I have long heard the stories about productive smallmouth bass fishing on the Penobscot River.
Until last Saturday, despite living in Bangor my entire life, I had never taken advantage of that opportunity.
Enter Steve Alekshun of Brewer, whom I met back in February at his Unique Lures booth at the Penobscot Fly Fishers’ Cabin Fever Reliever.
Steve generously contacted me recently, asking if I would be interested in fishing the Penobscot with him. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Bangor, Old Town and many other communities have long thrived alongside the Penobscot, which is renowned for its Atlantic salmon runs of yesteryear. With them now protected under the Endangered Species Act, anglers have targeted other species.
If you’re looking for fishing action within a short drive of Bangor, the river offers plenty of productive smallmouth bass habitat. For me, the trip was an education about a great area to fish that’s close to home and taught me how many different types, colors and sizes of lures can actually catch fish.
I met Steve at 6 a.m. Saturday at the Greenbush boat launch. As his mother always told him to arrive early for any appointments, he already had his boat in the water and was ready to roll when I pulled into the parking lot.
Steve has fished that section of the Penobscot numerous times, thus had planned a winding route around the islands within a couple of miles of the landing, targeting some of his favorite spots.
We hadn’t been on the water 10 minutes when, after seeing bait fish swimming near the surface, he landed his first smallmouth.
It was a gorgeous, clear day and initially the sun was still low on the horizon, peeking through the tree-lined shores. Within a couple of hours, we were bathed in sunshine and treated to temperatures in the upper 80s.
An occasional light breeze blowing across the water provided intermittent respite from the heat, but we were not complaining. We both stuck with pants and long sleeves to stay covered up.
I donned the broad-brimmed Filson canvas hat that fishing buddy — and former Bangor Daily News colleague — John Holyoke had given me many years ago. It’s the perfect solution for a mostly bald head!
I accounted for everything except for my hands, which received a slight sunburn, and my face, which wound up reddened from the reflection of the sun off the water.
We moved around to several different spots in Steve’s vintage Grumman aluminum boat, “Major Wake,” which enabled us to get over and around obstacles. OK, most of them.
I failed to hook up on the first few strikes, but finally got a fish into the boat about 45 minutes into our trip. Steve had already landed a handful, demonstrating his command casting some of his favorite lures.
Did I mention that he makes all of his own lures? Lots of them. On two occasions, he was even flinging a topwater lure that he had hand carved.
My education about fishing the Penobscot had already begun and the insight into the variety of lures and their effectiveness in targeting smallmouths came fast and furious.
There are crankbaits, spinner baits and jig spinners. Steve’s private collection also includes some spoons that he cut and pounded out of copper and modified to his liking.
I have to confess, my repertoire of bass-casting lures over the decades has been pretty limited. I always stuck with old standbys such as the Daredevil, Super Duper, Kastmaster and Al’s Goldfish.
My success rate with those at Sebago Lake was pretty decent, so I probably had one or two poppers, a single jig spinner and other items that remained tucked into my tackle box trays or stored in boxes of seldom- or never-used lures.
Steve opened my eyes to a whole new world of casting possibilities, and the results were impressive.
I caught my first smallmouth on a “Pink Princess,” a pink and gray Flatfish-style lure with double treble hooks. This one, complete with Steve’s autograph on the body, was bigger than the F-7 size that I have long used for trolling and as a result could be casted effectively.
It was on that particular lure that I caught a couple of the fish I landed.
Perhaps two hours into the outing, we (and by we I mean mostly Steve) had landed several fish on four or five different Unique Lures creations. For a while, we were actually keeping track.
By late morning, having tried three or four different lures, I went back to one that I had bought from Steve at the Cabin Fever Reliever. The “Olive Gold” is a green jig spinner with some sparkly threads.
Naturally, I had already misplaced it before heading out, so Steve provided one from his supply. It took a long time, but when the bass finally started hitting, the action was fast and furious.
During a span of perhaps a half-hour, I caught six or seven fish on the “Olive Gold” along the west shore of the river. I was on fire, finally!
In all, we employed perhaps a dozen Unique Lures. They also included a well-used “Bassassin,” along with the “Blueberry Shad,” “Purple Passion,” “Orange Slice” and “The Joker,” plus a handful more that I can’t remember. (All that sun may have fried my brain a bit.)
We honestly lost count, but between us we landed more than 20 fish, including a couple of what I believe were chubs. In the process, we successfully used nine or 10 different Unique Lures.
I’ll remember the first chub, in particular, as my efforts to remove the hook resulted in getting my right pinkie finger impaled. I narrowly escaped having it get past the barb.
Other than a little blood and some lingering numbness, it was the only real negative about the whole trip.
We also saw two pickerel swimming along the surface beside the boat and floated past a large snapping turtle patrolling the bottom of the river.
The lesson was simple. The Penobscot River above the Milford Dam provides many miles of water where bass and other species are plentiful. If you have a boat, or know somebody who does, it’s a great chance to enjoy a fun day on the water.
Thanks again to Steve Alekshun for teaching me the ropes and providing the boat and equipment to make it successful!