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Can it be September already? Summer is gone and so is Irene, which means we can get back to the business of enjoying Maine’s outdoors. The woodpile is finished and the chores are done (aren’t they?), leaving nothing to get in the way of a good day in the woods or on the water.

Fishing in fall can be productive and enjoyable if you don’t mind throwing back all but one of the fish you catch. Generally speaking all brooks, streams and rivers are restricted to artificial lures only through Sept. 30 and the bag limit is one fish (trout or salmon) per day. Lakes and ponds are open under the general rule (same gear and bag limits as were in effect in April) through Sept. 30. The 2011 fishing regulations handbook is over 100 pages long and covers all waters that are legal to fish in our area. Included is a liberal sprinkling of A, B, CI and S notations that explain how, where and when these waters may be fished in September and (in some cases) through Nov. 30. 

I could list all of the current regulations for the waters that are open to fall fishing in central Maine, but to my mind that makes for a pretty boring column. If you don’t already have a copy of the April 1, 2010 – March 31 2012 Maine fishing regulations handbook and can’t find one at your local licensing agency, log onto www.mefishwildlife.com and start digging. You’ll find a place to fish every day right up till you decide that it’s time to go deer hunting.

Being staunch traditionalists, most Maine angles insist that the only time to fish is in May and June, which I suppose is a good thing for fall anglers because that gives us more elbow room on the best pools. While everyone else is headed to bear camp, the county fair and similar fall diversions, fishermen who can’t put their tackle away still have three months of angling opportunities ahead of them.

I have always been partial to paddling down one of our local rivers for a last shot at the big smallmouth bass that lurk in the Piscataquis, Pleasant, Sebec and Sebasticook rivers. These abundant, aggressive game fish seem to travel in schools in early fall. It may be that good cover is hard to find in a river corridor, but it seems that every bend, every log jam and every series of ledges has its resident population of hungry bass just daring an angler to toss a fly or lure their way.

You don’t have to travel far to find good fall bass fishing, either. For example, one of the most productive places I’ve ever fished is on the Sebec River within sight of Main Street in Milo. Paddling up from Rhoda’s Bridge on Route 16, I’d fish upriver till I started to run into driftwood piles and log jams. This is where pods of bass will hold just outside the current seam. Looking upriver on a crisp fall day, one can easily see the cars going over the Main Street bridge. The river is easy to fish by canoe, and the leisurely paddle up and back will produce enough bass (and maybe a trout or two) to make any fisherman happy.

If you’ve had enough of fishing for the summer and prefer to go for a trophy rug (and the delicious flesh of a young black bear), the timing is just right for spending your spare mornings or afternoons in one of the many remnant apple orchards that exist in our area.

The yellow transparents are already ripe and the wild cherries and blackberries are in as well, which gives bears plenty of incentive to leave the baiters’ donuts and breads behind for a day or two. It’s really quite a thrill to hunt bears over natural baits – the work is done for you and the bruins already know where the food is. There is a row of black cherry trees in Orneville that are scratched and torn by the claws of black bears, and I have seen the damage being done several times! One year a sow with three cubs climbed high into the towering trees and, swaying there like trapeze artists, proceeded to clean every bit of fruit off the trees. They moved into the nearby orchard next, and by the end of the month only the soft, mushy apples and not-quite-ripened Russets remained.

Fall bears are eating machines and will invade apiaries, orchards, croplands and mast-producing trees (oaks, beeches, etc.) to devour whatever they can get their long, sharp claws into. The very first bear I ever saw in Maine was in the act of tearing a rotted log apart as he searched for ant eggs and larvae – quite a sight for a kid walking in the woods on Sunday without a rifle in his hand!

Find a food source that’s ripe and abundant, find a spot downwind and wait quietly just before dark. Big as bears may be the show up silently and quietly – never snapping a twig or moving a bough as they come in to feed. I’ve never had a deer appear without a sound (except in snow) but bears seem to float over the ground as they walk, no doubt due to their wide, soft, flat feet. Glance away for a second, look back and there he is – as if the bear sprung out of the ground! How they do it is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably how they have survived these last few hundred thousand years!

If you want to enjoy the best of Maine’s hunting and fishing, fall is the time to do it: no bugs, no heat and no humidity. Fish for the fun of it or hunt for the joy of it, but get out there and revel in some of the most pleasant sporting conditions we are going to have till next May!

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