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It’s hard to believe that we’re already into July and the last days of summer are upon us. In a few weeks the first signs of autumn will be seen (a few colored leaves here and there, dead and dying grasses, grasshoppers leaping ahead, cooler nights, apples ripening right before our eyes), and as quickly as that we’ll be into the first crisp days of fall.
Rather than jump ahead into what’s next, it’s important to enjoy what’s going on now. July is a tough time for Maine sportsmen because the major seasons (trout and salmon, deer and birds) are distant dreams right now, but there is still plenty to do during these hot days of the waning summer.
Believe it or not, July is a great time to fish for trout if you can divest yourself of the traditional concepts and methods for taking these popular cool-weather fish. I have discovered two ways to catch trout in summer that most anglers have not considered, which means I have the water (and the trout) to myself most of the time.
The majority of anglers who fish for summertime trout think big – too big, in most cases. It’s true that you can catch July trout in Moosehead, Sebec, Schoodic and similar huge lakes, but going to these places and catching trout there is a production of sorts – it takes a lot of time and energy, and even then you might not have much luck.
I prefer to fish for trout in smaller ponds and deadwaters where the habits of the fish are a bit different but still very predictable. We all know that the big lakes have cooler water in their depths, but so do these smaller waters. It only takes a few degrees to make a difference to trout, and when the surface water dips into the 50s, trout will rise to the top and feed with a vengeance on the rich soup of live, dead and dying bugs they find there.
I’ve mentioned before the technique of “hunting” trout in summer. The process is simple enough: Just paddle the shoreline of a small pond in a canoe or small boat with the rod (fly rod or spinning rod) ready for action. Watch for the telltale raindrop-like rise of a trout taking an insect off the surface. Immediately cast to the middle of the rise and be ready – the fish will likely strike within seconds of your presentation. I use a fly rod rigged with a small nymph, actually dragging the fly and 30 feet of line behind me as I paddle slowly along the shore. When a fish rises, I just flip the rod tip toward the fish and drop the nymph right into the ring of the rise. Or, with a small spinner or plug, I’ll make a quick cast to the rising fish.
This is an interesting and productive way to fish because you’re only casting to feeding fish that are right on top and clearly visible – you’re not walking the shore or casting blindly all day in hopes of attracting a strike. The trout will begin rising sometime near dusk, so the window of opportunity is short, but you can take a limit of brookies in an hour or less if you’re alert, fast and good with a paddle or oar.
Another good summertime technique is a page taken from the summertime togue anglers’ handbook. These fishermen launch their boat or canoe on the wind side of a lake and, with a live sucker or cut bait bouncing just off the bottom, they’ll drift with the wind all the way across the lake, sometimes taking all day to get there. The plan (which works well in summer) is to keep a bait on the bottom so that any lake trout in the mood for a midday snack will have all day to make up its mind. Some huge fish are taken this way in Maine each summer, but it takes a stoic personality to drop a bait into the water at dawn and not make another move till dark. You won’t catch a record-class togue every day, but the fish you do catch will delight the crowd at the corner store.
Adapting this technique to small ponds, simply find the windy side of the pond, drop a bait (a worm, night crawler or live shiner) to the bottom and just drift with the breeze to the far side of the pond. You may have to paddle back over and repeat the drill several times (especially when fishing a small pond), and you may need an anchor to keep your craft from moving too fast, but the process is simple and direct.
Because most small ponds in our region are spring-fed and vary somewhat in temperature, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to you bait the first few times you fish a pond. Most of the trout will be congregated around spring holes and other cool pockets, and some of these are mere feet in diameter.
When you get a bite or catch a trout, take note of the location (modern anglers use sonar or GPS units to make precise notations). The odds are that if you catch one trout in a particular place (and at a specific depth) you will probably find more there. One time, while fishing Garland Pond off Route 16 in Dover-Foxcroft, I caught a limit of big, fat brook trout just after noon on a hot summer day while drifting around the very middle of the pond. I had found a cool spot that was crowded with fish and, as quick as I dropped a worm down about 25 feet down, another fish would hit. I think my total elapsed time on the water was less than an hour! I wouldn’t suggest that you can catch a limit of trout in an hour on any pond you chose to fish, but if everything goes right, and you happen to be there at the right time, you’ll do well.
I’ve had good luck with summertime trout fishing in any number of small ponds in our area. The funny part is that when I come ashore and meet another angler, he’ll think I caught the fish in a hidden brook or feeder stream and won’t even believe it when I tell him I caught the fish “right there” in broad daylight in summer. Sometimes you can tell the truth and no one will believe you!
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