October 28, 2021
Sports Column

Salmon fishermen scarce on Penobscot

A persistent drizzle evolved into a steady rain Saturday morning, but the falling water wasn’t our focus. The flowing water was.

Oddly, after only an hour of casting, my fishing buddy and I were alone. Three other early-bird anglers had been working the pools on the Eddington side of the Penobscot River when we arrived but had since abandoned the water for the drier lean-to and, later, for their vehicles.

Opening day on the Penobscot, and the pools were all ours.

There’s nothing wrong with that, I thought at the time. Fishing was, after all, a pretty soggy proposition Saturday.

And while Dave Huntress and I fully expected to place our rods in the traditional rack, chat with veteran salmon anglers to figure out the ins and outs of the rotation system, and eventually – maybe – fish a bit, that’s not what happened.

Big Rock Pool was ours. All ours. Dickson Pool, too.

And no other anglers stood, at the ready, to fill our slots or encourage us to move a bit faster.

So we didn’t move fast. We worked the pools as patiently as we wanted, starting casting close and working our way farther into the flow. After satisfying ourselves that we’d flogged each stretch of water sufficiently, we’d work our way over the greasy rocks to a new perch and begin the age-old custom again.

Maybe a rusty rat was the ticket. Perhaps a black-bear green-butt was the fly the fish would attack … or maybe not.

An eager cormorant rested on a midriver rock, waiting for an easy snack. A majestic eagle soared overhead, likely looking for the same thing.

And across the river, at the productive Veazie salmon pools, two or three more fishermen took their turns at two likely lies.

Later I’d find out Beau Peavey was one of those distant anglers. Peavey, as you may have heard, caught a fish on opening day, just as he did a year ago. He has hooked several more, since.

For the most part, however, this fall salmon season has been virtually ignored by anglers.

No fish in the river, some will say. I’m not fishing until they give us a spring season, others will tell you. No sense in even trying, still others will assert.

For those of us who vowed to take advantage of this year’s monthlong season, the absence of other anglers has been a blessing and a curse.

There is certainly something to be said for having nearly all of a river’s fabled salmon pools to oneself.

Get out of work … drive to the nearby river … pull on the waders … and pick a spot.

Any spot.

Nobody’ll be there, chances are.

But there is a catch.

The years and years of conservation and restoration efforts are a product of Atlantic salmon fishing’s rich tradition.

And one of the traditions that can’t be overemphasized is this: Salmon anglers love the sport, the fish, and love to talk about both.

Unfortunately, those veteran anglers have been largely absent thus far. Instead, the season has been left to those avid enough, stubborn enough, or foolish enough to show up.

I’d relish the chance to sit on a bench at the Eddington or Veazie pool and listen to the tales of those accomplished fishermen.

Would I get to fish less? Absolutely. But would the experience be more meaningful? Of course it would.

A year ago, things were a bit different. The river had been closed since 1999, and even those who wanted a spring fishing season recognized the fall fishery as a step in the direction they wanted.

On opening day, there were plenty of boats in the water and anglers waiting at each club, eager to fish. On one afternoon, I wound up meeting a couple from Massachusetts who had been driving out Route 9, en route to a Nova Scotia salmon river.

They didn’t stop in Eddington to fish, mind you. They just wanted to stop by, chat with a few anglers, and show their support for the season.

Huntress and I spent four hours fishing Saturday and got together again Monday for a couple hours. Late Wednesday afternoon, we had another appointment scheduled, with hopes that our salmon season would improve.

There are fish in the river, you see. Beau Peavey saw them. He hooked them. He even landed one.

And while I might not be a Beau Peavey, I do share one important trait with him.

As long as this season continues, and fish keep passing through the trap at the Veazie Dam (four did so Wednesday morning, by the way), I’ll be out there.

Just like Beau.

“You can’t catch fish when you’re sitting on a bench,” I told Peavey Wednesday morning, before we split time in one of his favorite Veazie pools.

“And you can’t catch fish if you’re fly’s not in the water,” the 23-year-old fisherman said with a chuckle. “It just doesn’t work.”

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.net or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.

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