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There are anglers who will say that it’s still too early to go fishing, or that you have to wait until the skunk cabbage blooms or the poplars’ leaves are big as a mouse’s ears, but I have found that there’s a reason they call it “fishing.” One definition of the word is “to catch or try to catch fish.” Hmmm . . . Anyone who’s ever wet a line knows that you aren’t going to catch a fish on every cast, and in fact you’ll probably cast a thousand times for every trout, salmon or bass you bring in this season. On the other hand, even more people know that you won’t catch a thing unless you go out there and “try to catch a fish,” and that’s incentive enough to be out there now despite the size of the leaves on the trees or the temperature of the water.
I mentioned last week that there’s nothing unholy about using worms to catch trout. The trend in the outdoor press has long been to promote fly-fishing and catch-and-release, but the reason for that is that, somewhere during the 1960s, fishing for sport somehow evolved into a religion. Today’s outdoor media also tends to ignore tried-and-true live baits, primarily because they’d rather get free lures and flies for mentioning a manufacturer’s products, and promoting worms doesn’t generate any freebies – gear or advertising – for anyone.
Still one who angles because fish taste good when cooked over open coals beside the stream they lived in, and eating them is not yet a crime (except on catch-and-release waters!), I prefer to use lures at this time of year, especially when the water is cold, clear and still a bit high, as it tends to be through the first part of May. I try not to “sell” lures in my articles (one lure type is as good as the next, really), but there are some that seem to work well for early-season trout and salmon in Maine, and I have used them with great success for decades.
If I had to spend all season fishing with just one lure for all species, it would have to be a small, gold-bladed spinner, with or without a bucktail dressing. My favorite is a 1/8-ounce model on a treble hook with a short piece of red tubing on the shank. I crimp the barbs of the hook down to make releasing fish easier (I don’t even have to take them out of the water), a necessity when angling for salmon, the majority of which somehow manage to stop growing just under the 14-inch minimum size limit! You’ll see the more popular streams in our area littered with dead, short salmon in the coming weeks, and most of this mortality is caused by trying to release deep-hooked fish taken on barbed hooks. Of course, you can eliminate most of this carnage by simply cutting the line at the fish’s mouth (if you’re bait-fishing) or by using barbless hooks.
Hard-hitting, hard-fighting fish like salmon aren’t likely to come off the hook if you go barbless, as some skeptics will suggest. I haven’t lost many fish since I began removing the barbs on my hooks decades ago, certainly no more than I lost using barbed hooks. But, it is nice to be able to reach down, lift the hook and have a short or undesirable fish just slip away in the current, alive and well, perhaps to grow to legal size and bend some other happy angler’s rod later in the season.
I like worm fishing on small streams (the kind you can jump across in most places), but on bigger waters, lakes or ponds, I like lures because you can cover a lot of water quickly and effectively. The weight of the lure combined with the speed of the retrieve determines the depth of the presentation, a fancy way of saying the slower you reel the deeper the lure goes. Knowing this, covering any stretch of water is a simple process. Cast from left to right, shallow to deep, and allow about 6 feet between casts so you’re certain that any fish in the area can see and find your lure. Retrieve the lure at a steady pace (fast or slow, it’s your call. Keep reeling till the lure is nearly back to the rod tip, and then cast again. Eventually, you will have covered all the water you can reach at a certain depth. Now, do it all again with a slower retrieve.
The idea is to cover all of the water in front of you, top to bottom, left to right, as far as you can reach with a cast. There may be one fish in the pool or a dozen, but to find them you have to probe every inch of available water. You might find the fish scattered throughout the pool, or they may be bunched up behind one particular rock or log. In spring, they can be anywhere because the water is cold enough, high enough and fast enough to provide ideal conditions shore to shore. It’s only later in the year when you start finding fish behind “that” rock or “that” ledge, only because conditions have stabilized and the prime cover is reduced to a shaded bank or deep hole.
The key right now is to be determined, patient and persistent. Remember, the fish are in the water somewhere: All you have to do is find them. If a deep, dark pool looks as if it should hold a fish, it probably does. Try a lure, try a worm, try whatever is legal and cover the pool like a wet blanket. You can’t make a trout or salmon take a bait, but if hunger won’t induce a strike, maybe aggravation will do the trick.
To get a jump on this year’s fishing (mouse’s ears or not), get out there early with a good selection of proven lures (spinners, small spoons, a shiner-imitating plug) and fish every inch of water you can reach. Things are about to break wide open and this year you might be the one coming home to spread the news!
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