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This is the time of year when it’s unbearably pleasant to be a Maine sportsman. The days are long, the evenings are cool and, with a little planning and foresight, you can be on the water in some secluded corner of a lake or pond within an hour of punching the time clock at the end of the workday. There are canoes, kayaks and mountain bikes on cars and trucks in the company parking lot for a good reason – many of them will be headed for the woods as soon as the 5 o’clock whistle sounds.
For many years, I kept my canoe on the rack from spring till fall. Any time I had an hour or two to spare (and a few times when I didn’t) I’d head for Garland Pond, Dow Pond or Buttermilk Pond in the Sebec area and see how long it would take me to catch a limit of fat little brookies on a Mosquito dry fly or a Hare’s Ear nymph. I am not overly partial to fly-fishing (I like catching fish too much!), but June is the ideal time to find brookies feeding on bugs right on the surface just before dark, and at such times nothing, not even the revered garden worm, is anywhere near as productive.
If traffic and my timing are right, I am able to launch my canoe with about two hours to go before dark, more than enough time to drift around any of these ponds and catch enough pan-sized trout for dinner. I like to paddle slowly with one hand, loaded rod in the other with about 30 feet of line trailing behind me. Sometimes I’ll catch a trout on the slack line, but my plan is to be ready to cast to the first fish that rises in front of me.
In the period just before and after sunset, the surface of these ponds will be dimpled from shore to shore by feeding trout, and it’s just a matter of spotting a rise and casting my fly to the fish as quickly as I can. In the ideal scenario, the fly lands with a delicate bounce right in the middle of the rise, and the trout (which is invariably still there) will pounce on it without a second glance. This technique works just as well with lures or worms, but it takes just a flick of the wrist to deliver the fly, and all I have to do to play the fish is raise the rod high and keep the pressure on.
It takes a sharp hook and plenty of gap between the hook point and the shank to make this slap-and-yank technique work, but once you get the hang of it you can hook and land a trout almost as fast as you can cast to it. In some ways, this technique is not too far removed from the old days of skittering, when pickerel anglers used long cane poles and a piece of salt pork or brightly-colored cloth to catch pickerel in the weedy shallows. In fact, one year when I spent a weekend camping on Little Jo-Mary Pond in the Katahdin Iron Works region, I paddled down the north shore of the pond and caught trout after trout between the canoe and shore with no more than the leader out – the fly line never cleared the rod tip. And, when I got to the northern tip of the pond near the inlet stream, I tied off on one of the rocks there and spend a long, leisurely evening catching trout after trout in water than was ankle deep on the moose that was feeding in the cove beside me!
I have always been partial to canoes and small ponds, and these cool, calm summer nights offer ideal conditions for this kind of fishing. The trout will stay in the deeper water during the day while the sun heats the surface water, but as soon as the shadows begin to lengthen you’ll see fish dimpling the surface all around.
You can enjoy the same kind of fishing in any deadwater where trout can be found, and beaver ponds on known trout streams are also good choices.
Most deadwaters have swampy borders and require the use of a canoe, bellyboat or kayak, but you can fish most beaver ponds from shore if you don’t mind getting wet and muddy in the process. You probably hunted around a dozen such beaver ponds during last fall’s deer season. Just pick one and make a trip out there in the next few weeks, only this time go “armed” with a fishing rod and a few flies or garden worms.
The trout in such places are naïve, aggressive and as plump as your aunt Martha. Most of these backwoods ponds have never been fished, so your first trip should be a real eye-opener. It’s best to be sensible about these things, however. Keep a few trout for dinner but let the rest of them go for another time. If you bring all your friends with you and clean out the pond, the second trip is likely to be a bust because these habitats are fragile and the trout are not particularly numerous. There are enough of these waters in our area to allow for a trip or two per year to each spot. If you go hog wild and take out all the trout in one sitting, it may be years before other fish take their place.
Take advantage of these glorious days of summer and spend an evening or two on your favorite small trout water. It’s a cheap and easy chance to spend some quiet time on your own, a chance to remind yourself that life isn’t just about working and paying the bills. If you can, try to remember what you felt like last January as you sat by the woodstove and dreamed about warm summer evenings, the call of the loons and the weight of a canoe paddle in your hands. Now’s the time to get out there and rekindle the memory banks for next winter which, need I remind anyone, is just around the corner!
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