OThanks to all the recent rain we’ve enjoyed (endured?) gardeners have much to cheer about. I raise what I call a “grazing garden” that consists of mounds, strips and rows of various ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables that I can pick and munch on as the spirit moves. There’s nothing quite like eating strawberries, peas, blueberries, tomatoes and peppers right off the vine, and I do the same with cucumbers, squash and beans. June was a garden-friendly month with plenty of rain and sunshine, and because I could not wait to get my peas in the ground I had enough fresh peas to celebrate July 4. The only thing missing was a fat filet of salmon, which of course meant I had to get out of the garden and go fishing – who knew?
Fortunately, the salmon angling in our area and farther north is such that it’s reasonable to expect to catch enough landlocks to make a delicious meal at home or camp. The best of our cold rivers and lakes (Lake Wassookeag in Dexter comes to mind, as does the Sebec River as it flows out of Sebec Lake) provide some great salmon fishing at this time of year.
Salmon are a bit more of a challenge to catch than most other species. Landlocks are not particularly fond of listless, immobile baits, but they are attracted to flies, streamers and lures that imitate the salmon’s favorite food - smelts. It should come as no surprise that the most effective fly and lure patterns closely mimic these critical bait fish. Where legal, shiners and live smelts produce their share of salmon, although these days the regulations lean heavily toward artificial lures, especially later in the season.
One of the great attractions of salmon fishing is that these silvery beauties are not nibblers. No tentative strikes or half-hearted nudges here; salmon hit fast and hard and leave no question that the bait has been taken. And, landlocks are among our most aerial of acrobats, leaping high out of the water and fighting mightily in their efforts to shake the hook.
In fact, the salmon’s high-energy attitude can be its own worst enemy. Many of the fish that are caught are sub-legal specimens just under the 14-inch minimum length allowed by law, and fighting to exhaustion often means these undersized fish succumb to the stress of being caught and then released. I’m not sure why there is a 14-inch minimum size limit being that so many short fish die after being hooked. I’m sure 13-inch landlocks taste as good as 14-inch fish; why not just consider the bag limit to be “two fish of any length” and be done with it? There would be a lot less waste of the resource in my opinion, but hey, I’m no fisheries biologist. I like to catch and eat salmon but that’s as far as my biological expertise goes.
The best times to fish for salmon are dawn and dusk, but good catches can be made during the day by trolling or jigging in water where temperatures are in the mid-50s. Salmon prefer cold water and head straight for the bottom as summer temperatures climb, but we’ve had a relatively cold, wet spring and that means good salmon fishing should continue into July.
In rivers, the best salmon fishing will be found in the fast, cold water of the heads and tails of pools, under rocks and logs and in deep pools and eddies where a steady supply of insects is washed downstream. Try fishing upstream and down with flies and streamers and cross-current with spinners, small minnow-imitating plugs and spoons. Keep in mind that salmon may not chase a lure for long distances; if the water is fast and deep it’s a good idea to add some weight so that your offering will bounce along just off the bottom. Work the entire water column to reach fish that are suspending at various depths as they forage in the fast-moving current.
Trolling is the go-to method for lake fishing. Salmon will take lures and streamers trolled at a relatively quick pace, so go as fast as your lure will allow. Start trolling from the bottom up, adjusting the depth of the lure in 6-foot increments, or try trolling with one lure deep and another just under the surface. Keep adjusting the depth and speed of your presentation until a fish responds. I’ve caught salmon inches from the bottom as well as just under the surface in the prop wash, so it’s important to be flexible and creative. As summer wears on it will become more challenging to find and catch landlocks but, as always, the most persistent anglers have the best “luck.”
Maine’s state-record landlock weighed over 20 pounds but these days any specimen over 5 pounds is considered a trophy. A 10-pound salmon is a newsworthy event and anything larger will be front page news. I actually like the smaller-sized salmon for grilling purposes and truthfully, the majority of landlocks taken these days are less than 20 inches.
Maine is one of the few states where landlocked salmon are commonly caught (Vermont and New Hampshire are close seconds), and legal-sized salmon are among New England’s most sought-after prizes. I recently fished Grand Lake Stream and caught a 4-pound salmon that drew anglers from up and down the river who just wanted a look at the fat, shimmering fish. When I returned my trophy to the Hatchery Pool the crowd of eager anglers churned the water to froth with their flies and streamers. As far as I knew, no one else caught him, but not for lack of trying.
There’s nothing like a fresh-caught salmon grilled in butter accompanied by a bucket of just-picked peas from the garden. It’s just another long-time Maine tradition that demands participation no matter what else may be on the agenda, so head for the nearest salmon river or lake and try your luck. Don’t worry; the weeds will be waiting in the garden when you get back!