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A few days ago I overheard some just-out-of-school kids complaining that they had a whole summer off and already could find nothing to do. I have a feeling it's going to be a long, boring vacation for some of them.
It's funny, but at the same time I was thinking that Maine fishermen are lucky because they have so much to do! In fact, not only is it possible (and legal) to fish for one species or another round the clock, you can reasonably expect to catch at least one specimen of any species you choose to pursue over the course of a day. Back in my guiding days, I would start out with early-morning trout fishing on small brooks and streams where my fly-fishing clients would indulge their passion for feeding black flies and mosquitoes while they dropped delicate little flies of their own making onto slick beaver ponds and swirling eddies in hopes of catching a native brookie or two.
Later in the morning we'd head for the nearest bass river and spend the midday hours catching Maine's storied smallmouths (once a despised fish and now, humorously, considered a “game fish” by the new generation of tournament buffs). I always told visiting anglers that Maine's smallmouth fishing is some of the best in the world, yet when I wrote about it in the Maine Sportsman I'd receive hate mail from far and wide because I was promoting “trash fish” over trout. Some people still feel that way, but the trend is toward recognizing black bass as worthy adversaries undeserving of a place on the bank next to the chubs, suckers and fallfish other anglers still disdainfully discard while fishing for increasingly infrequent trout.
An interesting insider aspect of fishing is that some species are diurnal (busy during the daylight hours) while others are nocturnal. Most of the time you can't make a trout (other than browns) take a bait or lure after dark, while night fishing for bass can be a hoot if you use top-water lures with lots of gurgle and pop.
I once guided a fisherman who was obsessed with (get this) hornpout (a.k.a. bullheads), those little catfish-looking bottom feeders that inhabit most of our lakes and ponds but are rarely seen during the day. This mean we had to start our fishing “day” around sunset, which is when the first waves of hungry bullheads start cruising and feeding just off the bottom.
This guy was as enamored with bullheads as other anglers are with trout or bass. I had to take him to a new lake every day for a week, and we made the rounds of muddy ponds from Pittsfield to Abbot in search of his favorite fish. It's one thing to be a guide and paddle clients around during the day, but fishing's a new experience when you decide to do it after dark. The simplest things (like baiting a hook) become major challenges when there's no light. Any kind of artificial light throws odd shadows and glaring beams that are distracting to say the least, and things get hairy in a hurry if you hadn't organized your gear before the sun went down. We never had any real night-fishing problems over the few years we fished together, but things did get interesting a few times, such as when my sport yanked a very angry 4-foot eel over the gunwale in Kingsbury Pond near Abbot, or the time a blue heron suddenly landed on his shoulder as we were fishing Branns Mill Pond in Dover-Foxcroft.
Night fishing for bullheads is worth every minute, however. Our self-imposed limit was one 5-gallon bucket of fish, which, on most calm, dark nights, could be filled before midnight. These fish average about 10 inches, but you may encounter fish to 14 inches and more in certain waters. These tasty catfish grow fat and round rather than long (don't we all!) and tend to be on the pudgy side. Still, you can catch all you want because there is no size or bag limit on hornpout in Maine. These are often considered “beginner's” fish and few anglers pursue them with any degree of passion, but if you want lots of delicious fish in a hurry with little competition and no fancy equipment demands, hornpout are the way to go. This is worm-on-a-hook, drop-it-to-the-bottom fishing that is fast and furious most nights because any pond or lake that contains hornpout has millions of them, and they're all hungry at once. Bring the bucket because you'll need it!
It's always interesting to see how the wetland life force changes as dawn approaches. The night noises slowly cease, the bullheads quit biting and just then you'll hear the slurp and slap of the daytime fish (perch, bluegills, bass and pickerel) as they take control of the water once again. You can switch to small flies, poppers or lures and start catching these fish in great numbers, or head for the nearest trout stream and start all over again. It happens that some of Maine's best night-fishing waters are also excellent for lake trout and salmon, which means you can leave the shoreline mud flats at dawn and motor into deeper water for some “serious” fishing without leaving the lake.
If you think fishing night and day sounds like it could be exhausting, you're getting the idea. If you introduce some of those bored school kids to the fine art of fishing you wouldn't have to entertain them as much this summer, and they will learn more about Maine's natural attractions in the process than they would if they spent the day staring at another mundane sitcom.
Day or night fishing in summer is a great way to spend your spare time. One last tip: if you find a 4-foot-long eel on your hook at midnight, take my advice and just cut the line - it's a lot easier in the long run!
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