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Big Eddy Rapids on Penobscot River.

Big Eddy Rapids on Penobscot River.


The Penobscot River, including its north, south, east, and west branches, is the longest river entirely in Maine. Its branches originate along the Canadian border in northwestern Maine, and near the headwaters of the Allagash at the northwest corner of Baxter State Park The East and West Branches converge in Medway, just downstream from the Town of Millinocket, forming the main stem of the river which then flows 70 miles south to the head of tide in Bangor.

The watersheds associated with the Penobscot’s four branches are forested and only sparsely settled and developed. An exception to this is the rivers themselves, which have dams in many locations to provide storage that assures year-round flows for commerce and industry downstream. The Penobscot’s main stem flows past towns and developments, especially at its south end from Old Town to Bangor. The variety of habitats found throughout the Penobscot drainage support many game fish species, including brook trout, landlocked salmon, smallmouth bass, white perch, and chain pickerel. Anglers can select sections of river to fish based on their preferences for species they desire to catch.

The West Branch of the Penobscot

The West Branch downstream from Seboomook Lake, just north of Moosehead Lake, is noted for both wild brook trout and landlocked salmon. Throughout this 4-mile section the river drops over slate ledges into deep pools and runs that are ideal to fish from shore, although short stretches can also be fished from a canoe. Despite its relatively remote location, the river is accessible by gravel road from either Greenville or Millinocket. Day fishing trips to this section are possible, and several primitive campsites along the river are available to anglers wishing to stay and fish for more than a day.

The West Branch northwest of Millinocket is renowned for its landlocked salmon fishery. Unlike most Maine landlocked salmon populations, West Branch salmon are unique for spending their entire lives in the river environment. The heavy rapids, deep runs, large pools, and 2 sections of slower moving water in the 12 miles of river immediately downstream from Ripogenus Dam at the outlet of Chesuncook Lake offer a variety of opportunities to fish for salmon. A road along the entire south side of this section provides access for fishing from rocks and ledges along the shore, wading the edges of the pools and runs, or fishing from a canoe or drift boat. Forested slopes along the south side of the river, together with the hills and mountains of Baxter State Park to the north, provide an exceptionally scenic setting for fishing this section of the West Branch.

The East Branch of the Penobscot

The East Branch of the Penobscot from Matagamon Dam downstream to Whetstone Falls is noted for wild brook trout and landlocked salmon fisheries. Riffles and runs in the upper 12 miles are interrupted by 6 sets of falls. Swift moving but generally smooth water characterizes the lower 15 miles to Whetstone Falls. Road access to this section of the East Branch is limited to the mile or so immediately below Matagamon Dam, and to the area around Whetstone Falls. The remainder of the East Branch is remote, requiring a hike to cast from shore or wade, or a canoe to travel down river for fishing. A canoe trip down the East Branch is an opportunity for a multi-day backcountry experience. Several portages are required, so this is not an easy trip. Primitive campsites are available along this section for canoe trippers. The remoteness of the East Branch rewards anglers with better fishing than routinely found in more accessible Maine rivers.

The Main Stem of the Penobscot

Below the confluence of its East and West Branches in Medway the main stem of the Penobscot flows south for 60 miles past forest, farms, and towns to Old Town. It is divided into sections by dams at Mattaseunk, West Enfield, and Old Town. Stretches of both fast moving water and slow moving water comprise each of these sections, and each is noted for very good fishing forsmallmouth bass. Because it is a very large river fishing is most efficiently accomplished using a boat or canoe. Roads follow both sides of the river throughout much of the 60-mile distance, with many opportunities to put in and take out a boat in each section.

In addition to the resident smallmouth bass, anadromous game fish species such as Atlantic salmon and striped bass have access to the free flowing section of river between the lowermost of the Penobscot River’s dams in Veazie downstream to the head of tide in Bangor. Anglers are attracted to this section of the Penobscot by opportunities to fish for stripers from shore, by wading, or from a boat. Because of the ongoing efforts to restore Atlantic salmon to the Penobscot River drainage, all salmon caught in the Penobscot River must be released alive at once.