A Rapid River Primer, Part 2: Tackle, Strategy, and Setting Expectations


Fast forward to 2:55 if you’re just here for the fish!

 

(In case you missed it: A Rapid River Primer, Part 1: Regulations, Access, and Ecology)

 
INTRODUCTION
That old #6 rod collecting dust in the corner ever since you bought a #4 rod? Bring it (and the #4). The Eastern Brook Trout of Rapid River in Western Maine are big and mean and ready to push your tackle to its limits. Have a plan in place when it’s time to make an adjustment after getting refusals, losing fish, or when you’re struggling to find them. Most importantly, set yourself up for success by keeping your expectations in check.

 
TACKLE
When deciding what to toss in your duffel bag before hopping on the boat to head to Lakewood Camps (or the logging road of your choice), err on the side of overpacking. You’re on your own after reaching the far shore.

That #6 rod can have dual purposes for your Rapid River expedition. The primary use will be shortening fights to give these cagey fish less time to spit your barbless hook before they come to hand. The secondary purpose for the truly adventurous is for chucking mouse flies and large streamers at Middle Dam after dark.

Your main setups will feature weighted nymphs fished deep, with the alternatives being dries or dry droppers, and streamers as a final option. Feel free to bring two rods with different rigs to the river, just don’t forget where you left the one you’re not using on the bank!

 
FLIES
For colors, green is the name of the game. Prior to arrival, find a spare fly box and fill it with all of your green flies: dries, nymphs, wets. If you’ve got too many, focus on the smaller ones in sizes 14 to 20. Then, for any of your two-fly rigs, make one of them green. Suggestions: a green Elk Hair Caddis or similar for dries, green RS2s, green WD-40s, green Zebra Midges, and olive Hare’s Ears.

When it’s time to mix it up, try a Patriot Dry Fly or a Pat’s Rubber Legs nymph. The Patriot is an excellent all-around attractor pattern for multiple species and a good option for jaded brook trout. Pat’s Rubber Legs, while traditionally used on Western Rivers, is a surefire leggy way to get attention when fished as part of a multi-fly rig.

flies
The fly selection at Lakewood. Try the Partridge & Orange for salmon!

STRATEGY
“Fishing methods were tempered to some extent by the particular conditions…–for example…the necessity of holding a fish from plunging into the snags with which the channel abounded…’Keep him coming,’ was Ira’s advice when you hooked a big one by a log or where the water was shallow and the bottom uncertain.”

– Leighton Brewer, Virgin Water; Thirty Five Years in Quest of the Squaretail Trout

Before getting into specifics, two books are a must-have for the dedicated “hunter”: Flyfisher’s Guide to New England and In Pursuit of Trophy Brook Trout both by Lou Zambello. Lou also maintains a blog over at Mainely Flyfishing where you can live vicariously as he and his family explore inland Maine.

In the first book, Lou will tell you where to go and what to do to get hooked up to freshwater species across Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In the second book, he will tell you all that and more; most importantly, he’ll mention how the heck to land a trophy-size brook trout, which Lou defines as 17 inches or bigger.

General guidance for targeting the salmonids of the Rapid River would be to prioritize nymphing (either indicator, tight-line, or “naked” nymphing), don’t get lead feet by spending all of your time at Middle Dam, and be prepared for a doozy of a fight with a big brook trout that will do everything it can to dislodge your barbless fly.

Three fish stories and learning experiences from a recent excursion during which this angler lost:

  1. Setting too hard after a solid take on a dry-dropper rig and breaking off 5x tippet at the surgeon’s knot
  2. A hooked brook trout swimming so deep under a rock that the fly line itself became tangled on the bottom; it then managed to get directly downstream from the angler afterwards only to spit the hook.
  3. A different brook trout taking the dry from a dry-dropper rig, then burying its snout on the riverbed and snagging the nymph dropper on the bottom, becoming unbuttoned in the process.

As the guide Ira in Leighton Brewer’s book counsels, steering a wily brook trout away from obstructions, such as into deeper water, can help prevent the devastating outcomes detailed above.

 
GUIDES
Speaking of guides, while the guiding situation at Lakewood Camps is currently in flux because of the coronavirus, the management there can still guide you themselves or at least drive you in their pickups down the river to different spots.

Otherwise, you’ll be in good hands if you spend a day on the water with a certified Registered Maine Guide. Send an email or give a call to the lead guide at Bosebuck Mountain Camps, who is Tom Freedman of Top Notch Fly Fishing.

If he’s already booked on the Magalloway or elsewhere, he’ll send you to his close friend Kris Thompson of Pond in the River Guide Service, the foremost authority on this fishery.

Here’s a short PBS Outdoor Journal video from the mid-2000s featuring Kris and legendary Rapid River caretaker and guide Aldro French.
 

 

If you’re planning a trip to The Great North Woods of Northern New Hampshire and Western Maine, give Tom and Kris a call and they’ll take you out themselves or otherwise steer you in the right direction in search of the fish of a lifetime.

brook trout
Source: Top Notch Fly Fishing LLC

WADING, LEVELS, AND SAFETY
If you’re lucky enough to fish the Rapid at 400 to 600 cfs, you’ll have a much easier time managing than when it’s running at 800 to 1200 cfs. Either way, don’t leave home without your wading staff/hiking pole and studded boots. The flow levels for the day are posted on a whiteboard sign at Middle Dam.

Middle Dam is currently in the process of being repaired. A few of the piers that used to provide easy access to the head of the pool no longer exist. The ones still standing have posted signage insisting that you don’t step off the piers onto surrounding rocks to land fish, rules that appear largely ignored.

middle dam
Middle Dam. Source: Brookfield Asset Management Inc

SETTING EXPECTATIONS
“One’s satisfaction varies inversely according to one’s anticipation. If you expect a 4-pounder and get only a 3, you’re mildly disappointed; but if you expect next to nothing and catch a 2-pounder, you’re pleased beyond words.”

Virgin Water

As mentioned in Part 1, brook trout are not the only species in the Rapid River. The large salmon are fierce fighters, leaping out of the water multiple times as they avoid your net. Not only do you have a chance to catch the biggest brook trout of your life, the same goes for the salmon.

Consider merely hooking any Rapid River brook trout, regardless of size, a success. Landing one on a barbless hook with light tippet on a three ounce fly rod is nothing short of a miracle. The mental challenges of this type of high-stakes fishing can’t be exaggerated. You’re likely traveling long distances and working overtime for the chance to have a close encounter with a single fish. If it doesn’t happen on Day 1, stay positive as there’s always Day 2.

If it doesn’t happen at all, you might have just been there at an imperfect time. June and September are preferred to July and August, but don’t get discouraged if fishing is slow. This is Maine, not Montana. And, New England brook trout populations are inherently smaller than Rocky Mountain populations of other species, such as rainbow trout and brown trout.

The Rapid is also a freestone, not a tailwater, and has water temperatures and flows that are constantly fluctuating. So long as you enjoy the journey and cherish the experience, you’ll always end up satisfied.

brook trout
The author with a decidedly non-trophy-sized South Richardson Lake brook trout caught on the dock at Lakewood Camps.

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11 thoughts on “A Rapid River Primer, Part 2: Tackle, Strategy, and Setting Expectations

  1. Your first fish story/learning experience hit a little too close to home for me. Set the hook on an aggressive dry fly take this past sunday, right when I felt the fish begin to fight, it thrashed on the surface and just barely began to take my excess line when DINK my line snaps at my surgeon’s knot. Would have been my best fish this year, at least it was a barbless wulff so the fish can ditch the fly.

  2. Had a wonderful stay at Lakewood Camps 25 years ago. The raspberry pie remains the best pie of any sort I’ve ever had anywhere. However if you think you are going to be in a remote location forget that. Even 25 years ago there were fishermen up and down the river. Clearly, the boat ride in is not the only access. And, do temper your expectations about catching brook trout. It was not great back then and what I’ve heard and read since suggests a decline with the appearance of smallmouth bass in the river. A recent research report has it that the population of brook trout of any size in that waterway is surprisingly small.

    1. Wish I could say. I read it with interest and moved on and can not, therefore, give you a citation from the fisheries literature. A Google search may get you to it.

  3. Nice writeup David. The Rapid is a tricky river. The brute strength of the river is intimidating and can really wear you out. I have some nice “only in Maine” memories, like catching a landlocked salmon on a dry casting one handed while sitting on a rock eating a cold hot dog (which occupied the other hand). I also almost hit a moose in the dark while riding a mountain bike back to the car on a DIY trip. Saw it’s back half a few feet ahead of me in my headlamp! Amazing place.

  4. I share your passion for the Rapid River. The pond in the River is where I caught a nice fat Brookie that I will remember always. It took patience but was worth it.Thanks for your posts

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