Finding fish, Maine guide Dan Legere will tell you, can be pretty easy at this time of year, when the tell-tale rings of rising trout and salmon dapple the waters of the East Outlet of the Kennebec River.
Figuring out what those fish are actually feeding on? That can be a bit of a challenge.
Early Sunday morning, Legere, the owner of the Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, warned John St. Onge of Cumberland and me that the day’s fly-fishing trip might be a bit frustrating at times.
“There are so many different kinds of caddis [flies] on the water, it’s hard to pinpoint what the fish are eating,” Legere told us as we prepared to depart on the trip that St. Onge won in the BDN’s annual “Win a Drift Boat Trip” contest.
St. Onge was the 14th winner of our annual contest. Although he hails from southern Maine, he’d fished the East Outlet before, and had hired Legere as his guide on one occasion.
As Legere himself would put it, St. Onge “knew the game.”
And despite a veritable smorgasbord of fish food in the form of caddis flies with brown, tan and green bodies — fish pay attention to this kind of thing — it didn’t take St. Onge and Legere to get dialed in … sort of.
Legere spent much of the first two hours offering new fly selections to St. Onge, in hopes of finding a fishy snack that several fish would find attractive.
“Just catch me another fish on that same fly,” Legere said at one point, after St. Onge had caught and released a frisky young landlocked salmon. “The idea is to get a ‘game’ going on, so that you can use the same fly for awhile.”
That really didn’t happen.
Thankfully, St. Onge is a polished fly fisher, and seemed to read Legere’s mind, casting to seams of water that his guide had yet to identify. And Legere’s constant changes of the flies St. Onge was offering paid off.
“Just about the time I tell you where I want you to [cast], you put it right where I was going to tell you,” Legere said with a chuckle after St. Onge dropped a dry fly in a perfect spot.
Legere has been guiding on the East Outlet for years — he owned the second drift boat in the state, he’ll tell you — and throughout the day, he kept looking for clues that would help us figure out “the game.”
At one point, while fishing weighted flies, St. Onge caught a stick. Legere quickly snagged it and began studying the soggy branch, hoping for signs of insect life.
“It hasn’t been down there long enough to become a laboratory yet,” Legere reported.
We struggled to find a fly that two different fish would eat, but Legere found plenty of flies that a single fish would eat once.
By lunchtime, with nine fish already brought to hand, St. Onge wasn’t complaining.
“Well, that was a successful morning,” he said with a grin.
And the successful day continued all afternoon, as we worked our way downriver.
Years ago, Legere focused a lot of his attention on fishing the ponds of the Moosehead Lake area, he told us. In fact, when he started guiding he had a large boat that he used to take people onto Moosehead, where they trolled for salmon, brook trout and lake trout.
In recent years, he has spent most of his time on the East Outlet and the West Branch of the Penobscot.
It’s what his clients prefer, he said.
“Now, everyone wants to be on moving water. Around every corner is a new adventure,” Legere said as our own adventure continued. “And there’s nothing like running a river in a boat.”
At the end of the day, I’m confident to assert that both St. Onge and I agreed wholeheartedly.