difficult spot to cast dry flies, but throwing streamers into the current and letting them drift down along the seam is an effective method. About a mile below the dam is the boat/kayak access point near the Route 16 bridge. From here there is a ledge on the west side of the river, across from Evergreen Campground, that has ancient petroglyphs from the Abanaki tribe. When you reach these petroglyphs there is a nice pool where the river dumps over a shelf that often holds brown trout, especially early in the season. Just below this pool, the river splits around Gray Island. The west side of the island is wide and shallow, which causes problems for drift boats and kayakers during low water. The better choice is to float the east side of the island and the sharp right bend called Elbow Pool. This long back cut channel holds all four cold water fish species, with brown trout being the most dominant. Here anglers can find Brown trout over the 16” range with regularity, who love to chase streamers. From the Elbow Pool downstream, there is a series of narrow runs and pools that all hold fish. Early season Blue Wing Olives work well through here until the caddis start coming off in numbers. Brook trout and salmon will be hiding in the fastest areas of current, while the rainbows and browns tend to hang in the deeper areas and along current seams. From here the river twists and turns through farmland and is dotted with a handful of riverside camps. There are several pools and channels throughout the remaining four miles to the boat landing, all holding good fish. The further down river one drifts, the slower the current and the warmer the water. There is one last pool near an old bridge pylon that provides good brown trout dry fishing, especially in the evening. Caddis is the mainstay of this section, and when trailed behind a stimulator, it is deadly.

 Below the once booming paper mill town of Madison, there were a series of dam structures, cooling ponds, and discharge ponds constructed all around the mill, completely re-shaping the river and its flow through the area. The remnants of the work still stands despite the mill no longer in operation. Below the madness of the mill work, there are two very steep boat launches on the west shore, as well as good walking trails along the river. At the first boat launch is a very large deep ledge pool that holds nice brown trout and brook trout, especially in the fall. This stretch is ideal for brown trout, boasting good catches in the 12-16” range. Just below the two boat launches, the river picks up speed and flows through the area called The Pines. On the east side of the river a once popular park provides easy access to The Pines with numerous parking areas along the road. The river here is easy to wade and provides tremendous brown trout fishing at all times of the year. All of the aforementioned flies work well in this stretch. Below The Pines, the river turns hard left into a large slow eddy where smallmouth bass fishing is very good. The rest of the river down to Weston Dam in Skowhegan is deep and slow,  making for great smallmouth bass fishing.

Fly Fishing the Shawmut Dam on the Kennebec River

The Shawmut Dam in Fairfield is the last stretch of the Kennebec that holds any numbers of brown trout. There is a road and boat launch right at the dam on the river’s west side, as well as a small parking area and footpath to the dam from the east side. The area below the dam is very wide and shallow. During the summer, when water levels are down, one can wade across the entire river. This area was once a trophy brown trout fishery, but changes in water flow management and warming temperatures have led to massive decline in the cool water habitat for the trout to reside in, drastically reducing their numbers. Spring time offers decent brown trout fishing, but this stretch is best for smallmouth bass. From the dam down to the boat landing in Fairfield (about two miles), the river maneuvers through big ledge outcroppings and several small islands. This stretch is one of the best smallmouth bass areas in the state of Maine with nearly every inch of water holding smallies willing to eat just about anything thrown at them. Stripping poppers on the surface makes for fast action fishing with smallies occasionally reaching over four pounds.

Best Flies for Fly Fishing the Kennebec River

Don’t leave home without these streamers, dry flies, and nymphs when visiting the Kennebec River. While the major hatches and patterns do change throughout the seasons, many of these flies will work year round.

Best Dry Fly Patterns

Stimulators in size 12-14

Green, Slate, and Tan Caddis in size 14-18

Adams variants in size 16-20 for BWO hatches

Best Nymph Patterns

Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear

Pheasant Tail / Flashback Pheasant Tail

 Zebra Midge


 Pat’s Rubberleg

Streamer Patterns

Grey Ghost

Blue Smelt

Magog Smelt


Complex Twist Wooly Buggers (especially orange) around the fall

Kennebec River Float Trips

Drift  boat trips down each stretch of the river (except the gorge) are available during the fishing season through Maineiac Outfitters. The East Outlet is the most popular and productive for the visitors of the area. All trips include travel, shuttle, gear, lunch, snacks, and drinks. TJ and the fishing guides of Mainieac Outfitters are the experts on Fly Fishing in Maine. Few if any can match their expertise and knowledge of Maine’s outstanding fisheries and rich history. For more information about America's best trout streams and others in Maine, check out these articles on Fly Fishing the Allagash Waterway, Fly Fishing the Penobscot River, and the Best Fly Fishing in Maine.

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