September 29, 2010
One of the Northeast's last remaining strongholds of native landlocked salmon, Maine's Grand Lake Stream is the place to be for exciting early-season fly-fishing action. (May 2007)
Photo by Bill Banaszewski
Grand Lake Stream still ranks as one of the Pine Tree State's premier spring salmon-fishing destinations. According to Richard Jordan, a regional fisheries biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), anglers who fish here once are sure to get hooked.
"This is a great stream," Jordan said. "Its water is crystal-clear. The stream averages about 98 feet wide. The bottom is clean gravel, perfect for salmon to spawn in, and there are nice boulders that provide habitat for young fish as they grow."
The stream originates at the outlet of the 14,000-acre West Grand Lake in the town of Grand Lake Stream. The river flows about 2.75 miles to the 10,000-acre Big Lake in T27 ED, northeast of Princeton on Route 1.
"West Grand Lake was one of the original homes of landlocked salmon in Maine. They've been here since the beginning of time," Jordan said, noting that only four watersheds used to hold native landlocked salmon, including West Grand Lake in the St. Croix watershed. "These are all pure West Grand Lake-strain salmon."
The good news is that the entire stream is fisherman-friendly.
"There are plenty of places to park," Jordan said. "The eastern shore from Big Falls down to the meadows was donated to the MDIFW to be kept free from development. So anglers may park, walk in and out, and fish. On the west bank below Big Lake, the department has negotiated conservation easements."
The region contains plentiful sporting camps and a local store where fishing enthusiasts gather. Kurt Cressey -- owner of the Pine Tree Store at 3 Water Street in Grand Lake Stream -- said that these days, he spends more time making custom maple-veneer backpacks than he does fishing.
The store provides beverages, tackle and advice. Every fly that works on Grand Lake Stream salmon is available, and Cressey is known for picking the right patterns for local conditions. Call him at (207) 796-5027 for a stream report and other information.
As you enter the village of Grand Lake Stream, a bridge crosses over the stream. The famed Hatchery Pool is about 200 yards above the bridge.
Just behind Cressey's store is the hatchery. In late fall, biologists net salmon from the stream and gather eggs. For more information about the hatchery, call (207) 796-5580.
Because so many fish are held in such close proximity, a key consideration is preventing the spread of disease. Water at the hatchery goes through a filter to eliminate plankton, and an ultraviolet light treatment is then used to kill bacteria and viruses.
Humans who want to be near the fish can expect to be disinfected, too. Even biologists must disinfect their boots, gloves and other gear upon arriving.
The stream is open for salmon fishing from April 1 through Sept. 30. The creel limit is one fish per day, with a 14-inch minimum length. An extended catch-and-release season runs from Oct. 1 through Oct. 20. During both seasons, the stream is open to fly-fishing only.
For a little variety, the MDIFW also stocks brook trout into the stream. The creel limit on brookies is two fish per day, 6-inch minimum length, from April 1 through August 15. From August 16 through Sept. 30, the limit is one fish per day.
"Bring chest waders," Jordan advised, "because the stream is deep and cold. You can get by with hip boots, but you can't move around as much. It's a good idea to wear felts so you don't slip and slide. There's a pretty good current in some places."
In April, most of the fishing for is salmon that spawned the previous November. They drop out of West Grand Lake in the fall in preparation for the spawn, and most stay in the stream over the winter. Salmon you catch in April will be thin because they'll have lost a lot of weight during the spawn. They spent the winter in the stream where the water is colder and they didn't get to feed a lot -- there are not as many smelts as in the lake.
"There are many beautiful pools in the stream," Jordan said.
"The Dam Pool (immediately below the West Grand Lake dam) and the Hatchery Pool are usually the two best pools in spring."
In April, some anglers just want to be on the water, and if they catch a fish at all, it's a plus.
Usually by May 1, some fat, fresh-run salmon will move into the stream from the lakes. Most of the salmon caught in the stream were stocked into either West Grand or Big Lake. About 2 percent of the fish in the stream are wild salmon that hatched in the stream and grew up there.
After a year or so, they move into the lake. They don't complete their life cycle in the stream. The lakes are where they fatten up.
"There are many beautiful pools in the stream," Jordan said. "The Dam Pool (immediately below the West Grand Lake dam) and the Hatchery Pool are usually the two best pools in spring."
Jordan said that anglers have best spring success with streamer flies.
"Almost any streamer that's popular in Maine will catch salmon in the stream," he said. "The Gray Ghost, Black Ghost, Mickey Finn or the Grand Laker are good for starters. Some people also use nymphs. The beadhead green caddis is one of the best."
In spring high water, Cressey said it's best to fish with a sink-tip line and a short leader.
"Try the Barnes Special, a streamer designed to imitate a yellow perch."
Around mid-May, the Hendrickson hatch begins. Jordan said this is the first big hatch of spring, and salmon start looking toward the surface.
"At this time, they can be taken on a dry fly," he said. "Try a Quill Gordon. The Blue Dun is another mayfly hatch to watch for. Sometime in June, there will be brown caddis hatches, and those can be fantastic. There will be a lot of insects, and that stimulates feeding activity among the salmon.
"Try the light and dark Hendricksons," Cressey advised. "Also the Blue-Winged Olive. For nymphs,
stick with stone flies with a No. 8 hook. Going into mid-May, it's mostly all beadheads. The Hare's Ear and the Prince are popular.
"In July, the water is warm and the flow is down because they are holding water back in the lake," Cressey added. "Although the fishing is best in the stream around 8 to 9 p.m., I wouldn't necessarily go with nymphs at that time of night. Most anglers start fishing with caddis dry flies.
"If you leave your porch lights on overnight, you're apt to see hundreds of caddis on the walls the next morning. There are three colors -- black, yellow and brown. The fish seem to prefer the brown patterns.
"In fall, the salmon begin moving into the stream," Cressey continued. "They drop down from West Grand about the third week of September, and the fishing is prolific for the first 20 days of October. Last year, the pattern that worked best was a No. 20 nymph -- very tiny."
The Domtar Paper Company of Woodland controls the water level on West Grand Lake. In fall, the company works with the MDIFW, who for low water levels by Oct. 20 so that spawned salmon eggs don't end up on dry ground. The outflow depends on how high the lake is and how rainy the fall has been.
"Some years, it's hard to fish the stream if it has been very rainy," Jordan said. "Other years, the water levels are perfect for fishing. By September, the fresh-run salmon are dropping into the stream from West Grand to get ready for the spawn. At the lower end, they are moving up into the stream from Big Lake. Sometimes a good fly-fishing enthusiast will catch five to 15 salmon a day. Angler success depends on the kind of day it is and on getting the right fly directly in front of the salmon."
For more fishing information, call the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000, or log on to Maine.Gov. For travel information, call the Maine Office of Tourism at 1-888-624-6345, or visit VisitMaine.com.