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If I had to pick just one way to fish and I had to do it all season long, I’d have no problem making the decision. The so-called “art” of catching fish has undergone some radical changes in the last 35 years (mostly to the benefit of those who make and market fishing tackle), but the basics of the sport haven’t changed since Izaak Walton switched to fly-fishing gear in the 1600s.
Of course, I’m talking about fishing with the lowly (but extremely productive) garden worm, a technique that’s all but passé now among “the experts,” perhaps because it’s too easy. I don’t know why fishermen insist on making things tougher for themselves (and more expensive!), but the sad truth of it is that, if you want to catch a lot of trout in a hurry, stop fooling around and use worms (where legal, of course).
I know all about the “sport” of fishing, but sometimes you just want to go out, catch a few trout, fire up a panful of bacon and potatoes and eat! For many years, this was the way of the Maine trout fisherman, especially the shoe-shop and woolen-mill crowd, who had neither the time nor the money to dress up in Orvis finery and pretend to be sportsmen of a higher class. I can recall the days when someone (usually a sufferer of “spring fever”) came to work announcing that the trout were biting in Alder Stream, the Sebasticook or Mainstream. This would generally cause a minor stampede of anglers, some coming in to work late, some leaving early, some never showing up at all.
The prime time for Maine trout fishing is somewhere between when the leaves on the poplar trees are as big as a mouse’s ear and about the time the deer flies come out to chew large, bloody holes in any part of you that’s hanging out. This means from just about this week through June, a pretty good chunk of time from an angler’s point of view.
Most folks have lost sight of the fact that some good spring trout fishing can be had in just about any stream (large or small) that crosses a road (dirt or paved) in central Maine. If you don’t have much luck in the roadside bridge pools, don’t be afraid to walk upstream or down and see what you can find. Sometimes a limit of trout can be had by simply getting a few hundred yards away from the roadside hotspots. For example, Alder Stream on the Maple Road in Atkinson features a sudden upstream bend not far from the bridge, and I’ve taken five fat brook trout in as many casts here on early April trips. The trout are right on the bottom between the rocks, but you’ll find them if you’re patient and persistent.
Finding places to fish is not the problem. But, if you want to increase your odds for catching trout in the next couple of weeks, forget the sophisticated stuff (unless you prefer the act of fishing over the joys of catching - and eating - fish). Many years ago I built a special Maine trout-fishing rod from an Orvis blank. This was a 5-foot glass rod with an action just a tad stouter than a wet noodle. With a little Mitchell 308 reel and 2-pound-test line, I was equipped to fish all the miniature pools, runs and deep holes I’d find on area streams that, in many cases, had to be straddled while I fished them.
In many of these streams, you can easily see the fish hugging the bank of hiding under a rock or log. The problem is that conventional “casting” is a nightmare in these places. You really just poke your fishing rod out there, release the bail of the reel and let your No. 6 hook (baited with a fat garden worm) drop with a quiet “ploooop” into the water below. In most cases, a trout will attack the bait the instant it hits the water because food is hard to come by in these places. Or, there may be several trout lurking in a pool and they will all want to be on the hook at once - a great position to be in for a fisherman!
Some of these places are tough to fish. One stream I know in East Dover is basically a swamp for most of its length, but the place where it squeezes under a wooden bridge is deep, dark and full of trout. The only way to fish this spot is to park well away from the bridge, sneak quietly up to the structure and lay down on the bridge. The water may only be a few inches below the wood, which means you have to put a worm on the hook, let out a foot or two of line and more or less pass the bait under the bridge like a pendulum on a crane. There may be some current, so you may have to add some split shot to the line, but if you do it right the first time, you’ll have a 10-inch trout on the line in about five seconds. And, if you get the fish out from under the bridge quickly with a minimum of splashing, you can bait up and try again. The bridge is about 16 feet across, so you can lay down on the other side and catch a few trout from that side as well. On a good day you can take a limit of brookies here in about 15 minutes.
What I like to do best is strike off into the woods with my little trout rod, a can of worms, my pack stove and the makings for a woods lunch: A few pieces of bacon or salt pork, some canned potatoes, maybe some of last year’s fiddleheads and a stick of butter. After a few hours of sneaking and poking around in search of fish, I’ll stop in a sun-drenched glade somewhere and fire up the stove, cooking the bacon for grease before dropping in the trout and potatoes to sizzle while I heat up some water for tea. There’s nothing like a woods-cooked meal of fresh-caught trout washed down with hot tea while sitting beside a secluded woodland stream. You don’t have to be far off the road to be alone with the wind, the sun and the gurgle of the stream, and if you happen to doze off for a few minutes while the sun is high, so much the better. You can catch bigger fish elsewhere, no doubt, but “fishing” just doesn’t get any better than this!
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