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Our Top Five Spring Salmon Rivers

Our Top Five Spring Salmon Rivers

Northern New England is the place to be for spring landlocks, and these five proven waters should provide great angling action this spring.

Photo by Chris Ricardi

May is the month when smelt, the landlocked salmon's primary food source, enter natal tributaries on their spawning runs, and after the long winter, hungry landlocks will be hot on their tails.

Fortunately, finding a place to wet a line is not a problem. Maine has dozens of rivers and streams that contain landlocked salmon or have significant spring spawning runs. And New Hampshire and Vermont offer more topnotch fishing this month.

Here is a look at five spots noted for their spring salmon-fishing opportunities; just a sampling of what is available out there this season:


Rapid River

Despite its relatively small size, the Rapid River is considered to be one of the best landlocked salmon rivers in northern New England. After exiting Middle Dam on the west side of Lower Richardson Lake, the Rapid travels just over four miles before dumping into Umbagog Lake on the Maine-New Hampshire border.

Above Pond-In-The-River, the river in most spots is less than 40 feet across.


The river may be accessed from Route 16 east of Wilson Mills via Fish Pond Road, but it is over a mile hike from the gate to Middle Dam, then another couple of miles to Lower Dam. Various fishing areas will be found along the way.

The river may also be accessed by boat from the public launch at South Arm on the south end of Lower Richardson, but crossing depends upon the weather and wind conditions.

The river's nearly consistent series of rapids, pools and riffles contribute to its cool, well-oxygenated water. Between its source and Umbagog Lake, the river drops an average of 40 feet per mile, maintaining good fishing conditions even during the dog days of summer.

In May, water levels will be high, but it is this annual high tide that gets salmon on the move and provides good early-season action.

The best fishing is from Middle Dam downstream to Lower Dam, but there are at least a half dozen pools and riffles downstream as well. All of them can be reached by using the old carry road that parallels the river from Middle Dam, and trails leading to the popular fishing spots.

The entire river is restricted to fly- fishing only and the daily limit is one salmon, although anglers can catch and release at their pleasure.

Lodging at Middle Dam can be arranged at the Lakewood Camps, which offers a boat shuttle from South Arm or easy walking access to the river. The lodge does not open until the middle of the month and advance reservations are recommended.

The lodge can be reached by calling (207) 243-2959. Additional information is available at

Starting Memorial Day weekend, camping is available at South Arm Campground. Reservations may be made by calling (207) 364-5155.

Grand Lake Stream

Grand Lake Stream is the preeminent landlocked salmon stream in eastern Maine. It flows three miles from West Grand Lake before it dumps into Big Lake.

Early in the month can be tough on this river due to its notoriously high water, but salmon can be caught any time. Water levels are apt to be high because the flow is somewhat controlled by the dam on West Grand Lake.

It is not until later in May, around Memorial Day, when the crowds arrive, so early-season fishermen have sections of the river to themselves, especially during the week.

Anglers should keep in mind that fishing is prohibited within 150 feet of the dam, but from there downstream the river is wide open, and there are numerous spots to cast and work a streamer or bucktail. A road parallels the east bank of the river and offers easy access to the best fishing areas.

To reach the Grand Lake Stream area, take Route 9 (the famous "Air Line") east to U.S. Route 1 at Baring west of Calais, and then continue on Route 1 north through Princeton. The road to West Grand will be found on the left.

For information on lodging and services, contact the Grand Lake Stream Chamber of Commerce, P. O. Box 124, Grand Lake Stream, Maine 04637, or visit the agency's Web site at

Upper Dam Pool

Since before the time of Carrie Stevens and her famous Gray Ghost, Upper Dam Pool in the Rangeley Lakes Region of western Maine has been a major draw for landlocked salmon enthusiasts. It still produces some of the most exciting spring salmon fishing in the region.

On the west side of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, this popular spot offers a pool of considerable size and depth immediately below Upper Dam. Downstream is a near continuous cascade of riffles and short rapids broken by smaller pools down to Upper Richardson Lake, a distance of about 800 yards. The entire stretch is restricted to fly-fishing only.

Nearly all the fishing is from shore, or by careful wading in select spots, which should be done with caution due to high water. Water levels normally start to recede by the end of the month, opening more areas to wade or stand. Good fishing action can often stretch into early June.

The minimum length limit on salmon is 18 inches, and the daily limit is one fish (salmon, trout or togue).

Access to the Upper Dam Pool is via a dirt road about 15 miles west of Oquossoc. A gate blocks direct public access to the dam and pool area, and anglers must hike the last mile or so, and the trip back is uphill most of the way. Most fishermen plan a full day at the pool, packing in a lunch.

Providing the lake is free of ice, boat access is also possible from Upper Richardson Lake using the public boat launch facility off Route 16 at Mill Brook.

Camping facilities are on the north end of Cupsuptic Lake on Route 16. Cabins and other limited services are available at Oquossoc and Rangeley.

For more information, contact the Rangeley Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce at (800) MT-LAKES, or visit the agency's Web site at


Upper Androscoggin River

One of the top spring landlocked salmon waters in New Hampshire is the upper Androscoggin River. Fishermen will find about one mile of productive water running from the dam in Errol downstream to Bragg Bay. The uppermost section above the Route 26 bridge consists primarily of riffles, rapids and some pools, and below are the so-called Bridge Rapids. There is good salmon water all the way downstream to Clear Stream, which enters on the west bank. Nearly all the fishing is done from shore in this section, which is restricted to fly-fishing only.

Bragg Bay offers somewhat slower water, although in May the current is quite strong and should be respected. The river is wider and deeper here and most locals and fishermen who know it well work from small cartop boats that can be easily launched about 75 yards downstream from the Route 26 bridge on the east bank.

Bragg Bay may be fished with lures as well as flies.

For lodging and water condition information, contact the Umbagog Area Chamber of Commerce in Errol at (603) 482-3906.

Merrymeeting River

The Merrymeeting River is much slower than most typical salmon rivers, lacking the consistent runs of pools, riffles and rapids. It does, however, offer some challenging opportunities for big fish, particularly in May on the heels of the smelt run.

The best fishing most years is below Alton Dam downstream from Route 140. This stretch offers good public access to the river for about one mile to about the second footbridge at Jones Field.

Below Jones Field, the fishing can be equally as good, and the river parallels Route 11, though much of it borders private land.

The Merrymeeting River is restricted to fly-fishing only and the daily bag limit is two fish. The salmon action is dependent to a certain degree on water levels. Low water conditions generally means fewer smelt in the river and therefore fewer salmon.

More information on river conditions may be obtained by calling the Region 2 office of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 744-5470.

For information on lodging and other services in the area, contact the Lakes Region Association at (800) 60-LAKES or (603) 744-8664.

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