Pushaw Stream is no secret to Maine anglers because it’s a roadside gem, an easy access hot spot for smallmouth, largemouth, perch, pickerel and some very aggressive northern pike. The scenery is typically Maine: beautiful, quiet, rich with wildlife. The put-in is on West Old Town Road in Old Town, Maine, just 15 minutes west of Route 95 with sufficient parking for a few cars or trucks on the southern side just before the bridge. Unless you fish this stream at the height of mud season, it’s an easy trek down to the water with a canoe or kayak. Pushaw is a perfect light-tackle stream within reach of blue highways, camping and hotels.
The approximately five water miles from the Route 43 Bridge to Pushaw Lake Dam are lined with white pines, sugar maples and birches, low lush bushes, berries and wetland deposits of peat, silt and muck. This natural combination offers shading and submerged structure for small baitfish like shiners and suckers. After ice-out, lily pads begin to fill in the spaces between, and depending on water temperatures, might blanket a small area, but stream movement is strong enough to keep the center clear and free-flowing.
Further downstream, the river has a savannah feel, changing moods, foliage and scenery. There it bends like a puzzle piece to accept water from Mud Pond, also called Perch Pond. Smallmouth favor incoming flows. While the fishing slows along some stretches as protective grasses give way to tall beaver dams and lodges, those are places of rest for canoes and kayaks, places to float for a few minutes and take in a special Maine space.
One of the many benefits of fishing a roadside stream is that fish can be caught a mile downstream as often as just under the bridge, and here, that’s exactly where the story and cover begins. For largemouth bass, grasses are where it’s at: they glide through those sunken green fields waiting for passing meals, especially around the bridge where water velocity increases slightly. Stik-Os or Gary Yamamoto Senko worms in white or dark green worked well for us in the summer months when cast tight to the river’s edge. Given the depth of the river’s center, spinners and buzzbaits work as well while heavier football jigs may be sacrificed to sunken logs and limbs.
Pushaw Stream teems with smallmouth bass. As customary with Maine rivers, location, water speed and cover selection affect their size. Depending how close you fish to their spawning season, smallies are voracious feeders known to hit the same lure several times, presumably out of pure anger. Years ago on the Penobscot, we lost a chartreuse Stik-O to an overly-protective smallmouth set up against a busy crib, only to catch the same fish two casts later with the same soft bait still hung up on her lips. Known for their muscular efficiency, smallies hold in areas where the Pushaw’s flow creates small eddies harboring shiners or crayfish. Soft plastic imitations, especially those with weedless hooks are the keys. Zoom makes the infamous Fluke minnow, which was a real killer for us in a white pearl pattern. It can be reeled slowly and steadily through fronds or bounced off surface structure with a perfect “plop” sound. Unless you’re planning to cook the catch, it’s a good idea to pinch back the barbs since smallmouth tend to inhale prey, leaving hooks firmly grounded in their throats.
The real beasts of the Pushaw are the northern pike, Esox lucius. Draped with spots and lines of green and grey, blending perfectly with submerged vegetation where they lay in wait, floating against thin grasses, they are nearly invisible in low-light conditions and murky pools. They can lay motionless for hours then race out of the shadows at 30 miles per hour to attack other fish, frogs, mice, even small waterfowl and when necessary, their own siblings.
As spring begins to warm stream waters, northerns move from deep cool lake waters to warmer shallows, commencing their ancient ritual of reproduction in waters between 45 and 65 degrees. Females produce approximately 9,000 eggs per pound of body weight, which is impressive considering 8- and 10-pound pike are common, and females in the 17-pound-range are not unusual. They scatter their eggs on the surface of submerged leaves for males to fertilize with milt which, after two weeks, break free from their protective egg sacs and use a tiny adhesive patch on their foreheads to cling to the leaf’s surface. Nature is nothing short of absolutely amazing. From that point, life gets even more precarious as they learn to feed on plankton and then small fish while calling on instinct to help them hide and conserve energy. Having hatched in relatively cool waters means their births are a few weeks ahead of other fish, which makes them just a bit larger than their classmates and as reason would follow, better prepared to fight for the next meal.
Northerns have backwards-facing teeth, used to tear into their prey and hold it sideways before either drowning it or turning it around to finish the kill. As pike are largely indiscriminate in what they attack, spoons are a favorite lure since they can outlast their teeth and strong jaws. Spoons have an inherent irregular movement based in no small part to one Lou Eppinger, a taxidermist who saw opportunity with the invention of clunky heavy bait casting reels. Tirelessly he worked, pounding out a warbling erratic copper design that was thin in the middle and just a bit heavier to the sides, a quirk lending spoons their unmistakable action. In the same way a twitched rod tip infuriates a smallie guarding her young or a largemouth patrolling a sunken stump, spoons offer reflection, signaling irritation with just enough sparkle to catch any fish’s eye. Those Zoom Flukes serve you well amongst weed and grass lairs, as do short stainless leaders to accommodate their teeth.
Pike were first officially reported in Pushaw Lake in 2003 although it’s believed they lived there for several years prior, likely illegally introduced by anglers looking to create a new exciting fishery. Non-native just like smallmouth and pickerel, they represent a potentially irreversible population of top line, early-breeding, fast-growing, aggressively-consuming predators with the ability to forever change the pond, stream and tributary balance. Pike are a great fight for fishermen but biologists and regulators have been fighting their presence and spread through the river system for years. As the Pushaw connects to the mighty Penobscot via Stillwater River, home to environmentally and economically critical populations of smallmouth and fragile Atlantic salmon smolts, in addition to tributaries holding native brook trout, an invasion of pike could be devastating. In 2011, fisherman Richard Jagels caught a 7-pounder in the Penobscot on light tackle, just down from where the Stillwater drains, signally an official recognition of population movement.
The State of Maine is accommodating to sportsmen, providing a very simple online database and license purchasing platform, Maine Online Sportsman’s Electronic System, called M.O.S.E.S. for short. From there you can access plenty of information about rules, rivers and regulations. One of our favorite features is that once you have used it, you can choose to have some or all personal information, including your new registration number, held on the site so the next time you fish the great state, requesting and printing a new license is a breeze.
Pushaw Stream is open for open water fishing with only artificial lures and flies; fishing with live or dead bait is not permitted. Opening Day is April 1 and from that day until June 30 there is a limit of one largemouth or smallmouth with a minimum length of 10 inches. From July 1 to September 30, the limit for both is three fish, same minimum size but only one can exceed 14 inches. From October 1 to December 31, the bag limit reverts to one fish. There is, however, no limit on how many northerns you can take so given their size, flavorful white meat and unwanted movement into lower river systems, you might want to bring along a box of spoons and a cast iron frying pan.