The Kennebec River is a treasure — and it needs more attention and help than we are currently providing.

I have kayaked several sections and fished the entire river, from its start at Moosehead Lake to Popham Beach. Spending a day on any section of the river is very special.

I even took my wife Linda on a guided fishing trip in the Kennebec Gorge, where we caught lots of native brook trout. For years, I caught lots of brook trout and landlocked salmon in the northern half of the river. Those fish have disappeared in many sections of the river, as did all of the fly-fishing shops. After Edwards Dam was removed, my friend Harry Vanderweide and I boated and kayaked the river from Waterville to Sidney, catching lots of bass.

And from Bath to Popham, we caught lots of blue fish. But they disappeared, too. After that, we caught lots of striped bass, but that fishery has diminished too.

River herring are one of the real success stories since removal of the Edwards and Fort Halifax dams. I love to see all those bald eagles along the river, drawn by the herring.

But there are still a lot of dams that prevent herring from getting into their traditional waters. For example, there are three impassable dams on Cobbossee Stream and six more on the outlet to China Lake.


Way back in history, 70,000 Atlantic salmon were in the river. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent trying to restore Atlantic salmon to the river, without success. We were recently told that it would take $25 million a year and 75 years to restore Atlantic salmon to Maine rivers. I doubt that will ever happen, mostly because our ocean waters are now too warm for salmon. They are also struggling in Canada.

Samuel Champlain visited the river between 1604 and 1605. Fort St. George was founded in 1607 at the head of navigation on the river near what is today Augusta. This was the state’s first English settlement. The river’s name is Algonquin for “long, quiet water” and describes the stretch of river below Augusta.

In 2006, the state’s major conservation and sportsmen’s groups, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, where I was executive director, created the Kennebec River Initiative, a collaborative effort to preserve and promote the waterway.

I participated in that initiative, hoping for more and bigger fish in the river and a regional marketing system to take advantage of anglers coming to catch them. I also hoped the initiative would find ways to protect important wild sections of the river using conservation easements or land purchases. “I’d like to see collaborative, cooperative, effective marketing attention on the river,” I said in a newspaper story.

The initiative had many goals, from access improvements to community-based development along the river. And a lot was accomplished, until, sadly, the initiative ended.

I continue to hope that the same groups will relaunch this important initiative. We aren’t even close to achieving all the economic benefits of this beautiful river.


I have noted that some riverside communities have focused on the river, from Augusta’s boat launch and park to Waterville’s river walk to Skowhegan’s ambitious plans for a canoe/kayak fast-water section and seasonal pieces that will be put in the river and light it up at night. I do hope they understand that that will scare away the fish!

And if you’ve never visited Swan Island, near Richmond and managed by the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, put that on your to-do list this year. It’s a very special place in the river.

As a kid growing up in Winthrop, I remember when the Kennebec River was so polluted that it stunk up the city and pealed the paint off houses. We can all be proud of the much cleaner river we now enjoy.

Now it’s time for several new initiatives — to keep the river clean, restore fisheries, improve access, get more people out on the water, engage every community along the river. and enjoy our beautiful Kennebec River.

Let’s begin by reorganizing the Kennebec River Initiative.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or Read more of Smith’s writings at

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