Dead River The Dead River has a drainage area of 867 square miles. The upper portion of the drainage is composed of the North Branch, which originates at Saddleback Lake, near Rangeley. A dam near the mouth of the North Branch in Eustis presents a barrier to upstream fish migration. These two branches flow into Flagstaff Lake, a 22,833 acre reservoir. The river below Flagstaff is a combination of deadwater, falls, and whitewater which enters the Kennebec at The Forks. Both Long Falls Dam, which forms Flagstaff Lake, and Grand Falls, located seven miles downstream, are barriers to upstream fish passage.
Brook trout are distributed throughout most of the Dead River drainage, and the river fishery is provided by wild trout except that spring yearlings are stocked in portions of the South Branch and the North Branch. The mainstem of the Dead River and Spencer Stream also have native populations of salmon, but their slow growth in the river environment limits their potential as a sport fishery. Fishing in the north branch of the Dead River is limited by law to fly fishing only. The majority of brook trout angled from the Dead River average 8.5 to 10 inches in length. There are no bass in the drainage, but both yellow perch and chain pickerel are present in the mainstems of both branches.
The major tributary streams to the Dead River include Spencer, Kibby, and Enchanted Streams in the northern part of the drainage; Tim Brook and Alder Stream in the west part of the drainage; and Nash and Redington Streams in the southern part of the drainage. All of these streams support wild brook trout populations; some also have populations of slow-growing landlocked salmon.
Flagstaff Lake forms the northern boundary of the Bigelow Preserve and affects public use and enjoyment of the Preserve. Flagstaff is a large, shallow, man-made impoundment that was formed by the damming of the Dead River in 1950. The Long Falls Dam is owned by Central Maine Power Company (CMP) and operated by Kennebec Water Power Company (KWPC). It controls the water levels on the lake to the 1,150 foot contour. The lake is used as a storage reservoir for hydroelectric facilities further down the Kennebec River drainage. Water levels fluctuate considerably and are usually lowest in mid-to-late March.
Although large in size, Flagstaff Lake is shallow and is drawn down annually. Pickerel, yellow perch, and hornpout thrive in this environment, but landlocked salmon and brook trout do not. Rainbow smelt provide an important spring dip net fishery, and brook trout are abundant in some of the lake's tributaries.
The lake only receives light fishing pressure as the fluctuating water levels and the presence of other excellent coldwater fishing opportunities nearby discourage use of the lake. However, Flagstaff Lake does appear to be important, or have the potential to be important to wildlife, particularly waterfowl.
The shores of the lake in the Bigelow Preserve are designated by BPL as riparian zones. A riparian zone is comprised of a 330-foot corridor, the primary purpose of which is to provide wildlife habitat. Research has shown that the areas adjacent to water are particularly important to wildlife as travel corridors, as well as home range habitat. Timber harvesting is allowed in the riparian zone; in fact, harvesting is important to maintaining the quality of the habitat by providing for a healthy, diverse environment. Timber management will be conducted on an uneven aged basis to enhance and maintain the riparian zone. The fluctuating water levels, which are a function of hydrogeneration and flood control, limit the lake's desirability for wildlife habitat.9 In contrast to Flagstaff Lake, the other 104 named lakes and ponds in the Dead River drainage are mostly well-suited to coldwater fish. Eighty percent of these waters are less than 100 acres in size; 69% are less than 50 acres. Of the larger lakes, Spencer Lake, Spring Lake, Jim Pond, Chain of Ponds, King and Bartlett Lake, and Tea Pond all have populations of lake trout, landlocked salmon and brook trout. Most are routinely or periodically stocked with these species. The remaining 95 ponds in the drainage are mostly brook trout waters, the majority of which have self-sustaining populations. Public access to more than a dozen lakes and ponds in the drainage is limited due to restrictions imposed by land owners or lessees.
Overall, the Dead River drainage has an abundance of coldwater fish habitat, much of it free from warmwater fish competition.