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It may take a few second looks out the frosty kitchen window and a bit of optimism to admit it, but the truth is that spring is on the way and, believe it or not, the opening day of Maine’s open water fishing season is just two weeks away!
I’m sure that anglers in central and northern Maine wonder why biologists bother to open the season in what amounts to the tag end of winter, but there is that “other” half of Maine that does exhibit some semblance of spring as April looms on the calendar.
Opening Day is a tradition for some folks, and I’m as guilty as the next for having the urge to wet a line on a day when anyone with a lick of sense would stay close to the wood stove and a hot cup of tea. There have probably been fewer than a dozen April firsts in the last 30 years that were conducive to good fishing by any stretch of the imagination, and most of the time it would have made more sense to spend the next three weeks in seclusion, tying flies, polishing spinners or otherwise dubbing around far from the water’s edge.
Of the few Opening Days I can recall since 1975 that were worth noting, a couple were outstanding only because the winters were warm, dry and snow-free. In fact, back in my woodcutting days, the winter of (was it?) 1979 or so was punctuated by a notable lack of snow. The ground froze solid, the air was cold and crisp, but we had no snow through most of the winter.
Woodsmen around the state exulted in the fact that they could drive skidders into formerly impenetrable swamps and cut to their heart’s content. I was into cedar posts and rails at the time, and we cleared a goldmine of trees in no time because the frozen ground let us practically drive a truck or skidder right up to each tree and allowed us to drop the straightest stock right onto the truck bed!
That was the year my cutting partner and I came around a bend in the trail and found a forest of prime white birch in front of us. For those in the know, white birch pays about 10 times more than the standard spruce and fir, and in those days of $2 minimum wage, a $300 tree was quite the find. Well, this 90-acre lot where we had stumpage rights was covered with mature birch and beech, and with the bare, frozen ground, we had no problem cutting every “money” tree on the lot!
I’d always thought that the local store charged us far too much for our traditional midday soda and Ring Ding, but with a $500 check in my pocket (payment for almost two cords of perfect white birch), I didn’t mind splurging!
What struck me about that winter was the fact that there was no spring flooding no runoff, no puddling of any kind because there was no water! But, when April 1 rolled around, the streams in our area were low, clear and slow moving – perfect for trout fishing! In fact, conditions were just as if it were late May, and the trout were hungry and aggressive.
I will never forget the day I made my way down to the water’s edge under the railroad trestle in Milo where the Sebec and Piscataquis rivers meet. There is a small island upstream of the bridge, and then a series of pools down to where the Sebec pours into the main stream, and these were full of trout in those days.
I’d purposely start at the upper left end of the island and fish downstream, snaking plump brook trout out of every deep hole and pocket, and then fish the lower pools in hopes of catching a salmon or trout that had held over from last year.
One season I vowed to use nothing but gold Panther Martin spinners. A the time, these in-line lures were new to Maine and unproven, but I was amazed at how well the trout took to them. So far (and this is after 45 years of fishing) my best-ever brook trout came from the first big pool below the trestle – and I took it on Opening Day with a gold spinner! The fish was just under 3 pounds and should never have been in that small of a pool, but the dry winter meant little runoff, and the water temperature was just about perfect (58 degrees, as I recall).
The fish took the spinner in one mighty gulp – I didn’t need to set the hook or do any “finessing” on my part. The same thing has happened to me on “early” trips just about everywhere I’ve been, from Dead Stream in Atkinson to the Sebec River in Sebec Village. I think my best-ever Opening Day of all time took place in the late 1970s when I walked up to the Sebec River near the old concrete flow gauge, cast a 1/4-ounce Dardevle across the stream and made one, two, three turns of the reel handle before a 3-pound landlocked salmon took the lure and headed for Milo. The water was cold, for sure, but the fish fought well for an April salmon. The event was well noted in my future writings because catching a big fish (of any species) with your first cast of the year is an even worth recording.
What was most humorous of all was that another angler I met farther downstream was in the midst of checking the water temperature and assured me that no fish would bite till at least “next week.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had a 3-pound salmon in my net already – no sense in bursting the guy’s bubble!
I doubt that this year’s Opening Day will be quite that productive. With several feet of snow on the ground and more to come, it’s likely that the best fishing won’t be till much later in the month. But, if you like to dream, now’s the time to start gathering your gear, replacing worn equipment and thinking about where and when you’ll make that fateful first cast of the year.
It sure beats thinking about the next storm we’re likely to get!
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