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Believe it or not, during last week’s blizzard I was reminded by one optimistic Mainer that “spring is coming,” and though it’s hard to imagine in some parts of the state, he was right! I little change in temperature, a few more minutes of daylight and that touch of warmth in the wind tells the story. There is more shoveling to be done, no doubt, but the back of winter is all but broken and balmier times are on the way.
Looming ahead like a beacon in the night is April 1, Maine’s legal, if not traditional, opening day of fishing season. Die-hards in waders will show up at dawn to make the ceremonial first cast of the season, but it’s the lucky angler whose fly or lure will land in the water and not on a bed of crushed ice! April 1 is pushing it, to say the least, but the fish are out there, and if you can find some open water flowing slowly enough to allow a short drift in front of a lethargic trout or salmon, you may have a chance.
I have caught fish about half the time on opening day, which means the odds are good enough to keep trying, even though popular theory and logic suggest that I stay in bed another hour and read a good book instead! I was spoiled on opening day fishing over 30 years ago when I made it my April 1 custom to be on the water in Sebec Village and toss a quarter-ounce red/white Dardevle into the depths of the Sebec River. Most of the time the “water” looked like a pale margarita, running fast and hard below the dam with a thick layer of crushed ice on top.
Of course, the river’s unfishable under those conditions, but if I got lucky all I’d be faced with come opening morning was high water and a creeping chill from the remnants of snow piled up around the banks.
There have been many times when other anglers would pull up and tell me that it was too early to fish, the fish weren’t there, the water was too high, too cold or too fast . . . any number of reasons why they would stay in the car, close to the heater, and watch me fish! I don’t like an audience and think that being watched pretty much jinxes your chances of catching anything, but I am also very good at tuning out such annoying distractions. When I get into a rhythm of casting and retrieving, I can go all day without stopping, and sometimes that’s just what’s needed if you want to catch an opening day trophy!
Often enough to make it worth enduring, I’ve caught some great fish using my persistent opening day tactics. I work the top of the water column first, then drop down a foot or two, and keep working my lure (a spinner or spoon) incrementally deeper until it’s bouncing off the bottom. Somewhere in the process I’ll find the salmon’s niche. With a hearty pull that resonates down the rod tip into my hand, I’ll feel the first fish of the year and, just like that, the season is on!
Because the river drains Sebec Lake, it’s possible to find a lake trout, a salmon or a chunky brook trout on the line. Most year’s it’s a landlock, sometimes over 3 pounds, which is a good fish on any day. I like to catch salmon because they jump and fight with vigor – you don’t hear the term “lethargic” used when an angler describes a meeting with one of these silvery beauties! Brook trout and lake trout tend to be slower in reacting to the pinch of a sharpened hook, and they will often stay deep and plod along as you work them closer to the rod tip.
Any keeper-sized trout or salmon is a pleasure to land on opening day, and I don’t complain when “all” I catch are brook trout, lake trout or even a large, hard-fighting smallmouth bass. Fishing is fishing in my book, and whatever takes the bait is welcome in my net any time!
There’s no telling what the 2009 fishing season will be like, but there’s no time like the present to get ready for it. You’ll need a fishing license if you’re 16 years of age and plan to participate, and that can be taken care of at any town clerk’s office, license vendor online at www.state.me.us/ifw/licenses_permits/fishing.htm.
You can also use the same site to link to the latest regulations and laws governing fishing in Maine and on specific waters you intend to fish. These laws change every year (or so it seems) and it’s in the angler’s best interest to be on top of things before the warden jumps out to greet you a the dock!
To make sure your early-season experience is a good one, make sure you take care of your tackle needs before you go. It’s always a good policy to replace last year’s fishing line, sharpen all hooks and refurbish lures and flies to as-new condition. Check your line guides for abraded areas and replace parts that need it. Clean and lubricate your fishing reels, and replace worn parts as necessary.
Check your tackle box or vest for missing necessities (swivels, hooks, spare line, favorite lures, measuring tape (for those ubiquitous 13 ?-inch salmon!) and spend some time on your boots or waders. Last year’s leak will probably be there again this season, too!
The snow may be on the ground outside and we’re likely to get more before it’s over, but the calendar will not be denied. Start checking your fishing gear now so you have time to repair, replace or replenish the stuff that worked so well for you last season. You don’t want to show up unprepared because, as Murphy would tell you, that’s when you will hook, and lose, that trophy of a lifetime.
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