With all eyes on the approaching hunting seasons it’s easy to forget that there is still some great fall fishing to be enjoyed. Because the rules and regulations are so complicated, varying from water to water, it’s best to go with the artificial lures only, catch-and-release approach to avoid confusion, conflicts and a summons from the local game warden.
Trout and salmon are legal game right now, as are all of the usual warmwater suspects: Bass, muskies, pike, pickerel, perch, crappies and bluegills, so there’s something out there for every fisherman’s tastes.
All things considered (abundance, aggressiveness, fighting ability and susceptibility to a well-placed lure) I’d go for bass and call it good. Other species are likely to take the same lures a feisty smallmouth would attack, but day in and day out, Maine’s bronzebacks are the most dependable species on the list of September options.
These days bass are found in just about every lake or pond in our area of the state, even in waters that, 30 years ago, contained only trout. A variety of circumstances, natural and man-made, have helped expand the bass population to waters near and far, which annoys trout and salmon fans to no end but gives September anglers that many more options.
The beauty of bass fishing in fall is that there’s no great mystery to it. Any fishermen with basic casting skills can catch bass after bass with little effort; if you can toss a spinner or minnow imitation 30 feet you can catch all the bass you want. If weeds are an issue, particularly along the shoreline, use a weedless-type lure such as a plastic worm or grub with the hood imbedded in the soft plastic, which will allow the bait to be retrieved in, over, around and under any amount of weeds, brush or other obstacles.
Using a canoe or kayak, drift slowly along shore about 30 feet out and cast toward land, targeting anything that could possibly be construed as a hiding place for fish. I have caught 5-pound bass near single reeds sticking out of the water, and in some places where tangled log jams occur I’ve caught a dozen nice fish, one after the other. This is the time of year when those “abundant and aggressive” features really kick in.
Large rocks, logs, brush piles, ledges and even overhanging limbs satisfy the smallmouth’s need for cover – fish slowly and methodically and go back and try again if you drift past a spot or get a strike and the fish manages to shake the hook or breaks off. More than once I’ve caught fish that had one of my own lures dangling from its jaws.
Rivers are also open to fishing this month, including some that are open through the end of October. The limit on trout in most waters is one fish so I just stick to the catch-and-release ethic. In fall it’s possible to catch a wide variety of species, especially in rivers, so the fun factor is definitely there.
One year I caught bass, trout, pickerel and salmon from the same pool at Rhoda’s Bridge in Milo, and all of them were good-sized fish. I was using a small, black Panther Martin spinner that day, a lure that’s about the size of an average Japanese beetle. The salmon was over 5 pounds, the bass was 3 pounds, the pickerel was 28 inches long and the trout was a foot long – not a bad catch, and all from the same small pool (just below the railroad trestle). That was about 30 years ago but, hey, it’s always worth a try.
What’s great about September fishing is that most sportsmen are busy chasing bears and geese or getting ready for the October bird, deer and waterfowl seasons. This means most of the easy-to-get-to pools and bridge crossings will be fair game for the angler who decides to spend his time on the water instead of in the woods. Get there early or late in the day and you’re likely to have the water (and the fish) all to yourself. Lakes and ponds can be busy with boat traffic well into October but most rivers are untouched, ripe for a good time for anyone willing to brave the chilly waters with rod and reel in hand.
Because most rivers in our area run clear and fast there’s not a lot of weedy cover to contend with except in coves and horseshoe bends. I can fish all day using a Rebel minnow or a gold Mepps spinner and catch all the bass (and trout, salmon or pickerel) I want. Water temperatures are likely to be low at this time of year so trout and salmon will be scarce, but if catching is what matters there will be plenty of action to enjoy right through the end of October. If nothing else the chubs will be biting (as they always do) and for some reason fall chubs are as big and aggressive as any bass. I caught one just a few days ago that I thought was a bass based on the way it hit the lure and how it fought in the swift current, but no matter how you slice it a chub is a chub – not the most desirable species by any means!
When fishing deep, slow-moving water it’s possible to get into a bunch of big, fat bluegills or even white or yellow perch, which is not a bad thing. These so-called panfish species are unregulated in Maine, which means you can catch all you want whenever you want with no size limit. Some September bluegills will be as big as a man’s hand, thick and fat, perfect for grilling. White perch can weigh 2 or 3 pounds and travel in huge schools, as do yellow perch, which average 8 inches long although some specimens run into the 1- or 2-pound class. Truth be told, I’d just as soon catch a bucketful of perch or bluegills as anything – lots of fun to catch and they are great eating.
Fish or hunt, it’s up to you. All I can say is that anything beats doing yard work!