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Now that the leaves on the poplars are, in fact, big as a mouse’s ear, it is safe for fishermen of all persuasions to come out and “angle” for their favorite species. In most cases that means brook trout or landlocked salmon, and if those are the only fish you care for, now is prime time to catch them.
Though I’m a lukewarm fly-fisherman at best, I will say that if I had to use a fly-rod this would be the time and brook trout/salmon would be the target of choice. In the best of waters you can expect to catch both species, but even if your only option is one or the other, you can’t lose.
Conditions are presently perfect for fly-casting on small streams and rivers. In fact, I much prefer small streams just because I find it amusing to be a leader’s length from my target and I enjoy seeing a fat brook trout come up and take a floating fly right under my feet. Brook trout are the pickerel of the trout family – aggressive, not easily spooked and entirely willing to take any pattern fished well or poorly. There have been times when I was busy untangling my line or fiddling with my reel and had a brookie come up and take my fly as it danced across water where no trout should be.
I have fished for brookies from Georgia to Maine and well into Canada and always find them friendly, interested and unafraid. This may be part of the reason their numbers are dwindling throughout the Northeast, although acid rain and other caustic habitat conditions are likely to blame.
In any case, mid-May is the time to be on the water, ideally at the tail of a small pool fishing upstream to a gentle boil where a bright-colored, high-floating fly will be snatched away by a feisty brookie lying in wait just below the foam.
If the strike is missed, no problem; that fish or another will likely rise up from the bottom and take another shot at it. If not, let the fly continue to float naturally downstream (no line drag, please!) until it ends up dead at your feet. Take up the slack line and roll cast right back to the head of the pool and try again.
With patience and persistence you can reasonably expect to catch or at least encounter every trout in the pool. When you are satisfied that you’ve run out of potential hook-ups, move slowly on to the next pool and start over.
When fishing small streams it’s a good idea to use “small” gear – a 2- or 3-weight outfit is more than enough for casts across pools that in many cases will be smaller than your bathtub. A 5- or 6-foot leader will be plenty, and no more than 1- or 2-pound test is enough for fish that are unlikely to exceed 10 inches in length.
Use flies with lots of red and white in them (a Royal Coachman is a good starting pattern) and make things easier for all by crimping down the barbs on all your hooks. You can keep five trout per day but why would you? I stop at two and have them as a mini shore dinner with tea and fiddleheads, and then continue fishing till it’s time to go – catch and release all the way.
Landlocked salmon are more likely to be found in the larger rivers, but their habitat preferences are not much different than that of the average brook trout, which is why we tend to encounter both species in the same water.
At the peak of the spring season I count salmon as far more aggressive than brook trout, but I think that’s because landlocks are faster, more hyper-active fish – sort of like a roadrunner dancing around a dodo. There have been times when I would wade into the river to begin casting to the head of a pool only to have pods of salmon rising all around me, some close enough to net if I were quick enough! This doesn’t happen every day but mid-May is the best time to be on hand for the landlocked salmon version of “Splash Dance.” I was fishing the Sebec River in May years ago and actually had a salmon jump into my net! He was under 14 inches and too short to keep but still, a memorable trip.
When fly-fishing for salmon I’m fond of nymphs, streamers and wet flies, which are easier to fish upstream and in fast current. As I said, I am not an expert fly-rodder and have all sorts of trouble on big water with long casts. I keep my line close and tight and do alright, but there are some situations where I either need to tie on a bait or lure or go home.
Fortunately, nymphs represent 99 percent of a salmon’s diet so the odds of catching at least one are good. I position myself directly below the current seam and cast above where I expect the fish to be. I strip line as quickly as necessary to keep the fly coming straight back to me and watch my strike indicator (a small piece of orange yarn). If it stops, slows or jerks I jerk back and, with luck, will be tight to a leaping, silvery salmon – hopefully one over 14 inches!
Again, I crimp my barbs to avoid injuring any fish. Relatively speaking there will be scads of sub-legal salmon to every keeper that comes to the net. Because salmon are frisky, flighty, energetic fish I try to bring the short ones in quickly and, with a flick of my wrist, unhook them while they are still in the water.
It takes some time to release a completely spent fish in fast-moving water, and if you don’t take time to revive the fish he will be swept helplessly downstream and likely end up on the bottom, food for the mink and otters.
If you are going to fish at all this year, go now. Conditions are perfect for and all species should be biting now. And, if you hit it just right there won’t be any black flies biting YOU!
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