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Other than fall and winter, June is my other favorite time of year. Turkey season is over (getting up at 3:30 a.m. every day for five weeks can be tiresome!), spring cleaning is done, mowing is on a bearable schedule and projects that need doing can be put off till July. This leaves me the entire month of June to chase the fightingest fish in Maine, the smallmouth bass.
Once despised and badly mistreated by salmonid fans across the state, the smallmouth has only recently enjoyed the status of “game fish,” which includes regulated seasons, bag limits and assorted other protections because, by heck, it is one great angling adversary.
While most fishermen monitor the quality of the action based on how many nibbles they get before their bait is stolen, bass anglers measure their success one rod-bending strike after another. Among freshwater fish, no species pounces on a bait faster and fights harder than a smallmouth bass. Big, claim, I know, but having caught everything from minnows to muskies I have yet to meet a fish that compares. Nibbling is out of the question, and the old strike-stop-turn routine common among the Esox clan (pickerel, pike and muskies) is not on the smallmouth’s agenda, either. They hit, they run and they keep fighting till they break free or they are unhooked and returned to the water.
It appears that smallmouths are born belligerent because not a season goes by where I don’t catch a bunch of 6-inch smallmouths using lures nearly as long as they are! Fearless, ferocious and determined, the smallmouth is one of the few game fish that will come back for more after a missed strike. If they happen to toss the hook during the battle they will come back and hit the same lure a few minutes later. I make it a point to remember where I lost a fish and plan to return to that same spot on my way home. Invariably the fish is there and this time he does not miss!
I imagine that the other fish laugh at a smallmouth that misses a strike, much like humans laugh at each other. Perhaps that’s too much anthropomorphism, but I know that when I cast again to a recently missed fish he answers with a vengeance: there will be no missed strike the second time around!
These days the catch-and-release ethic has been extended to include the formerly-hated smallmouth, which works out well for everyone. Released fish have a chance to grow larger; fishermen have a chance to catch more, bigger fish; and the voracious bass have more time to whittle down the population of shiners, perch, bluegills, frogs, snakes and other forage in their environment. Give a smallmouth enough time, food and cover and before long he’ll be trophy-sized and thrilling anglers for years to come.
What I like most about smallmouths is that they are very democratic in their eating habits: If it moves, eat it! Throw something at them that wiggles or swims and just hang on – there’s nothing more you need to do.
For many years back in the 1960s I had (because I could only afford) one lure for bass, a 3-inch silver Rebel minnow. I caught bass in rivers, lakes and ponds with that shallow diver for decades (and still do). It remains the perfect lure for bass fishing in shallow water with no weeds, and it’s also a great trolling lure.
When weeds, logs and brush become an issue, I switch to a small, yellow spinnerbait that can be cast into such structure with ease and will “swim” out with a wiggle and flash that no smallmouth can resist. Sometimes black or chartreuse works as well, but on a good day there’s never a need to switch lures – bass are that accommodating.
When conditions allow (usually clear, shallow water with nothing but rocks and boulders on the bottom) I go with my all-time favorite, a gold Mepps spinner, with or without bucktail. This lure is so effective on June bass that I have learned to pinch the barbs down on all my hoods to save the fish (and my fingers) from unnecessary trauma. It’s easy to lip a bass (hold its lower lip between the thumb and forefinger), admire it and unhook it using barbless hooks. Even eager bass that inhale a lure can be safely released using barbless hooks. If you lose one now and then because it was lightly hooked, so what? There are plenty more out there and you’re going to release them all anyway, right?
Smallmouth bass are common in all the lakes, ponds and rivers in our area so you don’t have to travel far to find good fishing. The three rivers in Milo (Piscataquis, Sebec and Pleasant) for example, are loaded with bass and provide good fishing all summer. Lake Wassookeag in Dexter has some really big bass in it, as does Schoodic and Sebec lakes between Dover-Foxcroft and Dexter. Sebasticook, Indian and Great Moose lakes also offer great bass fishing this month.
There is so much good water in the Newport area it’s difficult to recommend just one. Launch a boat or canoe, wade or simply hit the most convenient bridge pools and you will catch all the bass you want.
Stetson Pond is a great bass fishery (mostly for largemouths), but the smallmouth fishing there is also worth the trip. In fact, it’s safe to say that all of the waters in our area that are open to fishing contain enough bass to keep any fisherman busy all summer.
The best time to go is right now because smallmouth bass are in their spawning mode and will be found in shallow water close to shore. The ideal technique is to paddle slowly along shore a long cast from the nearest brushy cover. Flip a lure as close to the shoreline as you can get and then retrieve it slowly with lots of rod-tip enhancement. Wiggle, jiggle and skip your lure right up to the gunwale in case a suspicious fish is following. On a good day you can’t make two casts to a spawning smallmouth without producing a strike.
June is prime time for Maine smallmouth bass fishing. Don’t let this month go by without trying some of the best bassin’ in the Northeast!
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