Welcome to the Rangeley Lakes Region. Whether you are here to sightsee or hike or boat or swim or fish or explore the region’s rich history, rest assured, you will find more to do than you have time! And, at the end of each day, make sure to enjoy the surprisingly good food and a local brew or two at one of the region’s many restaurants. Our family favorites include lakefront dining at Bald Mountain Camps, The 45Th Parallel in Oquossoc and the deck at Parkside and Main. After dinner, you can go bowling at Moose Ally, grab an ice cream at Frosty Freeze or watch a ballgame at Sarge’s.

Enough about food. The focus of my column is fishing, past and present. In the mid and late 1800s, it was wealthy anglers from places like Boston and New York that first put the Rangeley Lakes Region (RLR), on the map. They came willing to spend considerable time and money in pursuit of the huge native brook trout that filled the lakes. To cater to the influx, railroads were built, rustic but well-appointed camps constructed and a fleet of iconic Rangeley boats launched. Local men, and later one rather famous woman, served as guides. Captain Fred Barker built a half dozen steam powered ferries to transport gear and passengers from the railhead in Bemis to his various camps, also making stops at Haines Landing and Indian Rock. With this infrastructure in place, tourist flocked to RLR and the Gilded Age was on. Rustic camps were replaced by grand hotels, rail service blossomed and golf courses were built. Thus, the history of the RLR and sport fishing are inexorably connected.

The RLR encompasses at least five major lakes and dozens of smaller ponds. The big five are: Rangeley, Mooselookmeguntic (aka Mooselook or the big lake), Cupsuptic (often considered part of Mooselook) and undeveloped Upper and Lower Richardson. I would add to that: the legendary Kennebago, remote Parmachenee and sometimes overlooked Azicohos. Together these eight lakes form the headwaters of the Androscoggin River. All eight lakes support incredible cold-water sport fisheries. In fact, Mooselook and Aziscohos are over populated with salmon. Accordingly, these are great waters for “catching”. When the bite is on, having two fish hooked-up at the same time is fairly common but always fun! Fishing on Rangeley tends to be slower but those anglers with the knowledge and patience regularly land huge salmon and brook trout. If you need convincing, stop at the River’s Edge Sport Shop in Oquossoc and check out the bragging board filled with pictures of very happy anglers. The guys in the shop will also help find the gear you need and give you legit advice on where to go.

If you are new to the RLR, I highly recommend hiring a guide to help you get started learning the ways and waters that produce the specific fish you are targeting. I fish with Larry Guile (Westwind Charters) at least once a year. His specialty is trolling with fly rods for salmon and brookies on the lake of your choice. Guides like Larry are on the water everyday and, if you pay attention, you will learn where and how to put fish in the boat. When you go, make sure you have a current Maine fishing license on hand.

Rather fish moving water? The RLR includes three major rivers: The Kennebago, the Magalloway and the Rapid. Their waters flow thru legendary destinations that make even veteran fly throwers feel like a kid on Christmas morning: Upper Dam, Middle Dam, Pond in the River, Steep Bank, Power House, Split Rock and Mailbox to name a few. All these spots produce great fishing when the flow is right and the angler’s offering is in harmony with the buffet mother-nature is serving. Best of all, even if the fish don’t cooperate, the sheer scenic beauty and historic nature of these iconic destinations makes for a very enjoyable walk in the water.

Not really interested in fishing but still looking to get out on the water? How about a cruise aboard the 30-foot-long, custom built, Gray Ghost? Everyday, Capt. Kevin Sinnett treats his passengers to narrated boat rides on Rangeley Lake ([email protected]). You will very likely see loons and eagles, and maybe a moose standing in the lily pads behind South Bog Islands, all while listening to Sinnett’s lively presentation on the flora, fauna and history of the RLR. After the boat ride, I suggest you decamp to the nearby Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum and see, firsthand, stunning artifacts of Rangeley’s Gilded Age and learn more about the iconic personalities that shaped the region: Carrie Stevens, Herbie Welch, Louise Dickinson Rich, John Danforth and Fred Barker to name a few! Oh, and that famous woman I mentioned earlier: that would be Fly Rod Crosby, holder of the very first guide’s license issued by the State of Maine!

Focus on history: Upper Dam is part of a series of dams originally built in the 1840s to provide a dependable water supply for the textile mills in Lewiston-Auburn. By blocking its outlet, Upper Dam raised the water level of Mooselook almost 20 feet, effectively merging Cupsuptic Lake into Mooselook. Today, the short “river” created between the dam and Upper Richardson Lake provides fantastic fishing. Access is via gated dirt roads so advanced planning is recommended (see the Brookfield contact info at the end of this article).

Upper Dam was also the summer home of fly-fishing legend Carrie Stevens and her husband/guide/woodsman, Wally. Their home, Midway, was located on the carry road between Mooselook and Upper Richardson lakes. It was in this house that Carrie developed her distinctive method of fly-tying and created the best-known steamer fly in the world: the Gray Ghost. It is sometimes said local entrepreneur Herb Welch invented the streamer fly and Carrie Stevens perfected it.

How perfect were Carrie’s flies? Try topping this fish story: On July 1, 1924, Carrie decided to tie on one of her new flies, a “Shang’s Go-Getum”, and fish the Dam Pool (it’s possible that the Shang’s Go-Getum was an early version of her Gray Ghost pattern). A few hours later Carrie wrote her name into both fishing history and the logbook at the nearby Upper Dam House hotel. Her entry: the single word “Trout” and the weight of “6 – 13/16”. Carrie had landed a huge brook trout. (Both the log book and her fish are on display at the Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum!) Her trout took second prize in the famous Field and Stream fishing contest (the winning brookie was one ounce heavier) and focused the national spot light on Carrie Stevens, her custom hand-tied flies and Upper Dam. Today, an original Carrie Steven’s streamer fly sells for well over $500. Pretty darn perfect, I would say!

Important: Today, all RLR rivers are managed for the generation of hydropower by Brookfield. To see current and forecast flows for the river you plan to fish, google Brookfield “Safe Waters”. This web site is new and appears to be an excellent source of information. Remember – water levels below dams can change suddenly. No fish is worth a cold, potentially life threatening, swim. One more thing: the lakes described herein are big cold mountain waters. Even a modest wind across a long fetch will kick up some sizable waves putting small boats, canoes and kayaks at risk. Stay safe – wear your PFD when afloat – and have a great time exploring the RLR!