- Interested in the Doodle Bug? I wrote a post about it last year – Fooling Around with the Doodle Bug Dry Fly
- Want to contribute to preserving special places like the Magalloway River? Check out the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust – Mailbox Pool Conservation Area
- Need help finding or landing the big one in Northern New Hampshire or Western Maine? Hire fly fishing guide Tom Freedman for the day with Top Notch Fly Fishing
At 5:45 AM on the Fourth of July, there was one other vehicle parked on the side of the road by the trailhead for Mailbox Pool on the Magalloway River in Western Maine. My worst nightmare – a Tacoma with Maine plates. I wouldn’t be as concerned if it were a Chevy or GMC – not as fishy. It also wouldn’t be a big deal if it had out of state plates – less likely to be a local ace. But a Mainer with a Tacoma? On the best tailwater brook trout fishery in the Lower 48? A surefire candidate to hook all the fish in the river before I show up tardy!
On cue, I met a younger fellow in a hoodie by the river. He said that the fish were active and eating large stoneflies. “Oh, is that what you were using as your fly?” I gently inquired. “No, I wasn’t. But good luck!” he smiled. My heart sank. I was late to the party, didn’t know what fly patterns were working well, and was about to target picked over fish.
I cycled through a few different rigs at Mailbox Pool – streamers and tightlining. Nothing, though I swear I felt a giant fish bump into my leg while I waded. I’ve fished Mailbox a couple times, and it’s a confusing part of the river for me with its large back eddy. I only saw one fish pop in the riffles and then one jump out of the water right next to me over the course of 45 minutes.
I was getting angsty and also wanted to be respectful in case there were other unseen anglers on the trail behind me waiting, so I decided to move on. Besides, if Mr. Tacoma had been there since dawn, all the giant brook trout and landlocked salmon in the pool would have been fished over already, or at least that’s what I told myself. There’s a lot of water to cover on the Magalloway if you’re fit and have the legs to make it through the muck and mud on the trails.
There was another female angler near where I wanted to start at a different spot, but I left her alone. Anyone willing to get up so early on a holiday and fight the sea monsters on the Magalloway deserves space and solitude. Shortly, she moved on and I was able to cast into the run. It’s a long rapid that’s not as wide and easier to manage without conflicting currents or eddies.
I cycled through a few different flies – a traditional Rangeley style smelt imitation streamer, a mop fly, a conehead muddler. No rises or splashes. “Thin to win,” I thought. I added 7x tippet to a new 6x leader and tied on a #10 Doodle Bug after clamping the barb down. After a couple casts, splash! I eased the small fish downstream and then scooped him up in my long-handled net. I was as giddy as can be. Dry fly fishing on the Magalloway! Brook trout paradise!
I let the 10 inch trout go, dusted off my fly, and got back to it. Then, bam! Big brook trout! I had set the drag on my L.L. Bean Streamlight Ultra II reel (my favorite freshwater reel) to next to nothing, but it was still too much in the fast current. The trout took line off the reel, shook his head, and, with another pulse on my #6 rod, broke me off.
Simultaneously disappointed and enthralled, I replaced the 7x with 6x and put on a #12 Doodle Bug. Soon enough, set! Except setting the hook this time resulted in another breakoff.
Finally having learned my lesson, I cut off the two feet of 6x tippet remaining on the leader and tied on three feet of 4x. To mix it up, I tried the largest grasshopper pattern in my fly box. A salmon splashed on the fly but didn’t take it. Another rose to the bug but I missed it. Finally, a hefty brook trout gulped it down. I had been judiciously clamping the barbs down on my flies in accordance with the special regulations on the Magalloway, and I’ll blame that for why that fish came unbuttoned after a 30 second fight.
After another fish spit the hook following a short fight, I decided to call it a day. I was happy to have landed a decent fish and to have only suffered a couple mosquito bites. I knew that the family was back at the cabin waiting for me to return and that the fish would still be there if I could make it back to the river. Well, I didn’t make it back the next day, but that’s OK. It turns out that the flow was 350 cfs (Safe Waters/Brookfield Renewable link) while I was there on Tuesday but then 660 cfs the next morning. So, the outstanding dry fly fishing that I had might not have been reproduced the next day.
No worries. I do now officially have big trout fever though. Looks like the water level will be back to the low 350 cfs fisherman’s flow next week starting Monday. If you see a Forester with Massachusetts plates parked up in Wilsons Mills, come find me by the river and I’ll give you a Doodle Bug or a Chubby Chernobyl if I have any left!