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For big-lake fishing, Aroostook County's Fish River Chain of Lakes is the destination of choice. Home of Maine's best landlocked salmon fishery, the lakes are somewhat remote, located near the border of New Brunswick, Canada. The eight natural lakes are undammed, making this ideal trout and salmon breeding areas. The cottage owners who own or lease land count their lucky stars for the chance to spend happy days on the pristine lakes.
First in the Fish River Chain of Lakes is shallow Fish River Lake. Westernmost lake in the chain, Fish River Lake is highest at 714 feet elevation, covering 2,642 acres to a depth of 46 feet. Nearly the entire lakeshore is in the hands of a paper company, with only a few private and commercial camps on leased land along the shore. The lake is within the North Maine Woods boundary, so a user fee is collected before reaching the lake. A small boat ramp is located at the northwest corner of the lake. No ice fishing is allowed here. The lake serves as salmon spawning area at the outlet past Round Pond, with rainbow smelt introduced in the 1960s to provide food stock for salmon, brook trout and lake trout. Fish River meanders more than 15 miles to the southeast to enter Portage Lake. There is no information available as to whether the river is navigable by small boats or canoes between the two lakes.
Portage Lake is the southernmost lake in the chain and over 100 feet lower in elevation at 604 feet. The 2,474-acre lake is also one of the shallowest with a maximum depth of 25 feet. Sheltered by West Mountain, Portage Lake is one of the most densely populated of the chain, with the little town of Portage hugging the southern shore. A public boat launch and beach area are provided for residents and visitors, with a seaplane base just west of the beach. A motor lodge is located here, and the town has a golf course nearby. From the outlet, the small river meanders through forest and wetlands to reach Saint Froid Lake to the north.
Saint Froid Lake is located just west of Highway 11, the Fish River Scenic Byway. This lake has little development; only a small number of cottages cling to the eastern shore of the 2,339-acre lake. One of the deeper lakes at 114 feet, Saint Froid holds many lake trout, or togue as they are called locally. The trout were re-introduced in 1969 and are stocked annually. Salmon, brook trout and a small population of lake whitefish reproduce here, feasting on the plentiful rainbow smelt. Ice fishing is popular, with some real whoppers being landed through the ice. Nadeau Thoroughfare, the outlet at the north end of the lake, leads to Eagle Lake. The Thoroughfare provides excellent salmon spawning.
Eagle lake, at 575 feet elevation, is one of the largest in the chain. The 5,601-acre lake reaches 136 feet in depth and has a shoreline of over 30 miles. Eagle Lake holds several fishing camps, and a public boat dock can be reached on the southern shore outside of the town of Eagle Lake. The developed areas hold both public and commercial beaches and picnic areas, although the lake is quite cold until late summer. The eastern arm of the lake is primarily state-owned, with several water-access-only campsites and picnic areas. Eagle Lake is the main destination for the chain, with a number of lodgings available, including guest cabins, motels and bed & breakfasts. This is the site of the annual Eagle Lake Sled Dog Races, including the 100-mile race and the 30-mile race. It's also one of the main points on the Aroostook County portion of Maine's renowned snowmobile trails. The Eagle Lake outlet is another location for excellent salmon spawning.
Although all eight lakes are considered within the Fish River Chain, the other four lakes - Square Lake, Mud Lake, Cross Lake and Long Lake - are not actually on the Fish River. Instead, they drain as a separate lake system into Eagle Lake where they contribute to the Fish River's flow. The Eagle River then flows out of Eagle Lake.
Square Lake is the next lake heading north along the Fish Lake Chain of Lakes. The Square Lake outlet to Eagle Lake, known as the Eagle Lake Thoroughfare, is short and relatively direct, heading to the largest lake in the chain at 8,090 acres. This outlet also provides excellent salmon spawning. The lake reaches depths of 122 feet and is little developed. One boat launch on the northeast corner of the lake is reached by over seven miles of private, unimproved gravel road. Most boats enter from the other lakes.
A short stretch of river leads to Cross Lake, with 2,470 acres, a depth reaching 46 feet, and many cottages and homes along its shoreline. A seaplane base provides quick access for some area residents and guests, as the area is otherwise a five-hour drive from Portland. Fishing is primarily landlocked salmon and brook trout with a public boat ramp located at the southeast end of the lake. The boat ramp isn't suitable for large boats, but residents with their own ski boats enjoy water skiing, tubing and sailing.
Mud Lake is the next lake to the north, accessible via a pleasant kayak or canoe ride. Only 1,002 acres and just 20 feet deep, Mud Lake is the smallest and most shallow lake in the Fish River Chain. Private cottages and a few commercial camps lie along the northern shore. A short channel leads to Long Lake through the village of Sinclair. Northernmost lake in the Fish River Chain of Lakes, Long Lake covers 6,849 acres and reaches a depth of 163 feet. Located only a couple of miles from the Canadian border, the lake is quite heavily developed, including on Pelletier Island. The area has a distinct French Acadian flavor. A public boat launch and picnic areas are located at St. Agatha on the northwestern end of the lake. An annual ice fishing derby draws large numbers of fishermen vying for large cash prizes. A seaplane base is located on the western shore. A 32-mile trail around the lake makes it a favorite among cycling fans. All of these northernmost lakes are managed for salmon and trout and are connected by navigable natural channels.
The entire Fish River Chain of Lakes is noted as one of the best salmon and lake trout fisheries in the country. Fish River Falls downstream near Fort Kent prevents other fish such as muskellunge and bass from migrating upstream from the St. Johns River into salmon country. This border area was settled about 1750 by Acadians who were pushed out of New Brunswick by the British. Although other parts of Maine were settled by English-speaking settlers, it wasn't known that this population of Acadians existed until logging interests pushed north into the area after 1820. The 'Aroostook War', more of an armed standoff between 1838-1842, finally resulted in an agreed-upon border between Canada and the United States. The 'war' adds some local color to history with a nearby preserved fort.
Aroostook County and the Fish River Chain of Lakes provide four-season recreation. Miles of groomed snowmobile and cross-country skiing trails bring winter visitors, while the prolific wildlife is great for nature observation, photography and stalking the wily brook trout in tiny rushing streams. Black bear, moose, deer and many smaller mammals, songbirds and waterfowl find ideal habitat here. Bald eagles soar overhead. Aroostook County is potato-growing country; many school districts still give children three weeks off in September to help bring in the family harvest. Fort Kent holds most of the business and is a gateway to the area. It is here at Fort Kent that famed US Route 1 begins; the other end is in Key West, Florida. The Fish River Scenic Byway meanders 37 miles south from Fort Kent to Portage Lake. Along the way, some of Maine's best scenery, small restaurants, motels and local festivals can be found. And always, the big lakes of the Fish River Chain hold huge salmon, hefty lake trout and an abundance of water for fun and relaxation. So, pack the fly rod, arrange for a fishing guide and come up to Eagle Lake and the rest of the chain.
*Statistics listed are for Eagle Lake only.
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