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All the talk on the streets now is about Labor Day, back-to-school and pumpkins. Sure, it’s cooler now, leaves are starting to show their more colorful sides and . . . well, unless it’s your first year in Maine you know what’s coming. One could huddle in a corner somewhere and lament what’s on the horizon or, as I prefer to do . . . go fishing!
The next several weeks are, for Maine anglers, the equivalent of spring. Cool temperatures, bright skies and water conditions that are next to perfect will prevail well into October. Although brook fishing for trout closed Aug. 15 there are plenty of opportunities for fishermen who aren’t quite ready to surrender to fall. For example, trout and salmon regulations vary from catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only fishing to bag limits of one or two fish. Bass and panfish anglers can enjoy their sport with few regulations to memorize, but the best advice is to review the rules and proceed accordingly. There are 62 pages of relevant regulations contained in the 2014 Open Water Fishing Regulations booklet (available online at www.mefishwildlife.com) or in paper version at any licensing agent, so study up on the species and destination you are most interested in.
For me, late summer is all about wading around in shallow water where pickerel, perch and bluegills are most abundant. Abundant, aggressive and satisfying on the grill, these species can be caught on any live bait, lure or fly you toss at them. Pickerel prefer something meaty and lively while the others will gladly nibble on traditional baits and a lot of non-traditional offerings. I’m a big fan of pickerel, which are the freshwater equivalent of an angry torpedo. Toss a weedless deer-hair frog, rubber worm or grub into a patch of lily pads, twitch the rod tip a few times to get the lure going and just wait – something explosive is about to happen! Many times several pickerel will swarm the same lure, the swirls of their attack giving the angler plenty of time to get ready for a splashy strike. This is a perfect time to stop the lure and let it “rest” for a few seconds. Take up the slack line, raise the rod tip and, after a short pause, twitch the lure again. Any pickerel worthy of the name will pounce immediately. Give the fish a slow count of five and then set the hook. Typical, average-sized pickerel don’t fight for long, although the bigger specimens (up to 5 pounds or so) will give you a tussle. I prefer the smaller fish for the fryer – anything less than 18 inches will be sweet and tender when scaled, filleted, breaded and fried. Don’t forget to make a series of cuts in the flesh ?-inch apart and down to the skin to help melt those pesky Y-shaped bones that turn many people off of pickerel. Properly prepared those bones disappear in the cooking and the flesh is as good as anything you’ll catch in warm water.
For a fun day on the water, try fly-fishing for perch and bluegills with tiny popping bugs. Wade or paddle through the weeds while tossing the popper into any opening you can find. “Pop” the lure with judicious twitches of the rod tip, catching the attention (and appetite) of nearby fish. Keep in mind that bluegills and perch are school-type fish that congregate in great numbers wherever they can find a place to hide from bigger predators. On a good day you can fill a bucket with ‘gills and perch in just a few minutes.
We are fortunate in central Maine to have several great bass rivers that are open to fishing through Sept. 30. You won’t live long enough to fish every inch of every river in the region, but over the course of a season you can catch bass, pickerel, trout, salmon, bluegills and perch in all of the best rivers in our area: the Penobscot and Piscataquis, Sebec and Pleasant, Sebasticook, St. Croix and Kennebec . . . and their tributaries. Nothing beats a day of drifting along shore in a canoe or kayak casting to shoreline cover where big bass lurk, or probing cool-running tributary mouths for trout and salmon. These waters can be busy on weekends but during the week you’ll probably have most of the water to yourself. These days I see more tubers, floaters and paddlers than I do anglers, but the fish don’t seem to care. The best fishing is close to shore and near obstacles (fallen trees, log jams and rock piles), places where recreational boaters aren’t likely to linger.
Daily bag limits vary according to species but it is legal to keep a trout or salmon now and then, while warmwater species are pretty much there for the taking – fill the boat with them if you want to. By fall my fishing is mostly for fun, so I release nearly everything I catch. If I’m in the mood for a shore lunch I’ll keep a few perch or bluegills to fry over a charcoal fire, but most fish are reeled in, admired, photographed and released so some other angler can enjoy the same experience.
From now on it’s a good idea to expect cooler mornings and evenings and the occasional rain squall, but conditions in late August are all but perfect for the last angling forays of the year. It won’t be long before it will be time to make the switch to scholarly pursuits; another summer will be behind us and the focus will be on things other than a leisurely drift along the shoreline, rod and reel in hand. Find your way to the water soon or you’ll have to wait till next spring, which can mean a long wait for some of us.
Of course, those of us who participate in all the Maine outdoors has to offer need only switch gears, trade the fishing tackle for hunting gear and enjoy several more outdoor fun. It’s all just around the corner!
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