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The end of August means the end of summer in anyone’s book. It’s hard to deny the signs of approaching autumn now; the corn is ripe, there are red leaves showing up in the swamps where spindly maples cling to the wet soil, and the grass in the fields has that pale, dry look to it that almost shouts “fall.”
A few fishermen will hang on through the rest of this month and next, albeit under slightly more restricted regulations. Most anglers think the trout season closed Aug. 15, but the truth is that you can still fish for stream trout through the end of September using artificial lures only, and, of course, you can’t keep any fish. Most of this is done by flyfishermen, and fly-fishing is a good idea when you consider that you have to release every fish you catch, a challenge when using standard treble hooks. I still cling to the idea that fishing is fishing and if I can’t get a trout to take a fly I’ll gladly switch to my dependable old spinning rod.
The “release all fish” caveat gave me pause for a while till I came up with a way to pitch lures that would catch, but not harm, the fish. After all, the average Maine trout is about 10 inches long and nearly as fragile as a salmon, so beating them up with big lures, heavy hooks and surf-worthy rods is not necessary. I created my own little late-season outfit that catches fish and helps me play them gently enough so I can release them for another time.
My rod is a 5-foot glass blank made from an old Orvis kit. You can buy similar rods today, but this one came in two little pieces of noodly fiberglass with a whole box full of threads, fittings and glues. It was fun to work on over a long winter, and I must say the instructions were good because this rod is now close to 40 years old and still bringing them in! I use a Mitchell 308 ultra light reel and either 2- or 4-pound-test line when trout fishing. This outfit is perfect for small streams or brooks where the largest fish I’ll encounter can fit into my back pocket. It is no good (and I wouldn’t recommend it) for bass, pickerel or anything else (except perhaps smelts!) because the rod is too short, soft and supple for serious work.
The key to the outfit, however, are the lures I use. I have a small tackle box full of 1/16- and 1/8-ounce spinners, spoons, plugs and spin-flies that are extremely small and light, but they carry enough weight to be cast about the length of the average living room. These are perfect for small stream fishing, where most casts might be 10 or 15 feet at most. In many cases, you might have better luck just dangling the lure into the water as you would a worm or grub during the regular season.
The final tweaking comes when I either clip off two of the three treble hooks or install a single hook, and then bend or file the barb down so I’m fishing with single, pointed, barbless hook. These lures usually catch the fish on the edge of the lower or upper jaw, and it’s easy to reach down (with the fish still in the water), grab the hook and simply turn it to release the fish. It’s not necessary to play the fish to exhaustion, use a net or traumatize the fish in any way other than to get it close enough to grab the lure with thumb and forefinger.
Using this outfit, I can fish all day, catch dozens of trout and never touch a single one. Sometimes the hooks that are supplied with the lure are either too big or too small for this work, so I keep a supply of hooks on hand and replace them as necessary using tiny split rings. My vision and finger dexterity are nothing like they used to be, but I can change hooks and even lures in no time whenever conditions warrant it.
Also, there’s a certain pleasure to be had in fishing such small gear for small fall trout. You can flick a cast here and there at will, reaching under limbs, rocks and logs with ease, often catching trout that would be unreachable by any other method. Sometimes, I’ll return in September to a stream I’d fished earlier in the spring just to catch that one trout that couldn’t be reached with a worm or fly. High early-season flows often make baits travel too fast and erratically to reach quite far enough under obstacles, but by September the water is low, slow and calm, making it easy to drift a tiny lure into a fat trout’s formerly unreachable lair.
As always, with the increase in hunting activity starting up in September (deer, bear, geese, crows and such), the very best part of fall fishing is the solitude. It is always a treat to swing by a favorite stream or brook and find that you have it all to yourself. My general rule is to hike up or down till I get well past the last bait can, hook wrapper or plastic bottle and then start fishing. At that point I’m sure few but the most avid anglers have been where I’m going, and I know the odds are high that I’ll find lots of uneducated trout to challenge.
As always, be sure to read the 2004 Maine fishing regulations guide to be sure you are headed for “legal” waters this fall. In general, any artificial lure is allowed but all trout must be returned to the water unharmed. Use light gear, barbless hooks and don’t play them to the death. The idea is to allow more fishing opportunities while at the same time preserving the resource for next year.
To find out more about the fall fishing opportunities in our area, call the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-2871 or log onto the Internet at www.mainefishwildlife.com.
Hunt, fish or whatever you choose to do, but get outdoors now. This is the best time of the year for it and, except for your license, it’s free!
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