One of the interesting facts about Maine’s black bass fishery is that both popular species (largemouths and smallmouths) are common statewide. Even more exciting from a fisherman’s point of view is that Maine is also one of the best places to go in the U.S. for river bass, primarily smallmouths.
Bass fishermen targeting lakes and ponds are almost required to use a watercraft of some sort. Mucky shorelines riddled with driftwood make it difficult to wade and thick, overhanging brush makes it equally challenging to fish from shore. It can be done, of course, and some great fishing may be had for anglers who are willing and able to accept the challenge, but river fishing is so much easier.
Any sure-footed river fisherman can catch all the bass he wants, in most cases without getting his feet wet. Some situations may require wading near shore in knee-deep water but most of the rivers in our area are relatively shallow with rocky shorelines – ideal habitat for big, hungry bass. Hop from boulder to boulder to keep your feet dry or don a pair of old sneakers so you can cast a lure into the deeper, faster runs. River bassin’ is low budget, easy and productive.
Most of the bass will be in the heads and tails of fast-moving pools or near sunken rocks and logs in deep, slow-moving water. It’s almost guaranteed that a bass will be lurking near structure of some sort, and sometimes “structure” can be as insignificant as a twig wavering in the current.
For this reason it’s a good idea to fish all of the water you can reach with an ultra-light spinning outfit and flashy lures that are relatively snag-proof. A gold Mepps spinner, a silver/black Rebel or a fly-rod-sized Jitterbug will keep river bass busy all day. On most days I tie on the one lure that I think will work and never feel the need to change baits. Bass are aggressive, persistent and determined fish, so pretty much any lure you want to throw at them will produce results. If you like splashy top-water action, use a Jitterbug or popper. If you like explosive strikes just under the surface use a minnow imitation, and if you like to probe deep water try a spinner or miniature diving crankbait. Truthfully, bass are not picky or selective, especially in rivers, because they don’t have time to consider their options. Fast-moving water washes potential meals downstream in seconds, so a bass has to commit or go hungry.
If you don’t have time to fish all morning or all day, just stop at the most convenient bridge crossings and try your luck in the pools above and below the abutments. I’ve caught nice bass (and a few pesky trout) in the water above and below the covered bridge in Guilford, beneath the steel bridge in Sangerville, under Rhoda’s Bridge and at the trestle in Milo and . . . well, above and below every bridge crossing every river in central Maine. This is just another plus on the side of bass fishing – if you drop them a line they will answer.
By the way, some of the best bass fishing occurs in some of the smallest waters. Most of the streams in our area also contain good numbers of bass, especially after the water warms up and the trout head for cooler climes. The biggest smallmouth I never caught ran off with my favorite lure while I was fishing under the Alder Stream bridge off the Lyford Road in Milo. I was standing on a granite block under the bridge and cast my lure to the other side. The fish hit with a mighty splash right under my feet, showing just enough of his head to reveal how big he was, and then he disappeared, lure and all. At that point Alder Stream is about 20 feet wide, which only proves that it doesn’t require a “navigable river” to provide good bass fishing.
What makes river bass fishing so productive is the recent catch-and-release ethic, which ensures continued excellent angling for everyone. Small bass are quite tasty but the bigger fish tend to be mushy and full of ugly (but harmless) parasites, so few anglers keep them. This is good news for bass and for bass fishermen – barring disease or disaster we’ll never run out of great summertime angling options.
Another great aspect of bass fishing is that bass are receptive to lures all day long, not just early and late in the day. In fact, some of the best bass fishing occurs after sunset. It’s quite a challenge to fish for river bass in the dark but if you pick a good, safe stretch of water you can enjoy some great fishing 24 hours a day. At night it’s best to pick one long, smooth, slow-flowing pool and stay put, casting gurgly top-water lures as far out and to the left and right as you can reach. Just keep casting, keep the lure moving and be ready for some serious, splashy strikes. Where all those night-striking fish spend the day is anyone’s guess, but some king-sized specimens can be caught as they cruise the shallows during the hours of darkness.
More good news is that river bass fishing remains productive (and legal) until Sept. 30. In fact, bass fishing in general is legal year-round in one capacity or another, although season dates and bag limits vary from water to water. Take the easy way out and fish with artificial lures and release all the bass you catch so you don’t have to worry about the paperwork. You’ll need a fishing license, of course (except on the occasional free fishing day), but for $25 any Maine resident can fish year-round, averaging out to an expenditure of less than seven cents per day. Not a bad deal for some of the best bass fishing in the country.
Buy a license, grab a few lures and head for the nearest river. Fishing just doesn’t get any easier (or more economical) than this!