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August is one of those transitional months when sportsmen slowly switch their focus from primarily fishing to primarily hunting. It’s no surprise that sporting goods outlets are busily changing from fishing and boating to upland hunting and archery gear. It may still be “officially” summer but fall is not far away – just look at all the “back to school” hype that’s already begun.
On the bright side, there is still time to visit your favorite trout streams and rivers, which remain open to angling till Aug. 15. Most of the smaller waters are normally low and warm by now, but thanks to a rainy summer there are still some cool, deep holes where some nice fish can be caught.
At this time of year I found the best fishing in deep, dark beaver flowages, particularly early and late in the day. Hot as it’s been in our world the water temperatures at the bottom of some flowages remain at or close to 55 degrees, and that’s where trout like to be. Back in my barefoot wading days I’d find the best fishing by “feel:” every river and stream in our area has its share of underground springs that gush continuous flows of cold water into the main flow, and these cold-water pools are where most of the trout will be found even when surface temperatures reach into the 80s and 90s. Lake and pond fishermen know what a difference a spring holes can make. Those columns of cold water concentrate trout in late summer when the rest of the lake is unbearably warm.
The same holds true for moving water. Find the cooler temperatures and you will find the trout. Anglers who know where to fish can make limit catches on the last day of the season, which is the best way to make that transition from summer to fall.
The last few weeks of August are also great for filling the freezer with pickerel, perch, crappies or bluegills, which are all great-eating fish and readily available in the last days of summer. It takes little effort and less finesse to catch these species during the waning days of August, and most of the action takes place a short cast from shore. Pickerel will bite aggressively all day and the others are equally cooperative. Find a deep hole or channel and use jigs, live bait or small spinners to find schools of fish. With luck you’ll run into a school of “slammers,” big perch or ‘gills the size of a dinner plate. It doesn’t take long to fill a bucket with enough fish to keep the chowder pot simmering all winter.
Of course, lake and pond fishing continues well into December in some cases, while rivers and streams may be fished with artificial lures through September, some until March 31. Check current regulations for the waters you intend to fish by logging onto www.mefishwildlife.com.
Or, you can start to focus on Maine’s fall hunting opportunities, which begin with the annual open season on bear hunting. General bear hunting and baiting opens Aug. 26, which means it’s time to get your bear bait sites set up and running. A hunting license and special bear hunting permit are required for bear baiting, and there are a number of regulations pertaining to bear hunting that hunters should be aware of. Another visit to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Web site is in order if you plan to hunt bears this year. Bear hunting regulations take up a full page in the hunting and trapping handbook and with another bear referendum vote in the wind it’s a good idea to know what’s allowed and what is not.
Baiting is a great way to bring bears up close for observation. No hunter wants to shoot a sow or cub bear, and when these animals come into the site most hunters are content to film or photograph them while they wait for a larger bruin to make an appearance. The biggest bears often don’t show up till near the end of legal shooting time, and the smarter bears wait till after dark to raid the bait site. Baiting is not as easy as one might think and also does not guarantee that you’ll see, let alone shoot, a bear. If your site is being visited by a large, mature bear the odds are good that you’ll never see him during daylight hours. I have sat for a week over excellent baits that were being hit by large bears every night but never saw a single bruin. Rabbits, grouse, squirrels, martens, fishers, Canada jays and assorted songbirds visited the sites all day long, but no bears showed up. Even on guided hunts the majority of hunters go home without shooting a bear, so thinking that you can dump a pile of donuts on the ground and expect a bear to show up is an exercise in futility. Bears are much smarter than that!
Hunting with hounds begins Sept. 9 this year, and though relatively few hunters use dogs the sport is as exciting and intense as it gets. The dogs do not capture or kill the bear (fat chance of that!) but they simply “hound” the animal till it trees or holes up in a location where the hunters can decide if the bear is the one they want to tag. Most of the time a treed bear is a small one, a sow with cubs or a yearling, in which case the hunters simply gather their dogs and go look for a larger bear. Because hound hunters are so selective they take very few bears each season, often fewer than 10 percent of the annual harvest. It’s a fun, noisy, interesting and energetic way to hunt bears but it’s certainly no threat to the bear population. Those who hunt with hounds are like any other hunters who use dogs, including beaglers, bird hunters or waterfowlers; they thoroughly enjoy watching their dogs at work but the show, not the end result, is what matters most.
Obviously, there is a lot going on outdoors over the next several weeks. Interest in fishing will begin winding down while hunting will be ratcheting up. Before long we’ll be up to our necks in options. The hard part will be deciding what to do. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all but it sure is fun trying!
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