Fish Tales from the Dead

The Fish That Almost Wasn’t

It’s been an better-than-average spring thus far for fishing the Dead River. We’ve fished it enough to learn what to use when, and have worked our way up from not catching anything to catching pretty often. Unlike last year, this year, it’s been a bonanza as we’ve been very successful in the spring catch of landlocked salmon and native brook trout. Knowing what to use is the key to catching fish.

Fishing the Dead River can be frustrating. If it’s down at night, it could be high in the morning because often times the river levels are determined by the white water rafting schedules. I keep the release dates bookmarked on my phone so I can check to see if the river will rise. If it does, it doesn’t drop until 1 p.m. “They say” the best fishing is right after the drop. Honestly, the best fishing is first thing in the morning before they open the dam, and at night when the mayflies hatch or when the fish are feeding just before sunset. This coincides when fish usually feed.

One Sunday, as soon as the river dropped, the trucks poured in. Men in their waders grabbed spots quicker than I could get my waders on despite the fact the water wasn’t even fish-able yet. My mistake. So as I got ready to fish, there was ONE spot open on the island…one spot that was also one of my favorites. As I got ready to cross onto the island, a guy fishing to the left looked over his shoulder and quickly scooted into the spot I had eyed for myself. I was annoyed, but there was still one spot left on the far right near the rapids, IF I could get there first. I quickly changed direction and tried to get over there as quick as I could.

DEAD RIVER AREAAs I made my way across the pools and around to the end, I notice a hatch taking place. I felt like I as being invaded by tiny blue-green bugs and they floated and flew all around me. Some type of mayfly, but to me it didn’t matter. I had my sinking line on my rod that I use with nymphs. There was no chance I was going back to change my lines since this was my ace in the hole, and the only spot open.

My fly boxes sorted by fly type

I pulled out my dry fly box and retrieved a Blue Wing Olive and tied it onto my tippet (the end of my line). I made my way to my spot. The guy fishing where I originally wanted to fish was throwing his line about half way down to me on my left. Perfect. I’d fish more to the left and have access to the deeper water and where the fish were jumping on my right. Meanwhile another fisherman came up and started fishing behind me in the large pool. I kept thinking, “Please don’t hook me”.

I took a couple casts to get the hang of the sinking line with the lure. The lure would float at first, then quickly sink from the weight of the line and the fast current. I took a third cast and landed a small 10 inch salmon. I let it go. The fish were jumping, so I concentrated on placing my fly above the jumps and drifting the fly toward the fish. My confidence was building…I cast again. On the fifth cast, just as my fly started to sink, I got a hit!

The hit was so hard and strong that fish began to run and fight, and the line was stripping out of my hand that was holding the line. As I began reeling in my excess line,  the entire reel fell off my rod!!!! Luckily I was still holding onto it! I tried for a brief moment to put it back on, but a one-handed attempt was asking to lose the fish I had fighting at the end of my line. I quickly stuffed the reel into my waders so I was once again using two hands to fight this fish.

I finally got the line stripped back in so that I could net my beast. He was huge! It’s the biggest salmon I’ve ever caught. The net barely held it. Its tail hung out and in one giant flop, he was out of the net again. After netting the fish a second time: this time holding onto the tail through the net, and schlepping all my gear and line out of the deep water, I blurted out to the guy fishing behind me that I had caught my biggest fish ever. He seemed undaunted. The girl on shore with the cell phone trying to get reception (LMAO- as if) looked at me like I was a crazed woman. The guy off to my left was now changing out his fly/lure…lol.

IMG_20170529_145015211I was elated, and at that point, I decided I wasn’t stopping until I got my fish on the tailgate of the truck so I gave up my spot and headed up. I killed my fish, (which is really humane) and set him on the tailgate. I tried to take a selfie but my arm wasn’t long enough and the fish was too big!

To my surprise, NO ONE had taken my spot in the ten minutes I took to deliver my fish to the truck. I headed back down and reclaimed my spot. Three casts later I was hauling in my second largest fish I’ve ever caught. I was so excited. The kid fishing behind me now had questions and was offering up his help to keep this fish in my net. What are you using? What are you catching? Where should I cast? The guy to my left was still changing out his flies. Me, I was on Cloud 9! Worst part was that hubby had made his way up the upper pool and had no idea I was slamming the fish.

Hubby finally showed up to get a photo of my fish…me out of my waders.

I gave up my spot. I had my two limit salmon and the kid behind me was dying to try my spot. I gave him a few pointers before I left. The guy who had been fishing on my left…left.

I took my fish up the truck and laid it next to the first one. Fish number one measured 21.5 inches, and fish number two measured 19.5 inches. A number of people who showed up to fish just as I was trying to take pictures of my fish had lots of questions. It felt great to share my experience…and to see the little glean of envy from the men. It’s not often I get to catch a big one, let alone two, so it felt wonderful.

So all those guys thought they had the best spot, but I was the one who had the best catch. Lesson learned. There’s fish everywhere…you just have to know how to catch em…

Happy Fishing and always remember to share your knowledge, and to be a courteous fisherman.



Girl Time!

Erin fishing on the stream. (c) S. Warren

The Bear Referendum brought me new friends. One friend is Erin; she is also a hunter and fellow Woman of the Maine outdoors. I’ve never had a lot of time fishing or hunting with anyone other than John or the kids, so when I got the chance to go fishing with a new friend and hopefully show her how to fly fish in my favorite place to fish, I jumped on it.

No fishing on the Dead River today. (c) S. Warren

I couldn’t wait to go fishing. We planned it all out a couple weeks in advance. The river is usually down during the week so I was pretty excited that we’d be able to fish and not be competing with so many other fisherman that are there on the weekends. The Dead River is a rafting river so on weekends when they raft, the river rises and stays high until about one o’clock. Then it drops, we fish, and Sunday it repeats itself. The rest of the time, the river levels are determined by Brookfield, the owner of the dam, so fisherman are at their mercy. Three days out from our big day, we got rain, and a lot of it, but the river levels remained steady. The river was still running low the morning we headed out.


Fishing the Carrabassett by the Wire Bridge. (c) Erin M.

The trip takes an hour and half from my house, and once we leave Anson, cell phone coverage is spotty at best. This meant I couldn’t receive any more river level notifications and we’d have to hope it was still low. We weren’t so lucky. According to another fisherman, about a half hour before we arrived, the river was released and was raging way above any fishable level. I was pretty disappointed since John and I had just come off a stellar weekend of fishing and I didn’t want to let my friend down. In an attempt to salvage the day, we headed to the Carrabassett River. John and I had fished the river and caught some nice brook trout below the wire bridge the week before, and I knew it was accessible and safe to navigate. The scenery was awesome and the river was also high, but still fishable.

We didn’t catch anything, but had a great time checking out all the wildlife and sharing tips on fishing. The one thing we did before the day ended, was to plan another day…after all, we couldn’t possibly strike out twice on getting to fish the Dead.

I watched the river levels every day. I also noticed a systematic behavior of the dam operators. Thursday mornings before the weekend with a rafting release scheduled, they cut the water back to 375-385cf/s…perfect for fishing. What I didn’t realize was that for two straight weeks there would be no rafting release…and you guessed it..the water rose, and it stayed there. I was Dead wrong…the water levels at 1120 cf/second were so high that once again we couldn’t fish it.

Fishing the Kennebec by the dam. (c) Erin M.

This time, I had a plan B in place. I had done my research and decided we’d take on the Kennebec River which also meant facing my long held fears. We parked and hiked down in by the eddy. The water was moving fast but it didn’t look unconquerable. I can say I was nervous because I wasn’t familiar with the river, the drop offs and all the childhood baggage of fearing the Kennebec. I managed to get myself out on this rock that was almost impossible to stand on. I don’t know if it was actually my fear, or my feet screaming to stay on the rock, but I didn’t’ stay long before I gave up and joined my friend on the shore. With no hits we decided to try the other end closer to the dam.

It was a hot muggy day, but the sunshine was still welcome. Dressed in waders and boots, we hiked down to the dam and made our way down to the water. First cast out with my big drake fly, I get a hit when I least expect it…yes, I was talking….and I lose the fish! I get so excited I’m screaming, “Oh my gosh, that was a big fish!” not realizing that if you’ve never caught a fish on a fly rod, you don’t know that feeling of what it’s like to get a big one on the hook. My excitement was contagious to my friend Erin, and it warded off the thirst that was slowing draining my energy for a while. Getting no more hits and roasting in our gear, we decided to head back to the car and get something to drink and eat. By the time we make it back to the car, we are both drenched in sweat…but we didn’t care! Hats on and sweaty pits, we laughed it off as being Women of the Maine Outdoors. We headed back to a store, bought our sandwiches, crawlers to fish with, and drinks, many of them, and we headed out to a different spot much different from what we had been trying to fish. After all, I wanted my friend to catch a fish!

Owls keeping watch as we fish. (c) Erin M.
Nice native brook trout! Tasted yummy too! (c) Erin M.

I was pretty proud of myself for finding the spot since I hadn’t been there for a few years, although we did go the wrong way at first. Once we found it, I informed Erin of the poison ivy that grows there…lots of it. So much so, we decided to wear the fishing gear to keep the poison ivy and bugs off us. It wasn’t nearly as hot since we were in the shade. As we made our way in, we came across two piles of bear poop, lots of turkey tracks and even saw two fledgling owls. Fishing was slow at first. As with any small area to fish, the hardest part is getting the darned worm cast out far enough from shore to actually lure in a fish. We had some good laughs and I climbed out on a tree to rescue a worm caught up in some branches. Fish taunted us as they jumped for flies and bugs while we kept patient and fished with worms. After¬† Erin tried a few attempts to catch one of the fish, I gave it a try. I got lucky and it finally took the bait. I caught a nice 10 inch native brook trout. So this time we didn’t go home empty handed, but there’s already a third trip in the works…and next time Erin will catch a fish! Hopefully the Dead River cooperates and lets us finally have a chance to fish. I know those fish will be ready for some of my tasty looking flies on top of the water!


A big thank you goes out to my friend Erin for a day of fishing and friendship with talk that didn’t encompass my nails, shopping, working out guilt, dieting or any self-deprecating conversations.

And that’s just another reason more women should get in the outdoors.