Michael McCarthy of Bangor completes a cast as guide Dan Legere of the Maine Guide Fly Shop looks on during Sunday's drift down the East Outlet of the Kennebec River. Credit: John Holyoke

BIG MOOSE TOWNSHIP, Maine — Before the trip down the East Outlet of the Kennebec River even began, guide Dan Legere offered a warning to Bangor’s Michael McCarthy.

“I’m going to be throwing a lot of information at you,” the longtime registered Maine guide said. “You’re not going to remember it all. Just do the best you can.”

McCarthy, a quiet man by nature, simply nodded his head, and spent the rest of the day doing his to best to respond to all of the lessons and cues that Legere passed along.

McCarthy was the winner of the BDN’s 16th annual Win a Drift Boat Trip contest. The grand prize is exactly what you’d think: A full-day drift down one of Maine’s top fly fishing waters, with Legere, the owner of Maine Guide Fly Shop in Greenville, who is one of the state’s top fly fishing guides:

The only catch: Until Sunday, McCarthy had never, ever been fly fishing.

No matter.

“Ooh, you see that? That was a fish,” Legere said, pointing to the left bank of the river some 75 yards downstream. “But forget about that fish right now.”

Credit: John Holyoke

Before the fishing, McCarthy needed a lesson or two.

Legere talked McCarthy through the basics — fly rod mechanics, why certain flies might work, and the techniques he’d need in order to propel the fly out in front of a feeding fish — and in short order, the first-timer was performing well enough to cash in.

Before long, Legere let McCarthy turn his attention to that still-feeding fish, and the new fly fisher got to test out his newly learned skills.

“Casting to a feeding fish is what we live for,” Legere said. “It’s the ultimate con act.”

The act: Convince a fish that the collection of feathers and fur attached to the end of your line is actually a living insect, and that it should be gobbled down.

Less than an hour into his fly fishing career, McCarthy made those lessons pay off, as he hooked a fish. And while he was hoping to target brook trout or landlocked salmon, he was still smiling as Legere pulled in a less admired kind of fish.

“A cooperative chub!” Legere exclaimed. “Not the targeted species, but it’s your first fish on a fly rod, with a fly. So that’s great. And that was a fish that you spotted, you made a good drift to him, and you got him.”

The rest of the day was full of similar moments, as McCarthy used Legere’s advice to catch plenty of fish. That chub was the only one of the day. The rest of the fish brought to net were frisky landlocked salmon.

And McCarthy also received a graduate-level education in reading water and finding fish.

“Ninety percent of the fish are in 10 percent of the water,” Legere told him. “Part of the battle is keeping your fly in productive water.”

Credit: John Holyoke

Legere doesn’t like to fish more than three different flies over a feeding fish — at that point, he says, you may end up drifting 30 flies over it and still end up with nothing to show for it. And he doesn’t like leaving feeding fish to find feeding fish.

But fishing out of a drift boat has distinct advantages. Chief among those: Legere can anchor the boat in the optimum location so that his clients can access productive water.

“The bow of the boat is always going to be aimed at a fish,” he told McCarthy. “We set up on an eddy line, with fast water on one side and slower water on the other, and the bow is aiming at fish.”

Before the day was through, McCarthy learned how accurate Legere’s words were. Over one 25-minute span, he and this writer combined to catch five landlocked salmon in one productive run.

Fast water on one side. Slower water on the other.

And fish everywhere.

Afterward, McCarthy said his first day of fly fishing was all he’d dreamed it would be.

“I loved it,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to try fly fishing, but I don’t have any friends who do it, and I didn’t have anybody to show me. Now, I’m sure I’ll get a fly rod and go fly fishing again.”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...