|With just a few days between us and another open water fishing season, now’s a good time to start thinking about where you’re going to wet your line on opening day. As the term implies, you can fish anywhere in Maine where there is “open water,” but with one little caveat: it is unlawful to fish on inland waters while positioned on ice.
It is often tempting to set up on the ice next to a “seam” of open water because the thinking is that fish will be attracted to the warmer water and therefore be easy pickings (not really true, anyway). But, those same heavy thinkers also believe that the ice is still thick enough to hold a person (or a snowmobile, ATV or similar vehicle) and that is also not true. Over the years I have seen some people, some with small children along, get close enough to the edge of the ice to be able to touch the water with the tips of their fishing rods talk about an accident begging to happen! Not only is the ice at the edge of such openings of random thickness, but it’s often sloped, slippery and prone to break into slushy icebergs at any moment. It is absolutely foolhardy to be on the ice from now on, and, in any case, it’s illegal to fish that way, so just cross the idea off your list of fun things to do in April.
The law says that we may fish in any waters that are naturally free of ice, which in general means rivers and streams for the time being. Some lakes and ponds will have open water along their edges (and you can legally fish these openings from shore or from a boat) but it’s a rare central Maine lake or pond that will be clear of ice on April 1. Some stream inlets and outflows may be good places to fish, along with the edges of thawing beaver flowages, but access may be tricky at times.
Still, it’s fishing season and you can’t just sit indoors and ignore another long-anticipated opening day. Sure, it’s probably going to be snowy, cold, wet, rainy, windy or all of these, but that’s irrelevant: traditions wouldn’t be traditions without someone in attendance! ? I have spent both enjoyable and miserable first days on the water, but I always feel better if I get out there and try, even if I end up going home cold and empty-handed.
To be sure, opening day fishing is slow and marginally productive. I have fished some great pools in which I could see fish holding on the bottom and nothing I threw at them would entice a strike. In the Sebec River, for example, it’s not unusual to see a three-foot lake trout suddenly come cruising by and ignore everything in the tackle box, including bait! I’ll see flashing salmon and the occasional brook trout zip in and out of the picture but at the end of the day all I have to show for my efforts are cold hands and a runny nose!
What pays off most and best on opening day is persistence. Though I love to throw lures and streamers, I’ll run through my list of old favorite lures (a Dardevle, the old red-and-white spoon tops the list, followed by a gold Mepps spinner and a Rebel silver minnow), toss a few Gray Ghosts or Coachman streamers, and then I’ll settle in with a nice, fat night crawler on a fine hook fished just off the bottom.
This is slow, methodical, very boring work but it’s good to remember that the fish are cold, the water is deep and the patient approach is the best way. I tie on a small bobber set to keep the bait moving within inches of the bottom. I keep casting to the head of each pool and just let the bait drift slowly along the current seam (that point where fast water meets slow) and hope that a lethargic April trout will bother to rise up and take it. I know that sooner or later a fish will show some interest, but it’s definitely not a fast-action sport!
What usually happens is I’ll make 100 such drifts and, somewhere about the time I’m daydreaming about deer hunting or something similar, my bobber will stop and I’ll think, “Great snagged again!” I’ll reel my line in and find, to my surprise, a nice trout or salmon hanging there like, well, a dead fish! Early-season catches are usually that subdued not much of a bite and not much of a fight, either. It’s often surprising to catch a 20- or 30-inch fish and have it come in like a wet towel, but that’s what you often get in April. Of course, in May or June the fish will fight longer and harder, but those days are still a long way off.
This is the time of year when my pet angling peeve (minimum legal lengths) come to the fore. It sounds reasonable to have a 14-inch minimum length on salmon, but salmon are not the best at surviving being hooked and landed. And, nearly every fish you catch in spring is undersized, so what you end up with is a stream or river that is littered with dead and dying salmon that were duly released by conscientious anglers. I’d think it would be less wasteful to allow anglers to keep two fish and then stop fishing (injuring fish) rather than force them to release all their fish and kill half of them in the process. Or, make bait fishing illegal in April . . . there has to be a solution! Of course, the minks and otters aren’t complaining!
Before you set out this season, be sure to review the latest fishing regulations at www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing. Click on “regulations” and scroll down to your chosen water. We have the “general rule” detailing basic fishing laws, and then we have site-specific rules governing each water. The rules change annually so be forewarned. The local game warden will be glad to explain the details but it will cost you!