A fish story that you can sink your talons into

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As every angler who has ever wetted a line there knows, the West Branch of the Penobscot River — not far below Ripogenus Dam — is a special tailwater. The Big Eddy, below the Telos bridge, has been attracting devoted salmon anglers for decades.

The Big Eddy is aptly named. The cold, fast-flowing water that is released daily from Ripogenus Lake forms a number of eddies at this wide spot in the river creating ideal fish foraging foam, seams and slicks. It is perfect holding water for hungry landlocked salmon, which feast all summer on the incredible, dazzling caddis fly hatches that routinely blanket the river like locusts.

My sons and I recently fished for three days at the Eddy. As always, the fish were there in abundance, but predictably they were finicky and unwilling to hit just any fly you drifted their way.

We all caught fish. Some of us more than others. What worked for me was a No. 18 dry fly that sported a drab yellow body and a fuzzy, grey CDC hackle that loved to float. My sons with younger eyes caught more fish because they were able to spend more time than I fishing. A lot of my fishing time was squandered trying to thread a wispy 6x tippet through the tiny eye of a fly that I could barely see, not to mention the hook eye itself.

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The West Branch salmon are impressive, much more so in my view than the Grand Lake Salmon. Perhaps it’s the colder water, but even the juvenile fish seem more fiesty and robust than their GLS counterparts.

There is a new “attraction” at the Big Eddy. A mature bald eagle that has taken up residence in a big tree overlooking the foam-flecked water. You probably can’t guess what the big raptor’s nick name is, right?

Of course, Eddy, what else? Eddy is the talk of the Chewonki Campground. We had heard reports earlier from downstate that this eagle had become a brazen, opportunistic thief that would take up a tree vigil whenever anglers began getting hookups. It would then swoop down and, with its talons, snatch the fish and fly away. We were skeptical about this story, assuming that, like so many other fish tales, it was greatly embellished.

And then it happened to us, on the first day on the water.

As I watched from the bow of the canoe, Scotty in the stern reached his net out to pick up his played-out salmon for a proper release. Swoosh! Neither of us heard or saw it coming.

Like a Messerschmitt 109 from the Luftwaffe coming down out of the sun at Mach 1, this huge raptor was suddenly there and then gone. Scotty and I watched slackjawed as this eagle flew up river with the fish and all of Scotty’s fly line and most of his backing.

Son Josh, fishing alone in a kayak, had a similar experience the following afternoon. We were able to shout a warning to Josh, as he played a fish, that Eddy was in a power dive aimed right for him. The Eagle diverted at the last second as Josh took a swing at it with his net.

The eagle encounter makes for a good story around the evening campfire, but we got to thinking: isn’t this dangerous? In both cases, the big bird came on fast almost close enough to touch. What about those razor sharp talons and the heft of this bird? Eagles have been known to take down and kill small deer. What if Eddy accidentally flies into an angler at 40 miles per hour?

If you ask me this is a lot like a dump bear that has learned through successful food-stealing forays not to be wary of humans.

Even if the Big Eddy wildlife viewers and photographers complain, the Chewonki folks might want to contact a state biologist or a bird rehabilitator.

It may be time to move Eddy the Bandit Eagle to a different location.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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