Libby Camps, Day One: Into the Woods

This gorgeous Maine brook trout fell for one of guide Jeff LaBree’s secret streamers.
All photos by Charles Hildick-Smith

Back in the fall of 2019, I was lucky enough to visit Libby Camps with my friend and colleague Reid Bryant for a season-straddling trip featuring three days of fishing and two days of grouse hunting. It was a glorious time to be in the North Maine Woods, and we enjoyed success on the water and in the grouse coverts. But almost all of my most memorable fishing trips to Maine in springtime, and I wondered what it was like at Libby’s in the early season. When I got the opportunity to head north again this month, I jumped at the chance.

The stillwater brookies wouldn’t come to the surface but took streamers.

On Monday, I picked up my young photographer friend Charlie, and we made the 9-hour drive from southwestern Vermont to the beautifully named T8 R9, Maine, where Libby’s is located amid 3.5 million acres of commercial forest land riddled with rivers and dotted with lakes. Baxter State Park lies just to the south, and when you’re at the lodge you can feel its remoteness in the quality of the air, the lack of the sounds of civilization, and the stunning views. Charlie and I rolled into the lodge just in time for a pre-dinner chat with the guides, after which we spent the evening in our cabin getting gear ready.

Yesterday morning, we drove to a nearby pond with our guides Jeff Labree (whom Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast fans may recognize) and Nate Wight, accompanied by fellow lodge guest Jerry Birchmore and his guide, Pete Koch. The wind of the previous few days had died down, and we had the remote pond to ourselves. We’d heard that the trout were taking dry flies on this particular water, which turned out to be bad intel. Luckily, streamers produced a few brook trout before it was time to head back to the lodge for lunch.

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

In the afternoon, we hopped in boats on the beach right in front of our cabin and motored across across Millinocket Lake to an old wooden dam, below which a beautiful stream flowed. After a short hike downstream, Jerry and I set up in a wide ripple with a steep drop-off at the end. Jerry hooked a brook trout on about his third cast and continued to catch fish all afternoon, including his first ever landlocked salmon. Jeff brought me just upstream to a spot where one braid of the stream met the main stem, creating a deep hole and two eddies.

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

The presentation was difficult, as I had to navigate a bunch of conflicting currents, but Jeff talked me through it. We caught one smallish brookie on a Golden Retriever streamer before Jeff suggested that we add a smelt imitation as a second fly. I got just the right drift through the currents, stripped twice, and then the rod was almost jerked out of my hands. After a short tussle, we netted a stunning brook trout, with glorious red-and-blue spots on its sides. Compared to the wild mountain brookies I’m used to catching back home in Vermont, this was a beast.

The colors of these trout, even in spring, are impressive.

The rest of the afternoon continued in a similar vein, and we were all pretty cooked by the time we hiked back upstream and took the boats back across the lake. Today, we will fly out to a river that flows into Baxter State Park for a full day of hiking and fishing. We saw a few blue-winged olives hatching this afternoon, so we’re hoping to see more dry-fly action. Stay tuned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *