|With all the interest in Maine's new unlimited turkey season it's easy to forget that we are now in the middle of the best period for fishing, too. Whether you prefer trout, salmon or bass, the options are limitless as more water becomes available and temperatures (water and air) become more favorable.
If I had to pick one species to pursue right now, it would have to be smallmouth bass. The reason is simple enough: the next month or so is prime time for bass as they move into shallow water to spawn. Any lake's largest fish will be hovering over their nests in knee-deep water from now through the end of June, and any bait or lure that comes even remotely close to the nest will be attacked with a vengeance.
It is no great feat to catch 50 bass a day when conditions are right, and some of those fish will be in the 3- to 6-pound class, which most anglers consider trophy-sized. It doesn't take a large lake to make a good bass fishery, either. Most folks don't know it but smaller ponds are also excellent smallmouth hotspots in spring. For example, Newport's Nokomis Pond is easy to overlook when headed for the likes of Sebasticook Lake, Wassookeag Lake or Sebec Lake, but I have caught some serious whoppers at Nokomis. One spring I got there a bit late in the morning but arrived just in time to see another angler in a rubber raft being towed around the lake by a big bass! The guy lost the fish in the process, but he had caught two other bass over 5 pounds and had just gotten started.
The good thing about spring bass fishing is that the smallmouths are usually anxious to please. I once had a bet with another angler that he could catch a fish on every lure in his tackle box. Toward the end of our trip he was tossing lures that most anglers wouldn't even tie on their lines, but the bass were not concerned. He even caught one on one of those old novelty rubber-duck lures that were meant for bigger, meaner fish like pike and muskies.
The best way to fool spring smallmouths is to paddle a canoe or small boat along shore about 30 feet out. Drift with the wind when you can but stay as far from shore as you can reach with a cast. The trick is to cast to every log, stump, rock or other obstacle you encounter, including fallen trees, boat docks and the like. Don't pass up the smallest sticks or stubs you see poking out of the water. A bass will take up residence near most anything that provides cover at this time of year. All bass will be near shore and they all want a place to hide, so they sometimes have to take potluck when it comes to getting the best spots.
The selection of bass lures is mind boggling these days, but there is no need to invest the kids' college fund to get started. Every Maine bass angler should have a few Mepps No. 1 gold spinners on hand, a Rebel or Rapala minnow imitation and a few black or yellow eighth-ounce Mr. Twister spinnerbaits. You can be as creative as you want to (remember, bass will take just about anything you throw at them), but these few lures will keep you busy all spring.
Drift along shore at a slow pace, cast to every obstacle and retrieve your lures slowly but steadily. Expect a strike within the first few turns of the reel handle. I have caught bass that hit the lure as it landed, and some that followed the lure nearly back to the canoe, but in most cases these agitated, aggressive fish will waste no time on finesse. A bass is not a picky eater like a trout or salmon. And, when defending their nests, smallmouths are downright scary - they'll strike repeatedly at intruding objects, so cast again if you miss a fish, or come back a few minutes later and try another cast.
Drifting along shore is also a good place for the fly-rodder. Use big, black nymphs or wooly buggers, streamers or brightly colored wet flies. A 9-foot rod with 5- or 6-weight line is plenty. I'd recommend using large, sharp hooks rather than standard “trout” hooks because a smallmouth's jaw is wider and tougher than the average salmonid's. Bass hit hard but can easily be lost if your hooks are dull or too small.
Smallmouth bass fishing is allowed from April 1 to June 20 with a bag limit of one fish per day, In Aroostook, Hancock, Piscataquis and Washington Counties, the minimum length limit on bass is 10 inches; otherwise the minimum length limit is 12 inches. Only artificial lures may be used. From June 21 to Sept. 30, the daily bag limit is three fish, but only one may exceed 14 inches.
Most anglers catch bass for fun (they are ranked as “the fightingest fish that swims,” which you will see for yourself the first time you hook one!), and unless you're starving, it's best to quickly release them so you (and other anglers) can enjoy the experience again and again. However, don't be afraid to keep a smallmouth or two for chowder or salad. Bass are white, flaky and sweet tasting, and, as usual, the smaller fish are best on the table. Don't be put off by the small black flecks that are sometimes found in the flesh of smallmouth bass. Those are harmless parasites that die in the cooking process.
There was a time that bass were considered trash fish by Maine standards, and many a lunker smallmouth ended up flopping around on the shore of a lake or stream, a free meal for some passing raccoon or mink. These days, the bass is revered as a fighting fish and has generated quite an industry among tournament fishermen. If you want lots of action all day, head for the nearest bass pond and see what all the excitement is about. I know you won't be disappointed!