I began reading about great the fishing in the St. John River about ten years ago. In 2015, eager to see if what I’d read about the St. John was true, I finally crossed the border and began my fishing just above Hartland, then above Florenceville/Bristol, then above Bath, and finally all the way up to Grand Falls. What I found dazzled me.
One day in June 2016, I stopped counting at 82 smallmouth, all on flies. They ate streamers, small jigs, and large poppers: They ate everything. They ate out in the current, they ate in the countless small coves along the shore. My arm started hurting so I had to stop hooking them. By the end of the day, I was content to just watch them eat the fly without hooking them. Making another trip in late June, I had an afternoon when I hooked 54 large bass in 3 ½ hours. Incredible!
My favorite fishing is in June because the river is open to spin angling. (It becomes fly-fishing-only on July 1, and fishing near the tributaries is closed to protect any Atlantic salmon that may be in the river.). In 2018, I brought friends from Kentucky and Montana to join me for three days. We stayed at the delightful Shamrock Inn in Bristol which, in my limited experience, is the epicenter of St. John River smallmouth fishing. We were shuttled by the great people who run Riverview Outfitters out of Florenceville. We’d float a few miles of the river each day in our float tubes, and Riverview’s Brent McKay would drive us back up to our cars. If I lacked float tubes, I’d rent a kayak from Brent and float that way. If I had limited knowledge of the river, I’d ask Brent to arrange a guide for me.
There are two impoundments on the river that host bass tournaments. For someone with a power boat, those are the places to fish. There’s a boat ramp above the Beechwood dam, from which you’d fish mostly up-lake, and one in Hartland under the great covered bridge, from which you’d fish down-lake. If you have a canoe, kayak or float tube, I’d suggest any of the water from Beechwood Dam down to Hartland. The river nearer Grand Falls is incredibly beautiful, but I catch more fish from Bath to Hartland.
In addition to smallmouth, there is a small population of very large rainbows in the river. I’ve hooked only a few—I don’t target them when smallie fishing—but they’ve all been Big. If you do hook one, please put it back in the river for others to enjoy. Their rarity makes them special. You also could hook a musky. My friends from Montana hooked two in three days while fishing with little crankbaits for smallmouth.
I always stay at the Shamrock Inn in Bristol when I go. It’s a delightful but peaceful place with a homey feel. Everything is immaculate and lovely: the grounds, the Inn, the rooms. And the staff is exceptional. They welcome you as if you were their own houseguest. The kitchen is great: I cook a myself a nice breakfast each day with the fine fixings that are always in the fridge. And I just stroll down the drive to dine in town in the evening.
You’ll never forget a trip to this region. The fishing is Awesome, the river valley is beautiful, the accommodation is perfect, and the people who live there are as warm and inviting as you’ll find anywhere.