Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Ninety-one

Maine's Allagash River Canoe Trip

By Rob Jagodzinski, Irvington, NY

"In the night I dreamed of trout-fishing;
and, when at length I awoke,
it seemed a fable that this painted fish
swam there so close to my couch..."

Henry David Thoreau penned those words about a trip he made to northern Maine's Allagash River region in 1846.

A century and a half later, wild brook trout can still be found in the waters outside the tent flaps of adventurous fly fishers who travel to the Allagash.

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway, as it was officially named in 1966 when the state of Maine set it aside for protection, encompasses a chain of big headwaters lakes and the powerful river they feed. The 100-mile long watercourse, which is also a National Wild and Scenic River, sprawls across the rural north-central part of the state.

Along with native brookies and lake trout, the Allagash contains brawling rapids, brooding lakes, ancient portages, remnant stands of old-growth white pine forest, moose, bear, loons and blackflies. Fear of the latter swarming pests keeps some people from venturing into the area in spring, when stream fishing is good. But heavy doses of repellent and cigars can hold black flies at bay in late May and June, when they are most severe.

A multi-day float/fly fishing trip is one of the best ways to experience the Allagash. Day trips are possible, but there are only a few sporting lodges in the area and the nearest town to the south, Millinocket, is about 50 miles of rough logging roads away. There are no towns or services along the river, largely because much of northern Maine remains owned by timber companies, so commercial forests lie beyond the public waterway's boundaries.

Keep in mind that lack of services along the river means paddlers must bring all food and gear with them. There's nowhere to re-stock ice chests or fly boxes, so people who venture onto the river have to be prepared for a self-contained trip.

Of course, there are plenty of guide services in the region that will supply all the food and gear for an Allagash excursion. During a guided trip, anglers are usually responsible to bring their own rods and reels, tackle, sleeping bags and personal amenities; everything else is generally provided.

Visitors who camp along the waterway must use designated campsites, which are often spaced more than a mile apart to allow for privacy and maintain the peaceful character of the Allagash. The sites haven't changed much since Thoreau journeyed into the area: there's a table and tarp pole at each site, along with a fire ring and nearby outhouse. Many sites have springs near them, but the waterway cautions people to purify any water you plan to drink.

The state of Maine still manages the Allagash as a wild fishery and no stocking takes place.

Several canoe trips of varying mileage are possible on the Allagash. The longest is about 110 miles, beginning at 4,300-acre Allagash Lake, at the very top of the watershed, descending the headwaters lakes and into the river, then ending at Allagash Village, just above the confluence with the St. John River. A slightly shorter trip of some 90 miles starts at Chamberlain Lake and ends at tiny Allagash Village.

An even shorter trip of about 60 miles, which skips the headwaters lakes, starts at Churchill Dam and ends at Allagash Village.

For those who have a week to spend on the river, the Allagash Lake put-in is attractive because good fly fishing for brookies is possible during key hatch periods.

"The best time to fly fish Allagash Lake in my opinion is from mid-June to about July 7. This is when we get our big green drake hatches and the lake can come alive if you hit it right," says Mike Yencha, who runs Loon Lodge, a sporting camp several miles from the lake. "Even the larger trout will come to the surface" during the major green drake hatches. "And by large, I mean trout up to 4 pounds."

Yencha suggests a size 6 or 8 green drake pattern. Yellow Hornbergs in similar sizes also work well when the bite is on.

Special regulations allow only non-motorized canoes on Allagash Lake and prohibit vehicles from driving within one mile of the shore. These kinds of restrictions generally mean people who put the effort into getting to the lake can find solitude and decent fishing.

After mid-summer temperatures cool off, the fishing picks up again in September with caddis hatches in both Allagash Lake and its inlet and outlet streams. A size 12 or 14 elk hair caddis pattern works well for autumn fishing, Yencha says.

From Allagash Lake, the waterway continues down Allagash Stream, a thundering little river navigable by canoe throughout the spring and early summer in most years. Canoeists who tackle Allagash Stream should feel comfortable paddling in Class II whitewater, as there are some sharp ledge drops and rapids on the stream. There is one scenic portage around impassable Little Allagash Falls.

After about 6 miles, Allagash Stream flows into Chamberlain Lake, a 15-mile-long, narrow body of water that can get rough in high winds. To avoid the winds, paddlers can use a three-quarter mile portage trail at the northeast cove of Chamberlain Lake, taking it to Eagle Lake. The path passes next to a pair of old locomotives, relics from the region's lumbering days 100 years ago. Or canoeists can continue down the east shore of Chamberlain Lake and float down a mile-long canal to get to Eagle Lake.

Chamberlain and Eagle lakes hold brook trout and togue. Brookies are easiest to find in the spring, when fly fishers often troll streamers such as grey ghosts or big smelt patterns along the shoreline. Hatches of caddis and drakes also bring brookies to the top in early summer.

After crossing Eagle Lake, then Churchill Lake, the next major waypoint is Churchill Dam, which impounds the Allagash headwaters lakes. The actual river portion of the waterway begins below the dam. The swift current below the dam draws brook trout from downstream, and fishing the pools with hare's ear and caddis nymphs can be good.

A nine-mile pitch of water called Chase Rapids begins at the tailrace of the dam. Canoeists not comfortable with navigating Class II rapids can pay a ranger $10 for a shuttle to the bottom of the whitewater section. Or they can just have their gear shuttled downstream and run the rapids in empty canoes. The pools between the fast water sections can hold big trout, so it might be wise to bring a fly rod that can be stowed in the boat when paddling through the whitewater.

After the rapids, the river flows into Umsaskis Lake, then Long Lake, about 15 miles total. Trolling big streamers en route often elicits strikes. The bluff overlooking washed-out Long Lake Dam offers nice campsites and the deep pool below the dam can give up nice fish on nymphs and streamers. A sink-tip line will help get streamers down to the fish in the slick current.

Below Long Lake Dam the river cruises for 10 miles to Round Pond, the last lake on the waterway. From Round Pond, the river flows some 18 miles to Allagash Falls. The river between the pond and falls contains some productive stretches, with quickwater, riffles and deep pools ballasted by cobblestones and car-sized boulders. As the main river warms in June, fly fishers can usually find brook trout at the mouths of the many feeder streams that pump cold water into the Allagash. Attractor dries such as a #12 Royal Coachman or Humpys often work well here, along with streamers such as Woolly Buggers and Muddlers.

Allagash Falls, near the end of the waterway, provides a scenic highlight to the trip. The falls thunder down a 40-foot cascade and roar into a big pool where nymphing can net good brook trout fishing.

The river continues for another 14 miles or so downstream of Allagash Falls, ending at the confluence with the St. John River, in the tiny town of Allagash.

For more information about Allagash Lake and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway contact:

    Northern Region, Bureau of Parks and Lands
    106 Hogan Road
    Bangor, ME 04401
    (207) 941-4014

Anglers may purchase licenses online and get information on fishing regulations via the Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at: http://www.informe.org/moses/

For maps and rules about access to the region via paper company roads:

    North Maine Woods, Inc.
    P.O. Box 421
    Ashland, ME 04732

A Delorme Gazeteer for Maine will also prove invaluable; find one at most sporting goods stores.

For guide service, lodging, shuttle arrangements and floatplane access in the region, contact:

    Loon Lodge
    (May 1 to Nov. 30th)
    P.O. Box 404
    Millinocket, ME 04462
    (207) 745-8168

    (Dec. 1 to April 30)
    P.O. Box 2469
    Wilkes-Barre, PA 18703
    (570) 287-6915

    Allagash Guide Service
    RR1 Box 131D
    Allagash, ME 04774
    (207) 398-3418
    allaguide@ainop.com ~ Rob

About Rob:

Rob currently works for the Associated Press as News Editor for the Press Multimedia Services in NYC. Responsible for rewriting and posting breaking news, business and sports stories for AP online customers including Yahoo! news, ABC.com, and hundreds of Web sites operated by daily newspapers throughout the country. He has a wide background as a editor and writer, including a stint as Photojournalist for Pacific Stars and Stripes. We are delighted to welcome his voice here. You can reach Rob at robjag@optonline.net

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