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A lot of Maine anglers consider the Memorial Day weekend to be the true beginning of fishing season, and for good reason. April 1 (the official opener) can seem somewhat optimistic when you're standing in knee-deep slush under the guise of “fishing” just because it's opening day. This first week of June is a better choice no matter where you fish or what species you prefer.
If lots of action, low competition and ease of access is your idea of a good day's fishing, gather yourself to the nearest bass pond and see what pleasures await you. The “bass craze” has taken over in Maine, not only because the state's traditional trout fishery has faded, but also because bass are, by golly, plentiful, fun to catch and surprisingly good on a plate, too. (I realize that the concept of eating fish is getting to be a mortal sin among angling purists these days, but that's their problem. A couple of bass in the 12-inch class will provide enough fillets for a meal and not cause the end of bass fishing as we know it. Remember, catch-and-release is an ethic, not a law! Feel free to philosophize about it . . . just do it somewhere else. Now that's digressing!)
Anyway, going for bass is easy at this time of year because the fish are usually found close to shore on their spawning nests. You can wade slowly along and cast small lures to the water ahead and catch plenty of fish or, even better, paddle a canoe or small boat a long cast away from shore and fish back toward the land. Most of your fish will be caught within a yard or two of dry land, so be ready for a hard hit the instant your lure plops into the water.
Most of the small ponds and lakes in our area contain bass, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding them. Just move or paddle slowly along shore, cast to any log, rock or other obstruction you may find and use small, lively lures that can get through weeds and over structure without hanging up. Where rocks are the major source of cover you can use spinners, spoons and the like - the bass won't care!
Back when bass fishing was unheard of (or at least not spoken about) in our region, I would easily catch 100 or more fish per day at Branns Mill Pond, Sebasticook or even Sebec Lake (especially around Peaks-Kenny State Park, which, by the way, is still listed in the DeLorme atlas has having excellent salmon and trout fishing, but no mention of bass. Ha!). There are many more bass “experts” now, and it's not as easy to have entire lakes to yourself, but you should still be able to spend a morning or evening on the water without bumping into anyone else cruising for bass. On very small ponds, such as Nokomis, you might have to flip a coin with another angler and choose to go left or right, but you'll still catch fish.
One of the better aspects of bass fishing is that you may hook and lose a fish in a certain place and, if you come back in 20 minutes or so, he'll hit you again. This is a rarity when fishing for trout or salmon, which take great offense at being stung with a sharp hook. Bass are about on par with pickerel for not caring about such treatment: in fact, I've lost lures to aggressive bass and, an hour later, came back to catch the same fish on a different lure! I didn't say bass were necessarily smart, they're just fun to catch!
There are a couple of cautions that go along with bass fishing. First, because bass are aggressive fighters and do have sharp teeth and gill plates, always check the bottom few feet of line for scrapes and abrasions. Cut off the worn section and discard it (in the trash, of course, not in the water!), because the odds are that if you don't do so, the biggest fish you catch (and lose) will be next on the line.
Another relatively unknown aspect of black bass (both largemouths, which are found generally only in Stetson Pond, and smallmouths) is that you may land, unhook and release fish without a net, gaff or other. Simply grasp the fish by the bottom lip between thumb and forefinger and hoist him into the air. For whatever reason, this technique immobilizes the fish so you can admire, unhook and release him without injury. Plan ahead by keeping a camera (or willing operator) on hand to photograph your catch. This way, you can catch a fish, land it, hold it up for a nice photo and then release it, all in just a matter of seconds. Go the extra mile and use barbless hooks and you won't have to worry about deep-hooked fish or having to struggle with hooks caught in your shirt, net or thumb!
One of the more common objections to eating bass is that they are full of “worms” or something. Actually, those black dots you see imbedded in the flesh of bass fillets are harmless cysts that do not affect humans in any way. The condition is most prevalent in summer-caught fish, and thorough cooking eliminates them and any perceived threat that folklore has fostered.
For the record, Maine's bass fishing season runs from April 1 through June 20, with a daily back limit of one fish over12 inches. Only artificial lures may be used to catch bass during this vulnerable spring spawning period. From June 21 through Sept. 30, the daily limit is 3 fish over12 inches, but only one bass may exceed 14 inches. To make things easier in central Maine frying pans, the minimum length limit on bass in Aroostook, Hancock, Piscataquis and Washington counties is 10 inches.
If you haven't tried bass fishing yet, paddle along a shallow shoreline this week and see what you've been missing. Back when I guided flatlanders for bass, many well-traveled fishermen remarked that Maine had the finest spring bass fishing in the world. Not only that, but our area of the state has some of the best. Maybe it's about time you discovered it for yourself!
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