By Paul F. Thibodeau

Electric Landlocks

Throughout the end of June and the first week in July I'd fished the magical West Branch of the Penobscot River at least 3 days a week. Maine's thunderstorms, in the vicinity of Mount Katahdin, sometimes trigger the game fish to strike along that flow. As the heat of the day creates enormous cumulus nimbus clouds that turn into thunder-makers in the afternoons, the river's game fish usually began to feed.

According to my fishing journal, I arrived at the river around 11:00 a.m. on June 25th. The action was particularly slow until the distant thunder beyond the Ripogenus Dam began to rumble. I'd dropped down to the tail of the pool and had cast a large streamer fly into a dark slick section of the river as the lightning began to crack in the blue-black north-western sky behind me. Suddenly an enormous fish rose and leaped on the drifting fly. Instantly the leviathan, at least 2 feet long, leaped 3 feet into the air as I simultaneously set the hook. The monster shook its head and broke the leader as if the fluorocarbon tippet were thread. Moments later the heavens opened and I was baptized once again in that inspirational river. Before that fishing trip was over I'd hooked 2 more impressive salmon over 20 inches.

On June 29th I once more witnessed very large salmon on that renowned river. One particularly large salmon rose just as the New England and Whitewater rafts floated through 'my' pool. That monster rolled about 40 feet away from one of the bright yellow rafts and me. The sight of that 30" fish as large as an Atlantic salmon made me weak in the knees as I attempted to present a fly to it in its feeding lane. Later in the day, as intermittent showers caressed the dark pool, and caddis flies began to rise, I changed to a West Branch Caddis. The climax to that trip came when I hooked an 18 1/2" landlock that put up a valiant battle. Twice the silvery 'torpedo' leaped from the slick liquid and then ran about its human adversary for several minutes. Finally I directed the irritated game fish above me and let it drop back into my net before freeing it. It's hard to imagine that that little #16 hook would hold such a powerful fish.

July 1st found me once again sleep-deprived and blurry-eyed on the river. That was a day I'll always remember, not only for the number of fish, but also for a big one that didn't get away. My fishing friend and innovative fly tier Chuck Langbien had given me several new flies to try. The weatherman had predicted afternoon thunderstorms, but it was blistering hot and sunny around 11:00 a.m. when I tied on one of Chucks' streamer flies. Having been nymph fishing earlier, I made the same upstream presentation with the large fly. I began to strip the line in so that it was taut. Suddenly I felt the tug of a hidden game fish that bowed the rod tip nearly into the river as I set the hook. Instantly a silvery adversary broke the sun-dappled liquid before me as crystalline water droplets exploded skyward and created concentric circles as the monster fell into the rushing river. Immediately the angry salmon sped off on a heart-stopping downstream charge. Holding the 7-weight Silver Ghost rod high I let my Ross reel's drag do the work as the big fish ran. The landlock ran 30 or 40 yards downstream before it stopped and lay 'sulking' on the river bottom.

"Be patient, hold the rod up and tire this big fish. You've caught Atlantic salmon," I thought as the fish ran toward the quickwater on the left bank, then turned and ran up beside me in 4 feet of amber water. After another 5 minutes I directed the silvery beauty towards the quickwater then into the pool on the opposite side near the granite shoreline, lifted the rod's tip with my aching left arm, and netted the writhing leviathan. Walking towards the rocky wall, exuberant, but a little frustrated because I assumed there would be no photo of the big fish, I unexpectedly heard a voice.

"Hey, Paul. Good fish. Do you want a picture of it?" Greg Bostater, one of the resident Maine Fly Fishing Guides called from a granite boulder on the shore.

He and one of his clients had just appeared from the forest.

"I sure do! It's one of the biggest landlocks I've caught in my life on a fly rod," I replied.

'Boz' waded into the pool, up to his neck, and swam a few feet to the rocky bar as I held the salmon underwater in the net. The accommodating Maine Guide took several nice photos of the 22", 5 pound salmon for me with my camera, and then shot a video of the big fish underwater with his camera as I revived the beautiful fat salmon before releasing it.

If you're looking for a great Maine Guide who knows the West Branch and how to catch its incredible wild salmon you could contact Greg Bostater at : 207-749-1593, or online at either maineriverguides@yahoo.com or http://www.maineriverguides.com/.

For those readers who do not have access to the Internet, the deadline for paper applications for the 2012 Any-Deer Permit is coming right up. Paper applictions may be submitted in person or by mail no later than July 27. Online applications are due by 11:59 p.m. on August 15, 2012. So, I'll need to leave myself a note, because all I can think of right now is fly fishing!

This big female salmon was caught on the West Branch on a large streamer fly. [See Tea Pail].