On our final day of fishing at Libby Camps in the Maine North Woods, we wanted to catch more landlocked salmon, so we planned a fly-out to a tailwater stream southwest from the lodge. Our guides, Jeff LaBree and Pete Koch, left early to make the long drive via logging roads, and we would follow in the lodge’s floatplane. The day was cool and overcast, but the flight was gorgeous, featuring views of the Katahdin massif to the south and numerous lakes and streams in all directions.
We landed on a lake and taxied to a small cove next to a dam, where Jeff and Pete were waiting. Once we were rigged up, Pete and guest Jerry Birchmore headed for the pools immediately below the dam, while Jeff, Charlie, and I hiked downstream. This stream is Jeff’s home water—he has a cabin on the lake—so he knows every spot where fish might hold. I hooked a little salmon on my very first cast, which we all took as a great sign.
The stream itself is stunning, and my favorite spot was a big pool below a series of waterfalls. The presentation was complex because of multiple currents, but we caught four or five fish and had strikes from several others. Like the day before, we caught at least one fish from virtually every place we stopped, often hooking and landing quite a few more. On this day, the fish seemed commitment-shy, often slashing at but not taking the fly. The biggest fish we saw was a massive brook trout that came from behind a rock twice, but just wouldn’t bite.
When we finally made it up to the top pools, we found Jerry buzzing from having just released a gorgeous salmon, which had eaten a Perdigon nymph. We swung streamers through the pools just below him, ending the session with three or four salmon and trout. The plane was due in a few minutes, but I didn’t want to stop fishing, so I hatched a cunning plan that I proposed to Jeff.
Instead of Charlie and me getting on the plane, we sent Pete with Jerry. Then the rest of us hopped into Jeff’s vehicle, known as the Battle Wagon, so we could stop at one more spot before returning to the lodge. It meant trading a 25-minute flight for almost four hours of driving and hiking, but it felt worth it to me for the chance of catching more fish and seeing a new piece of water.
The logging roads that crisscross the Maine North Woods run the gamut from well-maintained gravel to rutted nightmares, and we saw plenty of both. Jeff did a masterful job of weaving through the potholes, mud puddles, and rocks that posed constant danger. Huge stacks of logs ready to be hauled out lined the roads, and at one point, a young moose trotted into the road in front of us before spooking and disappearing into the brush. We pulled down a spur road, parked, and descended a steep trail to the water.
A huge pool below a dam featured multiple seams created by five spillways and a central maelstrom covered in foam. Right at the base of the trail, I landed a nice brook trout, and then we crossed over. Jeff had me drop my streamers into the eddy between spillways, and I got an almost immediate strike. The sensation of strong headshakes let me know that this was a big fish, which was confirmed when a very large brook trout swam out from beneath the roiling current. I got the fish right alongside the bank, whereupon the hook pulled out and we watched the trophy swim away. Groans all around.
We crossed back over, and I spent the next half hour launching long backcasts into the confused currents in the center of the pool, landing three more trout, but nothing to match the size of the one that got away. Finally, Jeff had to drag me out of the water so we could get back to the lodge before dark. It had been a long, remarkable day, a fitting end to our Libby’s adventure.