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If you haven't wet a fishing line by now, you're obviously in that “other group,” the (possibly) more sensible brigade that believes the best spring fishing begins when the leaves on the alders (or is it poplar?) are big as a mouse's ear.
I've tested this theory for decades and have come to the conclusion that sometimes it's the right approach . . . but only sometimes. I think the trout are the ones who ultimately decide if and when they'll bite, and I have caught them on Opening Day as well as later in April or, in cold, wet springs, as late as May. It's legal to fish now, and for many anglers that is incentive enough to get out there. The alternative is yard work, and we know where that is on the average outdoorsman's list of priorities!
As the temperatures increase, the air becomes warmer and water levels start to drop, the “official” date when the fish suddenly turn into ravenous worm-eaters is variable, to say the least. It could be any day now, maybe tomorrow and maybe next week. Most anglers (early birds or the more sensible crew!) will wait till they hear that someone has caught a nice mess of trout, and then the floodgates open.
Back some years I happened to be Mr. Lucky, if you can call it that. I was fishing Alder Stream in Orneville during “mud season” and had the most amazing day. I caught several trout right under the McCorrison Road bridge and, before I'd rounded the first bend downstream, I had my (then) limit of 10 trout; all nice, big native brookies. I felt pretty good about that for a number of reasons, mostly because I'd proved the more sensible crowd wrong again, but all my bravado went away when I reached the road with my alder branch heavily weighted down with my catch. There I stood with 10 nice trout in plain view and one of the region's most notorious “sportsmen” coming down the road straight toward me. I was standing in the road next to the bridge, so the question, “Where'd you catch them?” was moot. My worm can was riding snugly on my hip, so the question, “What'd you catch them on?” was even more obvious.
I couldn't very well deny that a) I'd caught some nice fish today and b) I'd caught them here, so I resigned myself to the fact that the secret was out and next time I should be more careful about coming out of the woods after a good trip.
How fast does word get out in rural Maine? Well, at the time I lived on that road and, during mud season, the only way in to the bridge was past my house. Previously, I might have seen two vehicles a day chance the muddy ruts that served as a “road” through to Atkinson, but beginning the very next morning there was a steady stream of anglers in cars and trucks heading down the road for some trout-fishing action.
During those days I also used that road to travel to the Atkinson side where a nice, old spring provided fresh, clean water year-round. For about a week I could not get through or past the bridge due to all the angler traffic I'd caused, and instead had to get my drinking water at the Milo Laundromat. I don't know that being the first to make the season's big catch is always that costly, but I sure learned my lesson that year! After that, if I made a good catch I'd keep it to myself, and never slipped on that rule till sometime in the early 80s when all those Atlantic salmon came up through Bangor as far as Brownville and beyond. Many of those huge sea-run fish made to into Milo's three rivers, and for a while there I was catching them left and right on my bass-fishing trips. One fish I caught was a good 10 pounds, and I had to show it to a local resident I knew who worked at the shoe shop in Milo. Luckily, he was no angler and word was slow in getting out, but if you followed the saga of those ill-fated salmon you know how all that panned out. I'm not saying anglers were the demise of the Maine salmon run, but a million-dollar industry and long-term research project bit the dust in no time!
All that said, the thing to do now is target water that is shallower, warmer and slower than the rest of the stream. Those Alder Stream trout I caught were all in shallow pools behind big rocks, which slowed the water and saved the fish from fighting the heavier-than-normal spring current. I found them tucked tight up against the rock in the head of the pool, and discovered that if I cast a lightly-weighted worm above the rock and let it drift past and under the obstacle, a trout would grab it before it reached the other side. I caught my limit within a few hundred yards of the bridge and lost a few others along the way, so the trick was effective that April day, and it's worked for me and many other anglers on waters all across the state at this time of year.
Another option is to fish big, still deadwaters, going deep and slow in areas that are fully exposed to the sun and reach that manifest 55-degree range that trout seem to prefer. There will be a point next week or next month when the entire stream offers prime fishing conditions, but if you want to be in the vanguard of fish catchers, look for the smaller pockets of water that are ready now.
I like to catch and eat trout, so I just go with the simple, traditional garden worm on a No. 8 hook, sometimes with a small, gold-colored Colorado-type spinner about 6 inches ahead of the hook. Trout will find your offering no matter how you present it (many spring brookies are full of bugs the size of pinheads, so don't thing you need a whole night crawler to lure them in - they're hungry and they'll find you!).
If catch-and-release is your game, try small, dark nymphs fished deep and slow. I have good luck on downstream casts, jerking the fly upstream slowly in 6-inch spurts. Or, I'll drift the fly downstream in short bursts, making the lure appear to be fighting the current. Of course, direct your baits or flies into and under any obstacles (rocks and logs) you may encounter, and don't forget to work the undercut banks and deeper outside bends of streams and rivers. Trout can be anywhere now, and all you have to do is find them. I suppose that's one of the reasons they call it “fishing!”
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