We will never again fish for Atlantic salmon in Maine

After reading an old Bill Caldwell column about fishing for Atlantic salmon in Maine’s Penobscot River, I am very sad that we will never be able to do that again.

We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to restore Atlantic salmon to Maine’s rivers, with most of the effort focused on the Penobscot River. But this year, which advocates celebrated as the best salmon year since 2011, only 615 salmon swam up the Penobscot.

And these are not wild fish. They all came out of the hatchery in downeast Maine. In 2011, 2362 salmon returned to the Penobscot. So we are not really making much progress. And we are prohibited from fishing for them.

I am thinking we could have accomplished so much more by spending all that money on fish we would be allowed to catch.

Bill Caldwell wrote newspaper columns for the Portland Press Herald and Sunday Telegram for 25 years, many of them focused on rural Maine. Here is some of his story about Atlantic salmon in the Penobscot River.

Bill’s column

Today, the banks of the Penobscot, even in downtown Bangor, a city of 33,000, are outlined with salmon fishermen during the season, May 1 to October 15. Lured by stories of high leaping salmon weighing up to 20 pounds, salmon enthusiasts from across the nation crowd every available motel room around Bangor at the height of the fishing season.

Unlike many rivers, the Penobscot is not an expensive salmon preserve where only the rich enjoy the sport. Because the Penobscot is tidal for 25 miles up to Bangor, Maine residents paid only one dollar to get a salmon stamp on their fishing license. In 1983, the fee was raised to four dollars. As a result of this low cost, mill workers, garage mechanics, grandmothers, housewives and even children are today casting their salmon flies into the Penobscot.

At the noon hour on a Bangor workday, the rocks in the Penobscot are often crowded with businessmen. Dressed in three-piece suits, they skip lunch to cast for fat silvery salmon. When school is out, kids ride their bikes across town, with a 9 foot salmon rod over their shoulders, as they head for an afternoon of fishing inside the city limits.

Last year, 1982, 937 Atlantic salmon were caught; 45 splendid fish being taken in a single day. The salmon run in the Penobscot will be close to 5000 in 1983 and reach 12,000 by 1990.


The Atlantic salmon fishery that Bill writes about was restored in the Penobscot after the river was cleaned up. I fished that section of river from Brewer side with outdoor reporter Bud Leavitt of the Bangor Daily News one time, but caught nothing.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.