Every so often I’ll take my own advice and go outdoors to do something I recommended as a great alternative to work, household chores or similar common drudgeries. After all, if one is going to make a living promoting the outdoors it only makes sense that he would forsake any and all forms of responsibility in order to enjoy another stolen day in the woods. I turned that corner decades ago!
This time I decided I was going to spend the day on a local stream and fish till I caught my limit of trout, even if it took all day. I’d been sampling the brooks and beaver flowages in the area for several weeks, ever since mid-March, when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife allowed anglers to sally forth two weeks earlier than the usual April 1 fishing season opener.
I had not had much luck (none is probably the better word) in March or even early April. Between the cold, the wind and the dry conditions the streams, though running well, seemed to be empty of fish, or at least I couldn’t tempt one, not even with the fattest garden worms I could find. I fished but did not catch, as frustrating a result as any angler could endure. All of the old sayings about spring fishing (“Poplar leaves big as a mouse’s ear,” “Wait till the black flies are biting,” etc.) came to mind because, oddly enough, they seemed to tell the story. I went, I fished, I caught nothing, not even in pools I’d fished last season and took a limit of five trout in as many casts.
But, as I said, when my only other options involve lawn and garden tools I’ll find an excuse to go fishing because, as another old saying goes, “A poor day of fishing is better than a great day at work,” or something to that effect.
After scuffing around in the garden for enough worms to fill a small tomato paste can, I headed for “the brook,” one of the few waters I hadn’t tested thus far this spring.
After nearly a year I’d forgotten how wide and exposed this stretch of water was as if flowed quietly among the hemlocks. There was no brush along the banks and few obstacles to negotiate other than a fallen log here and there, which created some deep, dark pools that simply had to contain some trout. I was admittedly skeptical based on my lack of success thus far this season, but the trout angler in me kicked in and I began to fish in earnest at the very first good-looking pool I encountered.
This particular brook runs freely for several miles with its most significant features being shallow, rocky shoals ahead of placid pools where the current flow is well defined. Trout will (or should) hang along the edges of the current “seam” (where the fast water bumps up against the standing water) and just at the tail of the pool where the current subsides and the deadwater begins.
It hardly requires a degree in fisheries biology to know that a worm drifted from the head of the pool along the bottom to the tail of the pool will elicit a strike if a trout is there – I learned the basics of this technique when I was not yet in middle school. Keep the bait moving along with the current and don’t let it hang up on the bottom – simple enough! No brook trout can resist properly-presented bait and I knew that if there was a fish in that pool I would catch him, or at least get a nibble out of him.
Sure enough, on the first textbook drift I had a bite and, after allowing the fish a few seconds to commit, I set the hook into my first “keeper” trout of the season. As the fat, colorful 10-incher came skittering to shore I felt as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. After all, it had taken close to a month to find the year’s first pan-sized trout. One down, four to go!
I quickly learned that, as is often the case, there seemed to be just one big trout per pool. I hooked and released several under-sized brookies from that first pool, so I took the hint and moved on. There’s no point in catching short fish because they all must be released and, sadly, a percentage of them will die simply because they were too enthusiastic in taking the bait and became hooked too deeply for them to survive. I’ve always been a fan of the “fish” limit, not “size” limit, for this very reason, but until I make the rules any trout less than 6 inches must be returned to the water, dead or alive.
Because this stream meanders for several miles between bridge crossings I decided to fish only the best, deepest pools, even if it took me all day to catch my limit. I fished every deep hole that looked as if it might contain a decent fish and, most of the time, was rewarded with a chunky trout that more than filled my requirements: With head and tail removed, it must fit into my cast-iron frying pan.
I became quite adept at choosing pools that contained the biggest fish and, in just a few hours, I had caught four “breakfast” trout. I was working on the fifth when I hit a pool that was literally filled with small trout, fish so small they simply grabbed the worm and hung on – no hook was needed to bring them in. Rather than risk injuring and possibly killing more short trout I decided that four keepers was enough for one day; one more wasn’t going to make that much difference and, of course, there is always tomorrow.
To be honest, I was going to head for home and try to get a little yard work in but because I’d had such a great day on the trout stream I decided to do the only logical thing: I went bass fishing instead!