A day of scratch fishing on the Penobscot proves demoralizing

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Since reconnecting with his friend George Quimby several months ago at Cabin Fever Reliever, he’s been determined to get me out on the water.

He has the boat, the gear, the motivation and the time to go fishing, it’s one of his passions. The Brewer resident has fished successfully throughout eastern and northern Maine, including recent forays to Long Lake in Aroostook County, Branch Lake in Ellsworth, and Brewer Lake.

We had talked about a visit to a lake in the Bangor area in search of salmon or trout. But news of a promising first run of striped bass in the Penobscot River this year led George to suggest we give it a try.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to target strippers, I gladly accepted the invitation.

It was a glorious day for her: abundant sunshine, temperatures in the mid-70s and a refreshing – and sometimes gusty – southerly wind.

A fly rod is ready for action on a recent striper fishing trip on the Penobscot River. Credit: Pete Warner/BDN

We would drag the Penobscot from Hamlin Marina in Hampden to the site of the old Bangor Water Works dam, and back. Although the goal was to catch fish, it also turned out to be a delightful sightseeing excursion.

We rigged three rods, including a fly rod on the back with a lead core and one of George’s hand-tied streamers. I opted for a Rapala articulated chartreuse, which he had fitted with a pair of teaspoons and dressed in russet hair on the rear hook. George started with a spoon.

With the rods located in the rod holders, I started using my phone and camera to take photos and capture video. We passed the huge cranes of Cianbro’s factory in Brewer and soon came across Fisherman’s Park, also on the shore of Brewer.

Not even half an hour into our trip, my rod was bent by a huge blow. At first, I was sure I must be addicted deep down. I ripped the rod from the support and put the hook.

Instantly, the resistance disappeared. The new 8-pound test leader had buckled under the pressure. Excitement turned to dismay and George’s allure disappeared.

As I had left my fishing equipment at the camp, he had generously offered to provide me with the rod, the reel and the lures. I felt bad and quickly apologized.

“Don’t worry about it,” George said.

We agreed that a big fish had caused the commotion. We were trolling in over 20 feet of water using a lure that barely floated below the surface, where there were no obstructions.

After checking the drag, it was determined that it was probably a bit too tight. So we took a step back.

George produced one of his lure boxes, from which I tentatively ripped another smaller Rapala-style lure, this one bright blue. I pointed out that he should choose a decoy for me – a decoy he wouldn’t feel bad losing.

He insisted he wasn’t the least bit concerned about the possibility. He probably should have been.

Downtown Bangor (background) is framed by the Veterans Memorial Bridge in this view from the Penobscot River. Credit: Pete Warner/BDN

Another less impressive strike about 15 minutes later went no fish. I continued to capture footage of Bangor’s historic waterfront as we drove under the Veterans Memorial Bridge and then past the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge.

It’s amazing what you can ignore, even when it’s right under your nose. I’ve lived in Bangor all my life, but had only been to the Penobscot twice before.

One such moment came nearly 50 years ago on a trip from Brooksville to Hampden with childhood friend Bobby Twitchell. I had never been on this stretch of the river.

I marveled at the views of downtown Bangor and the sight of Northern Light Medical Center – where I and my two sons were born – in the distance.

The perspective provided a new appreciation for the beauty of the waterfront from an angle that can only be reached from the water.

The next thing I knew, my rod doubled up again. I grabbed it, got up and again had to put the hook in too aggressively. This time the SpiderWire broke much closer to the rod and the line backed up through the interline rod.

Both the bead chain swivel and the lure were missing. I looked down at the thought of the inexperienced kid who had snagged hooks, snapped a line, and lost lures while learning the ins and outs of fishing.

Again, I apologized to George. Again he shrugged.

Trolling for striped bass on the Penobscot River in Bangor took us under three bridges connecting Bangor to Brewer, including this railway bridge and the Penobscot River Bridge (background). Credit: Pete Warner/BDN

Since he hadn’t brought the device used to run the line inside the rod, he put it aside and told me to grab the fly rod.

I removed the streamer and reluctantly asked him to select the next lure, which would almost certainly lodge in the jaws of a feisty Penobscot River fish and be lost forever.

I had messed up and had to own it.

“You know what they say,” George said.

“[Expletive] happen?” I guessed.

“Yeah,” he said.

Embarrassed and somewhat defeated, I was sure the bad luck would continue. All I could think of was, “Hopefully I can find these decoys so I can replace them.”

As we passed the hospital, the fish began to strike. As I reeled off my first, George grabbed one simultaneously.

They were smallmouth bass, rather than stripers, but that didn’t matter. We enjoyed great action for a while as George piloted his 16ft boat to the dam, around and back to town.

We stumbled several basses and lost a few others, which thankfully made me forget about previous misfortunes and helped restore my shaken confidence.

A pair of anglers cast rocks on the Brewer side of the Penobscot River in the hope of catching striped bass. Credit: Pete Warner/BDN

The return trip to Hampden was in strong winds, which created more choppy conditions. I finished the race by throwing a nifty banner attached by George.

It featured a large eye and dark purple feathers topped with shimmering green material and white marabou feathers, topped with a few greenish feathers. The hooks were also wrapped with glitter wire over a piece of copper colored wire.

I didn’t catch any fish on it, but it survived the trip and didn’t meet the same fate as the ill-fated lures.

As we passed the outer decks of the Sea Dog in Bangor and High Tide in Brewer, George said he’d garnered cheers from customers in the past by catching a striper in front of the establishments.

This comfortable 16ft boat was perfect for cruising along the Penobscot River from Hampden to Bangor. Credit: Pete Warner/BDN

There would be no such celebrations on this day, but the memories of seeing the waterfront from a boat and spending time on the Penobscot with a friend will be lasting.

I hope George doesn’t cross me off his list of potential future fishing buddies. In the meantime, I intend to stock up on lures.

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