At long last the lawn and gardens are chugging along in good shape and the various flowers I planted as seeds in May are finally beginning to bloom. From the looks of things it should be a lush, colorful summer. I’m partial to roses, marigolds and morning glories so the yard, porches and decks are fully stocked with pots and planters. I’m into my third week of picking strawberries every morning and the Big Beef tomatoes are popping up all over their vines. I was worried that some, even all, of my plantings would not succeed due to the cold, damp weather that lingered through May and June, but the heat and sun have won the day in most quarters, which means I can worry about something other than whether or not my Hyssop plants will survive (barely, but they’re hanging in there).
At this point in the summer I find that it’s best to let the plants sink or swim on their own merit. I will weed the gardens every few weeks and mow the lawn as needed, but I’m content to leave things to the wind and weather and see how it all works out. I’m not going to starve even if there is a total crop failure and, at worst, I’ll have to rake it all up and try planting fall crops such as broccoli, cabbage and rutabagas, which is fine with me. I will eat anything and anything that comes out of the garden plus luxuries like apples, blueberries, raspberries and other wild provender that produces fruit in abundance with no help from me.
This is the time of year when I take my own advice and do the only sensible thing there is left to do: go fishing! Brook fishing ends Aug. 15 and, thanks to that cold, wet spring I just alluded to local brooks are running relatively high, cold and deep even though it is mid-July. At this point it’s easiest to fish the deep holes and fast-moving bends where there is room to creep in close to the water and make a few casts without spooking the fish. On my last outing, just a few days ago, I caught my personal limit of four trout out of the same pool. This could mean that the fish are starting to gather in and near the coolest, fastest water because so many of the shallow runs are too warm for their liking, or it may simply mean that there are a lot of trout in those brooks. I never did get to Pool No. 2 that day but I suspect that there were three or four nice pan-sized brookies there as well. I will find out next time I get the urge for a trout and fiddlehead breakfast.
This past week I had the opportunity to go out on one of the local bass ponds for a few hours and am happy to report that the bite is “in,” if there are anglers out there who have not yet had a chance to wet a line. As always, I started out with my long-time favorite lure, a Mr. Twister Teeny in yellow. The water is full of weeds but there are openings and channels enough to allow the use of semi-weedless lures. I did not fare so well using plugs or spinners because the milfoil is already thick and dense, particularly in the shallows where most smallmouths will be found.
I discovered that black crappies, one of Maine’s most common warmwater species, are abundant and aggressive right now – I caught five crappies for every bass I hooked, and all of them were hand-sized or bigger. Crappies are the Southern equivalent of Maine’s white perch and taste just as good when breaded and fried or grilled. I was surprised that I did not hook a single white perch during my afternoon on the water, which makes me wonder if the crappie population is beginning to take over. Considering that there are millions of both species in Maine it’s not likely that we are going to run out of either one very soon, it’s safe to say that anyone with a hankering for a summer feed of panfish should have no trouble filling a bucket with them.
While paddling the shoreline I was reminded of the early days of bass fishing in Maine (back in the mid-1970s) when no one wanted to fish for bass and most anglers tossed 5- and 10-pound smallmouths up on the bank to feed the raccoons. Trout ruled up until the mid-1980s when bass began to gain in popularity as brook trout and salmon populations declined. Now bass are officially the most popular fish in Maine, which would have the legendary guides of the 1800s rolling over in their graves.
I began escorting bass fishermen on local rivers like the Piscataquis, Sebec, Penobscot, Pleasant and Sebasticook and guaranteed my companions a free supper if they did not catch 100 bass per day. Not once did I have to pay up.
That was decades ago but just this week I was pleased to find that while many years have gone by not much has changed in the realm of bass fishing. Toss a small, active lure at any rock, log or stickup and you will get a strike. The same goes for the water near shore beneath leafy, overhanging limbs. Put the lure where it needs to go and you will have a fish on within three turns of the reel handle.
Bass will be bass no matter what the status of their popularity. They are just as aggressive and territorial as they were 40 years ago and, because most anglers release nearly every bass they catch there are plenty of fish to go around. The only bass I keep these days are the badly injured individuals or the occasional pair of 12-inchers when I have a hankering for a summer chowder or fish taco. Larger bass are more fun to catch than they are to eat and, of course, you can only eat them once. It is fun to go back to a certain hotspot and find that same old big smallmouth waiting to do battle again. It’s definitely preferable to spending a day in the garden picking weeds!