100 Best: Penobscot River, West Branch

Location: Central Maine near Baxter State Park

Type of stream: Freestone tailwater

Angling methods Fly and spin fishing

Species: Landlocked salmon, Brook trout

Access Easy to awful

Season: April - September Supporting

Services: Millinocket

Short take: The toughest landlock water you’ll ever love

Handicapped access: None

The West Branch of the Penobscot is arguably Maine’s most popular landlocked salmon river. One’s chances of hooking into a five pound landlock are better here than on most other Maine Rivers. Dropping 310 feet in the 11.5 miles from the penstocks at McKay Station below Ripogenous Dam to Abol Bridge, the river charges through chutes bound by sharp-edged boulders the size of SUVs. Averaging 200 feet wide, it crashes over three sets of low falls, swirls through turn-holes, sprints down cobbly rapids, and languishes in deadwaters only to pick up steam and race on again. This section is shadowed full length by Golden Road and pull-offs and parking areas are as numerous as fisherman trails leading down to the river. But don’t fool yourself. Access ain’t at all easy.

The uppermost run flows through a deep gorge about a mile from the dam to McKay Station. The walls of the gorge are nearly 250 feet high in places. If you want to find good landlocks and brookies and relatively few anglers, you’re most apt to discover that combination here. The herd of SUV’s and campers nosed into the parking lot at Telos Bridge from the powerhouse says that this is the most popular run. Downstream, the river pools up in the Nesowadnehunk Deadwater, which ain’t dead early in the season. Then salmon and trout abound in its upper end. Further down, the river gushes over another set of falls, gains speed and hustles through a series of pools and runs into the Abol Deadwater, also a misnomer.


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