Sean McCormick has invited me to float Maine’s Kennebec River with him for the last four years and we just made it a consecutive half decade this past Sunday. This trip has become one of those anticipated events that quietly emerges as a fixed point in one's life. This year I invited old friend and ski industry veteran Tom Maneggia to join me for the drift. The plan was to fish the 8 and 1/2 mile Bingham stretch which would be a variation on the established groove. We have concentrated on the Solon section in all our previous drifts. One distinction between the two float choices is that Solon offers the possibility of battling fiesty browns while Bingham is well known for its wild, never-stop-pulling rainbows. The similarities are that an angler has the potential to also catch a smorgasbord of other river species including brook trout, splake, landlocked salmon, smallmouth, suckers and chubs. I've heard whitefish are even a remote possibility but catching the whole array in one trip would probably be impossible, like finding a pot of gold.
Tom and I were both pleased to be throwing 4 and 5 weight floating lines as opposed to chucking our typical 3oo grain cable on saltwater sticks but we didn't verbalize it to each other until the following day. Surface activity was light but consistent and we caught fish with regularity as we meandered our way down river. Three way conversations drifted from topic to topic and would be punctuated only by something needing to be netted. Over time our focus became lunch. We anchored the drift boat along an exposed gravel bar separating two river channels and as we ate a ceremonial meal things began to change. We noticed that the bar was disappearing and the Coleman stove was sitting in water where it once sat on the dry stones. The river flow is dam controlled and it was coming up which wasn't expected until much later according to the authorities' published forecast. Given the situation we readied our watercraft and began the next phase of our journey. The water continued to rise and the definition of surface activity changed from seeing rising fish to looking out for floating debris. The water column was now filled with all the flotsam and jetsam that was once on dry ground.
There is a significant difference between fishing and catching and we were now immersed in the first one of those activities. Our confidence level for catching began to erode as we drifted along but our hope was maintained by the thought that the higher water would actually improve our chances on the dead water section at our journey's end. Visions of something resembling a lake with dimples left by big cruisers occupied our minds eye while we made unsuccessful casts in what would have been productive pools before the increased flow. Conversation was now intermittent and there were long pauses of silence as we drifted toward the last section. Bugs danced on the water as if they knew that the fish were off duty.
We hadn't caught a fish in hours and we saw no rises on the final expanse of river. Our hopeful theory was now in question. It looked like time to throw in the towel. We sat silent with eyes searching for any sign of a rise. Darkness was beginning to dominate the landscape and Venus was visible in the sky. I recall watching a bald eagle cruise the tree line just before a subtle shift began to happen. Off in the upstream distance we saw a lone rising fish which stirred our dwindling motivation. Within a few minutes there were three or four more risers on a waterscape that was as big as three football fields. Instead of packing it in we decided to chase after a few of these cruisers even though our chances of catching a bat were much better than catching one of these skittish fish. Sean delivered and put both Tom and I on 11th hour opportunities before the last trace of light was gone. Tom hooked a nice salmon and played it to the boat before it vanished in the black water avoiding the net. I connected with muscular brookie (photo below) that made it to hand. It was too dark to really get a good look at him especially after the camera flash went off, but with the shot taken, we slipped him back into darkness.
Sean rowed us toward the lights of the dam and pointed out the line of stone deadmen from logging days gone by. At the take out we readied the drift boat and gear for travel and headed for home at the day's last hour. The next morning I remember thinking that it was the kind of trip which tests patience, skill and endurance. It wasn't the kind of trip where you knocked it out of the park, yet I felt as if we did, maybe even more so. At any rate, I figured this post needed a few more words than usual. Thanks for reading.
Photos by Steve Stracqualursi