Last Chance Dance at Rapid River (Part 1)

A short water release video of a Rapid River brook trout in spawning colors.

“You guys should come back the last week in September.” These were the parting words that I had heard three months earlier in mid-June from the manager at Lakewood Camps.

As I made my way down to the dock at the end of my first trip to Rapid River in Western Maine, the suggestion gave me visions of brightly colored brook trout in spawning colors jumping over each other trying to eat my fly. Knowing that I had a baby on the way in late August, this seemed like a pipe dream. Well, baby had other ideas and came early, so I made plans in the waning days of summer for a fishing trip.

This would be the final excursion of the prime spring and summer fishing seasons, with the lakes and rivers in the North Zone of Maine closing for open water fishing on September 30th.

The author at Lakewood Camps hurriedly unpacking.

With an understanding wife and a happy two-month old at home, I packed the Subaru, a new RTIC cooler, and an overstuffed fly box and hit the road. My companions for the weekend would be my personal friend Bryan, father Mike, and family friend Steve.

Bryan had forgotten to get his Maine fishing license, so we stopped at Kittery Trading Post as we motored north. While Bryan waited in line, I picked up some flies and equipment at the downstairs fishing section. I wanted Mop flies to try, but they surprisingly didn’t carry any. We suffered through an agonizingly long and slow checkout line, then hopped back in the car. We stopped next at Oxbow Beer Garden in Oxford, a must-go-to destination for pizza as well as farmhouse style and barrel-aged beers.

Passing through Andover, we called camp manager Dan to let him know that we were on our way to the docks. Soon enough, we were in the comfortable cabin cruiser boat that Lakewood uses to shuttle guests.

Suddenly, is that a float plane in the distance? What the heck? WHOOSH! An F-35 buzzed us in the middle of South Richardson Lake and roared away in the distance. My research later that week revealed that the fleet of F-35s stationed at the Burlington Vermont Air National Guard base commonly fly through Western Maine as part of their combat readiness training, an area known as Condor Military Operations Area. The fly-by was quite a surprise!

Not a sonic boom, but close. An F-35 in the distance.

We checked in, rigged up, and stormed down to the river. We observed that the northern sluices at Middle Dam had recently been closed, which changed the holding areas for fish. While we don’t 100% know what next spring will hold in terms of the repairs being done at Middle Dam, the current situation yields itself well to patient anglers.

Wading was easy here even at 900 cfs, and there was plenty of room for multiple people. In short order, Steve caught a bass, and the skunk was off our fishing party. Bryan and I decided to walk the entirety of the woods trail along the northern side of the river down to Pond in the River.

This was slow going and hard to follow but still a beautiful hike. However, there were not many obvious places to stop and cast. We hit a few areas, checked out Pond in the River (where I fashioned an anchor for one of the leaky rowboats from a rock and salvaged line), and walked back along the Carry Road (much easier).

Steve gets the skunk off with a smallmouth (the only one we saw, thankfully) by the closed northern sluice.

Over Shepherd’s pie and Scotch at dinner, Dad and Steve said that fish had been splashing all over the place at Middle Dam but they had been unable to hook any.

Pond in the River glimpsed through the trees from the river trail.

I awoke at 4:37 am the following morning, unable to sleep any more due to a nagging arm injury. I shook it off and was on the water at Middle Dam by 6:15 am, just after first light and 20 minutes before sunrise.

After cycling through dry flies without any takes, I extended my leader with several feet of 6x Rio Fluoroflex Plus Tippet (I buy the guide spools these days to cut down on waste), and put on one of my smallest flies: a size 26 black and pink dry fly purchased from Mountain High Fly in Lincoln, NH for fishing Profile Lake.

Using it as the trailer fly as part of a two-fly-dry-fly rig (something I had never tried before), I landed a beautiful 10″ brook trout (seen in the video above). The spawning colors on its fins and its pale wild flanks were beautiful, and the trip was immediately a success in just the first 24 hours.

The author making his way down to the newly remodeled Middle Dam.

Over the following hour, Bryan hooked a large salmon at the head of the pool which promptly jumped clear out of the water and spit the hook. I hooked a much larger brook trout on a Patriot dry fly and it long-line released itself as it was coming into my net, thanks to some bumbling of the 6x tippet. I’ve since purchased a long handled net with a large rubber basket to make landing fish (including those of one’s fishing partner) easier.

The view for most of the time we spent fishing, great foliage!

Saturday was also opening day for hunting season of grouse and pheasant in this area of Maine, and we encountered hunting parties wearing hunters orange clothing coming back for the day. After swapping stories, we filed in for breakfast with some good stories to tell.

More to come in Part 2!

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One thought on “Last Chance Dance at Rapid River (Part 1)

  1. Fished it one weekend by hiking in. Had good luck at the head of Pond in the River by Euronymphing Quasimodo PTails, and swinging Zonker at inlet using most of the fly line to cover the water way downstream. A wonderful place to visit.

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