Jesse Rochester is a 28-year-old Maine native born in Fort Kent, Maine, locally called “The Valley.” Jesse is currently based in Ellsworth, Maine, wrapping up his Ph.D. in biomedical science and engineering. Jesse also creates instructional fly-tying videos on his channel, Mainley Flies. “The channel is like a catalog of fly patterns to draw inspiration. My focus of the channel is to introduce the hobby to new people.”
How did you get into fly tying? Any big inspirations or fly tiers you admire?
I started to tie flies at the age of 7, my grandfather Bob Rochester used to spend many of his evenings in his workshop by the shores of Saint Froid Lake, tying flies. His specialty was classic trolling patterns, which were popular in our area. I vividly remember him teaching me my favorite patterns to fish with, the Black Ghost, Royal Wolf, Gray Ghost, Black Nose Dace, and the Parachute Adams. He was undoubtedly my greatest inspiration in fly tying. Even though my grandfather has passed away, the materials he passed down to me are still used in my personal fly boxes to this day.
Growing up in towns with no local fly shops or a big fly-fishing community, I was limited to learning the classic fly patterns and methods from my grandfather, who was self-taught. However, with the advent of social media, I discovered other fly tyers who have influenced my tying progression, including Tim Flagler, Tim Cammisa, and Barry Ord Clarke, to name a few.
From these individuals, I’ve learned various techniques that I incorporate into my own tying today, and they have even inspired me to create my own instructional videos. Nevertheless, my grandfather remains the most significant influence on my passion for fly tying.
What is your favorite species to chase and why?
Choosing between brook trout and landlocked salmon is an impossible task for me. As the main sport fish in the area where I grew up, both species hold a special place in my heart. I have countless fond memories of catching them, and they will always be my favorites. While I do enjoy fishing for all kinds of fish, I have a particular passion for pursuing wild trout and salmon species of all kinds in their native ranges.
Any advice for new fly tyers?
Start cheap! If you’re considering getting into fly tying, starting with a basic kit can be an excellent way to dip your toes in the water without breaking the bank. Fly tying isn’t for everyone; some enjoy it, while others would much rather buy the flies. If you know someone who already has a travel vice, you could ask to borrow it and try it. However, if that’s not an option, you can purchase a starter kit with a vice, tools, and materials to tie a single pattern for around $100-150. This way, you can experiment with fly tying and see if it’s something you enjoy before committing to more expensive equipment. If you like it and upgrade your vice later, you can still use your starter kit as a backup or a portable option for fishing trips.
Favorite piece of water to guide/fish and why?
One of the things I enjoy the most is hiking into lesser-known rivers and streams to fish for native pocket water trout and salmon. The absence of crowds and the feeling of being in untouched wilderness adds to the experience. For me, it’s a chance to disconnect from the world and immerse oneself in nature.
What are some of the challenges our fisheries face that are important to you?
In Maine, like many parts of New England, outdated dams pose a significant challenge to our fisheries. These dams obstruct the natural flow of rivers and have a particularly detrimental impact on sea-run species such as Atlantic salmon, American Shad, Alewife, striped bass, and Atlantic and shortnose sturgeon. The issue of dams is prevalent throughout the state, but it’s important to draw attention to the St. John River basin, which spans an expansive area of over 55,000 km2 across various regions, including Maine (36%), Quebec (13%), and New Brunswick (51%) (Kidd, Curry, & Munkittrick, 2011).
Unfortunately, the construction of three Canadian dams has devastated the waterway, eliminating Atlantic salmon and Striped bass from much of their native habitat in northern Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick (Andrews et al., 2017; Babin et al., 2020). However, there are some silver linings. For example, Furbish’s Lousewort, an extreme endemic plant species, has prevented further dam construction on the US portion of the St. John River (Rochester, J. 2018). Furthermore, the Allagash River, one of the primary waterways flowing into the St. John River, is undeveloped and protected by the state of Maine. Leaving the upper portions of the St. John River basin largely intact and untouched.
Despite these positive developments, efforts to restore sea-run species to their native ranges have failed due to the ongoing presence of dams and the recent introduction of invasive species such as muskie and smallmouth bass, which threaten the cold-water fisheries of the fish river chain, Allagash wilderness waterway, and the St. John River. Removing these three dams offers one of the highest potential impacts on restoring habitat in our state and Canadian rivers.
Although there has been some progress in removing dams in the southern parts of the state, addressing dams both within the state and international collaboration efforts for Canadian waterways will remain a significant challenge for Maine’s fisheries in the years to come. After completing my graduate studies, I plan to dedicate more time to aiding Maine’s habitat restoration and conservation efforts.
Andrews, S. N., Linnansaari, T., Curry, R. A., & Dadswell, M. J. (2017). The Misunderstood Striped Bass of the Saint John River, New Brunswick: Past, Present, and Future. Changed Publisher: Wiley, 37(1), 235–254.
Babin, A. B., Ndong, M., Haralampides, K., Peake, S., Jones, R., Curry, R. A., & Linnansaari, T. (2020). Migration of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) smolts in a large hydropower reservoir. Https://Doi.Org/10.1139/Cjfas-2019-0395, 77(9), 1463–1476.
Kidd, S D, R A Curry, and K R Munkittrick. The Saint John River: A State of the Environment Report. Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada: Canadian River Institute - University of New Brunswick, 2011.
Rochester, J. 2018. Pedicularis furbishiae. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T81441044A132760345