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In spite of all the odd weather we’ve had lately (snow, rain, cold, wind) there’s no doubt that spring will come again. In the next few days things are likely to even out and catch up to “normal,” (whatever that means to you), and just in time, because foul weather or not, the coming month is what it’s all about when it comes to spring sporting pursuits in Maine.
The options were simple in April – go fishing or stay home. But, with May looming on the horizon, suddenly things get complicated. The best fishing of the year occurs as things start to bloom and grow, and it’s not easy to ignore the first warm, balmy days of spring when snow and cold winds are no longer a threat.
The worst that can happen is to be on the water with rod in hand, eagerly awaiting the first serious bite of the year, only to hear a loud, lusty gobble reverberate off a distant hillside. That means, of course, that wild turkeys are in the reproductive mode, and if there’s a hunter who can resist that signature sound of spring I’d like to meet him.
If there’s any saving grace to all this, it’s that all turkey hunting must end at noon. If you’re going to be out there before dawn to set up on roosted birds, this means you’ll have already put in an 8-hour shift when hunting ends for the day. Because the typical morning turkey hunt involves lots of walking, sitting, calling and eager anticipation, most often ended by a deceitful trick played by the turkeys that you did not expect, you’ll be more than a little exhausted by lunch time. The normal procedure is to head for home, take a nap and get up to do it all again tomorrow (or as long as it takes to fill your tag).
But, May comes only once a year, so going home to sleep when the finest fishing of the year awaits seems rather wasteful. This means having a quick lunch, avoiding the sofa like the plague while gearing up for an afternoon of fishing for trout, salmon or togue.
The older I get the harder it is to avoid that afternoon nap, but I always feel like I’ve done the right thing when I get to my favorite river or stream and make that first cast of the day. Somewhere out there behind a rock or log, or lurking in the tail of a wide, deep pool, a fat trout or salmon is going to decide enough is enough and attack my lure with the enthusiasm we all expect at this time of year.
There have been times when I’ve hunted all morning and fished all evening with nothing to show for it but red eyes and big yawns at the end of the day, but there have been other days when I’d come home at dusk with a limit of fat brookies and a big gobbler hanging from the shed rafters. Perfect days are hard to come by but when they happen they’re like fuel for the future – most sportsmen know what I mean about that. It only takes one good day to give you the energy to continue on all season, and in spring any day can be “the one.”
Those who remember the sudden appearance of Atlantic salmon in the rivers and streams in our area back in the early 1980s might also recall what it was like to catch one of those unexpected trophies while poking around for brook trout or smallmouths.
On one of my better May days of all time, I was waist deep in the Sebec River in Milo when I happened upon a pod of these huge fish. I was casting the tiniest of Panther Martin spinners hoping to hook a bass or two when a fish struck and immediately leaped out of the water not 20 feet in front of me. The thing looked like a dolphin as it jumped and ran all over the river, side to side, back and forth... I hadn’t hooked a fish that acted like that in years!
When I finally brought the fish in and got a good look at it I knew it was a salmon and, therefore, not legal to keep, so I unhooked it and let it go, thinking that will be the last I see of these things. I moved upriver to a new spot, made another cast and, just like that, was fast into another big salmon! This one left the water immediately, leaping and thrashing like a Labrador retriever chasing a wounded duck, and soon I had my second Maine Atlantic salmon in hand. This fish was over 30 inches long, thick as a brick and amazingly strong. When you’re used to brook trout and bass, catching a sea-run salmon is definitely an eye-opener, and it’s no wonder some anglers (Lee Wulff and Ted Williams come to mind) suddenly forego all others and spend their lives chasing salmon in Canada and elsewhere.
I caught three more salmon that day, the last one literally in the shadow of the Route 16 bridge in Milo. I never told a soul about those fish because, at the time, folks were going just a tad crazy over them. Reports were heard of “anglers” shooting salmon with shotguns, spearing them, hitting them with bats or just diving in and wrestling them to shore. The craze went on for a year or two and then the fish quit coming (as expensive a lost cause as there ever was in Maine), far worse than the “bring back the caribou” extravaganza that occurred years later). Now, salmon are protected, rare and essentially off-limits while the “experts” ponder the reasons why they are no more.
In any case, this is the time to be outdoors in Maine. We’ll not mention the one little down side of being in the woods in May (black flies, anyone?) because the joys of great fishing and hunting far outweigh the negatives. There have been many days when I came home with a limit of fat brookies or carried out a heavy tom turkey and never noticed the ring of bites around my wrists and neckband till long after I got home.
No matter what the risks or obstacles, spring hunting and fishing is always worth it!
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