By Tom Roth

Freelance Writer

With April 1 heralding the opening day of the 2004 open-water fishing season, local anglers are gearing up for a banner season on the water. If salmon top the angler’s list, there is no doubt Lake Auburn and Thompson Lake will be their destinations. Aside from being an easy drive for Twin-City anglers, these two lakes provide some top-notch fishing for landlocked salmon.

Lake Auburn, located between North Auburn and East Auburn, is truly a “jewel-in-the-rough,” lying just minutes from the busy streets of L/A. Because the Auburn Water District has purchased much of the lake’s shoreline, development is kept to a minimum. Lake Auburn is also closed to ice-fishing, swimming and other activities that would pose a threat of introducing bacteria or waste into the lake. About the only activities that are allowed on the lake are boating and fishing – a boon to the angler. A set of buoys cordons off the lake, and boaters are permitted only to the north of the buoys that start just south of the boat launch.

With the stringent controls the Auburn Water District places on the lake, water quality remains high and fish species thrive. While the decision of the water district to force all boating anglers to use the crowded Route 4 boat launch was met with harsh criticism among anglers, it has served to limit run-off and keep the water clear. Additionally, the lake is more than 118 feet deep, and its cold waters house an abundant smelt population along with a healthy salmon population, including trophy fish in the four- to seven-pound range. Each year on opening day, anglers crowd the shoreline of Lake Auburn in an attempt to catch one of the lake’s monster salmon. Salmon weighing between four and six pounds are routinely caught from shore, and eight-pounders are not uncommon. For a lake this far south, fish this size are almost unheard of.

Shore-side angling on Lake Auburn is uniquely successful, partly due to the massive smelt run that occurs in the lake’s tributary brooks, which line Lakeshore Drive. Each spring, shortly after the average ice-out date of April 20, the smelt charge up the brooks. These are the prime fishing spots as the salmon congregate in the depths just offshore and await the smelt for an easy meal.

A nighttime trip around the lake will reveal when the smelt run is on. In years past, I would keep an eye on the brooks that enter the lake. Quite often, the bottom was literally crawling with a black mass of smelt and I could just make out the dark outline of togue and salmon as they hovered waiting in close proximity. The smelt are protected in Lake Auburn and serve as the primary forage food for the lake’s fish population.

The most common method of shore fishing Lake Auburn in the spring is by using a live smelt attached to a sliding sinker rig. The weighted bait is cast out to the receding ice edge, and the bail on the angler’s reel is left open to allow the bait to swim around bottom. When a salmon or togue takes the bait, the line peels off the reel and the fight is on. Because the ice may only recede 10 to 20 feet in the early weeks of the season, casting lures is not very practical on Lake Auburn. This is one lake where anglers without boats have an early advantage. Once the ice melts completely, the shore-side anglers continue to fish, but boaters now have the upper hand.

Lake Auburn boating anglers use the traditional methods of salmon fishing with a great deal of success. In the early part of April, I typically begin by trolling a sewn-on or rigged smelt along the shoreline. This method of fishing accounts for my greatest success, as the salmon seem to cruise the shoreline in search of smelt. The sewn-on smelt, when trolled behind a slow-moving boat, appears to be an injured baitfish, representing an easy meal to the swift salmon.

Later in the season, as the water warms slightly, I pick up the pace and troll flies, again along the shoreline. The traditional art of trolling Maine streamer flies is an old one and is a successful technique to catch salmon. I like to fish the old patterns that have worked for so many years. The Gray Ghost, Nine-Three, Joe’s Smelt and Umbagog smelt make up my tackle box this time of year. Even today’s angler can reminisce to a simpler time as they work their rod against the wake of the boat and attempt to fool the wise salmon with an offering of feathers and tinsel at the end of their line. A four-pound Lake Auburn salmon taken on a streamer fly is enough to warm the blood of any cold angler on the windy waters of Lake Auburn.

With its great abundance of salmon and forage fish plus stringent quality control by the Auburn Water District, the Lake Auburn watershed will hopefully continue to be a top-notch salmon spot for local sportsmen and women.

Heading west toward Oxford, anglers after salmon will run into Thompson Lake, the second top spot in this region for salmon. According to Francis Brautigam, one of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife fisheries biologists, “Thompson Lake is one of the better landlocked salmon fisheries in this part of the state.” He adds that Thompson holds ” a lot of fish in the one-and one-half-pound to three-pound range.” This cold-water lake also hosts a hearty wild togue population. Lake trout weighing between three- and five-pounds are common. The lake covers 4,426 acres and has a maximum depth of 121 feet.

Open water anglers can usually get on Thompson Lake in mid-April after ice-out. Most Thompson Lake anglers troll streamer flies or sewn-on smelt. The Gray ghost seems to work best for this angler, but every local expert has his or her favorite. Fishing close to the surface for salmon, anglers often pick up togue early in the season at this level, as well. Trolling around Mecquier Island, Potash Cove and Otisfield Cove puts anglers where the salmon are traditionally caught. As the season continues and the water warms, anglers using downriggers report good catches trolling with lures such as the Mooselook Wobbler or with streamer flies.

Access to Thompson Lake can be obtained at the southern end of the lake at a private marina located on the Heath Road. The ramp is narrow but the marina sells smelt and shiners, making it an ideal launching spot. Parking is available along the roadside in limited spots. A state launch is located on Route 121 in Otisfield featuring a concrete ramp, but there is limited parking there as well. Thompson Lake is heavily developed and sees a large amount of use, especially in the summer months, but spring anglers should find little pressure, except on weekends.

For the salmon enthusiast, these two waters should provide enough activity to keep them busy, at least in April and early May. For many local anglers, the chance at hooking into a trophy salmon on a water that is virtually in their backyard is reason enough to stay close to home. For this angler, it’s more than enough reason.

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