| If, somehow, the entire fishing season got away from you this year there is still time to take a limit of river or stream trout before the general season ends Aug. 15. After that anglers may continue fishing moving waters through Sept. 30 but with artificial lures or flies only. And, the daily limit is one trout or salmon. Togue are also legal game throughout but after 40 years of fishing small streams in Maine I’ve yet to see a togue take any of my flies, baits or lures. Rivers, yes, but small streams not yet, anyway!
The majority of our small streams are now running low, warm and still; not particularly great conditions for trout, as the hundreds of chubs you’ll catch this week will indicate. But, nearly every stream in our area that did, would or should contain trout will have a remnant few tucked away in the coolest, darkest waters these are the places you want to ply with your last-chance worms, grasshoppers and crickets.
When I go for August trout I shy away from the bigger streams because they are invariably low and warm at this time of year. When I start taking bass, bluegills, pickerel and other notably warmwater species out of my favorite spring hotspots I know it’s time to head for the tiny tributaries that feed the larger streams. Deep, dark and cold even in summer thanks to thick overhead foliage and dense evergreen canopy, it is still possible to find deep, spring-fed pools where the water is close to 55 degrees even when the roadside temperature is pushing 90.
These little pockets of cool water may not be very large and may sometimes be difficult to find at the tail end of the season, but they are definitely worth the effort. The cool water attracts trout from miles around and can produce some of the best fishing of the year. In fact, in some states (notably Pennsylvania) there are sections of streams that are closed to summer fishing because all the trout in the river converge on well-known spring pools where fishing can become a slaughter. I have visited some of these places and was amazed to see how many trout were crammed into a small pool that was a good 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding water. Allowing fishing in such places would be a travesty, no doubt.
Fortunately, central Maine is replete with tiny streams that meander for miles through the woods and most of them are ignored by fishermen who prefer more casting room or a shorter walk to the action. If you are not afraid of a little hike and don’t mind probing tiny pools with live bait, these late-season waters are for you.
Forget the 8-foot fly rods or 6-foot spinning gear this is the place for ultra-light tackle where tossing replaces casting and flipping is the skill of the day. Decades ago I built a 5-foot rod from an Orvis kit and added a miniature spinning reel containing 30 yards of 2-pound-test line. I replace the line every season, but most of the time I never use more than the first 10 feet of line. Wear and tear accounts for a few lost feet of line but most years I never even have to replace a hook. This kind of fishing is not much different than the kind you see at county fairs, where a delicate touch can result not only in a caught trout but a chance to re-use the bait as well.
If there’s a down-side to August stream fishing it is that the best places to fish are not the easiest places to get to. Covered in alders, hemlocks, cedars and firs, the coolest pools get that way because they are well-shaded. Reaching them requires some measure of stealth and patience, and then fishing them without spooking the trout is the next challenge. This is where the short rod and fine line come in handy. Leaves, spider webs, twigs and branches conspire to keep impatient anglers from slipping a baited hook into the water, but with skill and perseverance it’s possible to reach the fat, hungry trout that are lurking in the dark water below.
The good news is that when a bait is threaded gingerly through the overhanging maze it will be met with enthusiasm; no brook trout is going to pass up a fat worm or grasshopper delivered right to his door. After several minutes of careful presentation it’s often a shock to feel a nice brookie take the bait and run with it, but just like that you have one for the pan. Bring the fish in quickly, let the pool rest for a few minutes, and try again because there may be several trout in a single pool. If not, move on and plan to fish the same water again on the way out. Good trout habitat is at a premium in August and new fish will quickly move in to re-populate a vacant pool.
At this end of the season taking a five-fish limit is not going to have much effect on the trout population, which will have all fall, winter and spring to replenish itself. I fish the same few trout streams every year as I’ve done since the early 1960s and I’ve never found or left them empty. In fact, I often stop at three or (if they are small) four trout, just enough to fill half my little backpack fry pan. Add some potatoes, fiddleheads, onions or bacon along with a cup of hot tea and I’m a happy fisherman. More than that would be too much, so I err on the conservative side and call it a day when my frying pan and tea cup are empty.
I always try to get in a few last-minute trout-fishing forays before Aug. 15. All sorts of hunting seasons are just around the corner and I know I probably won’t be handling a fishing rod again till next April. It’s good to celebrate the end of one season while anticipating the next. It’s what keeps outdoorsmen going all year long!