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The recent cool days and nights are a welcome respite after a spell of 90-degree temperatures and sopping humidity. There is certainly plenty of summer left, but I’ve noticed that the whine of chain saws in the distance has increased as wood burners take the hint and work to get their winter’s supply of firewood ready to split and stack.
Cooler temperatures also give anglers the urge to get on the water again. They know that at dawn and dusk there could be a salmon or lake trout cruising near the surface that would be more than happy to take a trolled smelt or sucker (or some equally attractive imitation). The window of opportunity is only an hour or so on either side of darkness, but if you are an avid fan of big fish, that’s the place and time to be out there in the waning days of summer.
One of my favorite pastimes is paddling around a brookie-filled lake or pond and doing what is best described as “hunting” for trout. Hot or not, trout will feed occasionally throughout the day, even on the hottest summer afternoons, and if you happen to be on hand when a fish breaks the surface (with little more disturbance than a raindrop), you can make one cast and have a nice little fight on your hands.
I first learned this technique decades ago while fishing Demo Pond in Rockwood back when the pond was still difficult to get to. I had to put the canoe into the outlet stream (which was often dammed by beavers) and more or less portage up to the driftwood-strewn shoreline and paddle out to the lake proper from there. On one trip my early morning plans were thwarted by responsible necessity and so I was not able to get to make my first cast before noon.
Determined to fish despite my bad luck, I tried the usual casting and trolling with no results.
While I sat there, loaded rod in hand, wondering what to do next, a trout sipped an insect off the surface just 20 feet off the bow of the canoe. I instinctively tossed my garden worm into the ring of the rise and almost immediately had a fat brookie on the hook! Suddenly my fortunes were changing and I suddenly became energized with the idea that if I could sneak up on a few more trout I could have the makings of the shore lunch I had been anticipating on the long trip up Route 15.
With a renewed sense of purpose I got the rod ready for another cast, then picked up the paddle and began cruising in the shoreline shadows where, I’d noticed, most of the fish were rising to surface insects.
I discovered that there is a definite art to trout hunting. First, you must be close enough to make a cast to a fish that has just risen, and if you are even a few seconds late the fish will be gone. Also, you must be able to drop your bait directly into the ring of the rise. If you are off by even a foot the fish will ignore whatever you are offering.
In time I came up with a pattern that works. I paddle just enough to get the canoe going in the right direction, and then I’ll put the paddle down and grab the rod, ready for a cast the instant I see a dimple on the water. I’ll shoot a bait immediately to the spot and count to five. If the fish doesn’t hit, I’ll reel up and try again.
It’s actually easier to excel at this by using a fly rod with a nymph or wet fly attached. I let out about 30 feet of line and let it drift behind me as if I was trolling (and I catch the occasional trout this way, too). Then, when a fish rises, I just flip the rod forward and put the fly into the rise. If I don’t have a hit within two or three seconds, the fish isn’t interested and I move on.
It only took a few hours to perfect my technique on Demo all those years ago, and I have used the same tactics on trout lakes and ponds all over Maine with great success, even in the middle of the hottest days.
For example, on one July 4 outing on Wassookeag Lake in Dexter, I was the only one on the water at high noon, and yet I caught a limit of trout and was back on shore before the grilled hamburgers were done.
Strange as it may sound from a fisherman’s point of view, I sat on shore for some time and scanned the lake surface with binoculars in an effort to find surface-feeding fish. I’m not sure that trout are necessarily schooling fish, but it seems that most of the activity takes place in the same general area. This could be because a certain hatch of insects is occurring at that moment in that spot, attracting numbers of trout to the same location, or maybe there are spring holes where trout and insects both abound. In any case, I try to isolate the action and then paddle out to do battle.
I’m not a fly-fishing purist, but I’ll start with a dark-colored under water fly just because the snap-cast approach seems to work best. However, if I have the bait and an ultra-light spinning outfit in hand, I’ll drop a nice, fat garden worm into the ring of the rise because worm-fed trout taste just as good to me!
I have had equally good luck with very small spinners and spoons. The trick with hardware is to avoid spooking the fish with a noisome splash. The way to do that is to touch your finger to the reel’s edge to stop the lure just as it arrives on the water. Performed properly, the lure lands nearly dead on the water. Begin the retrieve immediately because trout come up, hit an insect and then depart quickly (maybe as a way to avoid ospreys or otters!), and if you are just a second or two late you’ll have to find another fish.
There is still at least a week of “catch and keep” trout fishing available before things switch to the fall no-kill regulations. Grab a paddle and your favorite trout rod and do a little “hunting” before it’s time to call it a summer!
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