KENNEBEC RIVER, Maine — Sean McCormick fell in love with fishing as a teenager.

He taught himself fly fishing on the Sheepscot River near his home in Whitefield. It was no easy task, as the river presents tremendous challenges for anglers.

“You have got to have every trick in your toolbox. If you don’t have it, good luck. It’s like a jungle,” McCormick said of the overgrown shoreline. “I learned how to dry-fly fish.”

There were big fish in the river — landlocked salmon, brown trout and brook trout — but the conditions were such that he had to master all kinds of casts. He figured out how to match the right dry flies to the hatch and tied them himself.

Despite the learning curve, McCormick became infatuated with the process and his enthusiasm for fly fishing has continued to grow.

William Warner (rear) works his fly as drift boat guide Sean McCormick maneuvers the boat during a recent fishing trip on the Kennebec River. Credit: Pete Warner

The 60-year-old Master Maine Guide now spends about 50 days a year sharing his knowledge and passion with clients as the operator of Blue Heron Fly Fishing.

McCormick, the lead estimator for Augusta Fuel Company, guides mostly on the Kennebec River, where he rows a Hyde drift boat to some of his favorite spots.

After his first drift boat trip with a friend, he was hooked.

“I went home and said, I will have one of those, come hell or high water,” he said.

His wife Leslie encouraged him to buy his first drift boat. These days, he’s on his third Hyde.

Through his involvement with Trout Unlimited, he learned that in order to donate drift boat trips to the organization, he had to become a guide. So he did.

“It turned into a pretty significant side job,” he said with a laugh. “And I went from being one of the young guys on the river to one of the old farts.”

My son William and I were fortunate on Sunday to accompany Sean on a daylong drift down a 6 1/2-mile stretch of the Kennebec.

We were treated to a master class in Kennebec fly fishing by a man who not only knows the river but is eager to share his knowledge not only of fishing, but for wildlife, plants and flowers and conservation.

Sean McCormick of Blue Heron Fly Fishing in Whitefield prepares his drift boat after serving a shore lunch on a recent fly fishing trip on the Kennebec River. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

Sean had his work cut out for him. I’m a novice fly fisherman, and William is a virtual beginner. Our inexperience didn’t stop Sean from making sure that we walked away with a new set of skills.

Sean is a model of organization. At the launch, he methodically unpacked all the gear from his vehicle and placed it in the boat. It included a Yeti cooler filled with food and drinks, a Coleman stove, Yeti folding chairs, a folding table and other items.

Prepared for a long day in the hot sun, we all wore hats and long-sleeved shirts and/or some sunscreen. Sean donned zippered waders and a protective mask that left only his sunglasses and the brim of his hat exposed.

We began with a quick history lesson, a stop at a rock ledge decorated with Native American carvings called petroglyphs. Believed to be pre-Columbian, they depict people, animals, canoes and other scenes and were more easily distinguishable after Sean splashed some water onto the rock.

A bull moose is among the images seen in a Native American petroglyph on the shore of the Kennebec River. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

We started fishing in a set of rapids not far downriver. It was then Sean must have realized that he was in for a long day of casting lessons.

“I love teaching people,” he said, noting that he also ties all of his own dry flies.

We started out each using a Golden Stone Fly.

We worked on “mending” the line to delay the pull of the water on the fly, then quickly flipping out more line to help it float along the water.

“Foam is home,” he said of the bubbles floating on top.

Early on, Sean plucked a wayward life preserver and an empty Bud Light can from the water, noting that he was always on trash detail.

Despite standing at opposite ends of the boat, William and I occasionally tangled our own lines, or hooked up with each other. Sean calmly unraveled many of those snarls as he provided casting tips.

This piece of driftwood is among the many beautiful sights seen during a drift boat fishing trip on the Kennebec River. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

An hour into the trip we approached a promising river bank bordering good-moving water with a few overhanging trees. We were able to get our flies close to shore and Sean suddenly directed me to cast to a particular opening as quickly as possible.

I was able to put the fly on target and within two seconds, I saw a flash as a brown trout inhaled the fly. I raised the rod tip to set the hook and enjoyed a brief tussle.

Sean, who commented that it was larger than he first thought, netted the fish carefully and left it submerged as we took a quick peek and snapped a few photos.

The gorgeous brown trout was golden on top and bottom, with black and red spots dotting a white background down the middle from nose to tail. It was the first brown trout I had ever caught.

Sean gently coaxed the fish, which he estimated to be 19-20 inches, out of the net. He handed me the fly as a memento of the occasion after learning that it was my first brown.

We came up empty at a couple of other promising spots, then it was time for lunch. Sean unpacked the equipment and whipped up a feast that included shrimp cocktail, cheese, bread, steaks with sauteed onions and mushrooms, potato salad, and cherry tomatoes.

Several kayakers and people in inflatable boats came through, one group blasting loud country music. Another woman paddled nonchalantly past, to our surprise, tanning her bare breasts.

While there, Sean rowed out to retrieve a half-inflated floatie holding a small Igloo cooler. The owner happened by, but made no effort to come retrieve it.

We ate our fill, then got back to fishing. Sean regaled us with many amusing stories about fishing exploits on the river and also tried to explain the dynamics of the diverse Kennebec fishery.

Anglers wait for an evening bug hatch and ensuring fish rises on the Kennebec River in North Anson recently. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

And he never stopped coaching. He couldn’t, given my propensity for messing up on mending and miscasting my fly.

William later got in on the act, using a zebra nymph — a replica of the numerous flies hatching out right in front of us — to catch a brown trout and then a spunky landlocked salmon.

With Sean as our coach, our casting improved dramatically during the course of the day.

Finally, with the sun setting, Sean positioned us at a bend in the river, hoping to witness one final bug hatch, which didn’t materialize. I capped the day by catching a third chub.

The late-evening sun illuminates the east shore of the Kennebec River on a recent fishing trip. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

Sean paddled us to the nearby boat launch, where he pulled the boat from the water and began gathering up the gear amid a swarm of mosquitos and fireflies.

We were exhausted, but exhilarated, by the fantastic experience provided by Sean and we can’t wait to have the opportunity to test our new-found skills.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...