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May is fast becoming similar to October because there is so much to do outdoors and not enough time to do it all! Fishermen scramble through their tackle boxes as they decide whether they want to focus on trout, salmon or bass. Turkey hunters have a few days left to put their spring gobbler in the freezer, and boaters of all stripes have decisions to make as well. What to do, where to go, when to do it and how long to spend on it? These are the burning questions of Maine’s May sportsmen.
The difficulty comes in that the best time to hunt or fish is in the early morning, and as we’ve discussed in previous columns, nothing says “early” like turkey hunting! You have to be in the woods and near gobbling birds at least an hour before daylight, which gives new meaning to “up before the crack of dawn.”
Unless you are graced with a textbook hunt where the birds come in on a string at sunrise, you can expect to be out there till well past 10 a.m., which, in most anglers’ minds, is too late in the morning to get started. You can expect good fishing right up until late morning when the wind picks up and that “it’s all over for now” atmosphere prevails. Deer hunters know what I mean about that – there’s something about the midday period that shuts game (and fish) down for a few hours, but then things pick up again in late afternoon as the sky darkens and the wind dies down.
Because we have only one month of May and it happens to be peak time for all these species, the only logical choice is to try them all! If I could write a dream scenario in which I could participate in all the options open to the May sportsman, I’d probably start out with turkeys. It’s happened to me often enough that I know it can happen – I’d get in the woods early, set up on an enthusiastic gobbler and have him in the trunk by 7 a.m. (My earliest turkey was tagged before 6 a.m., but that was beyond textbook – that was a miracle!)
With my spring bird in hand, I’d head for the nearest stream or river and see about catching a salmon for a late breakfast. I have had my best morning luck in the hours after sunrise till about 9:30 a.m. When the streamside spruces start swaying in the breeze I notice a definite lull in the action, unless it’s a calm, overcast day. In most cases, however, once the midday breezes start to blow the fish (and game) seem to go into retreat for a while.
Ah, but there is one species that is eager, aggressive and combative at all hours of the day, and that is the smallmouth bass, particularly those in rivers. In fact, bass are active at midday no matter what the weather. Back in my Hartland Tannery days, I’d spend my lunch period (30 minutes whenever I could find the time) tossing spinners or spoons into the Sebasticook River, which flowed right past the building. I could expect to catch several bass, even on sunny days, and a trout or salmon on the darker days. I actually landed one of my biggest smallmouths ever one noontime when all I had time for was a few quick casts while my work partner choked down a cigarette.
In late afternoon, I seem to do well on brook trout, especially in secluded coves or small ponds where the fish come to the top near sunset and gorge on insects. This is a great opportunity for fly-fishing because if you fish from a canoe you have plenty of room for casting to rising fish, or you can paddle around with your line already out behind you and just toss your fly into the ring of a rise as you come upon them. In most cases a trout will pounce on your fly like a cat, and the action is usually steady all evening. There’s a point in late afternoon when the wind dies down and the pond surface is smooth as glass. That’s when you want to be there, rod in hand, waiting in the pre-dusk gloom for that one, big splash that means “lunker!”
Fortunately, our area of Maine is replete with the perfect combination of turkey, trout and bass hotspots, most within walking distance of each other. You don’t have to travel far to find good turkey hunting in central Maine, and there are enough trout streams and bass rivers available to keep you going for the entire month. In fact, most rivers have good trout streams feeding into them, and there is usually some great turkey habitat close by. If all you have available is a morning or afternoon, just get out there and see what you can do.
Of course, you can always focus on just one species, but I can almost guarantee that if you decide to pick up a trout rod and spend the morning on the water you’re going to hear turkeys gobbling in the woods behind you! And, if you decide to spend your May days chasing turkeys, you are going to be missing out on some of the best trout and salmon angling of the year. (I know this because one year I opted to hunt instead of fish, and as I drove by my favorite trout stream I passed an angler who proudly held up his limit of fat trout to show me. And, no, I didn’t get a bird that day!
The point of all this, of course, is to encourage one and all to get out there and enjoy the fine May weather. Spring is a great time to be outdoors and it hardly matters if you are hunting, fishing, looking for shed antlers or just poking around to see what’s out there. Take some time off and recharge your batteries. I don’t always kill a turkey or catch a trout, but I always come home feeling much better for having tried!
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