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So much attention is given to the coming hunting season openings (bear, archery deer, moose and such) that it can be easy to forget that fishing is still allowed through the end of September on many Maine waters. It's low-limit fishing (one trout or salmon per day this month), some of it is fly-fishing or lure fishing only (in streams and rivers), but the opportunities are there. Naturally, check the rulebook before fishing anywhere this month or next - the rules are complicated and water-specific, but in the end they do allow you to fish!
I don't think there's a better way to spend a crisp September day than on the water. This is the most enjoyable time of year from an outdoor perspective. Most people are happy with the bright blue fall skies, colorful leaves, dry air and the undeniable hint of fall in the wind, but fishermen get the added pleasure of having long stretches of water to themselves at a time when the fishing can be as good as it's been all year.
Anglers who target trout at this time of year do best where they can find deep, shady pools or fast riffles and rapids. Trout will often be concentrated around the mouths of feeder streams or near bridge abutments and other large structures as they seek cooler flows. You would think that trout would be numerous throughout a river's course, but on many occasions I've fished every inch of water over long stretches and found few if any trout in the low, slow sections. But, get to a twisting stretch where there are lots of rocks, logs and other obstacles and some deep, fast water, and suddenly you can catch a fish on every cast.
What's good about September fishing is that conditions are so enjoyable that you don't mind spending extra time probing good-looking spots. It's cool, bright and bug-free, and the crisp fall air somehow provides a bit of extra zing in any endeavor. I don't know how cool, clean air can make one more ambitious, but it happens, and that's just what a fall angler needs - the enthusiasm it takes to fish one more pool, round one more bend or try that tough spot on the other side of the river. Hot summer days can put fish (and fishermen) down, but once things cool off the sky is the limit!
If you want easy fishing and lots of catching, try one of our many local rivers for fall bass. Any bend or bridge pool will contain fish in September, and it doesn't take much of a river to hold some good bass. I lost one of the biggest smallmouths I've ever seen while fishing under a bridge on Alder Stream off the Lyford Road in Milo. Had I been more ready, tied a better knot and been paying closer attention I might have landed that fish, but all I remember was a huge bronze flank, a swirl and a snap as the line parted and the lunker swam off with my last Rebel minnow lure. That fish lived right under the bridge and may have been there for years without being caught because most fishermen fished below or above the bridge. It was fall and I was more ambitious, so I had crawled out onto one of the protruding stones that made up the bridge abutment and cast around the corner to the perfect spot - too bad I didn't have more faith in fall fishing at the time!
Most fall fishing in Maine is strictly regulated, which means fond memories are about all you can take home with you. Some fish (three bass, one trout/salmon) may be kept in September, but catch-and-release fishing is allowed on select waters into November. To make adherence to the law easier (and for less guilt over wounded, lost fish), the best thing to do is crimp the barbs down on your hooks to make it easier to release fish, which can be done without taking them out of the water. I have used barbless hooks for all my fishing (I just got into the habit when catch-and-release became the norm many years ago). I don't have a problem hooking fish, and they'll stay hooked as long as you keep a high rod and a tight line. It is important to have clean, sharp hooks, however. If you're using the same gear you fished with last spring you might want to check your hooks for rust, wear or dull points. The same goes for line, lures and other tackle. You may be able to catch some big fish in the fall, so don't go out there armed with faulty equipment, unless you want to spend the next 30 years lamenting the one that got away . . . like that Alder Stream smallmouth!
The good thing about cool-season fishing is that you don't have to get out there at dawn. You can enjoy excellent fishing on your lunch hour or any time during midday. This means you can go out for archery deer or bear early and late in the day and fish during the daylight hours. This is a busy time of year for sportsmen, and it will get worse before things start to wind down after Thanksgiving, but for now you can hunt and fish to your heart's content and enjoy some of the most pleasant conditions of the year.
If there's anything wrong with fall in Maine is that it's too short. Get your wood in, you're your banking out and go fishing. Make the most of it in any way you can because September means December is around the corner, and we all know what that means!
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