Downeast Bass

Downeast Bass

Smallmouth bass fishing at Weatherby's lodge

  • By: Jim Reilly
Jeff McEvoy has his hand on the outboard's throttle as he steers the canoe across Third Machias Lake. I'm sitting on the floor of the canoe to cut down on wind resistance and so McEvoy has a clear view of the water in front of us. The lakes in Downeast Maine are littered with rocks that lie just beneath the water's surface, and a novice boater can quickly enter a world of hurt if he hits one.

However, McEvoy, owner of Weatherby's fishing lodge in Grand Lake Stream, is an experienced boat handler and I let him worry about the rocks. I concern myself with the thick layer of clouds that stretches across the sky. It is the middle of June and humid but cool. I look up and think, I really hope it doesn' t rain.

It was supposed to be a quick turn-and-burn mission to the Maine hamlet of Grand Lake Stream to fish for smallmouth bass. Topwater action on the lakes in the region peaks between late May and early June. The bass are breeding in the shallows, and they don't have a lot of forbearance for poppers stripped over their spawning beds during this time. Which is to say, conditions were nearly perfect for fly-fishing. But as the date for my brief trip neared, the forecast indicated an approaching cold front that threatened to stall the fishing.

Of course on the afternoon I arrived at Weatherby's, the weather was still perfect. After I checked in and dropped off my bags at the small cabin I was assigned, there was enough daylight left to fish the eponymous river that flows through Grand Lake Stream. The stream is a small, three-mile-long, fly-fishing-only river that connects Grand and Big lakes, and anglers have been coming to fish it since the 19th Century. It still attracts a healthy number of anglers from across the country, and at times it can be quite crowded. But on that afternoon I had a long stretch all to myself.

I tied on a bright brook trout streamer and began searching for fish in the stream's clear water. I spotted a pod of salmon in a deep hole, and although a few swings of the streamer didn't draw any attention from them, a gigantic smallmouth darted out from under a log and inhaled the fly. After a long fight, which I almost lost when the bass wrapped the leader around a log, I let out a small exclamation as I netted it--a broad, 18-incher. Not long afterward, I headed back to the lodge in high spirits and barely able to contain my excitement for tomorrow's fishing.

And then the cold front moved in.

McEvoy plots a course for the leeward shore where we will be out of the wind. The overcast sky makes spotting spawning beds and sight-casting to fish difficult, so we do the only thing we can: We chuck our flies as near to shore as possible and strip them in. We both begin with poppers, but over the course of the day we try sliders and some large streamers. McEvoy lands a couple bass and I miss a few strikes as we work around the first cove. The constant wind blows us around, and McEvoy starts the engine to get us into position on another bank.

Third Machias is just one of a dozen lakes that guests at Weatherby's fish. Most are within a 20-mile radius of the lodge, but it can take a while to get there on the gravel logging roads that connect them. On our drive to Third Machias Lake in the morning, McEvoy took it easy so as not to bang up the Grand Laker canoe we had on the trailer. On the way we saw a lone moose emerging from a marsh.

Along with the quantity and quality of smallmouth bass, these lakes are remarkable for another reason: There is nothing on them. No condos, no marinas and no McMansions. Nothing but rocks and trees line the shore. As McEvoy describes them, "The lakes are undeveloped, wild and spectacular," and so they will remain. McEvoy should know; he was a leading voice in the drive to protect the region's forests and lakes through the Downeast Lakes Land Trust. "People can't believe that there is no development and no other fishermen out," he says. And he's right--we are the only boat on the water.

Following a shore lunch of hamburgers and a fresh pickerel that we caught ("Eat a pickerel, save a bass," McEvoy said when he filleted it), things pick up. A light rain falls as we fish our way around a small islet, and the fishing turns on. For the next 15 minutes we have more action then we've had all day. I pick up a nice 17-inch bass that, to be honest, scared the hell out of me when it erupted out of the water to take the popper. McEvoy lands several, and then, when the cloudburst passes, it's all over.

We wind up the reels, stash the rods and McEvoy points the canoe towards the launch. Then we race against the darkening clouds.