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It may be difficult to keep your mind on fishing when it's still cold, snowy and threatening more winter when we're all expecting spring. A friend called me a few days ago to report that he had turkeys poking around in his snow-covered garden - not exactly what most folks would consider a sign of spring!
All this will bluster will end, of course, and spring will hit us hard and fast once winter decides to get out of here once and for all. You can wait for the pussy willows to blossom or the black flies to start biting (one sure sign that spring has arrived!) or you can ignore all those signs and just get out there now, which is always the best approach in my view.
Most fishermen have their own ideas about where, when and how to fish in mid-April, but I prefer the easiest route, one that most anglers ignore in their eagerness to get “back in” to the big fish before anyone else does. I find it amusing to pull up to a bridge or culvert crossing with several other anglers, and sit back to watch the race as everyone tries to beat the others upstream or down.
Once the dust has settled, I let the last guy get out of sight and then sashay on over to the bridge and start fishing! I don't know why so many anglers think there are no fish under these bridges or inside those culverts, but I have pulled some phenomenal trout out of these perfectly obvious holes and April is the perfect time to do it.
I'm not sure if the increasing spring sunshine is a factor, or the gradual warming of the road way radiates heat to the water, but trout love these roadside holes in spring. Trout may often be found in schools in these pools, and the patient angler can often take his limit of fish without having to move up or down to the next pool.
I learned about these early-season hotspots from Carleton Reynolds, my wood-cutting buddy back in the early 1970s. Carleton worked hard when he had to, but on the way back home from the Dover wood yard, he'd swing by a stream or two he'd fished as a kid and show me how to find trout near the road “when you're in a hurry.”
It was quite a sight to watch Carleton, a big man in any position, start crawling on his hands and knees up to a rickety old bridge or culvert and flip a garden worm into the dark water beneath the road. He was quiet, stealthy and slow in his approach, knowing that the skittish trout were not going to tolerate a cavalry charge on their position. Move in too fast or too erratically and the fish will disappear for an hour or more . . . a good thing to remember any time you are trout fishing.
Carleton was really quite the meat fisherman - he'd only fish when conditions were perfect and he'd do everything right so he could make a catch on every cast. I don't know if he liked trout or trout fishing, but he'd catch them as fast as he could and put them on ice so he could eat them for dinner that night. The concept of “catch and release” was still years ahead as a dominant angling philosophy, and I doubt that Carleton would have bothered with it, anyway. He didn't fish that often, but when he did he wanted fish to take home and eat. I don't think he would see the sense in taking the time to catch fish and then throw them back. I don't know that the majority of Maine anglers adhere to the concept, for that matter. Spring-caught trout are delicious when cooked on shore with fiddleheads and potatoes . . . it wouldn't be spring if you didn't have at least one good feed of trout, and Carleton was “old school” all the way.
In any case, I have always stuck with Carleton's advice and, decades later, dedicate my first catch of the year to him. When I can, I go back to one of our old streams (our area is loaded with brooks that cross big and small roads all over Piscataquis and Penobscot counties), and at least once a year I'll stop at a crossing, dig around the rocks and logs for a few garden worms, and then sneak up on a bridge or culvert and try to trick a few of those smart trout into taking the bait. Like Carleton, I use a short pole (a 5-foot graphite, glass or composite rod will do), fine line (4-pound-test is plenty) and a bare No. 8 hook. Trout are not shy about taking a bait drifted slowly with the current. The key is to make as little disturbance as possible and just let the bait bounce and roll along as if the worm had fallen into the stream and was just going with the flow, as it were. It's easy to feed out slack line as the worm drifts. When a fish hits, just touch the line to the base of the rod (just ahead of the reel) and lift the fish free of the water with as little fanfare, splashing and disturbance as possible.
Assume there are more fish down there and do what you can to avoid spooking them. It's not likely that you'll catch a limit of trout in any one bridge or culvert pool, but four or five good fish is not unreasonable to expect. In fact, as spring wears on, you can expect to find at least a few trout under any bridge or culvert as long as the water stays cool (around 55 degrees) and deep enough to give the fish a safe place to hide - mink, herons and otters like trout, too!
Don't let this best time of trout season pass you by. Keep your gear in your vehicle, carry a small shovel or spade for digging worms, and fish every chance you get. You may be surprised at what you find less than a cast from the road.
I don't think Carleton ever spent much time hiking far upstream or down, but then again, he never had to!
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