This beautiful Maine brown trout has fallen in love with one of guide Jeff LaBree’s secret streamers.
All photos by Charles Hildick-Smith

In the fall of 2019, I was fortunate enough to visit Libby Camps with my friend and colleague Reid Bryant for a cross-season trip that included three days of fishing and two days of grouse hunting. It was a glorious time in the North Maine woods and we had success on the water and in the grouse hides. But nearly all of my most memorable fishing trips to Maine have been in the spring, and I wondered how preseason was at Libby’s. When I got the chance to go north again this month, I jumped at the chance.

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The still-water streams did not come to the surface but took streamers with them.

On Monday I picked up my young photographer friend Charlie and we made the 9 hour drive from Southwest Vermont to the beautifully named T8 R9 in Maine where Libby’s sits amidst 3.5 million acres of commercial woodland criss-crossed by rivers and lakes . Baxter State Park is directly to the south, and once you’re at the lodge, you can feel its remoteness from the air quality, lack of the sounds of civilization, and the breathtaking views. Charlie and I got to the lodge just in time to chat with the guides before dinner. After that we spent the evening in our hut and prepared our equipment.

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Yesterday morning we drove to a nearby pond with our guides Jeff Labree (whom Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast fans may know) and Nate Wight, accompanied by fellow lodger Jerry Birchmore and his guide Pete Koch. The wind had died down the last few days and we had the secluded pond to ourselves. We had heard that the trout were catching dry flies on this body of water which turned out to be bad information. Luckily streamers brought out some brown trout before it was time to return to the lodge for lunch.

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Guest Jerry Birchmore, a Virginian, holds his first landlocked salmon.

In the afternoon we jumped into boats on the beach right in front of our cabin and cruised across Millinocket Lake to an old wooden dam with a beautiful creek running underneath. After a short hike downstream, Jerry and I settled into a wide wave with a steep drop off at the end. Jerry hooked a brown trout on about his third cast and continued catching fish all afternoon, including his first ever landlocked salmon. Jeff took me just upstream to where a branch of the river met the main stream, creating a deep hole and two eddies.

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Guide Jeff LaBree oversees my presentation at a place called Ellie’s Hole.

The presentation was difficult as I had to navigate a number of conflicting currents, but Jeff explained it to me. We caught a smaller brookie with a golden retriever streamer before Jeff suggested adding a stinking imitation as a second fly. I got just the right amount of drift through the current, pulled out twice and then the rod almost got snatched from my hand. After a short fight we caught a stunning brown trout with gorgeous red and blue spots on the sides. Compared to the wild mountain streams I’m used to catching back home in Vermont, that was a beast.

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The colors of these trout are impressive even in spring.

The rest of the afternoon was similar and we were all pretty exhausted when we hiked back upriver and took the boats back across the lake. Today we fly to a river that empties into Baxter State Park for a full day of hiking and fishing. We saw a couple of blue-winged olives hatching this afternoon so are hoping for more dry fly action. Stay tuned.