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Chris Russell Takes Guests To Secret Fishing Spots In Maine With Kinnebec River Angler.

OPEN ROAD LIFESTYLE

DESTINATIONS

Fishing Through Rapids: Kennebec River Angler

A Fishing Company In Maine That Sells Fly Fishing And Bass Fishing Trips To Secret Spots Of The Upper Gorge

The Still Waters Of The Secret Fishing Spots Of Kinnebec River [Photo Credit: Paul Van Der Werf-CC]

It was a high school whitewater trip with his buddies that propelled Chris Russell into professional river guiding. The white water industry on the Kennebec River in Maine was in its infancy when Russell struck out with his buddies and a boat. The friends, all of them novices, had the time of their lives, running tight and dangerous shoots, bounding over rocks and waves, and crashing through rapids.

"A couple years later I was in college and saw an ad that said 'white water guide needed' - " Russell explains. "I said 'Hell, why not?''

"That's what got me up here," Russell adds.

That was 30 years ago, but that fateful day when Russell glimpsed that ad turned out to change the course of his life. He fell in love with the upper Kennebec River and after college he once again escaped there, starting as a bass fisherman in the late 1980s, and going on to own his raft and guide companies. He is now the owner of Kennebec River Angler.

Despite all the hard work and business building over the years, Russell and his friends never lost their love and respect for the beautiful and -- in parts -- dangerous river, which begins at Moosehead Lake and flows 170 miles south through pristine coniferous forests and countryside to reach the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of Maine.

Along the flow one might spy the occasional wooden lodge or cabin up above the bank, a relic of centuries gone by. Between gorges and whitewater, the river becomes a placid mirror with only the minimal scraping of rocks on the bottom hull to remind one of planetary concerns. The fishermen knee out to the center of the widening and steps back to an earlier age, enveloped on each side by dense forests of Maple Beech and White Pine.

Fishing On Still Waters With Kennebec River Angler [Courtesy/Kennebec River Angler]

"We'd been fishing the gorge for years, mostly just privately," Russell said. "It's a pain to get down in there - you gotta get there early in the morning, you gotta bring the right kind of boat, and you have to have some white water skills."

The gorge he means is the Upper Kennebec River Gorge, and it can be dangerous to put a boat in there. Experienced rafters also must wait for the giant hydroelectric dam north on the Kennebec to release its daily flow, or else the boats can't even float in. But the payoff is making it to a remote stretch of the Kennebec, a place that few get to see. It can be difficult to even find a guide willing to take the risk of putting tourists into that gorge.

Enter Chris Russell, who spent the last three decades honing his whitewater skills and operating as a fishing guide.

"It's remote [there] - you don’t have any foot traffic – [and] you hardly ever see another angler. It is just a hidden little gem, and it is really hard to get to except for a couple of access points," Russell said.

"We guide up to 350 people a year in the gorge," Russell said. "We float on a special fishing raft so that lets us handle the high water when it does come up, and lets us bounce around the rocks."

Kennebec River Angler sells fly fishing and bass fishing trips to the upper gorge and other points south of the secret spot, although Russell calls the gorge fishing tour his “showcase trip.” The trip begins early in the morning when everyone meets at Harris Station, a giant hydro-electric dam on the Kennebec. Then Russell and his guides will take the fishers downstream, fishing pool by pool, until the conditions are just right to slip into the upper river gorge.

Guest Holds Fish Caught With Kennebec River Angler [Courtesy/Kennebec River Angler]

The cost of this trip, and others, comes to about $400 a head per day, but Russell is raising day prices by $50 next year.  Anglers can fish for bass, American shad, herring, and even Sea lamprey, depending on the season.

The fish that are caught today were known to the earliest American inhabitants, and natives, as well as the European migrants who took little time to exploiting the rich reserves of fish in the river. Growth in the hydroelectric dam system also reduced the numbers of sea-run fish by degrading their environment. This is much the same thing that happened in the Pacific Northwest, and the reason Oregon and Washington have strong hatchery programs in their sea-connected rivers.  The Kennebec has no such hatchery, so fish health here depends on protecting the environment, removing dams, and proactive programs to regrow populations of migrating fish.

The removal of a hydro-electric dam in 1999, controversial as it was, was shown to have increased the number of fish swimming upriver to spawning grounds. More fish has meant more business for the guides who make a living by hosting fishermen and women on their boats. The business by extension has been brisk for Russell, particularly since he is one of the only people on the river who can venture anglers into the upper gorge. And he’s enjoying his success.

"This has worked out great - I have had a lot of opportunities, owning my own raft company and all that," Russell said. "What I do now is pretty special - I get to show people some of the places that I have fallen in love with."

 

David Irvin

A graduate with a Masters Of Science from the University Of North Texas, David has written on many beats including crime and business for such outlets as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Montgomery Advertiser & USA. He enjoys RVing and surfing the Internet.

Skowhegan/ Kennebec Valley KOA

Make Sure To Stay At:

Skowhegan/ Kennebec Valley KOA, combining location, facilities and recreation to offer an ideal family vacation setting. Located in central Maine's beautiful Kennebec Valley. Enjoy the region's majestic views of mountains, lakes and scenic drives.

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