Five-year-old Joseph LeClair of Milford fishes for striped bass near the Milford Dam on the Penobscot River Monday, July 10, 2018. Credit: John Holyoke

OLD TOWN, Maine — A couple miles from what might be the hottest new fishing spot in Greater Bangor, Dave and Melissa Lorenz have spent the past couple years supplying their store — Old Town Trading Post — with the equipment anglers need to target the species that has recently moved to town.

“This fishing shelf ended here [when we bought the store in 2014],” Melissa Lorenz said, pointing at a rack of lures that now extends twice as far down one wall.

The reason: After the removal of two downstream dams on the Penobscot River, many species of fish are now able to swim freely all the way up to Old Town and Milford. Among them is a rock star among game fish: the striped bass.

“The stripers are really the story,” Dave Lorenz said. “When you get a couple of fish up in that 30-inch range [being caught], people say, ‘Oh well, that’s not 14 inches.’”

On any given night, a dozen or more anglers head to the Penobscot River, fishing from shore and targeting those fish with a variety of lures and techniques.

A few nights ago, a fisherman caught a fish that was 31 inches long. On a river where you were always more apt to catch much smaller smallmouth bass, that was big news.

“He got that on [a lure] that we’re out of, of course,” Melissa Lorenz said, chuckling.

Dave Lorenz said anglers have been sharing tips with others while enjoying a fishery that has developed in the area over the past three years.

“It’s very open with what works, where to go, what rock to stand on,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s hundreds of customers or anything like that, but it’s a very committed group. They’re fishing every day. They’re fishing at night.”

Along the shoreline, you’re apt to find anglers using all kinds of lures. Sinking rubber worms, plastic or rubber fish-shaped lures that sink a little bit or that chug along on top of the water are common.

“Floating lures seem to be doing well,” Dave Lorenz said. “Poppers. Big poppers.”

Lorenz said the Old Town and Milford anglers don’t seem to be throwing chunk bait or eels at the stripers the way coastal anglers in southern Maine do, but those who head to the river have their own methods.

“We haven’t got that kind of fishery yet, but we’ve definitely got a ‘stand on the rock, cast a lure’ fishery,” Dave Lorenz said. “And it’s pretty robust, I think.”

Not everyone is using a lure, though. On Monday evening, 5-year-old Joseph LeClair of Milford learned that lesson the hard way.

As LeClair fished with his father, Eric LeClair, and brother, Colson, near the Milford Dam, his line fetched up tight as he was reeling it in. The young angler struggled to make headway but gained a bit of line at a time and eventually hauled in his only “catch” of the night.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a striper. Instead, Joseph caught a long strand of monofilament fishing line with a hook and a weight attached — a classic rig used by anglers who fish with bloodworms for bait.

Old Town Trading Post caters to the bloodworm-dunking crowd as well, selling all the tackle (and the worms) an angler could need.

Eric LeClair said he grew up fishing for sunfish on Chemo Pond, and enjoys being able to take his children to the Penobscot and have the chance for them to catch fish from shore.

He understands that his young anglers — Joseph, along with 7-year-old Colson and 9-year-old Kara — aren’t going to stay interested for long if the fish aren’t biting.

“We come down here, spend an hour or so, and see what we do,” Eric LeClair said.

For those with access to a boat, Captain Pete Douvarjo of Eggemoggin Guide Service said he’s been having plenty of luck farther downstream where the river is still tidal.

“[The] river’s full of bait. Look for a running tide and fish bait around structure. Use your electronics to locate fish then move upstream and drop baits over them. Use cut bait, live herring or [mackerel],” Douvarjo said.

Douvarjo is having luck with large sandworms fished on a sliding rig with 2- to 4-ounce weights. He said many anglers in boats ignore a key element: stealth.

“Make sure to circle far away from the fish as to not spook them with engine noise,” Douvarjo said. “[That is] most anglers’ biggest mistake!”

But don’t expect the charter captain to give up all of his secrets.

“As for exactly where to go? They’ll have to figure that out,” he said.

Even upstream, fishing from shore on the Penobscot, there’s the chance of a good-sized fish swimming past. A few days ago, one fisherman caught a 31-inch striper on the same stretch of the river.

On Monday, the LeClair boys didn’t stick around long enough to entice a fish: Colson became bored and Joseph needed a bathroom break, so they packed up and headed for home.

But they’ll be back.

And Dave Lorenz is among those hoping they have plenty of reasons to come back for a good long time this summer. That may depend on Mother Nature, he said.

“I just go back to my old days when I fished ‘em all the time, and we were catching them in Bath in mid-August. Why wouldn’t they be up here, if they’ve got water?” Dave Lorenz said. “I think that’s more of the wild card than the run. They’ve got to have something to run into and this gets awful bone dry out here … I think it’ll be all about the weather.”

With that said, Dave Lorenz is remaining optimistic.

“I’d like to see ‘em still fishing them the second week of August. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “I think every year will be different.”

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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...