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Now is the prime time to be a fisherman in Maine. You can have (and enjoy) your choice of species from stripers and bluefish on the coast to trout, salmon, perch and bluegills inland. For “peak action” right now, however, you can’t beat bass fishing in our rivers and streams.
It’s the middle of the spawning season for bass, a relatively short period when the fish are close to shore in shallow water, laying eggs and guarding their young. The fun only lasts till late June or early July, when the adult fish head back into the cool depths for the summer, but if I had to pick just one fish to pursue this month, I’d go with smallmouths and not feel the least bit slighted.
That spring bass fishing is exciting and productive is well documented. In fact, some states only recently allowed spring bass fishing because biologists thought the ease of catching them would decimate the population. But, thanks to the evolution of anglers and the present “catch and release” ethic, most fish are being returned to the water, which means the effect of spring fishing on the population is nil.
Still, even Maine fisheries experts are leery of what could happen, so the limit on spring bass is one fish per day till June 30, minimum length 10 inches, and fishing is allowed with artificial lures only. From July 1 (generally after the spawn) the limit is three fish per day, all over 10 inches, and only one of the three may exceed 14 inches. From October through March, the daily limit is one fish over 10 inches.
Few anglers keep and eat their bass anymore, even though bass are great eating, especially those 10- to 14-inch fish. I catch a few to eat each season, but in general I let them go to fight another day. And, boy, can they fight! Trout may be pretty and tasty in the pan, but a smallmouth bass of equal size will fight like a striper for as long as it can.
That’s one reason why river bassing is so much fun. Not only are the fish aggressive and plentiful, they jump and fight with abandon, even the big ones. Forget about nibbles and touches and slight hits – when a smallmouth decides to eat something, it goes all out! I have had my rod yanked from my hands many times when river bassin’, and the few times I’ve had my line snapped was when fishing for smallmouths in June. These guys mean business!
Are bass dependable? Well, I have fished a stretch of the Pleasant River in Milo (as it winds around the old Reardon farm) since the 1960s and I have yet to see a year when that stretch of river wasn’t full of fat, feisty bass – all summer long! Old Joe Reardon, who was instrumental in my father buying a camp in Maine long ago, gave me permission to fish the river when I was just a teenager, and I doubt I would have come back that day if he and Dad hadn’t come out to the river’s edge and called me back in. The bass were biting like crazy and I, for one, saw no great reason to leave!
Nothing has changed in that regard. I fish the Pleasant, the Piscataquis and the Sebec rivers annually and still catch nice bass from the very same rocks I’ve stood on for decades. The best spot of all? I’d have to say the trestle on the Medford Road, at least at the times I’ve fished it. One day I wandered down there in the evening and, fishing from the same spot, caught bass after bass right into the night. I never moved, never changed lures and didn’t even get my feet wet!
There is no great mystery to catching bass at this time of year. Step up to the water, toss a Rebel minnow, a gold Mepps spinner or a yellow Mr. Twister spinnerbait out there and hang on. If you really want to finesse it, aim for a rock, log or sunken ledge and try to be more specific. Either way, you’ll catch plenty of bass, and if you wait till after dark, you may catch some really big ones, too!
In fact, I highly recommend night fishing for bass whether it’s lake, pond or river. When the cool night air descends, the really big bass come up from the bottom and cruise the shallows for shiners, frogs, crayfish and other forage. It’s quite the experience to chuck a big, fat Jitterbug into the night, hear it splash and then listen to it pop and gurgle back to the rod tip. When a bass hits, it sounds like someone tossed a brick into the water, and quite often you’ll be onto a fish that weighs several pounds – no question about being over 10 inches long!
The best news is that most of the lakes, rivers and ponds in our area are full of hungry bass right now. Some, such as Stetson Pond in Stetson, are loaded with largemouth bass, which are also fun to fish for in low light and in the shallows this month. In ponds and lakes, look for either species near any obstacle including very small ones; under over-hanging tree limbs and especially near fallen trees, log jams, stumps and other, similar cover.
There is nothing like a leisurely drift downriver in a canoe or kayak, pausing here and there to toss a lure to a particularly inviting bit of cover. Odds are Mr. Big will be there, so be ready for a strong, solid strike – and be prepared to strike back!
To prolong the fun for everyone, lip your fish (which makes a bass hang quiet and limp), admire him, take a few pictures and toss him back to grow. Use barbless hooks and just one set of hooks on a lure to reduce injury to caught fish.
Maine has some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the U.S. and our area is considered some of the best in the state. It’s been that way for decades, and all we have to do to keep it going is catch them and toss them back!
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