|Isn't it funny how, as we near the start of another hunting season, the weather suddenly turns to noticeably crisp and cool? I have heard from folks in our area who claim that it's “freezing” already, even though temperatures are only in the 60s (well, maybe 50s) at night. That's a little more than freezing, but considering that it was some 40 degrees hotter just a few weeks ago, this is definitely a cool spell!
The good thing about all this is that today is the first day of the Maine bear baiting season, so expect to see camo-clad sports, muddy trucks and, sometime in the late evening or early morning, hunters pulling into check stations with their bruins. Bait hunters account for about 70 percent of the annual kill, and most of the successful baiting occurs during these next few weeks. Hunting over baits is allowed through Sept. 23, so between now and then some 1,700 or more bears will be tagged, eaten and turned into rugs or trophy mounts.
Another interesting fact is that out-of-state hunters who come here for the legendary “Maine hunting experience” will take the majority of those bears. They're generally happy, generous folks anxious to have a good time and enjoy a good hunt, and local businesses will see a spike in sales each week as the bear, bird and deer seasons roll on.
With all this frenzied hunting activity gearing up, to me that's the signal to . . . go fishing! New regulations now allow angling through the end of next month with some restrictions. For example, between Aug. 16 and Sept. 30, rivers, brooks and streams are restricted to the use of artificial lures only and the total daily bag limit for salmon, trout and togue is 1 fish.
From Oct. 1 thru Sept. 30, catch and release fishing is allowed on lakes and ponds in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York counties.
In Piscataquis County the length limit on bass is 10 inches. In most other counties the limit is 12 inches.
You may find some competition on some of our more popular lakes and ponds during the latter part of the season, but it's a rare day when you meet another angler on one of our local rivers or streams. The bridge pools are generally beaten to a froth for obvious reasons, but if you're the adventurous type and don't mind walking 15 minutes upstream or down you can enjoy great fishing on long stretches of water that you'll have all to yourself.
Fall fishing is enjoyable for a number of reasons. It's cooler, the bugs are mostly gone and water levels are generally stable (and low enough to wade in most places). Even when water levels drop to ankle deep in places, the fish will congregate in the deeper pools and provide great angling for as long as you care to throw lures at them.
If you have the time and the inclination, try floating short sections of river in a canoe or kayak. The water directly above and below ledges and noisy rapids will hold good numbers of fish, and the odds are good that most of them have not seen a hook or lure all summer. I know that some stretches of our local rivers are too high and fast to fish properly earlier in the year yet, by fall they're calm, placid and easily reached by wading or in a canoe. It often surprises me to see how tame those violent spring rapids can be in late August - the paint smears and aluminum scars on rocks and ledges left by fast-moving canoes last April seem incongruent now. It was tough to stop a canoe in these areas during high water, let alone fish, but now is the time to slip in there and cast to waiting lunkers that are more than eager to take a Mepps spinner, Twistertail or Dardevle.
There are three or four stretches of river I can't ignore at this time of year, and for over 30 years they have provided great fishing from shore or boat. For example, I always feel the need to sneak up the Sebec River from its confluence with the Piscataquis River just above Rhoda's Bridge. This can be fast water at times, especially as you get near the dam in Milo, but I have caught some of the biggest bass of my life in this little stretch. There's normally a few logjams and fallen trees along the way that attract fish, but some deep-scoured runs also hold good numbers of bass.
The easiest way to fish this stretch is to paddle up as far as you want to go and then drift downstream, hooking up to a tree or rock along the way to thoroughly fish the better-looking water.
Another great spot is the big pool at Rhoda's Bridge - above and below. This area, from below the bridge to the trestle over the Piscataquis and upstream toward Milo contains some tremendous bass and pickerel, plus a trout or two and, in years gone by, some big salmon. I like to wade out to the last of the rocks below the trestle and fish the deep water just beyond - I once hooked a bass there that weighed over 5 pounds. I lost him as I tinkered with my DeLiar, but I saw the marker long enough to know he was a big one!
Another area I have to fish at least once each fall is the winding stretch of the Pleasant River off Reardon Road in Milo. I first fished this water back in the late 1960s when old Joe Reardon was trying to sell my dad some land. They'd talk, I'd fish, and if I didn't hook and land two-dozen fat smallmouths in a morning I was doing something wrong.
I try to get out there at least once each season for old time's sake and always do well. I put back all the fish I catch, so there's some waiting there for you, too!