|Most anglers may have decided to ignore celebrating Maine’s opening day of fishing season (April 1) because it’s traditionally considered too early, but now some are having second thoughts. The snow is going, the temperature is rising and things are looking like spring. Are those pussy willows out there? You may not want to be the first one on the water this month, but don’t procrastinate and be the last one to wet a line.
One of the most logical and practical places to start fishing is at bridge pools, those wide, deep places where a bridge or culvert crosses a stream. These places may not freeze all winter due to the radiating warmth of the bridge and its abutments, plus there’s nearly always a “tailwater” below the crossing where fast water keeps ice from forming until it’s desperately cold.
Why are these places so good for early-season trout? Just ask the ospreys! One of our most successful, fish-eating birds of prey, the osprey has learned that open water means fish. It’s not unusual to see an osprey (or two) hovering over the open water near a bridge crossing or perched in tall trees nearby. If the fishing is good enough for them, it should be good enough for us!
The fish, no doubt, are drawn to these openings by the warmer water, early insect activity and underwater critters such as minnows and various crustaceans that also gravitate eagerly toward the warming habitat. Nearly every creature on earth wants and needs sunlight to some degree, certainly our native brook trout, and the first place to find them come spring is near these manmade stream crossings.
How dependable are these hotspots? Well, I have made an annual trek to my favorite bridge crossing of all, Rhoda’s Bridge in Milo, and, for close to 30 years, have caught several nice trout (and salmon, bass and even Atlantic salmon) less than a cast from its concrete abutments. In times of dire need (when the water level is high, low or otherwise abnormal) I may have to sneak over to the railroad trestle across the river to make my catch, but, in all this time, I’ve yet to be disappointed.
I normally start out with a simple worm-and-spinner rig, making sure my offering hits every current seam, underwater rock or log below and above the bridge. I also try to bounce my bait off the bridge abutments, letting it drop, sink and roll as far as I can control it on slack line.
The trout can be anywhere they can find cover, an easy current and a steady flow of food, but they are still famously lethargic in spring, when the midday water temperature could be barely in the 50s, which is optimum for trout. Fish slow, fish each spot five or six times and don’t move on till you know in your angler’s heart that you have probed every inch of the water column.
On the trestle side, the pools are more distinct with rocks, runs and riffles throughout. You can pick out the few really deep runs and holes by simply walking the rocks (or wading if it’s not too deep), but these deeper holes will take some time to fish. Trout in mid-April aren’t as likely to chase a bait across the river, so take your time and fish each rock as if a lunker brookie were behind each one.
There are several “big bridge” crossings in our area and every one of them is worth fishing from now till low water turns the fishing from trout to bass. The bridge crossings in Sangerville, Dover-Foxcroft and Guilford are good ones, too.
You don’t need a major highway crossing to find good trout fishing. Any place where a stream is crossed by a road or highway should have some open water now, more as spring wears on, and each of them will have a few trout nearby. Most often the majority of open water is below the crossing because that’s where the fast water is, but each crossing is unique, and you may well find more open water upstream. The trout do not care as long as they can find warmer temperatures and food, so fish each spot as if there were a trout there and you will catch them.
I like to fish downstream from above the bridge or culvert so I can feed my bait down to the waiting fish without them seeing me. With a little patience and improving (though rusty!) skills, I can slip my bait into the current seam just below the crossing where trout wait for food to be washed downstream.
If the crossing is just a culvert, I fish from upstream into the culvert as far as common sense and opportunity allows, then I’ll fish below the culvert and on downstream, aiming my bait to hit the water just inside the pipe and drifting it down to (hopefully) waiting fish.
Though I’m not a rabid fan of fly-fishing, I do use flies when all else fails or when they truly are the best choice. In spring, you can hardly find a better “bait” than a weighted Hare’s Ear or gold-ribbed nymph. When culvert fishing, I tie two or three such patterns on droppers above my worm rig and toss the whole thing into the heavy current, feeding it slowly along the seams till it hits deep water. Few trout will ignore a fat garden worm in spring, but those that do will be tempted by those nymphs. In fact, I have caught spring trout that have taken the worm and one or two of the nymphs as well!
The glory of being in Maine right now is that you can leave for work a little early and fish two or three little brook crossings on your way to and from work, and just about any route you choose to take will have a few crossings where you can safely assume that you are the first one to fish . . . at least that day.
Bring an ice-filled cooler for your catch and have fresh trout for lunch, gourmet style, on your own tailgate. Fry up a few potatoes, some beans and a pot of tea on your folding gas stove and be the envy of the sandwich and coffee crowd!